Dante’s Paradise: Canto 29 Retelling — Primum Mobile — The Creation and Fall of Angels

Chapter 29: Primum Mobile — The Creation and Fall of Angels

Briefly and silently, Beatrice looked at the Point of brilliant light and the nine rings of fire circling it. Upon that Point balanced the universe. Imagine the Earth at the time of the vernal equinox when the Moon and the Sun are opposite each other: One rises, and the other sets. The universe as seen from Earth at that moment is like a giant scales balanced by God.

Beatrice was able to look directly at the Point of brilliant light. At this time, Dante could not.

Beatrice said to Dante, “I will tell you what you want to know. I know what you want to ask because I see it in the place where is centered every where and every when: the mind of God.

“Why did God engage in the act of creation? He did not do it to increase His goodness. God is already infinitely good. He did it so that His creations might experience existence and share in His goodness. God created the Angels in the Mystic Empyrean; God also created all other beings and things.

“God was not idle before His act of creation because time did not exist before He created the universe: Before the creation of the universe, no ‘before’ or ‘after’ existed.

“In addition to the Angels who are pure spirit, God created pure matter and a mixture of spirit and matter. Pure matter is what makes up the Earth; it lacks spirit. The heavens are made up of a mixture of spirit and matter.

“By creating the various orders of Angels, God created reflections of Himself. When God created the Angels, He also created the heavenly Spheres and the Earth. Each order of Angels is associated with a heavenly Sphere.

“God’s creation is orderly and hierarchical.

“At the top are the various orders of Angels, at the bottom is the Earth, and in between are the heavens. God’s threefold creation occurred all at the same time.

“Saint Jerome was mistaken when he wrote that the Angels were created centuries before God created anything else. If you read sacred scripture carefully, you will see evidence that Saint Jerome was wrong.

“I have answered some of your questions already.

“Although God created the Angels as perfect beings, they had free will, and before you can count from one to twenty, some of the Angels, including Lucifer, rebelled against God.”

Dante thought, Interestingly, Adam took longer to sin than the fallen Angels.

Beatrice continued, “The other Angels who were loyal to God remained in the Mystic Empyrean, and they whirl in the rings of fire.

“The reason for the Angels’ rebellion was Lucifer, whom you saw at the bottom of the Inferno.

“The Angels you see here were loyal to God, and they realized that their great intelligence came from the goodness of God.

“God rewarded the loyal Angels with greater vision and greater intelligence. God gave them the light of glory so that the Angels have a direct vision of God. They received the light of glory as a gift of God, a gift that God gave them because of their merit.

“A creature who receives God’s grace and lovingly accepts it is worthy of it.

“If you have understood all I have said so far, you should be able to learn much more without my help.

“But because teachers on Earth partially err when they say that Angels have understanding, memory, and will, I shall say more and correct their error.

“From the moment that the faithful Angels were created, they turned toward God and have never turned away from Him. They look into the mind of God, where all things are known, and so the Angels do not have — or need — memory, although they have understanding and will.

“Angels do not have memories because they have no need of memories. They get their knowledge directly from God, so they have no need to memorize things.

“Humans often say that the Angels have memory. Some humans say this and believe it; some humans say this and do not believe it. All who say this are mistaken, but those who say it and do not believe it are more greatly at fault.

“Humans try to philosophize and sometimes they get things wrong; by trying to show off, they get off the true path.

“Philosophy can be used correctly, and it can be misused. It is misused when it is used simply to score points against someone else. It is used correctly when it is used to find out the truth.

“Arguments can be made sincerely, but bad arguments can be used deviously to mislead others.

“Philosophy is very useful. It can be used to understand whatever can be understood by human reason.

“Being an intellectual can be dangerous unless you use your intelligence and knowledge to seek the truth that can be understood by human reason. If you use your intelligence and knowledge to score points against others or to put on a show of how smart you are, then you are misusing your intelligence and knowledge.

“Even worse than engaging in bad philosophy is to ignore or misinterpret sacred scripture.

“Bad philosophy and bad theology lead to bad preaching. Bad thinkers and preachers teach incorrect things about God.

“Today, living human beings do not care about the blood that was shed to spread sacred scripture. They don’t care about the happiness that comes from correctly interpreting sacred scripture.

“They try to impress other people by making up falsehoods that they call ‘truths’ — they ignore the Gospel and do not mention it.

“For example, some of these bad preachers say that the Moon wandered from its natural course and caused an eclipse when Jesus Christ died on the Cross.

“These bad preachers lie! The truth is that the light hid itself, and so darkness was everywhere on Earth and not just on the part of the Earth that would have been affected by an eclipse. The darkness affected Spain and India as well as Jerusalem.

“Bad preachers shout such fables from the pulpit. More such fables are shouted in one year than the number of people named Smith and Jones in a city.

“The sheep want to be fed real food, but bad preachers feed them air. The sheep know no better, and the preachers’ ignorance is no excuse.

“Christ did not tell his disciples, ‘Go and preach ignorant garbage to the world.’ Christ wanted His disciples to teach the truth and build on it.

“Christ’s disciples went forth and preached the Gospel, but today bad preachers try to be comedians and get laughs. As long as their audience laughs, bad preachers are satisfied with and proud of their bad preaching.

“But the people they are preaching to should not be satisfied. If they knew what the truth was, they would know that a bad preacher is selling goods that are like the false indulgences that bad monks carry in the long hanging tip of their hoods and sell to the ignorant. The black bird that hangs around such bad monks is Lucifer.”

Beatrice thought, Dante will know what I mean. In his medieval world, Lucifer is often depicted as a black bird that has the wings of a fallen Angel.

Beatrice continued, “Human beings tend to be gullible, and others sometimes innocently and sometimes not so innocently take advantage of them. Saint Anthony’s emblem is a pig, and people used to allow the pigs of monks to fatten on public land. Sometimes, monks gave these people pardons to show gratitude, but pardons must be given for a better reason. Sometimes, monks sold false pardons so that they could give the money to their concubines and illegitimate children.

“But enough. This is a digression from the topic of Angels. Let us return to that topic.

“Mortals cannot count the number of the unfallen Angels. Mortals cannot conceive such a number. What does Daniel 7:10 say about the numbers of the unfallen Angels? This: ‘A fiery stream issued and came forth from before him: thousand thousands ministered to him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him: the judgment was set, and the books were opened.’ A specific number is not intended in these ‘thousand thousands’ and ‘ten thousand times ten thousand.’

“Each Angel is different. God shines His light on each of them. Each Angel receives God’s light in the Angel’s own way. Each Angel has a capacity for loving God, and each Angel’s capacity is different from that of the other Angels.

“Each Angel is a mirror that reflects God’s light.”

Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce

This is an excerpt from Dante’s Divine Comedy: A Retelling in Prose by David Bruce, available here:

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