This is the last part of Purgatorio, the highest level of Mount of Purgatory: The Earthly Paradise, which Dante reaches after passing all the seven terraces: Terrace1-2, Terrace 3-5, Terrace 6-7, as well as Ante-Purgatory.
Beatrice Addressing Dante, by William Blake
Dante leaves the Mountainside freely, now takes lead of his two teachers who are now following him silently from behind. He enters the Divine wood, dark and beautiful in the nature, and meets a clear dark water stream. Across it he sees a beautiful lady is gathering flowers while singing. It is Matilda (another symbol of active spiritual life). Dante questions her about the nature of the Garden, and she explains that it is the Garden that God created before Adam and Eve fell into sin. The Garden is created for goodness, as Man is destined for goodness. It was raised above the storms of Earth as a place of peace, a divine pledge. The Man did not stay there long because of his own fault. The water flows from God, and the one at one side washes away the memory of sin, while the other one keeps the memory of good deeds. This place is the Earthly Paradise; a place of peace, beauty, humanism, and classical wisdom.
Resuming his journey following Matilda’s step, Dante sees a glowing light flooding into the forest, accompanied by a sweet melody. Dante condemns Adam’s fall that unveiled his eyes from these beauteous scene. Then suddenly the air turns to blazing fire. Seven branched candlesticks appear, representing seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, which are singing ‘Hosanna’. Behind them, Dante sees people bringing seven banners, representing the seven sacraments as the works of the seven gifts of Holy Spirit. Behind them are twenty four elders (representing books of Old Testament) and four creatures (as in the books of Revelation and Ezekiel).
There are also two-wheel chariot (representing contemplative and active life in Church). After that, Dante sees two old men: Luke and Paul, followed by the four writers of the epistles: Paul, James, Peter and Jude. On their back is John the Divine, author of book of Revelation. Then suddenly Dante hears a clap of thunder that the procession into a halt. The Elders turns to the Chariot, singing the Song of Solomon. The Saints will rise from their tombs and reunite with their bodies singing Hallelujah on the Day of Judgment; so as a hundreds spirit inside the Chariot.
Dante, who is now fit to have a visionary revelation, sees Beatrice appears among the cascade of flowers. But as Beatrice appears, Virgil vanishes from Dante’s side. Dante cries at the separation. Beatrice warns him not to cry, and that he would weep more soon. She scowls at Dante’s temerity to approach the Mount, and when he turns his look at the water of Lethe (that is supposed to erase memories) he could still see his memories (symbol of seeing into one’s soul), which makes him ashamed. Beatrice explains to the Angels how Dante was good in his virtues when Beatrice was alive and guiding him, but he turned to the opposite side after her death. Even when she appeared in his dream, Dante kept unchanged. The only way Beatrice could save him was by asking Virgil to guide him through Inferno. And now to pass the Lethe, Dante must repent by shedding tears.
Dante has come to the threshold of his purification. Here he confesses his weakness of worldly distractions that had led him to moral failing, while Beatrice rebukes him. Dante is ashamed to the accusation, and repents. At last Matilda comes and takes Dante with her over the Lethe, where he hears Asperges Me (symbol of baptism). Matilda forces him to drink the Lethe water which will wash away any memory of sin from his mind. Cleansed, Dante is brought by four ‘cardinals’ to see Beatrice’s eyes, through which he sees Christ in the shape of double nature of a Grifon.
Adjusting his sight, Dante then watches the Divine Pageant turns away to the right. Dante, Matilda and Statius follow the right wheel of the Chariot through the forest of Earthly Paradise. Beatrice descends from the Chariot, and all of them surround a bare tree which is the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil (symbolizing earthly empire). The Grifon (Christ) is blessed for not taking anything from the tree (temporal powers of the earth). Grifon then takes the Chariot pole within the Tree which appears to be the Cross, and binds it to the Tree (linking the Church and the empire but maintaining each in its sphere).
People sing a hymn that Dante doesn’t understand; and he soon falls asleep. He awakes just like the three disciples: Peter, John and James has been brought at the Transfiguration. Dante finds Matilda bending over him, showing him that Beatrice is sitting on the root of the Tree (Rome—after the Church and the Empire has been united), watching the four cardinals and three theological who carries Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirits. Beatrice then instructs Dante to write about the Chariot as he would see it, when he returns on earth (these would be symbolizing the history of the Church and the Empire).
Obediently Dante sees consecutively: the eagle (ten persecutions of the Church by Roman emperors from Nero to Diocletian), the vixen (heresies of the early Church, suppressed by the writings of the Fathers), then the eagle descends (the donation from Constantine to the Church in the era of Pope Sylvester I, which Dante sees as the source of involvement of the Church in temporal power, and Constantine involvement to the Church). Then the ground under the Chariot is opened, and from it emerges the dragon with its spiteful tail (Islamic schism), leaving feathers cover the Chariot when it leaves (temporal power and worldly wealth) which makes Church becomes the Monster with the seven capital sins as its heads. Seated on the Monster, the whore (corrupted Papacy under Boniface VIII and Clement V); the giant kisses the whore (French dynasty, especially Philip the Fair who connived with Clement V to move the papal court to Avignon), but when she turns her eyes to Dante, the giant scourges her and looses the monster. Beatrice then implies that the Church is corrupted but will be cleansed.
After that, Beatrice prophecies that the Church will gain its power and its Divine origin once more; that a new leader will come and get the Church rid of its corruption. She says it’s a blasphemy, that the tree of the Empire has been twice despoiled (by Adam, by taking the apple, and by the wood, the chariot pole, being taken to form the Cross). Beatrice reminds Dante to write all about it.
Finally they reach the source of Lethe and Eunoë; Dante is amazed at the nature of the streams. Beatrice reminds Dante that the confession and the revelation of Divine Pageant have erased his memory of virtuous actions. Matilda then leads Dante and Statius to drink the water from Eunoë to restore the memory of it. The water refreshes Dante, renews and purifies him, so that he is ready now to climb to Paradise.