Beatrice as a Mirror, not a Lens

When Dante reaches the part of Heaven called the Empyrean, he begins to see all things as they truly are. He sees the essential beauty of variation in Creation and he sees the fundamental unity and equality that all of Creation has under God. It is some of the most amazingly attractive descriptive imagery that I have ever read.

Until this point, Dante’s relationship with Beatrice has been one of follower and guide, respectively, and we get to see that Beatrice acts as a sort of picture of Theology for Dante. We see this because Virgil, the Pilgrim’s guide through Hell and Purgatory, has acted as a person/symbol of Philosophy for the Pilgrim. This Philosophy has a clue as to the nature of reality, and acted on it, but could not grasp heavenly things as anything other than normative expressions of how things work in Creation or how they ought to work (allowing for some invectives against Florence throughout). Beatrice, as the Pilgrim’s guide for Heaven, is therefore a person/symbol of Theology, to which Philosophy is but a handmaiden, because she leads the Pilgrim in the area where things are the way they ought to be, which is pure grace and love and peace and justice and order.

When Dante gets to seeing reality as it truly is, Beatrice goes from his guide to a co-mirror of the glory of God. They both shine and Dante is led to, in his Medieval Catholic way, Bernard of Clairveaux and the Virgin Mary for his devotional lesson/preparation before the Beatific vision of God Himself. Before, Dante looked to Beatrice for guidance and answers and beauty. He was not wrong, she was all of those things. But she is a created lens through which to view God. She is not, and therefore Theology is not, the ultimate lens through which Dante views God. God is not a collection of true propositions about Himself.

Dante, when he sees all things from God’s perspective, is no longer dependent on Theology herself, but Theology is with him in proclaiming Holy Holy Holy at the spectacle. Dante, with all of his unquestionable certainty concerning the most random and esoteric (and Biblically incorrect) points of systematic theology and biblical history, hits the nail right on the head on this principle. Theology is not primarily the lens through which we view God. Theology is the collection of true and helpful propositions about God that themselves reflect God’s glory. Good theology is not only done for God’s glory, but will itself reflect His glory and worship Him alongside us.

My prayer is that God keeps me from glorying in the Theology, and that God drives me to discern a Theology that God is most glorified in, while never losing sight of the fact that I am a mirror myself and stand next to my Theology in reflecting the same glorious God. Because of this, I need to seek after new obedience and discipline in terms of devotional life, not just for (as Wesley said) “light” but also for “heat”.

I seek a Theology that is foundationally Scriptural, in that it glorifies God alone in His sovereign grace alone, condescending to us in Christ alone to accomplish for us what we couldn’t have done ourselves, apprehended by us by faith alone, which itself is a gift of God’s saving and free grace. That is a theology that is a good mirror for our God and His glory comprehended in the five Solas of the Reformation.

Therefore, as a person that holds to this Theology, I have to reflect those five Solas in my own piety as well:

1. Sola Scriptura I should look to the Scriptures and have a life that is more shaped by them than by any other standards imposed on myself externally. This includes social pressures and self-imposed arbitrary guilt manufacturing that so easily assaults my conscience. Nothing stands above the Standard. I should have a worshipful heart like David’s and I should be content with what God has revealed in the Scriptures for my good, constraining myself to do, as well as know, the whole counsel of God.

2. Soli Deo Gloria I should seek to consciously glorify God in all things. This includes passing all of my plans through God in the furnace of daily and constant prayer and keeping Him actively involved in the decision-making aspect of my life. I should seek to do His will as recorded in the Scriptures “on earth” as the angels do it “in heaven”. I should be constantly aware of how I make Christ look to those around me, both believers and unbelievers. How do I carry myself? Is a soul-killing pride creeping up, or am I, in good conscience, doing all things to the glory of God? Hard questions to be sure, but I must not give in to the challenge. It is for the glory of God, after all.

3. Sola Gratia I should be drowning in the ocean of God’s love and mercy and kindness towards me as a sinner. That God would love me while I was yet a sinner should blow me away. The grace of God should not be a “true proposition”, but a fully realized bulldozer to my pride and self-righteousness. It should also be a balm for my soul, a place to find my rest at any point of my walk with Him. More than that, I should never feel nervous about coming into His presence, but I should seek His throne of grace with boldness because I know that my salvation is all of grace, so no pretensions should accompany me anywhere or in any way. Grace is not just undeserved favor in some systematic theology sense, rather grace is the air I breathe, and it the beating of my heart, it is the glue of Creation and I, recognizing this, should be absolutely secure in my salvation despite my sins, frequent and heinous though they be. Grace is grace, I should let it be such and crush any temptation that tells me that God is not 100% for me no matter what because of the work of Christ on my behalf.

4. Solus Christus I should never look to another person or thing to be my treasure and my source of satisfaction because it is Christ alone Who is my treasure. His joy should be my joy. He lived off of every word that comes from the mouth of God, so should I. That, with the recognition that He is every word that comes from the mouth of God, the One in Whom all things hold together. I am utterly dependent on His work on my behalf, and, as the embodiment of God Himself, I should seek to filter all of my thoughts about God through the person and work of Jesus Christ, tearing down every thought that exalts itself against Christ in my mind. Any idols in my life, innocent and good though they be in their proper place, need to be passed through the alter that Isaac was placed on. Because Christ put Himself on that alter, I can trust that though I lose everything, God raises the dead and calls light out of the darkness. Christ is, therefore, the founder and perfecter of my faith and He alone is sufficient to give me peace and joy and comfort in this Pilgrim life.

5. Sola Fide Last, but not least, I need to never, ever, look to my thoughts or deeds as the instrument whereby God raises me from the dead or the grounds of my acceptance in His sight. I have to recognize that I am utterly dead and so all I can do is trust that God is faithful and just in Christ. I have to live by faith alone means that I better be the only kind of mirror worth having. A mirror that tries to reflect itself won’t do a very good job. The mirror is not a light source itself. A mirror is dependent on that external light to do what it was made to do. This is like our faith. If we live by faith alone, that means we aren’t trying to reflect ourselves, we are dependent on the light of Christ and the grace of the Spirit for all of the resplendent glory, and so we point our mirrors, our lives and works and desires and trust and thoughts, upwards toward the light source that is Christ, the light of the world, crucified, dead, buried, raised, ascended and exalted. We believe in Him and believe Him. In this we become good mirrors, reflecting the object of our faith to the whole world. Faith isn’t apprehension or assent to the articles of faith. Faith is trusting in God, the fiducia aspect being especially instrumental in God’s justifying and sanctifying work, conforming us to the image of Him Who went before us.

These things are easy to get my head  around. They are not so easy to get my life around. May God break down the walls that are erected between my head and heart and hands. As a concrete issue, for those who read this, never hesitate, if I get off onto theological tangents to inquire as to the “so what?” and “therefore…?” of the quest. No point of theology should be separate from our growth in maturity and love and grace in Christ.

Praise God for His mercy. God really is good. May He constantly show me ways to live out my faith in obedience to Christ and with the guidance of His Spirit, all for His glory. And when I fall down, as is the natural inclination of my sinful heart…

Lord Jesus, have mercy on me a sinner.

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