“Canto 28: Primum Mobile — The Hierarchy of Angels”
- What is the Mystic Empyrean?
The Mystic Empyrean lies beyond the Primum Mobile. Actually, “lies beyond” is misleading, as the Mystic Empyrean does not exist in space and time. However, because we are human beings who exist in space and time we have to use language metaphorically when we speak of the Mystic Empyrean.
The Mystic Empyrean is the goal of Dante’s journey. It is the place where God dwells. Of course, here again “place” is a word that is used metaphorically.
Here again, Dante looks at the places he has been, and now he looks ahead to where he is going.
He sees a point of brilliant light. Nine rings of fire surround it. The closer a ring of fire is to the point of brilliant light, the faster it moves. Beatrice helps explain what Dante is now seeing:
My Lady, who in my anxiety
Beheld me much perplexed, said: “From that point
Dependent is the heaven and nature all.”
The nine whirling rings of fire are the nine orders of angels, and this leads to a discussion of the nine orders of angels.
The point of brilliant light turns out to be God, Whom Dante is seeing from a distance.
What Dante sees seems to him to be the reverse of what we see in nature. We see the Earth as the center, and the spheres around the Earth become more and more divine the farther they are from Earth. Here, however, the point of brilliant light is divine, and the rings of fire whirling around are holier the closer they are to the point of brilliant light.
Of course, what Dante is seeing now is ultimate reality, and not the inside-out version of reality that we get on Earth.
- What is ultimate reality?
Of course, ultimate reality has God at the center — not the Earth. Circling around God are the orders of angels. All of the angels sing “Hosanna” to God. (“Hosanna” is a cry of praise that is directed toward God.)
- Briefly describe the orders of angels.
Each order of angel is associated with a heavenly sphere:
- Primum Mobile
The order of Angels is Seraphim.
- Fixed Stars
The order of Angels is Cherubim.
The order of Angels is Thrones.
The trait associated with this sphere is Contemplation.
The order of Angels is Dominions.
The trait associated with this sphere is Justice.
The order of Angels is Virtues.
The trait associated with this sphere is Courage.
The order of Angels is Powers.
The trait associated with this sphere is Wisdom.
The order of Angels is Principalities.
The trait associated with this sphere is Love.
The order of Angels is Archangels.
The trait associated with this sphere is Hope.
The order of Angels is Angels.
The trait associated with this sphere is Faith.
When Beatrice names the orders of the angels, she does so in threes:
The Seraphim, Cherubim, and Thrones
The Dominations, Virtues, and Powers
The Principalities, Archangels, and Angels
Threes play an important part in The Divine Comedybecause of the Trinity. H
Of course, we can put all the angels in three groups:
1) The good angels in Paradise.
2) The bad angels who rebelled with Lucifer.
3) The neutral angels who did not take a stand and who are now in the Vestibule of Hell, rejected by both Paradise and the Inferno.
- Why did Pope Gregory the Great laugh when he reached the Empyrean?
Pope Saint Gregory the Great (590-604) had a different way of listing the orders of angels, but he was mistaken. When he reached Paradise, he realized that he had been mistaken — and he laughed! The person who listed the angels correctly was Dionysius the Areopagite, who converted to Christianity because of the preaching of Saint Paul. We read,
And Dionysius with so great desire
To contemplate these Orders set himself,
He named them and distinguished them as I do.
But Gregory afterwards dissented from him;
Wherefore, as soon as he unclosed his eyes
Within this heaven, he at himself did smile.
Joseph Gallagher writes, “Dante too must have been smiling as he wrote this, because in The Banquethe followed Gregory’s arrangement” (189).
Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved
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