Study Guide

Paradiso Paradise Canto XXIX: (Ninth Heaven: the Primum Mobile)

By Dante Alighieri

Paradise Canto XXIX: (Ninth Heaven: the Primum Mobile)

  • For just a moment, Beatrice falls silent as Dante observes the model.
  • Then she speaks, answering all Dante's questions before he can even ask them. She tells him the Creation story. She is qualified to tell such a story, she claims, because she has observed the Mind of God.
  • According to Beatrice, God didn't create the universe so that he could acquire more goodness, but only to see Himself reflected in His creation. The Creation was an outpouring of God's love and also the beginning of time.
  • Beatrice continues on, saying that God created three substances first: pure form, pure matter, and a combination of the two; these all flashed into existence spontaneously and simultaneously, in a burst of light. They were divided up into an ordered hierarchy with pure act (or angels) at the top and pure potentiality (matter) at the bottom, and the combination of the two in between.
  • Now St. Jerome, Beatrice deviates, claimed that the Angels were created long before the universe, but he is wrong. The story she tells is the truth, and it is supported by Scripture. Reason, too, supports her claim, because if the angels were created solely to move the heavens, then they would have had no purpose if they'd been created long before the universe.
  • Back to the story. Very soon after the Creation, a number of angels, led by Lucifer, revolted against God, and were thrown down to the Erath, the lowest of the Spheres. The remainder of the angels rejoiced and then began their tasks of keeping the universe in motion.
  • So, Lucifer fell because of his pride, while the rest of the angels, content in the knowledge that God had a purpose for them, remained patient and loyal. God rewarded them later with the knowledge to move the universe and with his grace, so that their wills remain intact. They have perfect vision of God and thus, their will is always in conformity with His.
  • Beatrice offers to explain some more, since the teachings down on earth are ambiguous. These angels, because they love God so perfectly, never turn their faces away from His face. They constantly gaze at perfection, so they have no need of memory, unlike humans.
  • Then Beatrice turns this lesson into a diatribe against teachers and preachers who are too proud of their own genius to look for truth and divinity. She blasts philosophers who care more for show than truth and thus lead the field astray. She lambastes those who deliberately pervert the meaning the Holy Scriptures, filling people's minds with nonsense while the true Gospels remain silent.
  • One of the more popular of these intellectual inventions is the idea that the eclipse which brought darkness to the world was a specifically engineered lunar eclipse. Beatrice scornfully denies this, saying that it wasn't just dark in Jerusalem, but all around the world.
  • Many people, Beatrice says, believe false stories like this, but being unaware of their falseness does not excuse them from sin. According to Beatrice, Christ did tell his followers to go forth and preach false stories, but only gave them true teaching to act as their weapons. But now people preach with "jests and jeers," preaching in ridiculous cowls, in which the Devil rears his ugly head. All of these lessons allow the false teachers to swindle people out of their money.
  • Beatrice cuts herself short and gets back on track. Now for the lesson about the number of angels, which is short and sweet: there are an infinite number of angels because they represent the infinite number of ways God can express his love.