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After an initial ascension (Canto I), Beatrice guides Dante through the nine celestial
spheres of Heaven. These are concentric and spherical, similar to Aristotelian and
Ptolemaic cosmology. Dante admits that the vision of heaven he receives is the one that
his human eyes permit him to see. Thus, the vision of heaven found in the Cantos is
Dante's own personal vision, ambiguous in its true construction. The addition of a moral
dimension means that a soul that has reached Paradise stops at the level applicable to it.
Souls are allotted to the point of heaven that fits with their human ability to love God.
Thus, there is a heavenly hierarchy. All parts of heaven are accessible to the heavenly
soul. That is to say all experience God but there is a hierarchy in the sense that some
souls are more spiritually developed than others. This is not determined by time or
learning as such but by their proximity to God (how much they allow themselves to
experience Him above other things). It must be remembered in Dante's schema that all
souls in Heaven are on some level always in contact with God.

While the structures of the Inferno and Purgatorio were based around different
classifications of sin, the structure of the Paradiso is based on the four cardinal virtues
and the three theological virtues.

The nine spheres are:
First Sphere. The sphere of theMoon is that of souls who abandoned theirvows,
and so were deficient in the virtue offortitud e (Cantos II through V). Dante meets
Piccarda, sister of Dante's friend Forese Donati, who died shortly after being
forcibly removed from her convent. Beatrice discourses on the freedom of the
will, and the inviolability of sacred vows.
Second Sphere. The sphere ofMercur y is that of souls who did good out of a

desire for fame, but who, being ambitious, were deficient in the virtue ofjust ice
(Cantos V through VII).Justin ian recounts the history of the Roman Empire.
Beatrice explains to Dante theaton emen t of Christ for the sins of humanity.

Third Sphere. The sphere ofVenus is that of souls who did good out of love, but
were deficient in the virtue ofte mperanc e (Cantos VIII and IX). Dante meets
Charles Martel of Anjou, who decries those who adopt inappropriate vocations,

and Cunizza da Romano. Folquet de Marseilles points outRahab, the brightest
soul among those of this sphere, and condemns the city of Florence for producing
that "cursed flower" (theflorin

) which is responsible for the corruption of the
Fourth Sphere. The sphere of theSun is that of souls of the wise, who embody
prudence (Cantos X through XIV). Dante is addressed by St. Thomas Aquinas,

who recounts the life of St. Francis of Assisi and laments the corruption of his
own Dominican Order. Dante is then met by St. Bonaventure, aFrancisc an, who
recounts the life of St. Dominic, and laments the corruption of the Franciscan
Order. The two orders were not always friendly on earth, and having members of
one order praising the founder of the other shows the love present in Heaven.
Dante arranges the wise into two rings of twelve; his choices of who to include
give his assessment of the significant philosophers of medieval times. Finally,
Aquinas introduces King Solomon, who answers Dante's question about the
doctrine of the resurrection of the body.

Fifth Sphere. The sphere ofMars is that of souls who fought forChristi anit y, and

who embodyfortitud e (Cantos XIV through XVIII). The souls in this sphere form
an enormous cross. Dante speaks with the soul of his ancestorCac ciaguida, who
praises the former virtues of the residents ofFlorenc e, recounts the rise and fall of
Florentine families and foretells Dante's exile from Florence, before finally
introducing some notable warrior souls (among themJoshua,Roland,

Charlemagne, and Godfrey of Bouillon).
Sixth Sphere. The sphere ofJupiter is that of souls who personifiedjustic e,

something of great concern to Dante (Cantos XVIII through XX). The souls here
spell out the Latin for "Love justice, ye that judge the earth," and then arrange
themselves into the shape of an imperial eagle. Present here areDavid,Hezekiah,

Trajan (converted to Christianity according to a medieval legend), Constantine,
William II of Sicily, and (Dante is amazed at this) Rhipeus the Trojan, saved by
the mercy of God.
Seventh Sphere. The sphere ofSaturn is that of the contemplatives, who embody
temperance (Cantos XXI and XXII). Dante here meets Peter Damian, and

discusses with himmonastic ism, the doctrine ofpredest inat ion, and the sad state
of the Church. Beatrice, who representstheolog y, becomes increasingly lovely
here, indicating the contemplative's closer insight into the truth of God.

Eighth Sphere. The sphere of fixedstars is the sphere of the Church Triumphant
(Cantos XXII through XXVII). Here, Dante sees visions ofChrist and of the
Virgin Mary. He is tested on faithb y Saint Peter, hopeb y Saint James, and love
by Saint John the Evangelist. Dante justifies his medieval belief inastrolog y, that
the power of the constellations is drawn from God.
Ninth Sphere. The Primum Mobile ("first moved" sphere) is the abode ofangels
(Cantos XXVII through XXIX). Dante sees God as a point of light surrounded by
nine rings of angels, and is told about thecre ation of the universe.
From the Primum Mobile, Dante ascends to a region beyond physical existence, called
theEmp yr ean (Cantos XXX through XXXIII). Here the souls of all the believers form

the petals of an enormous rose. Beatrice leaves Dante with Saint Bernard, because
theology has here reached its limits. Saint Bernard prays to Mary on behalf of Dante.
Finally, Dante comes face-to-face withGod Himself, and is granted understanding of the

Divine and of human nature. His vision is improved beyond that of human

comprehension. God appears as three equally large circles within each other representing the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit with the essence of each part of God, separate yet one. The book ends with Dante trying to understand how the circles fit together, how the Son is separate yet one with the Father but as Dante put it "that was not a flight for my wings" and the vision of God becomes equally inimitable and inexplicable that no word or intellectual exercise can come close to explaining what he saw. Dante's soul, through God's absolute love, experiences a unification with itself and all things "but already my desire and my will were being turned like a wheel, all at one speed by the Love that turns the sun and all the other stars".

Following the Ptolemaic astronomy of his time Dante conceived of the earth as stationary and central in the universe, with the sun and moon and the five visible planets revolving about it at various speeds. Each of these seven heavenly bodies has its own sphere, or "heaven"; beyond them is the sphere of the fixed stars, and beyond that the ninth and last of the material heavens, called the Crystalline because it is transparent and invisible, or the Primum Mobile because from it in infinite speed the other lower heavens take their slower motions.

These nine spheres are severally moved and controlled by the nine orders of the angels,
and all the spheres and the heavenly bodies in them have certain spiritual significances
and certain influences on human life and character. As Dante passes upward with Beatrice
the souls of the blessed appear to them in the successive heavens according to their
corresponding predominant character in their earthly lives. Beyond the nine material
spheres is the Empyrean, outside of time and space, the heaven of God's immediate
presence and the only real home of the angels and the redeemed, whose blessedness
consists in their eternal vision of Him.

The System of Dante's Paradise
The Ten Heavens

10. The Empyrean: the Holy Trinity, the Virgin, the Angels and the Saints
9. The Crystalline, or Primum Mobile: the Angelic Orders
8. The Fixed Stars: the Church Triumphant
7. Saturn: Temperance; Contemplatives
6. Jupiter: Justice; Rulers
5. Mars: Courage; Warriors
4. The Sun: Wisdom;Theologians
3. Venus: Love marred by wantonness
2. Mercury: Service marred by ambition
1. The Moon: Faithfulness marred by inconstancy

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