Paradiso -- Canto XXIX

Creation of Angels and Cosmos



1 The children of Latona are Apollo the sun and Diana the moon. In the spring equinox, as the sun sets in Aries the Ram and the moon rises opposite in Libra the Scales, they are in balance and share the same circular horizon.









22 God’s creation is threefold: pure form of the angels, pure matter of the physical earth, and form and matter combined in the physical heavens. This creation was instantaneous and simultaneous.








37 Saint Jerome (d. 420) was mistaken in holding that angels existed long before the universe.






















































118 The bird up the monk's sleeve and tippet is a devil.



124 Saint Anthony (250-356), the Egyptian hermit, had as his symbol a pig (the devil) at his feet. The monks of his order in Italy kept pigs fattened on almsgiving.





134 The reference is to Daniel 7:9-10.

          When the two children of Latona, poised
          One in the Ram, the other in the Scales,
          Wear the horizon as a single sash,
5         As long as from the time the zenith holds them
          In balance till, unbalanced, one and other
          Slip from the sash by changing hemispheres,
          Just so long, with a smile traced on her face,
          Beatrice was silent, gazing steadfastly
          Upon the Point which overmastered me.
10       Then she began, "I tell, and do not ask,
          What you want most to hear, since I have seen it
          Where every where and every when are focused.
          "Not for the gain of some good for Himself —
          Something that cannot be — but that his splendor
15       Might say in its resplendence, ‘I exist,’
          "In his eternity outside of time,
          Outside all other limits, as he pleased,
          Eternal Love then opened in new loves.
          "Nor did he lie as if asleep before,
20       For there was no before or after when
          The Spirit of God moved upon the waters.
          "Pure form and matter and the two combined
          Came into being which was wholly flawless,
          Like three arrows shot from a three-stringed bow.
25       "And as in glass, in amber, or in crystal
          A ray so flashes that there is no pause
          Between its falling and its filling all,
          "So the threefold effect beamed from its Lord
          And flamed into its being all at once,
30       With no distinctions about its beginning.
          "Within that action, order was created
          For these existences, and at the summit
          Of the whole world were those made in pure act.
          "Pure potency held down the lowest place;
35       At midpoint, potency and act were tied
          So tightly they can never be unknotted.
          "Jerome described the angels in his writings
          Being created a vast span of ages
          Before the rest of the universe was made;
40       "But the scribes of the Holy Spirit write
          On many pages the truth I tell to you,
          And you shall see it if you look out sharply.
          "And reason, partially, discerns the truth,
          Which would not grant that those with power to move
45       Should for long fail to act on their perfection.
          "Now you know where and when and how these loves
          Have been created, so that three of the flames
          Of your desire already are snuffed out.
          "More quickly than it takes to count to twenty,
50       A number of the angels thundered down
          And crashed into your elemental bedrock.
          "The rest remained and introduced the art
          Of circling, as you see, with such deep rapture
          That they will never cease from whirling round.
55       "The root-cause of the fall was the accursed
          Pride of that One whom you saw for yourself
          Crushed by the whole weight of the universe.
          "Those you see here had the humility
          To recognize that they come from that Goodness
60       Which makes them fit for such intelligence.
          "By this response their vision was exalted
          Through illuminating grace and through their merit,
          So that they have a full and steadfast will.
          "And I do not want you in doubt, but certain,
65       That to receive grace is a source of merit
          To the extent that love is open to it.
          "Now, if you have absorbed what I have said,
          You here may contemplate without more help
          A great deal that regards this congregation.
70       "But since they teach in your schools down on earth
          That the angelic nature is possessed
          Of understanding, memory, and will,
          "I shall speak on, that you may clearly see
          The simple truth which is confused below
75       By the equivocation in such teaching.
          "These beings, since they first found happiness
          In the face of God, have never turned their eyes
          Away from his, from which no sight is hid,
          "So that their sight is never interrupted
80       By a new object, and they have no need
          Of remembering through disconnected thoughts.
          "So people down there dream while wide awake,
          Believing or not believing they speak the truth,
          But there is more blame for the unbeliever.
85       "You mortals do not walk along one track
          In your philosophy: your love of show
          And thinking of it lead you far astray.
          "Yet even this fault meets with less displeasure
          Up here in heaven than when the Holy Scripture
90       Is set aside or when it is perverted.
          "There they forget how dear the cost in blood
          To sow it in the world, and how deep here
          The joy in one who humbly keeps the word.
          "Each tries to show off and plies his inventions,
95       And these are put in sermons by the preachers;
          Meanwhile the Gospel lapses into silence.
          "One claims that while Christ suffered on the cross,
          The moon turned backward and stood in the way
          So that the sunlight could not shine on earth,
100      "But he lies, for the light concealed itself
          On its own, so that the eclipse took place
          For Spaniards, Indians, as well as Jews.
          "There flourish fewer Jacks and Jills in Florence
          Than fables like these bandied left and right
105      Out from the pulpits all the livelong year.
          "On this account the poor sheep that know nothing
          Come back from pasture, having fed on wind;
          And not to see the harm does not excuse them.
          "Christ did not say to his first company,
110      ‘Go and preach empty nonsense to the world!’
          Instead he offered them the true foundation.
          "And that alone so sounded on their lips
          That in their fight to light the flame of faith
          They took the Gospel for their shield and lance.
115      "Now men go forth to preach with jokes and clowning,
          And as long as they scrape up a good laugh,
          Their hoods swell up, and nothing more is asked.
          "But up their sleeves and cowls nests such a bird
          That if the rabble spied it they would know
120      In whom they put their trust for these fake pardons.
          "Such follies flourish on earth from these frauds
          That with no proof or testimonials
          The people flock to every sort of promise.
          "On these deceits St. Anthony’s pig grows fat,
125      And many more who are far bigger pigs,
          Paying with play-money and phony coinage.
          "But we have wandered off our way enough:
          Now turn yourself once more to the straight path,
          To make the journey shorten with the time.
130      "Angelic nature stretches up the scale
          So high in number that there is no speech
          Or human concept that can reach that height.
          "And if you look at what has been revealed
          By Daniel, you will see that in his thousands
135      There is no number that is definite.
          "The primal Light that beams down through them all
          Each one receives in just as many ways
          As there are splendors that merge with the Light.
          "Then, since the act of loving follows that
140      Of knowing, so the sweetness of their love
          Diversely glows in them as bright or dim.
          "See now the height and breadth of the eternal
          Goodness, for it has fashioned of itself
          Myriad mirrors where it separately shines,
145     "Remaining, as at first, One in itself."
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