Dante’s Paradiso – Canto 29

Beatrice speaks to Dante during this entire Canto. Seeing in the mind of God that Dante has questions about the nature of the angels, she explains that – contrary to a proposition by St. Jerome – they sprang into being all at once as a manifestation of God’s love. Furthermore, along with the angels the material world and the entire cosmos came into being – all reflecting the light of the Creator. She then explains how Lucifer and some of the newly-created angels fell through pride almost instantly. The rest remained faithful to their Creator and exist eternally in joy beyond telling as they look at nothing else but God. In the second half of this Canto Beatrice sternly criticizes writers and preachers who fill their readers or their congregations with nonsensical ideas about doctrinal matters with never a mention of the Gospel. She then returns to her explanation of the nature of the angels, reminding Dante that they are countless in number and each one is unique in its reflection of divine Light and Grace.

            When the Sun and Moon – Latona’s twins – take their places along the horizon, one beneath Aries and the other beneath Libra, for the smallest part of a moment until each moves into a different hemisphere – for just such a moment did my smiling Beatrice fix her eyes on that Point of light that had nearly blinded me. Then she said: “I will now answer your question that I see in the mind of God, where everything finds its center. Not to gain anything for Himself, which could never be, but simply that His glory might show itself ever more magnificently by declaring I AM for all eternity,  in this Light of Eternal Love beyond time and space other expressions of His love came into being. And do not wonder about what He did before this because there is no ‘before’ or ‘after’ with Him.

            “In His great act of love, the angels, the natural world, and all the heavens sprang into being at once – perfectly – like three arrows shot from a bow with three strings. Consider how a ray of light shines through crystal, infusing all of it and reflecting itself immediately. In the same way, God’s three-fold creation came into existence all at once without a beginning and with no intervals between them.

            “With the creation of the angels there was at the same time the creation of order in the cosmos. At the highest level of His creation were the angels, called ‘pure act’. At the lowest level was basic matter, called ‘pure potential’. And in between them was the cosmos – a mixture of the two, called ‘potential-to-act’, bound together in such a way that they can never be undone.

            “St. Jerome wrote that the angels existed for centuries before God completed His creation. But the writers of Scripture, guided by the Holy Spirit, take a different view if you search the pages carefully. Even without Scripture, reason itself would propose that the angels could not have been less than perfect for such a long time.

            “Now your three questions have been answered: you know where and when these angelic loves were created, and how. But, some of those angels fell from their exalted heights to the bottom of Hell faster than you could count to twenty. The rest of them remained true to their Maker and from that moment and forever more, they whirl with endless delight in those great circles you saw. The reason some fell was because of the foul pride of that evil one you saw standing in the ice and crushed by the weight of the universe. Instantly, the rest that you see here humbly attributed their vast intelligence to the love of their Lord and God. As a result of this, their vision was raised by His grace and their own worth to such an extent that they will nothing else but to look lovingly upon the Source of that grace. And if you have any doubts about this, believe me when I tell you that the degree to which one is open to the receipt of grace, that is the measure of their worth.

            “From now on, if you have listened carefully to what I told you, you should be able to understand a great deal about this place without more help from me. But since your schools on Earth teach that the nature of angels is comprised of understanding, memory, and will, let me say more about this and show you the truth which, down there, has become confused by ambiguous arguments.

            “From that joyful moment when these angelic beings first looked upon the face of God wherein all is revealed, they have never taken their eyes away from It. Thus, nothing comes between them and what they see eternally. As a result, they have no need of memory because their thoughts are not interrupted by some new object as are men on earth, who dream while they are awake and insist it is the truth, or not the truth – to their guilt and shame. You mortals love to make a show of  your wits when you philosophize, and then lose sight of the truth. But Heaven frowns less on this than on those who subvert God’s holy Word. They care little for the blood that was shed to sow the seeds of that Word and fail to see how pleasing to God are those who humbly follow it. Intent on making a good impression on their hearers, they fabricate their own groundless truths for preachers to proclaim, but not a word of the Gospel!

            “Some of them teach that the darkness during Christ’s Passion was caused by the moon reversing its course and hiding the sun’s light from the earth – such lies! The sun hid its own light, and that darkness extended from Spain to India, including the land of the Jews. Sadly, tales like this are heard from pulpits everywhere – more in a year’s time than all the Lapi and Bindi living in Florence! Unfortunately, because they don’t know any better, the poor sheep in those flocks come away from their fields still hungry – though their ignorance of right teaching does not excuse their guilt. After all, Christ did not command his Apostles to go forth and preach nonsense. Rather, He gave them a foundation of truth to build upon. And so they battled against the darkness armed only with His holy Gospel as their shield and lance. Nowadays, pulpits are filled with jokes and buffoonery, and the hoods of those foolish preachers are puffed up with pride if they can make their congregations laugh. But if those in church could see the evil bird that nests in those hoods, they would also see what folly they trusted in. People are so gullible: they believe any promise and forget to ask for proof. Such credulity is what fattens Saint Anthony’s pig, and pigs bigger than his grow even larger as they fatten their wealth through forgery.

            “But enough of this digression. Set your mind back on the true path because we need to fit our words into the time we have left here. The nature of the angels is so far beyond human comprehension that no thought or word can possibly comprehend it all. You need only look in the Book of Daniel to see that when he refers to their thousands he is not referring to a specific number. Shining down on all of them, the First Light flows through each of them and reflects in its own individual way – every angel uniquely. And since the act of seeing always comes before the act of loving, the joy of the angels’ love is manifest differently – some glow white hot while others blaze in glory. Now you see both the height and the breadth of God’s eternal goodness, and how that goodness divides itself among this countless host of angels who reflect it back to its Source which remains always and forever One in Itself.”