The Line Of Becoming

I will begin with the verses in Paradiso 29 that are foundational for the analysis carried out in The Undivine Comedy, where my reading is based on the analogy between human thought and human narrative—both subject to time and both forms of “concetto diviso” (Par. 29.81).

Dante conceptualizes human experience as a linear path affording encounters with the new, a line of becoming intercepted by newness. We can extrapolate this viewpoint from his treatment of the topic of angelic memory in Paradiso 29.

Dante treats angels and their lack of memory in such a way as to offer a clear-cut description of human thought process as compared to angelic thought process. Because angels never turn their gazes from the face of God and see all things in His eternal present, their sight is uninterrupted by new things, and they have no need of memory (which we use to store the new things once they are no longer new):

Queste sustanze, poi che fur gioconde
de la faccia di Dio, non volser viso
da essa, da cui nulla si nasconde:
però non hanno vedere interciso
da novo obietto, e però non bisogna
rememorar per concetto diviso . . .	 (Par. 29.76-81)
These beings, since they first were gladdened by
the face of God, from which no thing is hidden,
have never turned their vision from that face,
so that their sight is never intercepted 
by a new object, and they have no need
to recollect an interrupted concept.

The steps in the argument are:

  1. Angels never turn their gaze from the face of God, in Whom they see all things.
  2. Therefore, angels “non hanno vedere interciso / da novo obietto” (79-80): their sight is never intercepted by a new object that comes along the line of becoming (indeed, for angels, there IS no line of becoming!).
  3. A further corollary of uninterrupted angelic sight is that angels have no memory, because they have no need to remember concepts that have been interrupted along the line of becoming by other concepts.[1]

As for humans, our sight is constantly interrupted by new things along the path. We remember the pilgrim in Purgatorio 10, whose eyes so long for “novitadi”—newness—that he is happy to turn his gaze when so instructed by Virgilio:

Li occhi miei ch’a mirare eran contenti
per veder novitadi ond’e’ son vaghi,
volgendosi ver’ lui non furon lenti.  	(Purg. 10.103-05)
My eyes, which had been satisfied
in seeking new sights—a thing for which they long—
did not delay in turning toward him.

The “novo obietto” of Par. 29.80 requires a mental structure that can accommodate it, and so humans have “concetto diviso”: divided thought. Since we do not see everything all at once, but must see and remember many new things sequentially, “ad una ad una,” we think differentiatedly, discursively, by way of divided thoughts: “per concetto diviso”.

The above passage from Paradiso 29 is featured at the beginning of Chapter 2 of The Undivine Comedy, “Infernal Incipits: The Poetics of the New,” because it is the basis for understanding Dante’s “poetics of the new”:

The poem’s narrative journey, like the pilgrim’s represented journey, is predicated on a principle of sequentiality, on encounters that occur one by one, “ad una ad una,” in which each new event displaces the one that precedes it. Like all narrative (indeed like all language), but more self-consciously than most, the Commedia is informed by a poetics of the new, a poetics of time, its narrative structured like a voyage in which the traveler is continually waylaid by the new things that cross his path. Life is just such a voyage: it is the “nuovo e mai non fatto cammino di questa vita” (“new and never before traveled path of this life” [Conv. 4.12.15]), in which our forward progress is articulated by our successive encounters with the new.
(The Undivine Comedy, p. 22)

***

The opening simile of Paradiso 29 is worth paying close attention to, even though difficult. Dante describes the brief moment in which Beatrice pauses in her speech as like the moment in time when sun and moon are equidistant and perfectly poised on the horizon, before one moves up and the other down. We should pay attention to the word “punto”:  in verse 4 it is used for a point of time, in verse 9 it refers to a point of space, and in verse 12 we find a conflation of time and space in the periphrasis for God as “là ’ve s’appunta ogni ubi e ogni quando” (where, in one point, all wheres and whens come to an end).

Beatrice now discourses on creation, a theme that we find also in Paradiso 1, 2, 7, and 13. It is difficult for me to say which is my favorite creation discourse of Paradiso. These passages are all special, and contain some of the most sublime poetry of the third cantica.

In Paradiso 29 Dante represents the act of creation as an opening:

Non per aver a sé di bene acquisto,
ch’esser non può, ma perché suo splendore
potesse, risplendendo, dir “Subsisto”,  
in sua etternità di tempo fore,
fuor d’ogne altro comprender, come i piacque,
s’aperse in nuovi amor l’etterno amore.		 (Par. 29.13-18)
Not to acquire new goodness for Himself—
which cannot be—but that his splendor might,
as it shines back to Him, declare “Subsisto,” 
in His eternity outside of time,
beyond all other borders, as pleased Him,
Eternal Love opened into new loves.

The sublime verse “s’aperse in nuovi amor l’etterno amore” (Eternal love opened into new loves [Par. 29.18]) holds in balance the “new loves” and “Eternal love”. In the contrast between the eternal love and the new loves that it generates is all the splendor and pathos of created existence.

Here we find in nuce the whole problematic of the novo. Although the “nuovi amor” are here positively charged, we remember the creation discourse of Paradiso 7, where we learned that free being is not subject to “la virtute de le cose nove” (the power of the new things [Par. 7.72]). How, and more importantly why, the eternal should give rise to the corruptible, the One should make way for the many, is the question posed in the dialectic between l’etterno amore and nuovi amori.

God’s creation is timeless, immune from the difference that characterizes all human actions, movements, and discourses. God creates “in sua etternità di tempo fore” (in His eternity outside of time [Par. 29.16]). His act of creation is preceded by no Before. For there is neither “before” nor “after” with respect to divine creativity:

Né prima quasi torpente si giacque;
ché né prima né poscia procedette
lo discorrer di Dio sovra quest’acque. 	(Par. 29.19-21)
Nor did he lie, before this, as if languid;
there was no after, no before—they were
not there until God moved upon these waters.

The triple creation of form, matter, and their union knows no interval between inception and fulfillment (“che dal venire / a l’esser tutto non è intervallo” [Par. 29.26-27]), but takes its being all together and at once, “sanza distinzïone in essordire” (with no distinction in beginning [30]).

Both Paradiso 28 and 29 are devoted to angelic intelligences, and thus, beginning in Paradiso 29.37, the creation discourse turns to the creation of angels. Beatrice moves, so to speak, into the topic of angelic “history”: here Beatrice treats the fall of Lucifer (from verse 55) and the grace/merit formula that applies to the virtuous angels. The question comes up, in verse 70, of those philosophers who mistake angelic nature, and Beatrice takes the opportunity to clarify that angels do not have memory, and why, in the extraordinary verses cited above (76-81).

Since angels have no need for memory, they do not need to write, and they do not need to create poetry!

The tone turns polemical in verse 82, and Beatrice moves into a condemnation of those preachers who instead of following Scripture go about inventing anything they want to invent— and who indeed lie (“e mente” in verse 100 = “and he lies”). Here we have the worst of human creativity. On the culture of preachers and Dante’s treatment of preachers in the Commedia, I recommend the excellent dissertation of Zane Mackin (Columbia, 2013).

In verse 127, Beatrice notes that she has digressed (the only other reference to digression is another hugely polemical moment, Purgatorio 6), and comes back to the topic of angelic nature. She concludes with a restatement of the paradox of their difference/unity:

Vedi l’eccelso omai e la larghezza
de l’etterno valor, poscia che tanti 
speculi fatti s’ha in che si spezza, 
uno manendo in sé come davanti.	 (Par. 29.142-45)
By now you see the height, you see the breadth,
of the Eternal Goodness: It has made
so many mirrors, which divide Its light,
but, as before, Its own Self still is One.

[1] Aquinas poses the questions “does an angel know by discursive thinking” (“utrum angelus cognoscat discurrendo” [ST 1a.58.3]) and “does an angel know by distinguishing and combining concepts” (“utrum angeli intelligant componendo et dividendo” [ST 1a.58.4]). He points out that angels acquire knowledge intellectually, by intuiting first principles, whereas humans acquire knowledge rationally, through a discursive process: “Discursive thinking implies a sort of movement, and all movement is from a first point to a second one distinct from it” (“discursus quendam motum nominat. Omnis autem motus est de uno priori in aliud posterius” [ST 1a.58.3 ad. 1]),. Likewise, “just as an angel does not understand discursively, by syllogisms, so he does not understand by combining and distinguishing . . . For he sees manifold things in a simple way” (“Nihilominus tamen compositionem et divisionem enuntiationum intelligit, sicut et ratiocinationem syllogismorum, intelligit enim composita simpliciter” [ST 1a.58.4 co.]).

 

Coordinated Reading

Coordinated Reading: The Undivine Comedy, Chapter 10, “The Sacred Poem Is Forced to Jump: Closure and the Poetics of Enjambment,” pp. 237-40. See also Chapter 2, “Infernal Incipits: The Poetics of the New,” pp. 22-23.

Recommended Citation

Barolini, Teodolinda. “Paradiso 29: The Line Of Becoming.” Commento Baroliniano, Digital Dante. New York, NY: Columbia University Libraries, 2017. https://digitaldante.columbia.edu/dante/divine-comedy/paradiso/paradiso-29/

About the Commento

1Quando ambedue li figli di Latona,
2coperti del Montone e de la Libra,
3fanno de l’orizzonte insieme zona,

4quant’ è dal punto che ’l cenìt inlibra
5infin che l’uno e l’altro da quel cinto,
6cambiando l’emisperio, si dilibra,

7tanto, col volto di riso dipinto,
8si tacque Bëatrice, riguardando
9fiso nel punto che m’avëa vinto.

10Poi cominciò: «Io dico, e non dimando,
11quel che tu vuoli udir, perch’ io l’ho visto
12là ’ve s’appunta ogne ubi e ogne quando.

13Non per aver a sé di bene acquisto,
14ch’esser non può, ma perché suo splendore
15potesse, risplendendo, dir “Subsisto”,

16in sua etternità di tempo fore,
17fuor d’ogne altro comprender, come i piacque,
18s’aperse in nuovi amor l’etterno amore.

19Né prima quasi torpente si giacque;
20ché né prima né poscia procedette
21lo discorrer di Dio sovra quest’ acque.

22Forma e materia, congiunte e purette,
23usciro ad esser che non avia fallo,
24come d’arco tricordo tre saette.

25E come in vetro, in ambra o in cristallo
26raggio resplende sì, che dal venire
27a l’esser tutto non è intervallo,

28così ’l triforme effetto del suo sire
29ne l’esser suo raggiò insieme tutto
30sanza distinzïone in essordire.

31Concreato fu ordine e costrutto
32a le sustanze; e quelle furon cima
33nel mondo in che puro atto fu produtto;

34pura potenza tenne la parte ima;
35nel mezzo strinse potenza con atto
36tal vime, che già mai non si divima.

37Ieronimo vi scrisse lungo tratto
38di secoli de li angeli creati
39anzi che l’altro mondo fosse fatto;

40ma questo vero è scritto in molti lati
41da li scrittor de lo Spirito Santo,
42e tu te n’avvedrai se bene agguati;

43e anche la ragione il vede alquanto,
44che non concederebbe che ’ motori
45sanza sua perfezion fosser cotanto.

46Or sai tu dove e quando questi amori
47furon creati e come: sì che spenti
48nel tuo disïo già son tre ardori.

49Né giugneriesi, numerando, al venti
50sì tosto, come de li angeli parte
51turbò il suggetto d’i vostri alimenti.

52L’altra rimase, e cominciò quest’ arte
53che tu discerni, con tanto diletto,
54che mai da circüir non si diparte.

55Principio del cader fu il maladetto
56superbir di colui che tu vedesti
57da tutti i pesi del mondo costretto.

58Quelli che vedi qui furon modesti
59a riconoscer sé da la bontate
60che li avea fatti a tanto intender presti:

61per che le viste lor furo essaltate
62con grazia illuminante e con lor merto,
63si c’hanno ferma e piena volontate;

64e non voglio che dubbi, ma sia certo,
65che ricever la grazia è meritorio
66secondo che l’affetto l’è aperto.

67Omai dintorno a questo consistorio
68puoi contemplare assai, se le parole
69mie son ricolte, sanz’ altro aiutorio.

70Ma perché ’n terra per le vostre scole
71si legge che l’angelica natura
72è tal, che ’ntende e si ricorda e vole,

73ancor dirò, perché tu veggi pura
74la verità che là giù si confonde,
75equivocando in sì fatta lettura.

76Queste sustanze, poi che fur gioconde
77de la faccia di Dio, non volser viso
78da essa, da cui nulla si nasconde:

79però non hanno vedere interciso
80da novo obietto, e però non bisogna
81rememorar per concetto diviso;

82sì che là giù, non dormendo, si sogna,
83credendo e non credendo dicer vero;
84ma ne l’uno è più colpa e più vergogna.

85Voi non andate giù per un sentiero
86filosofando: tanto vi trasporta
87l’amor de l’apparenza e ’l suo pensiero!

88E ancor questo qua sù si comporta
89con men disdegno che quando è posposta
90la divina Scrittura o quando è torta.

91Non vi si pensa quanto sangue costa
92seminarla nel mondo e quanto piace
93chi umilmente con essa s’accosta.

94Per apparer ciascun s’ingegna e face
95sue invenzioni; e quelle son trascorse
96da’ predicanti e ’l Vangelio si tace.

97Un dice che la luna si ritorse
98ne la passion di Cristo e s’interpuose,
99per che ’l lume del sol giù non si porse;

100e mente, ché la luce si nascose
101da sé: però a li Spani e a l’Indi
102come a’ Giudei tale eclissi rispuose.

103Non ha Fiorenza tanti Lapi e Bindi
104quante sì fatte favole per anno
105in pergamo si gridan quinci e quindi:

106sì che le pecorelle, che non sanno,
107tornan del pasco pasciute di vento,
108e non le scusa non veder lo danno.

109Non disse Cristo al suo primo convento:
110‘Andate, e predicate al mondo ciance’;
111ma diede lor verace fondamento;

112e quel tanto sonò ne le sue guance,
113sì ch’a pugnar per accender la fede
114de l’Evangelio fero scudo e lance.

115Ora si va con motti e con iscede
116a predicare, e pur che ben si rida,
117gonfia il cappuccio e più non si richiede.

118Ma tale uccel nel becchetto s’annida,
119che se ’l vulgo il vedesse, vederebbe
120la perdonanza di ch’el si confida:

121per cui tanta stoltezza in terra crebbe,
122che, sanza prova d’alcun testimonio,
123ad ogne promession si correrebbe.

124Di questo ingrassa il porco sant’ Antonio,
125e altri assai che sono ancor più porci,
126pagando di moneta sanza conio.

127Ma perché siam digressi assai, ritorci
128li occhi oramai verso la dritta strada,
129sì che la via col tempo si raccorci.

130Questa natura sì oltre s’ingrada
131in numero, che mai non fu loquela
132né concetto mortal che tanto vada;

133e se tu guardi quel che si revela
134per Danïel, vedrai che ’n sue migliaia
135determinato numero si cela.

136La prima luce, che tutta la raia,
137per tanti modi in essa si recepe,
138quanti son li splendori a chi s’appaia.

139Onde, però che a l’atto che concepe
140segue l’affetto, d’amar la dolcezza
141diversamente in essa ferve e tepe.

142Vedi l’eccelso omai e la larghezza
143de l’etterno valor, poscia che tanti
144speculi fatti s’ha in che si spezza,

145uno manendo in sé come davanti».

As long as both Latona’s children take
(when, covered by the Ram and Scales, they make
their belt of the horizon at the same

moment) to pass from equilibrium—
the zenith held in balance—to that state
where, changing hemispheres, each leaves that belt,

so long did Beatrice, a smile upon
her face, keep silent, even as she gazed
intently at the Point that overwhelmed me.

Then she began: “I tell—not ask—what you
now want to hear, for I have seen it there
where, in one point, all whens and ubis end.

Not to acquire new goodness for Himself—
which cannot be—but that his splendor might,
as it shines back to Him, declare ‘Subsisto,’

in His eternity outside of time,
beyond all other borders, as pleased Him,
Eternal Love opened into new loves.

Nor did he lie, before this, as if languid;
there was no after, no before—they were
not there until God moved upon these waters.

Then form and matter, either separately
or in mixed state, emerged as flawless being,
as from a three—stringed bow, three arrows spring.

And as a ray shines into amber, crystal,
or glass, so that there is no interval
between its coming and its lighting all

so did the three—form, matter, and their union—
flash into being from the Lord with no
distinction in beginning: all at once.

Created with the substances were order
and pattern; at the summit of the world
were those in whom pure act had been produced;

and pure potentiality possessed
the lowest part; and in the middle, act
so joined potentiality that they

never disjoin. For you, Jerome has written
that the creation of the angels came
long centuries before all else was made;

but this, the truth I speak, is written by
scribes of the Holy Ghost—as you can find
if you look carefully—on many pages;

and reason, too, can see in part this truth,
for it would not admit that those who move
the heavens could, for so long, be without

their perfect task. Now you know where and when
and how these loving spirits were created:
with this, three flames of your desire are quenched.

Then, sooner than it takes to count to twenty,
a portion of the angels violently
disturbed the lowest of your elements.

The rest remained; and they, with such rejoicing,
began the office you can see, that they
never desert their circling contemplation.

The fall had its beginning in the cursed
pride of the one you saw, held in constraint
by all of the world’s weights. Those whom you see

in Heaven here were modestly aware
that they were ready for intelligence
so vast, because of that Good which had made them:

through this, their vision was exalted with
illuminating grace and with their merit,
so that their will is constant and intact.

I would not have you doubt, but have you know
surely that there is merit in receiving
grace, measured by the longing to receive it.

By now, if you have taken in my words,
you need no other aid to contemplate
much in regard to this consistory.

But since on earth, throughout your schools, they teach
that it is in the nature of the angels
to understand, to recollect, to will,

I shall say more, so that you may see clearly
the truth that, there below, has been confused
by teaching that is so ambiguous.

These beings, since they first were gladdened by
the face of God, from which no thing is hidden,
have never turned their vision from that face,

so that their sight is never intercepted
by a new object, and they have no need
to recollect an interrupted concept.

So that, below, though not asleep, men dream,
speaking in good faith or in bad—the last,
however, merits greater blame and shame.

Below, you do not follow one sole path
as you philosophize—your love of show
and thought of it so carry you astray!

Yet even love of show is suffered here
with less disdain than the subordination
or the perversion of the Holy Scripture.

There, they devote no thought to how much blood
it costs to sow it in the world, to how
pleasing is he who—humbly—holds it fast.

Each one strives for display, elaborates
his own inventions; preachers speak at length
of these—meanwhile the Gospels do not speak.

One says that, to prevent the sun from reaching
below, the moon—when Christ was crucified—
moved back along the zodiac, so as

to interpose itself; who says so, lies—
for sunlight hid itself; not only Jews,
but Spaniards, Indians, too, saw that eclipse.

Such fables, shouted through the year from pulpits—
some here, some there—outnumber even all
the Lapos and the Bindos Florence has;

so that the wretched sheep, in ignorance,
return from pasture, having fed on wind—
but to be blind to harm does not excuse them.

Christ did not say to his first company:
‘Go, and preach idle stories to the world’;
but he gave them the teaching that is truth,

and truth alone was sounded when they spoke;
and thus, to battle to enkindle faith,
the Gospels served them as both shield and lance.

But now men go to preach with jests and jeers,
and just as long as they can raise a laugh,
the cowl puffs up, and nothing more is asked.

But such a bird nests in that cowl, that if
the people saw it, they would recognize
as lies the pardons in which they confide—

pardons through which the world’s credulity
increases so, that people throng to every
indulgence backed by no authority;

and this allows the Antonines to fatten
their pigs, and others, too, more piggish still,
who pay with counterfeit, illegal tender.

But since we have digressed enough, turn back
your eyes now to the way that is direct;
our time is short—so, too, must be our path.

The number of these angels is so great
that there has never been a mortal speech
or mortal thought that named a sum so steep;

and if you look at that which is revealed
by Daniel, you will see that, while he mentions
thousands, he gives no number with precision.

The First Light reaches them in ways as many
as are the angels to which It conjoins
Itself, as It illumines all of them;

and this is why (because affection follows
the act of knowledge) the intensity
of love’s sweetness appears unequally.

By now you see the height, you see the breadth,
of the Eternal Goodness: It has made
so many mirrors, which divide Its light,

but, as before, Its own Self still is One.”

AT what time both the children of Latona,
Surmounted by the Ram and by the Scales,
Together make a zone of the horizon,

As long as from the time the zenith holds them
In equipoise, till from that girdle both
Changing their hemisphere disturb the balance,

So long, her face depicted with a smile,
Did Beatrice keep silence while she gazed
Fixedly at the point which had o’ercome me.

Then she began: “I say, and I ask not
What thou dost wish to hear, for I have seen it
Where centres every When and every _Ubi._

Not to acquire some good unto himself,
Which is impossible, but that his splendour
In its resplendency may say, _’ Subsisto,’_

In his eternity outside of time,
Outside all other limits, as it pleased him,
Into new Loves the Eternal Love unfolded.

Nor as if torpid did he lie before;
For neither after nor before proceeded
The going forth of God upon these waters.

Matter and Form unmingled and conjoined
Came into being that had no defect,
E’en as three arrows from a three—stringed bow.

And as in glass, in amber, or in crystal
A sunbeam flashes so, that from its coming
To its full being is no interval

So from its Lord did the triform effect
Ray forth into its being all together,
Without discrimination of beginning.

Order was con—created and constructed
In substances, and summit of the world
Were those wherein the pure act was produced.

Pure potentiality held the lowest part;
Midway bound potentiality with act
Such bond that it shall never be unbound.

Jerome has written unto you of angels
Created a long lapse of centuries
Or ever yet the other world was made;

But written is this truth in many places
By writers of the Holy Ghost, and thou
Shalt see it, if thou lookest well thereat

And even reason seeth it somewhat,
For it would not concede that for so long
Could be the motors without their perfection.

Now dost thou know both where and when these Loves
Created were, and how; so that extinct
In thy desire already are three fires.

Nor could one reach, in counting, unto twenty
So swiftly, as a portion of these angels
Disturbed the subject of your elements.

The rest remained, and they began this art
Which thou discernest, with so great delight
That never from their circling do they cease.

The occasion of the fall was the accursed
Presumption of that One, whom thou hast seen
By all the burden of the world constrained.

Those whom thou here beholdest modest were
To recognise themselves as of that goodness
Which made them apt for so much understanding;

On which account their vision was exalted
By the enlightening grace and their own merit,
So that they have a full and steadfast will.

I would not have thee doubt, but certain be,
‘Tis meritorious to receive this grace,
According as the affection opens to it.

Now round about in this consistory
Much mayst thou contemplate, if these my words
Be gathered up, without all further aid.

But since upon the earth, throughout your schools,
They teach that such is the angelic nature
That it doth hear, and recollect, and will,

More will I say, that thou mayst see unmixed
The truth that is confounded there below,
Equivocating in such like prelections.

These substances, since in God’s countenance
They jocund were, turned not away their sight
From that wherefrom not anything is hidden;

Hence they have not their vision intercepted
By object new, and hence they do not need
To recollect, through interrupted thought.

So that below, not sleeping, people dream,
Believing they speak truth, and not believing;
And in the last is greater sin and shame.

Below you do not journey by one path
Philosophising; so transporteth you
Love of appearance and the thought thereof.

And even this above here is endured
With less disdain, than when is set aside
The Holy Writ, or when it is distorted.

They think not there how much of blood it costs
To sow it in the world, and how he pleases
Who in humility keeps close to it.

Each striveth for appearance, and doth make
His own inventions; and these treated are
By preachers, and the Evangel holds its peace.

One sayeth that the moon did backward turn,
In the Passion of Christ, and interpose herself
So that the sunlight reached not down below;

And lies; for of its own accord the light
Hid itself; whence to Spaniards and to Indians,
As to the Jews, did such eclipse respond.

Florence has not so many Lapi and Bindi
As fables such as these, that every year
Are shouted from the pulpit back and forth,

In such wise that the lambs, who do not know,
Come back from pasture fed upon the wind,
And not to see the harm doth not excuse them.

Christ did not to his first disciples say,
‘ Go forth, and to the world preach idle tales,’
But unto them a true foundation gave;

And this so loudly sounded from their lips,
That, in the warfare to enkindle Faith,
They made of the Evangel shields and lances.

Now men go forth with jests and drolleries
To preach, and if but well the people laugh,
The hood puffs out, and nothing more is asked.

But in the cowl there nestles such a bird,
That, if the common people were to see it,
They would perceive what pardons they confide in.

For which so great on earth has grown the folly,
That, without proof of any testimony,
To each indulgence they would flock together.

By this Saint Anthony his pig doth fatten,
And many others, who are worse than pigs,
Paying in money without mark of coinage.

But since we have digressed abundantly,
Turn back thine eyes forthwith to the right path,
So that the way be shortened with the time.

This nature doth so multiply itself
ln numbers, that there never yet was speech
Nor mortal fancy that can go so far.

And if thou notest that which is revealed
By Daniel, thou wilt see that in his thousands
Number determinate is kept concealed.

The primal light, that all irradiates it,
By modes as many is received therein
As are the splendours wherewith it is mated.

Hence, inasmuch as on the act conceptive
The affection followeth, of love the sweetness
Therein diversely fervid is or tepid.

The height behold now and the amplitude
Of the eternal power, since it hath made
Itself so many mirrors, where ’tis broken,

One in itself remaining as before.”

As long as both Latona’s children take
(when, covered by the Ram and Scales, they make
their belt of the horizon at the same

moment) to pass from equilibrium—
the zenith held in balance—to that state
where, changing hemispheres, each leaves that belt,

so long did Beatrice, a smile upon
her face, keep silent, even as she gazed
intently at the Point that overwhelmed me.

Then she began: “I tell—not ask—what you
now want to hear, for I have seen it there
where, in one point, all whens and ubis end.

Not to acquire new goodness for Himself—
which cannot be—but that his splendor might,
as it shines back to Him, declare ‘Subsisto,’

in His eternity outside of time,
beyond all other borders, as pleased Him,
Eternal Love opened into new loves.

Nor did he lie, before this, as if languid;
there was no after, no before—they were
not there until God moved upon these waters.

Then form and matter, either separately
or in mixed state, emerged as flawless being,
as from a three—stringed bow, three arrows spring.

And as a ray shines into amber, crystal,
or glass, so that there is no interval
between its coming and its lighting all

so did the three—form, matter, and their union—
flash into being from the Lord with no
distinction in beginning: all at once.

Created with the substances were order
and pattern; at the summit of the world
were those in whom pure act had been produced;

and pure potentiality possessed
the lowest part; and in the middle, act
so joined potentiality that they

never disjoin. For you, Jerome has written
that the creation of the angels came
long centuries before all else was made;

but this, the truth I speak, is written by
scribes of the Holy Ghost—as you can find
if you look carefully—on many pages;

and reason, too, can see in part this truth,
for it would not admit that those who move
the heavens could, for so long, be without

their perfect task. Now you know where and when
and how these loving spirits were created:
with this, three flames of your desire are quenched.

Then, sooner than it takes to count to twenty,
a portion of the angels violently
disturbed the lowest of your elements.

The rest remained; and they, with such rejoicing,
began the office you can see, that they
never desert their circling contemplation.

The fall had its beginning in the cursed
pride of the one you saw, held in constraint
by all of the world’s weights. Those whom you see

in Heaven here were modestly aware
that they were ready for intelligence
so vast, because of that Good which had made them:

through this, their vision was exalted with
illuminating grace and with their merit,
so that their will is constant and intact.

I would not have you doubt, but have you know
surely that there is merit in receiving
grace, measured by the longing to receive it.

By now, if you have taken in my words,
you need no other aid to contemplate
much in regard to this consistory.

But since on earth, throughout your schools, they teach
that it is in the nature of the angels
to understand, to recollect, to will,

I shall say more, so that you may see clearly
the truth that, there below, has been confused
by teaching that is so ambiguous.

These beings, since they first were gladdened by
the face of God, from which no thing is hidden,
have never turned their vision from that face,

so that their sight is never intercepted
by a new object, and they have no need
to recollect an interrupted concept.

So that, below, though not asleep, men dream,
speaking in good faith or in bad—the last,
however, merits greater blame and shame.

Below, you do not follow one sole path
as you philosophize—your love of show
and thought of it so carry you astray!

Yet even love of show is suffered here
with less disdain than the subordination
or the perversion of the Holy Scripture.

There, they devote no thought to how much blood
it costs to sow it in the world, to how
pleasing is he who—humbly—holds it fast.

Each one strives for display, elaborates
his own inventions; preachers speak at length
of these—meanwhile the Gospels do not speak.

One says that, to prevent the sun from reaching
below, the moon—when Christ was crucified—
moved back along the zodiac, so as

to interpose itself; who says so, lies—
for sunlight hid itself; not only Jews,
but Spaniards, Indians, too, saw that eclipse.

Such fables, shouted through the year from pulpits—
some here, some there—outnumber even all
the Lapos and the Bindos Florence has;

so that the wretched sheep, in ignorance,
return from pasture, having fed on wind—
but to be blind to harm does not excuse them.

Christ did not say to his first company:
‘Go, and preach idle stories to the world’;
but he gave them the teaching that is truth,

and truth alone was sounded when they spoke;
and thus, to battle to enkindle faith,
the Gospels served them as both shield and lance.

But now men go to preach with jests and jeers,
and just as long as they can raise a laugh,
the cowl puffs up, and nothing more is asked.

But such a bird nests in that cowl, that if
the people saw it, they would recognize
as lies the pardons in which they confide—

pardons through which the world’s credulity
increases so, that people throng to every
indulgence backed by no authority;

and this allows the Antonines to fatten
their pigs, and others, too, more piggish still,
who pay with counterfeit, illegal tender.

But since we have digressed enough, turn back
your eyes now to the way that is direct;
our time is short—so, too, must be our path.

The number of these angels is so great
that there has never been a mortal speech
or mortal thought that named a sum so steep;

and if you look at that which is revealed
by Daniel, you will see that, while he mentions
thousands, he gives no number with precision.

The First Light reaches them in ways as many
as are the angels to which It conjoins
Itself, as It illumines all of them;

and this is why (because affection follows
the act of knowledge) the intensity
of love’s sweetness appears unequally.

By now you see the height, you see the breadth,
of the Eternal Goodness: It has made
so many mirrors, which divide Its light,

but, as before, Its own Self still is One.”

AT what time both the children of Latona,
Surmounted by the Ram and by the Scales,
Together make a zone of the horizon,

As long as from the time the zenith holds them
In equipoise, till from that girdle both
Changing their hemisphere disturb the balance,

So long, her face depicted with a smile,
Did Beatrice keep silence while she gazed
Fixedly at the point which had o’ercome me.

Then she began: “I say, and I ask not
What thou dost wish to hear, for I have seen it
Where centres every When and every _Ubi._

Not to acquire some good unto himself,
Which is impossible, but that his splendour
In its resplendency may say, _’ Subsisto,’_

In his eternity outside of time,
Outside all other limits, as it pleased him,
Into new Loves the Eternal Love unfolded.

Nor as if torpid did he lie before;
For neither after nor before proceeded
The going forth of God upon these waters.

Matter and Form unmingled and conjoined
Came into being that had no defect,
E’en as three arrows from a three—stringed bow.

And as in glass, in amber, or in crystal
A sunbeam flashes so, that from its coming
To its full being is no interval

So from its Lord did the triform effect
Ray forth into its being all together,
Without discrimination of beginning.

Order was con—created and constructed
In substances, and summit of the world
Were those wherein the pure act was produced.

Pure potentiality held the lowest part;
Midway bound potentiality with act
Such bond that it shall never be unbound.

Jerome has written unto you of angels
Created a long lapse of centuries
Or ever yet the other world was made;

But written is this truth in many places
By writers of the Holy Ghost, and thou
Shalt see it, if thou lookest well thereat

And even reason seeth it somewhat,
For it would not concede that for so long
Could be the motors without their perfection.

Now dost thou know both where and when these Loves
Created were, and how; so that extinct
In thy desire already are three fires.

Nor could one reach, in counting, unto twenty
So swiftly, as a portion of these angels
Disturbed the subject of your elements.

The rest remained, and they began this art
Which thou discernest, with so great delight
That never from their circling do they cease.

The occasion of the fall was the accursed
Presumption of that One, whom thou hast seen
By all the burden of the world constrained.

Those whom thou here beholdest modest were
To recognise themselves as of that goodness
Which made them apt for so much understanding;

On which account their vision was exalted
By the enlightening grace and their own merit,
So that they have a full and steadfast will.

I would not have thee doubt, but certain be,
‘Tis meritorious to receive this grace,
According as the affection opens to it.

Now round about in this consistory
Much mayst thou contemplate, if these my words
Be gathered up, without all further aid.

But since upon the earth, throughout your schools,
They teach that such is the angelic nature
That it doth hear, and recollect, and will,

More will I say, that thou mayst see unmixed
The truth that is confounded there below,
Equivocating in such like prelections.

These substances, since in God’s countenance
They jocund were, turned not away their sight
From that wherefrom not anything is hidden;

Hence they have not their vision intercepted
By object new, and hence they do not need
To recollect, through interrupted thought.

So that below, not sleeping, people dream,
Believing they speak truth, and not believing;
And in the last is greater sin and shame.

Below you do not journey by one path
Philosophising; so transporteth you
Love of appearance and the thought thereof.

And even this above here is endured
With less disdain, than when is set aside
The Holy Writ, or when it is distorted.

They think not there how much of blood it costs
To sow it in the world, and how he pleases
Who in humility keeps close to it.

Each striveth for appearance, and doth make
His own inventions; and these treated are
By preachers, and the Evangel holds its peace.

One sayeth that the moon did backward turn,
In the Passion of Christ, and interpose herself
So that the sunlight reached not down below;

And lies; for of its own accord the light
Hid itself; whence to Spaniards and to Indians,
As to the Jews, did such eclipse respond.

Florence has not so many Lapi and Bindi
As fables such as these, that every year
Are shouted from the pulpit back and forth,

In such wise that the lambs, who do not know,
Come back from pasture fed upon the wind,
And not to see the harm doth not excuse them.

Christ did not to his first disciples say,
‘ Go forth, and to the world preach idle tales,’
But unto them a true foundation gave;

And this so loudly sounded from their lips,
That, in the warfare to enkindle Faith,
They made of the Evangel shields and lances.

Now men go forth with jests and drolleries
To preach, and if but well the people laugh,
The hood puffs out, and nothing more is asked.

But in the cowl there nestles such a bird,
That, if the common people were to see it,
They would perceive what pardons they confide in.

For which so great on earth has grown the folly,
That, without proof of any testimony,
To each indulgence they would flock together.

By this Saint Anthony his pig doth fatten,
And many others, who are worse than pigs,
Paying in money without mark of coinage.

But since we have digressed abundantly,
Turn back thine eyes forthwith to the right path,
So that the way be shortened with the time.

This nature doth so multiply itself
ln numbers, that there never yet was speech
Nor mortal fancy that can go so far.

And if thou notest that which is revealed
By Daniel, thou wilt see that in his thousands
Number determinate is kept concealed.

The primal light, that all irradiates it,
By modes as many is received therein
As are the splendours wherewith it is mated.

Hence, inasmuch as on the act conceptive
The affection followeth, of love the sweetness
Therein diversely fervid is or tepid.

The height behold now and the amplitude
Of the eternal power, since it hath made
Itself so many mirrors, where ’tis broken,

One in itself remaining as before.”