Gabriels redemption, p.19
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       Gabriels Redemption, p.19

         Part #3 of Gabriels Inferno series by Sylvain Reynard
Page 19


  “I don’t mean to be a jerk. ”

  “You aren’t a jerk. ”

  He continued tapping his foot under the table, an expression of discomfort.

  “I said some stupid stuff in the email I sent before you got married. I refused to come to the wedding. That’s the behavior of a jerk. ”

  Julia’s eyes widened. “You told me you couldn’t come because your dad was sick. ”

  The tempo of his foot increased.

  “That’s true—my dad was sick. But that wasn’t the reason I didn’t come to your wedding. ” His eyes met hers. “I couldn’t watch you marry him. ”

  Paul took in her troubled expression and pulled his chair closer to the table.

  “I know you’re married and I would never do anything to mess with that. But God help me, I couldn’t watch you marry him. I’m sorry. ”

  “Paul, I—”

  He lifted a hand to silence her.

  “I’m not waiting in the wings. But it’s hard for me to see you with him. And to hear that the rumors are still swirling around you—rumors that are his fault, not yours—and that he’s pressuring you to have a baby when you just started your program . . . Fuck. ” He shook his head. “When is he going to wake up and realize that he married an incredible woman and that he needs to care for her?”

  “He does care for me. He isn’t who you think he is. ”

  Paul leveled his dark eyes at hers.

  “For your sake, I hope not. ”

  “He volunteers at the Italian Home for Children. He’s done humanitarian work with the poor. He’s changed. ”

  “He isn’t much of a humanitarian if he can’t see that his wife needs time before she becomes a mother. ”

  “He sees it. I’m the one who’s struggling. It’s hard to withhold something from someone you love, knowing that it would make him happy. And I’m happy, too,” she whispered. “You recognized it yourself. I know he has his faults, but so do I. He’d give me the world if he could fit it in his pocket, and he never, ever, lets me fall. ”

  Paul looked away, his knee bouncing under the table.

  Chapter Fifteen

  Paul’s paper was well received, if not a little short in Gabriel’s estimation. He noted with grim satisfaction that both Paul and Julia appeared uneasy after their lunch, as if things hadn’t gone quite as they’d expected.

  If Gabriel wanted to quiz Julia for details, he hid it well. He greeted her warmly when she returned, and they sat together during Paul’s presentation.

  Soon, it was Julia’s turn. Professor Patel, one of the conference organizers, introduced her, dubbing her a rising star at Harvard. Gabriel’s grin widened as he saw Christa seethe.

  The audience included fifty academics, in various stages of their careers. Professor Picton and Professor Marinelli sat in the front row near Gabriel. All three smiled at Julia encouragingly.

  With uncertain fingers, she placed the pages of her paper on top of the lectern. In contrast with it, her petite form seemed even smaller. Professor Patel adjusted the microphone downward so that it would catch her voice.

  She looked young and pale and nervous. Gabriel caught her chewing at the inside of her mouth and he silently willed her not to do so. He was grateful when she stopped.

  With her eyes fixed on his, she took a deep breath and began.

  “The title of my presentation is ‘The Silence of St. Francis: A Witness to Fraud. ’”

  “In canto twenty-seven of Dante’s Inferno, Guido da Montefeltro tells the story of what happened after he died,

  ‘Francis came afterward, when I was dead,

  For me; but one of the black Cherubim

  Said to him: “Take him not; do me no wrong;

  He must come down among my servitors,

  Because he gave the fraudulent advice

  From which time forth I have been at his hair;

  For who repents not cannot be absolved,

  Nor can one both repent and will at once,

  Because of the contradiction which consents not. ”

  O miserable me ! how I did shudder

  When he seized on me, saying: “Peradventure

  Thou didst not think that I was a logician!” ’

  “Guido lived in Italy from about 1220 to 1298. He was a prominent Ghibelline and military strategist before retiring in order to become a Franciscan, around 1296. Afterward, Pope Boniface VIII persuaded him to give fraudulent counsel to the Colonna family, with whom he’d been having trouble.

  “Boniface wanted Guido to promise the family amnesty if they would leave the security of their fortress. Guido did so, but only after he secured absolution. As a result of his counsel, the Colonna family left the fortress only to be punished by Boniface. Later, Guido died in the Franciscan monastery in Assisi.

  “Guido’s account of what happened after his death is dramatic. We can envision St. Francis courageously confronting a demon in order to rescue the soul of his fellow Franciscan. ”

  Her eyes flickered to Gabriel’s, which were a lively, expressive blue. A look passed between the two, and for an instant she knew they were both thinking of the ways they had rescued each other.

  “But as is usual with Dante’s writings, appearances can be deceiving. In life, Guido had a persuasive but deceptive tongue. In death, he inhabits the circle of the fraudulent. So his words should be treated with skepticism. Certainly, skepticism is warranted about Guido’s claim that Francis came for his soul. If that was Francis’s purpose, he failed.

  “Nowhere else in The Divine Comedy do we witness evil overcoming goodness. The Comedy is so called because the narrative moves from disorder in Hell to order in Paradise. If one soul were to be punished unjustly, it would undermine the entire narrative. So a lot is at stake in this passage. Our interpretation of it has significance for the entire Comedy. ”

  Julia paused and took a sip of water, her hand shaking slightly.

  “According to Dante, justice motivated God to create Hell. Virgil alludes to this when he explains that justice motivates the souls of the departed to pass over the river Acheron into Hell. Dante seems to take the view that those who inhabit Hell do so justly, because they merit their final destination. Souls aren’t in Hell by accident or because of divine caprice. If that’s the case, how do we interpret Guido’s statements?”

  Katherine nodded, her eyes sparkling with pride. The movement caught Julia’s attention, and a short look passed between the two women.

  “With the understanding that Dante believes the souls that inhabit Hell do so justly, let’s reconsider Guido’s story. The demon sees Francis and shouts at him, saying that Guido’s soul belongs in Hell and that it would be robbery for Francis to take it. If that’s true, why would Francis appear?”

  Julia paused, hoping that the audience would join her in considering the question.

  “A survey of the literature in Dante studies for the past fifty years reveals at least two interpretations of this passage. First, that Guido is truthful and Francis appeared for his soul. Second, that Guido is lying and Francis didn’t appear at all.

  “I believe that both possibilities are too extreme. For the first interpretation to be the correct, we’d have to attribute either ignorance or injustice to Francis, neither of which is reasonable.

  “The second interpretation asserts that Francis didn’t appear, but then the demon’s speech doesn’t make sense, since Guido cannot steal his own soul. So we’re left with a puzzling report of Francis’s appearance, accompanied by an explanation that strains credulity. The explanation is given by Guido and a demon, neither of whom is trustworthy.

  “I believe we can solve the puzzle of Francis’s appearance by rejecting Guido’s explanation, and substituting one that would be consistent with Francis’s life and character. According to my interpretation, Francis appeared and was seen by the demon. But the demon misunderstood why Francis was there. ”

  Julia began to g
rip the lectern more tightly, as the members of the audience began to murmur. Her mouth felt dry as the desert, but she continued, her eyes locked on Gabriel’s.

  “Much as it might be . . . comforting to think of Francis coming down from Heaven like an archangel to fight for Guido’s soul, that can’t be what happened. ” A look passed between the Emersons before Julia continued.

  “Guido capitalizes on Francis’s well-known commitment to his brothers, no doubt thinking that reasonable people will believe that he appeared at the death of a fellow Franciscan. Further, Guido wants Dante to spread this tale, so others will think that he was important enough to merit the saint’s attention, or that his condemnation to Hell was a mistake.

  “The demon, thinking to persuade Francis not to rob him, explains why Guido deserves to be in Hell. Guido sought absolution for the sin of fraudulent counsel before he committed the sin. He believed absolution would free him from the consequences of his sin, and so he willingly and unrepentantly committed fraud against the Colonna family.

  “The demon points out that absolution only works if the human being repents. You can’t sin intentionally and be repentant of your sin at the same time. ” Julia gave the audience a tentative smile. “Absolution isn’t like fire insurance. ”

  (At this, a few members of the audience, including Paul, laughed. )

  “Guido cloaks himself in Franciscan robes and preemptive absolution, but he’s a fraud. Francis would have known this. If anything, Guido shamed the Franciscans by behaving the way he did.

  “Although Francis could have condemned Guido’s sin, he remains silent. He can’t save Guido. He has to watch as the demon takes Guido by the hair and drags him down.

  “The ugliness of the demon’s shouting and Guido’s false Franciscanism appear even worse when contrasted with Francis’s quiet, pious presence. His silence and lack of action give the lie to the demon’s explanation that Francis is there to steal. And his silence forces us to reexamine Guido’s tale.

  “Would Francis have been so passive in trying to rescue a soul that was condemned unjustly? Of course not. But since Guido hasn’t repented of his sin, all Francis can offer him is his silent compassion and, possibly, his prayers. ”

  Julia paused and intentionally looked in Christa’s direction.

  “Francis could have argued with the demon. He could have called him a liar for presenting a false account of his appearance. He could have protested that the demon is simply gossiping about him. But instead of fighting to preserve his good name, Francis is quiet so that the evil can be heard for exactly what it is. ”

  Julia shifted her gaze to the other conferencegoers, noting numerous nods of agreement and Paul’s wide, expressive grin.

  “Guido would have us believe that St. Francis was either gullible enough to believe that Guido belonged in Heaven or arrogant enough to believe that he could second-guess God. Guido would have us believe that Francis confronted a demon but lost, because he wasn’t smart enough to best the demon in a match of logic.

  “Francis’s life and his actions give the lie to those possibilities. In my view, he comes to the grave of Guido da Montefeltro to mourn him and his life of fraud, not to rescue him. In so doing, Francis manifests compassion and mercy, although it is a severe mercy. ” At this, Julia’s eyes met her husband’s.

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