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The Divine Comedy > Paradiso, Cantos XXVII thru XXX

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message 1: by Manny (new)

Manny (virmarl) | 3633 comments Mod
Summary

Canto XXVII

Still in the Starry Sphere and Adam having completed his explanation of his transgression, all the souls in Paradise sing the Glory Be. The beauty of the song fills Date (the character) with immense joy and peace. The four souls in front of him (Peter, James, John, and Adam) are now aflame like four torches, and Peter stepping forward turns red. He angrily goes into an invective on the corruption of the current holder of the See of Rome, Dante’s arch enemy Pope Boniface VIII. St. Peter is so angry that even the heavens turn red, and Beatrice too turns color. Peter goes on to further deplore Boniface, calling him a ravenous wolf and prophesies that Providence will soon punish him. He tells Dante directly that Dante has a burden to tell the world the truth about Boniface. Once Peter is finished, Dante and Beatrice start rising to the next sphere—the Crystalline Sphere—and half way there Beatrice has Dante once again look back to see the smallness of the earth and remnants of past sins. When they finally reach the Crystalline Sphere, Beatrice reading Dante’s mind, answers his questions on the nature of the universe. She explains that the Crystalline Sphere does not have a physical existence but resides as part of the mind of God. It is this light and love that wraps around the physical universe like a “flowerpot.” Beatrice goes on to decry the sinful state of man that fails to realize the love of God, mostly because of failed human leadership.

Canto XXVIII

Now in the Crystalline Sphere, Dante looks into Beatrice’s eyes and sees reflected the center point of the revolving universe. When he turns to look at the point directly, the beam of light is so sharp, bright, and piercing that he momentarily goes blind again. The point of light, so incredibly small but so intensely bright, is God. Around the pinpoint which is God are nine circles, and each circle is comprised of a queue of angels burning bright and rotating around the center point. Each circle is made up of a particular type of angel. The innermost is made up of Seraphim; the next Cheraphim followed by Thrones, then Dominions, Virtues, Powers, Principalities, Archangels, and Angels. Beatrice divines Dante’s befuddlement and explains. The innermost circle spins the fastest because it is powered by flaming love. Each subsequent circle spins slower than the previous, the outermost the slowest. Dante (the character) responds that this runs counter to earthbound spinning wheels where the farthest from the center, the faster the velocity. Finally Dante understands that the speed is relational to love. At this the circles sparkle with flame. All these angels look upward toward God, though their actions effect those below.

Canto XXIX

Still in the Crystalline Sphere, Beatrice perceives that Dante wonders how many angels there are, why did God feel the need to create angels, and why so many? Beatrice explains the number of angels is finite, answering a long debated question, but of an astronomical number (two the 64th power) and that God didn't need to make angels but made them to express and expand love. The more one creates with abundant love, the more abundant is love, and so God shows his creative generosity in the large number. She goes on to explain the nature of angels. She says that St. Jerome was wrong about angels being created before the universe. All creation happened in a flash of light at the same time. At that time things of only form, things of only matter, and things of mixed form and matter were all created. Angels are of form only. She explains that the bad angels fell almost immediately through their pride. Good angels are humble. Similar to the fallen angels, Beatrice explains that bad preachers on earth concoct some new, trendy theology to impress people and attract followers. She says that this is a violation of Christ's mandate to humbly preach the Gospel, not idle nonsense. It's precisely because of this foolishness that people on earth have lost their way. She redirects his attention back to the angels. She points out how God's love is what causes them to glow.

Canto XXX

Still at the Crystalline Sphere and at mid-day, the pilgrims begin rising upward toward the Empyrean. Dante (the character) unable to look at the center light, turns his eyes toward Beatrice. Her beauty has once again increased and now transcends to a level that only God could fully appreciate it. Dante as a poet cannot capture it in words. He realizes that he has been trying to capture her beauty since he first saw her at nine years old, but now, defeated as a writer, he has to quit. She explains that the Empyrean is a place of pure light, of love, of joy, and of sweetness. As Dante enters, he is once again blinded. In his blindness he sees a flowing river of light with sparks flying off onto the flowers on the banks. He is told his eyes must drink of this light, and he places his face into it so that his eye lashes are washed. When he lifts his head, he can now see and sharper than ever. He can now see that the river runs in a circle and all those sparks flying off are angels and all those flowers on the banks are human souls. He can now see all. He can see the creator's light, reflected across the heavens from which moves all motion. He sees across the Empyrean a structure that is in the form of a rose, with the point of light that is God at the center. With her last words, Beatrice invites him to see the City of God with all its heavenly goodness, which, she says, contrasts with Florence, that city of greed and strife.


message 2: by Manny (new)

Manny (virmarl) | 3633 comments Mod
I hope there are still a few following this. The ending here is magnificent.


message 3: by Frances (new)

Frances Richardson | 534 comments Your dedication has been so admirable and the work you produced so eloquent that we are all in your debt, Manny. Thank you.


message 4: by Manny (new)

Manny (virmarl) | 3633 comments Mod
Frances wrote: "Your dedication has been so admirable and the work you produced so eloquent that we are all in your debt, Manny. Thank you."

Frances, you're a blessing to me. :)


message 5: by Manny (new)

Manny (virmarl) | 3633 comments Mod
These four cantos fill in Dante’s (the author) vision of the cosmos. Let’s walk through this to see how stunning and beautiful it actually is.

The Crystalline Sphere comprises the ninth circlet of either orbits of celestial planets (moon through Saturn) or circumscribing regions such as the Starry Sphere, which are constellations of stars, and the Crystalline Sphere. The earth is the center of the physical universe as commonly thought then. What is the Crystalline Sphere? We learn it is the swiftest circling of the spheres (XXVII.99) and Beatrice explains its nature.

'This heaven has no other where
but in the mind of God, in which is kindled
the love that turns it and the power it pours down.

'Light and love enclose it in a circle,
as it contains the others. Of that girding
He that girds it is the sole Intelligence. (XXVII.109-114)


It doesn’t have a physical existence and exists in the mind of God. It’s made up of light and love and it wraps the entire universe into a sort of encompassing ball if you can imagine it three dimensionally. Dante uses the metaphor of a flowerpot to describe how it wraps the entrails of the physical universe. While it is in the mind of God, I think the implication is that is actually part of the mind of God.

If the Crystalline Sphere is part of the mind of God, in the next canto Dante is allowed to see God Himself, albeit from a far distance. At first Dante sees God reflected in Beatrice’s two eyes. It is a beam of light which he refers to as a “double-candle lamp’ (XXVIII.4). It’s double because it’s reflecting in each eye, but when he turns around he can see it’s a single pinpoint beam of light.

When I turned back and my eyes were struck
by what appears on that revolving sphere --
if one but contemplates its circling –

I saw a point that flashed a beam of light
so sharp the eye on which it burns
must close against its piercing brightness. (13-18)


He goes on to describe the size of that point. He says if you take the smallest star that one sees and puts it beside this point, the star would seem the size of our moon relative to the point (19-20). In other words, that point is infinitesimally small.

Now contemplate the wonder of this. God is simultaneously an infinitesimal point—which is one dimensional, not even two and certainly not three—and infinitely huge when you consider that the mind of God, the Crystalline Sphere, enwraps the entire universe. Dante has conceptualized the infinite from both ends of size simultaneously in God. Next time a snotty atheist ridicules you for believing in an “old man in the sky,” present this as the nature of God.

That pin point which is God also has nine ringlets around it, just like the physical universe. Each ring is made up of a multitude of angels, a huge number, gathered in a queue and circling about the point which is God. There are nine types of angels and each ring is comprised of a particular type. From the inner ring to the out, they are Seraphim, Cheraphim, Thrones, Dominions, Virtues, Powers, Principalities, Archangels, and Angels. I don’t understand enough about angels to understand the progression, but I am sure there is a logic to the progression.

While the concentric circles of the physical universe increase in rotating speed the further you go out, the concentric circles surrounding God increase in speed the further in toward God you go. It is explained that the inner circle is “spurred on by flaming love” (XXVIII.45). The outer circle of angels is in contact with Crystalline Sphere, and the motion of the angels drives the motion of the physical universe. It’s almost as if it is two gears are in contact with each other, one driving the other. So God at the center propels the energy of its gear wheel which drives the second gear wheel. God’s bursting love is the energy that makes the cosmos move.

Side note. T. S. Eliot in his great The Four Quartets, refers to a “still point point of the turning world.” This is what he is alluding to, Dante’s vision of God as a point in the center of the universe that propels everything.

I’m not completely sure, but I don’t think the Crystalline Sphere and the Primum Mobile are the same thing. Or perhaps the Primum Mobile may be a subset of the Crystalline Sphere. I’m speculating a little here, but I think the contact surface between the outer ring of angels and the Crystalline Sphere is Dante’s conception of the Primum Mobile. The Primum Mobile was not a Dantean invention but something conceptualized as far back as classical astronomy. It is the point from which God moves the universe, the first cause of a link of causes that enacts God’s will. So here is Dante’s total cosmic conception: God causes the angels to metaphysically enact His will which transfers to a physical act at the Primum Mobile, which effects events down at the earth. Beatrice explains it thus:

'Greater goodness makes for greater blessedness,
and greater bliss takes on a greater body
when all its parts are equal in perfection.

'This sphere, therefore, which sweeps into its motion
the rest of the universe, must correspond
to the ring that loves and knows the most,

'so that, if you apply your measure,
not to their appearances but to the powers themselves
of the angels that appear to you as circles,

'you will see a marvelous congruence,
larger with more, smaller with less, in each sphere
according to its celestial Intelligence. (XXVIII.67-78)


Now one can fully picture the journey through Paradiso that Dante (the character) has been on. There are two groups of concentric circles, almost as if two pebbles have been dropped in a lake, each having ripples of circles emanating outward. Dante starts at the center of the first, the earth, and traverses outward until he reaches the end and has to traverse into the other group of ripples. And from there he is projected into the center of the second group, the center which is God. This is not only Dante’s journey, but the journey of all saved souls who will come to rest in heaven.

It is a vision of cosmic creation, function, and harmony worthy of any mystic. It is beautiful and complete.


message 6: by Manny (new)

Manny (virmarl) | 3633 comments Mod
These are very rich cantos. Let me provide some more thoughts.

Canto XXIX is almost entirely spent on the creation and nature of angels. It reminds me of medieval philosophical arguments on angels, the common joke being that they argued over how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, It is pointed out that God did not need to create angels to enact His will. He can do it through His word. So why did He? Beatrice explains:

'Not to increase His store of goodness,
a thing impossible, but that His splendor,
shining back, might say Subsisto,

'in His eternity, beyond time, beyond
any other limit, as it pleased Him,
in these new loves, Eternal Love unfolded. (XXIX.13-18)


Through the creative act, God unfolded the love that He is into other substances, so that shining back they gave existence to love, all for His pleasure. How many angels did He create? Dante (through Beatrice) decidedly stipulates that it is a finite number but a number that is huge. It’s greater than two to the sixty-fourth power (a doubling of each square of a chess board) which amounts to 18 followed by 18 zeros. Why so many? Because God in His abundant love creates abundantly. Cureently it’s spring time here and all the little buds and leaves are starting to open green, and when one steps back one can see such an abundance of new life. That’s God in action creating angels, like the blossoming of every new bud or leaf or blade.

It is interesting that the rebellion and defeat of the bad angels happened almost immediately after their creation. Time seems to always be conflated in Dante’s heaven. Remember that Adam back in Canto XXVI says that his fall from grace happened six hours after creation. Dante’s (the character) trip through Paradiso amounts to a single day. Is eternity in the Dantean cosmology the living out of a single day forever? I don’t know.

While these four cantos capture the most sublime visions and conceptions of God and the heavens, there are several moments where Dante (the author) contrasts such beauty and divine with the fallen and sordid. In Canto XXVII we see St. Peter, the first Pope, angrily rant against Pope Boniface VIII, Dante's nemesis.

'He who on earth usurps my place,
my place, my place, which in the eyes
of God's own Son is vacant,

'has made my tomb a sewer of blood and filth,
so that the Evil One, who fell from here above,
takes satisfaction there below.' (22-27)


St. Peter says it three times, Boniface VIII has desecrated "my place/my place, my place," making it a sewer. Putting the words in the mouth of the most important Holy Father ever makes the condemnation of Boniface even more forceful.

Later in Canto XXVII, when Beatrice and Dante are half way up the Crystalline Sphere and they stop to look back on earth, Dante (the character) identifies not some noble earthly spot but the locations where some disreputable events occurred.

Since the last time I looked down
I saw I had traversed all of the arc
from the midpoint of the first clime to its end,

so that on the one side I could see, beyond Gades,
the mad track of Ulysses, on the other, nearly
to the shore where Europa made sweet burden of herself. (79-84)


The "mad track of Ulysses" beyond Gades refers to Ulysses' last voyage to penetrate God's domain (see Inferno, Canto XXVI) and the shore where Zeus seduced Europa. Both these stories trace back to the earliest roots of civilization, perhaps indicating intrinsic qualities to mankind, pride for Ulysses and lust for Europa.

Other examples of contrasting baseness are the fallen angels, the bad preachers who in their pride drift into heresy and buffoonery (XXIX.83-117), and Beatrice's last words where once again Pope Boniface is denigrated:

'But short shall be the time God suffers him
in holy office, for he shall be thrust
down there where Simon Magus gets what he deserves,
and push that fellow from Anagni deeper down.' (XXX.145-148)


The contrast for the fallen is just as important as the sublime. It accentuates the sublime.

Allow me this one personal opinion. Far be it from me to tell Dante how to write the greatest work of literature, but at this point in heaven I think it would have been best for Dante to let go the bitterness of Boniface VIII's treacherous actions that led to Dante being exiled, but if he could not forgive him, at least be at peace with him. He is before the Divine Being, where forgiveness is mandated for Christians. Consider this. If it wasn't for Dante being exiled, he would most likely not have written the Divine Comedy. He would probably be remembered as a good poet who was a bureaucrat in the Florentine government. The Commedia would never have existed.

When Dante (the character) passes into the Primmum Mobile, he goes blind again. When his eyes adjust he sees a flowing river of light. Beatrice explains his final baptism: 'But you must drink first of these waters before your great thirst may be satisfied’ (XXX.74-75). Notice the echo of Christ words to the Samaritan woman at the well, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again; but whoever drinks the water I shall give will never thirst; the water I shall give will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:13-14). Dante creates that spring in the Empyrean.

When Dante lifts his head out of the flowing light, he now can see everything. He sees the river actually flows circularly. He sees what he thought were flowers to be saints and what he thought to be sparks to be angels. He sees the light of God above and vast court of heaven beyond him, which is in the shape of a rose.

There is a light above that makes the Creator
visible to every creature
that finds its only peace in seeing Him.

It spreads itself into so vast a circle
that its circumference would be larger
than the sphere that is the sun. (XXX.100-105)


Beatrice welcomes him to the rose where the blessed reside.

I, like a man who is silent but would speak,
was led by Beatrice, and she said: 'Behold
how vast the white-robed gathering!

'See our city, with its vast expanse!
See how many are the seats already filled --
few are the souls still absent there! (127-132)


This city is akin to a huge stadium where each of the blessed have a seat, and at the center, equidistant to any seat is God.

It is striking how many images of circles we have been given in heaven, with a crescendo of circlets here at the inner regions; the planetary orbits, the crystalline sphere, the rose, the pinpoint that is God, the nine circles of angels rotating about God, the universe circling about the pinpoint, the circular river of light. The circle is the symbol of eternity, of perfection, and of wholeness. The circle makes things complete, which is what heaven does to us.


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