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Dante's Paradiso from Number to Mysterium

Author(s): James T. Chiampi

Reviewed work(s):
Source: Dante Studies, with the Annual Report of the Dante Society, No. 110 (1992), pp. 255278
Published by: Dante Society of America
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Dante's Paradisofrom Number

to Mysterium

No poet was ever more daring in his final simile, in so long a poem, daring to
bring into this very end the notion and image ("cold,"as in geometry or
mathematics!)of the geometer who studies the circle in the vain attempt to
squareit. "Firstreaders"of the poem, students generally,are of course amazed
at the simile,in its strongsuggestion of calm,cool study of the greatestmystery
of the Christianfaith,the Incarnation.But so it is! And the amazement of the
modern readermust arise from the abstractness,the geometrical nature,of the
vision of God that terminates so long a journey. The poet's conception is
Byzantine in nature and as far from the anthropomorphic as can be- except
for the final scrutiny of "our effigy"in the second person, which is perhapsa
corrective of the geometrical and abstract.1
keeping with his practice, Charles Singleton's commentary on
verses 133-135 of Paradiso XXXIII offers an esthetic response its
historical context.2 I would like to expand on his observation by
offering a reading of the Paradiso that orients that response in the
traditions and concerns of Christian rationalism. To that end, I shall
extend Singjeton s notion of "coldness" backward in the canticle and
relate it to Christian deiftcatioin order to show that this imagery climaxes
a process of freeing the implied reader from a misplaced trust in the
power of unaided intellect, and setting him/her in a beneficent "region
of unlikeness."3 That makes the Paradiso'stransaction with the reader in
large part an exercitatioanimi, Augustine's term for the exercise of the
mind that leads it from the material to the intelligible, from alienation
home. But Dante's particular exercitatioin the Paradisodiffers from those
in the preceding canticles.4 Here the food he offers is a "cibo rigido"


Dante Studies, CX, 1992

(Par.V, 38), one suitable to a more spiritually mature reader.5Dante will

accordingly take what of vision the artesliberatesprovide and then surpass
and annul them, using them as signs of a higher existence which they
are unable to grasp.According to the "Letter to Can Grande della Scala,"
if we attend to the moral sense of the Paradiso,"the conversion of the
soul from the sorrow and misery of sin to a state of grace is signified."6
The rationalist tradition knew that the first step to happiness required
that the soul be weaned from the saeculum.But that is the problem: the
poem itself is an artifact that belongs to the saeculum.Dante's conclusion
is his poetic strategy: to use poetry to teach the proper use of poetry.
Dante begins by establishing the legitimacy of his leadership on grace.
He accordingly alludes to a gratiagratis data (in the language of Summa
theologiae[la.2ae.lll, 1]), a non-sanctifying grace given him so that he
might "cooperate in the justification of someone else."7 Bear in mind
that "grace is ordained to the bringing back of man to God" (p. 127). In
addition, the Poet's addresses to the reader together with the speeches of
the blessed display what Thomas calls (in ST la.2ae.lll, 4) the freely
bestowed graces of "utterance of knowledge" and "utterance of wisdom" (p. 137). As Thomas puts it (ST la.2ae.lll, 4): "Freely bestowed
grace includes all that man needs to instruct someone in divine matters,
which are above reason" (p. 137). Grace underwrites Dante's wisdom in
both its apostolic and doctrinal moments. God has moved Dante's free
choice to prepare him for grace; Dante would aid his reader'spreparation
and to that end tells the reader why to trust him.
The exerdtatiothat the Poet would direct is, in part, a graced lesson in
passing from the density of literary discourse to ideal entities. Singleton's
"coldness" marks the difference between a question of literary pleasure
and an act of the rational will. "Coldness" both portrays and aids the act
of man's giving himself back to himself, in the words of Augustine's The
Magnitude of the Soul* Accordingly, the best way for the reader to taste
the meal that nourished the Pilgrim's wings for flight is by undertaking
the exerdtatioanitni the Poet elaborates. Such a meal will awaken a desire
for righteous desiring in him/her - that is to say,inculcate temperance,
fortitude, prudence and justice as its first moment - and then proceed
to arouse yearnings for the grace of faith, hope and charity. Happiness is
the reward for Dante's charitable activity: first, happiness in what of God
he can remember, then the happiness he experiences as his sacrificial
writing helps him die to the world, and finally the promise of an ultimate


Dante's Paradiso from Number to Mysterium, JAMEST. CHIAMPI

return to happiness (perfect self-sufficient existence, i.e., God) after

death.Given its ambition,the exerdtatioof the Paradisomust be alert not
only to the dangersof artisticvainglory,it must be alert to the dangers
posed by a prideful,unguided intellectualism- an intellectualismignorant or contemptuous of grace- as alert as are Augustine'sexerdtationes
in the TheTrinityand Confessions.
As we shall see, Dante'sinvocation of
humility,underscoringhis legitimacy as our guide and
making him, like Beatrice,an anti-Ulysses.9
Let me sketch out the rationalist tradition Dante inherits. Plato
understood the role of what Augustine would call the artesliberates
rationaldisciplines)as firstdirectingthe mind of his futurerulerbeyond
the world of time into a world independent of it, a world of truly real
entities,and then towardpure goodness, perhapsthe form of forms. To
the question: Is the preceding punctuation a point? The intellectual
would answer no, because the printed period has the measurable
dimensions of height, width and depth. And he would add that pure
location is certainlyno propertyof mundanethings,nor can its existence
be derived from them. The ideal point exists and exists independently
of its representation.To the question: Where is the number one? the
intellectualrespondsthat a perfectlysimple unit is not its representation,
no matter how many single objects he points to to illustrateit.
Thus via geometry and arithmetic- as opposed to logistic, simple
calculation- Plato'sontology led his guardianto glimpse a world beyond this one, beyond change:a world of unshakablecertitude. In the
Republic,Plato showed that there was a higher realm, one wherein
resided the quality of existence itself upon which even these ideas
depended, the idea of the good. Contemplating the good would make
the polis better;it would channel energies beyond a yearning for goods
and the conflict it breeds to the good, beyond time, thus achieving the
harmony that was the natural,rational state of society.10Despite its
benevolence, such paideiawas not sufficient for the Christian. For an
Augustine, God was not the good that unaided reason could attain to,
but the God of Revelation, so Platonic ontology was of limited use; to
ontology Augustine favorednaturaltheology which the proud Platonist
dismissedas superfluous.But then the Platonistdid not even know that
man hadbeen wounded by sin.Looking upwardfor the Christianmeant
looking pastthe ideasto his rewardin the perfection of his being:eternal
life, the resurrectionof the body, the satisfactionof will and intellect by


Dante Studies, CX, 1992

union with their objects,all things for which man naturallyyearns.For

this, divine aid in the form of grace- both naturaland supernatural
was necessary.More to the point: Augustine'sCreatorwas not the form
of forms,but the Fatherwho beckons to his prodigalson to return;and
anti-intellectual/anti-pantheisthumility was man'sfirststep homeward.
This return required the theological virtues of faith, hope and charity,
which were themselvesgiftsof grace.They alone permit mankindto pass
beyond the graspof line to the Cross,beyond number to the Trinity.As
Dante'sjourney attests,they raise us beyond even the world of ideal
entities Plato revealed.11Finally,the Platonistlacked a systematicnotion
of the will, so Platonism could hardlylead one to the perfect happiness
for which he/she naturallyyearned; contemplation, after all, is a pale
thing when comparedwith rapturouspossession.12
The Dante of the Divine Comedypossessedan Augustinianawareness
of the inadequaciesof such intellectualism:the Poet affirmshis fidelity
to Augustinewhen, before the finalvision, he demonstrateshis humility,
rejoicingand confessing:"Oh abbondantegraziaond'io presunsi/ ficcar
lo viso per la luce etterna,/ tanto che la vedutavi consunsi!"(Par.XXXIII,
82- 84).13In the first book of On ChristianDoctrine,Augustine characterized the Fatheras Unity, the Son as Equality and the Holy Spirit as
Unity plus Equality.14Since accordingto the letter of Dante'spoem the
Poet has experienced this place,which is Wisdom itself,even ideal unity
taken alone could not be a terminalvalue for him, because he knew that
unity itself was simply another sign of God. The task of Christian
understandingwas not to graspthe disciplinesof Plato'sGuardians,but
the scandaland stumblingblock of the mysteria.
And contemplationhad
to yield its primacy to union.
To illustrate:in the early Soliloquies,
Augustine answeredthe question
posed by Reason ("Whether it would be enough for you to know God
as you know this geometric sphere,that is, to have no doubt about God
as you have none about it") thus,

It seemsto me thatnot only the objects,but the knowledgeitselfis different.

First,becausea line anda spherearenot so differentbut thatthe knowledge
of both is containedin one branchof learning;no geometer,however,has
claimedthathe teachesa knowledgeof God. Secondly,if the knowledgeof
God andof thesethingswerethe same,I wouldrejoiceoverknowingthemas
muchas I anticipatemyjoy in the knowledgeof God.15

Dante's Paradiso from Number to Mysterium, JAMEST. CHIAMPI

The knowledge offered by Revelation and the Church transcendsthat

offered by geometry,however much geometry's immutable laws might
help the intellect conceive immutability,because instructedby Revelation we might come to possess God in ecstasy.Moreover, even the
contemplativegrasp of ideal entities leaves the soul far from God; such
a grasp may yield truths, but not the Truth. Augustine accordingly
believes that once he comes to know God, geometry and "all these
thingswill vanishfrom my consideration"(p.358) if only becausegreater
than knowing the contents of the mind of God is participationin that
mind itself. Once it has served its purpose,Dante will reduce geometry
to the ancillarystatusof analogyor adornment throughout the Paradiso.
Like Augustine, Dante is aware that the liberal arts awaken desires
whose satisfactionrequiresthat the liberalartsbe surpassed.The immutable laws of geometry,for example,bespeak an ordered world only an
immutable,omnipotent, omniscient God could create,and only a mind
in some way eternal could comprehend,because only like knows like.
It is thus easy for the geometer to become smug in his knowledge,
forgetting both that his science is not an end in itself, and that it is not
wisdom itself. After all, what does geometry know of peace? Indeed,
Augustine'swords in the first book of On ChristianDoctrineform the
basisof Dante'sconcern:16
Forif we find completeenjoymentin ourselveswe remainon the roadand
in a manor in an angel.Thusthe proudmanor
placeour hopesof blessedness
the proudangelplaces enjoymentin himselfandrejoicesthatothersplace
theirhopesin him also.But the holy manandthe holy angelrefreshus with
what they havereceived,and only with what they have received,eitherfor
themselvesor for us,andeventhoughwe areweariedanddesireto restandto
remainwith them,they urgeus onwardwhen we havebeen refreshedtoward
Him in whose enjoymentwe mayboth be blessed,(p.28)
Dante's Augustinianscrupulousnessleads him at every step to conjure
away the specter of pride, whether by invoking Marsyas,the Pies, and
Icarus;by the speech of an Oderisi against vainglory, or Beatrice's
excoriation of the vain inanities of preachers.Dante accordinglymakes
the version of the Lord'sPrayerthat the penitents of pride recite humbly
assertman'sradicaldependence on grace:"Vengaver'noi la pace del tuo
regno, / che noi ad essa non potem da noi, / s'ella non vien, con tutto

Dante Studies, CX, 1992

nostro ingegno" (Purg.XI, 7-9); that pace is happiness. Here Dante

- surpasses
describesthe moment when piety- a form of doctaignorantia
the artesliberates,
since the righteousnesspiety inculcates provides even
the ignorant among the devout a sure route to the invisibilia:
After all,
flight (Purg.XI,37) a most
pious andjust empire (Par.XXXII,117). Dante closes the frame that the
Lord'sPrayeropened with St. Bernard'sprayerto the Virgin, which also
abjurespresumption:"qualvuol graziae a te non ricorre,/ sua disi'anza
vuol volar sanz'ali" (Par.XXXIII,14-15).17 No IcarusDante; he knows
that no precedingmerit on his parthasforced divinity to single him out.
Beatrice thus urges Dante to humble thanksgiving for God's gifts of
habitualor supernaturalgrace:'"Ringrazia,/ ringraziail Sol de li angeli,
ch'a questo / sensibil t'ha levato per sua grazia'"(Par.X, 52-54). He
thanks the sun of the angels,after all, not the sun of the philosophers.
The Poet's concern is with a voyage of the person to the Empyrean.
The role of the artesis largely epitaphic.In a narrativeof the "passing
of the sanctifiedsoul from the bondage of the corruption of this world
to the liberty of glory" (p. 199) geometry'sfunction is largely heuristic,
serving as a means to the understandingof ideal personhood, because
for Dante the greatnessof the human person standsjust beneath that of
the angels in the hierarchy of creation. Ideal personhood, whether
graspedthrough Christ as embodying the reformationof the imagoDei,
through descriptionsof the resurrectedperson, or through the incomparablelife of Mary,is the Poet's end. But this thematics gives rise to a
seriesof disorientingquestionsthat make the familiarityof the self- and
implicitly memory- problematic:Can we be at once Christlikeand like
the geometricalpoint while remainingourselves?How can personhood
be both ours yet incomparably superior? both ours and not ours?
Reason offersa partialanswer:we are like the point because the Eternal
Law,Wisdom, has made physicallaw in its own image,joining soul to
cosmos by determining soul to rise to the immaterial "place" most
appropriatefor it. Heaven itself could, from one perspective,be viewed
as rewardas properplace.These concerns come together in the scandal
representedby the presence of mere infants in the Heavenly Rose and
the ironic presence of unbaptizedinfants in Limbo among Plato,Aristotle and the pagansages.Viewed subspecieaeternitatis,
both learningand
augustpaganwisdom areas nothing. But then the blessedthemselvesare
as children, for pace the intellectuals:"Unless you be converted, and


Dante's Paradiso /rom Number to Mysterium, JAMEST. CHIAMPI

become as little children, you shall not enter into the kingdom of
heaven"(Matthew 18:3).18
Dante introduces these polemical themes from Christianrationalism
as if by adumbration in the fifth canto of the Infernowhen Francesca
confesses:"solo un punto fu quel che ci vinse" {Inf.V, 132). That punto
is normally and correctly translatedas "passage,"but it looks forward
to the puntoaroundwhich the blessed will dance, which is God.19Two
crucial verses cap that movement: in ParadisoXXIX,where the Pilgrim
is describedas "fiso nel punto che m'aveavinto" (v.9)- the punto,once
again, indicating God; and in ParadisoXXX,where the Poet describes
the circulationof the blessed "sempredintorno al punto che mi vinse"
(v. 11). The afterlife of Francesca'swords suggests that rational knowledge, as exemplified by geometry, is superior to the knowledge
profferedby a carnal literature,which can be misread.This is the first
step of Dante s exercitatio.
The otherness of the geometrical point is actually the future of
reformed imagoDei, as exemplified by the adoring movement of the
Seraphimand Cherubim in the crystalline heaven, who yearn to be
like the point: "Cosi veloci seguono i suoi vimi, / per somigliarsi al
punto quanto ponno; / e posson quanto a veder son soblimi" (Par.
XXVIII,100-102). The angels are rushing not to resemble a mark,
but an ideal/spiritual entity. Resemblance then is nothing we can
imagine- we require the graces of intellectual vision. Dante expresses what to our normal, quotidian view and to our schooling
in literary convention can only appear as both a scandal and a
stumbling block: true human home, our natural place in creation (if
our elective love does not swerve toward sin), is more like a
geometrical entity than, say, a palace. But there are precedents for
this thought: if according to Augustine of The Magnitudeof the Soul,
mind should ideally pass from the grasp of circle to that of its
inextended center point (p. 85), so in Paradise the circling souls
pursue greater union with the point as does the Pilgrim. The point
in Paradise,moreover, has a power denied the geometrical point, that
of orienting us in our world, since although it appearsenclosed by the
universe,it will reveal itself as enclosing- and circumscribing- everything (Par.XXX,12). Dante'spoint is wisdom.
Describing the Heaven of Jupiter,the Poet will compare his circling
movement to that of moral improvement:


Dante Studies, CX, 1992

E come, per sentir piu dilettanza

bene operando,1'uom di giorno in giorno
s'accorge che la sua virtute avanza,
si m'accors'io che '1mio girare intorno
col cielo insieme avea cresciuto l'arco,
veggendo quel miracol piu addorno.
In The Magnitude of The Soul, Augustine claimed:
But, surelyyou see that a circle is more like virtue than any other plane figure.
For that reasonwe are wont to give high praiseto the line of Horace in which
he says,"His strengthis in himself;all smooth and and round,his ego is a little
world"- and with good reason. For,you will not find in the endowments of
the soul anything that is more harmonious with itself in every way than virtue;
nor in plane figures anything more symmetricalthan a circle, (p. 89)
The circle represents self-sufficiency, which is common to ideal geometrical entities - in their transcendence of their rendering - to the happy
soul- free of the world - and to art as well. The happy intellective soul
knows the ideal circle as part of its familiar surroundings, of its ecology so
to speak; in Heaven, the intellective soul is in its proper place. But such a
state and place is unfamiliar to the carnal;reason, after all, is not passed with
the seed, but is infused directly by God (Purg. XXV, 70-75). Home is
decidedly unheimlichto carnal man; faith is necessary because it assures
him/her that such a state can become truly familiar.But this, of course, is
precisely the role of art. In a similar fashion, the blessed seem forbidding to
us, as when Beatrice and Cato brusquely dismiss Virgil's words. Of course,
when high creatures stare into order, which is the form that makes the
universe like God (Par, I, 103-105), they do so with a vision whose
economy disdains poetic and rhetorical topoi. Their style suits well Dante's
paideia,for the language of romance is less appropriate to self-knowledge
than cooler scientific language which links soul to the apparently
impersonal movement of the stars. Scientific language supplants the
language of the love tradition as a fashioner of self-understanding,
mutely humbling poetry's urge to recreate the world in its image.
The circling of the blessed, who yearn after the punto, possesses a
figural dimension insofar as it repudiates both the static circles of hell
and the carnal, commonsensical vision of the damned. The blessed state


Dante's Paradiso from Number to Mysterium, JAMEST. CHIAMPI

held and holds little attraction for the damned. Thus it could be said that
the circling performs the alienating task of Dante's rhetoric. Moreover,
for Dante, as for Augustine, even cool, neo-Platonic contemplation
provides only the food of children, although it provides an important
step to those for whom grace has not reserved the experience of heaven.
Dante's figuration of God as a point serves as an antidote to the vice
Augustine, following Paul, called "the lust of the eyes," a form of carnal
concupiscence, which he described in Of TrueReligion:
If he does not hold fast to the whole discipline of divine providence but
imagines he does, and tries to resistthe flesh, he merely reaches the images of
visible things. He vainly excogitates vast spaces of light exactly like ordinary
light which he sees has fixed limits here, and promises himself a future
habitationthere. He does not know that he is still entangled in the lust of the
eye, and that he is carrying this world with him in his endeavor to go beyond
it. He thinks he has reached another world simply by falsely imagining the
bright part of this world infinitely extended, (p. 36)
Dante's verbal strategies suggest that a true grasp of the point protects
the soul from the sort of idolatrous and pantheistic imaginings, wherein
one counterfeits Heaven with the base alloys of sense. It is not fortuitous
that Dante will describe to Cacciaguida his freedom from Fortune which Augustine and Boethius would say governs all those things which
can be taken from us- using geometrical language: to be free, i.e., happy,
is to be "ben tetragono ai colpi di ventura" (Par.XVII,24).
As early as the first canto of the Paradiso,a broader, more spiritual,
notion of the self begins to emerge "quando la rota che tu sempiterni /
desiderato, a se mi fece atteso / con l'armonia che temperi e discerni. . ."
(Par. I, 76-78). The sun itself is now ancillary and semiotic. If Platonic
harmony revealed a world of ideal entities, here, in the sphere of fire,
celestial harmony directs the Pilgrim beyond itself to the origins of
creation: "La novita del suono e '1 grande lume / di lor cagion
m'accesero un disio / mai non sentito di cotanto acume" (Par.1,82-84).
For this reason, the Pilgrim no longer enjoys the marvels of nature for
their own sake. The harmony, novelty and brightness described in these
verses attract the Pilgrim s attention only to distract it toward a yearning
for the knowledge of causes. This harmony is more than an occasion for
Platonic contemplation or belletristic indulgence, it is a prayerful yearn-


Dante Studies,ex, 1992

ing for God. Moreover, this image of the heavenly spheresas a wheel
("rota")looks ahead to the final image, the interior wheel that is evenly
moved by 'Tamor che move il sole e l'altre stelle"(Par.XXXIII,145), as
if to underscorethe notion that the perfection of the Pilgrim'swill and
intellect is the achievement of his proper place in nature.
Defying romance conventions, Dante renders the rising sun as a
geometrical exercise:
Surgeai mortaliperdiversefoci
la lucernadel mondo;ma da quella
che quattrocerchigiugnecon tre croci,
con migliorcorsoe con miglioreStella
esce congiunta,e la mondanacera
piu a suo modo temperae suggella.
As we gaze backwardfrom here, it is as though the Purgatorio's
belletristic astronomical descriptions, such as "dolce color d'oriental
zaffiro"(1,13) and the white and vermiglion cheeks of beautifulAurora
(II,7-8), were meant to set us up for the shock of encountering the
geometrical,cooler, more austereastronomyof the ParadiseThese early
verses describing the sun- the fundamental intellectual image- announce a Christian rationalistend: reformation as the recovery of the
soul'sharmonywith nature.Afterall,a "lucerna"is a tool thatservesman.
The act whereby the sun imprintsthe "mondanacera"suggeststhe way
the Sun of Truth,via the reformation imagoDei, shapes "umana cera."
To be close to God is,in essence,to returnto form.Unlike an intellectual
exercisein geometry and astronomy,this sun promisesmore than a mere
disengagementof the mind from time, because three crossesinevitably
recallto the Christianmind the historicalevents of Calvary,just as circle
upon circle- in the completed rainbow of the Resurrection will
speak of the inner life of the triune God to which Calvary promised
man participation (Par. XII, 10-18; Par. XXXIII,115-120). Viewed
retrospectivelyfrom the final vision, it is as though an astronomical
image were made to saythat via the Crosswe enter the rainbow.All this,
of course,is contingent on man'sself-shapingwith the aid of grace.
Perhapsmost importantis the movement itself whereby an appreciation of heavenly beauty yields to an astronomy that speaks of the
mysteriesthat structurethe rationalityof the universe.That displacement

Dante's Paradiso from Number to Mysterium, JAMEST. CHIAMPI

shows that creation is ordinatusin the highest degree, but not as a

non-Christianintellectualwould have it. And since the harmony of the
person is one with- even as it enhances- the harmony of all creation,
one can glimpse mortal perfection in the order the sun observes,just as
the Poet does in the angels'circlingabout the point. The universespeaks
of human destiny and vice versa. The strong suggestion of a figural
dimension in these verseshelps us graspthe vision of order in the mind
of God (Par.I, 103-105) by revealing the personal divinity at work
behind an apparentlyimpersonalnature.This theme was announced in
the Francescaepisode'splay about the puntowhich, while literary,looked
ahead to the geometrical. The geometrical point, in turn, also looks
ahead to its annulment in the squaring of the circle (Par. XXXIII,
Thus does punto("point")
132-136), that is, in an analogyfor mysterium.
become punto,pastparticipleofpungere("to pierce"),in order to render
the penetrationof Christ'sbody which healed the wound Eve opened
in mankind;thus St. Bernard in the Empyrean:"La piaga che Maria
richiuse e unse, / quella ch'e tanto bella da' suoi piedi / e colei che
l'apersee che la punse"(Par.XXXII,4-6).
Natural love- our inborn yearning for happiness- is our kinship
with the movements of both small and great naturalbodies. Electivepersonal- love, in its freedom of desiring,may departfrom the proper
course, and find itself at odds with this "impeto primo" (Par.1, 134).
When it does, sin setsthe human creatureat odds with a rationalphysics,
which directsall things according to their naturesto their proper ends.
Restoration of order is restorationof harmonious naturalrelations:"La
concreata e perpetiia sete / del dei'formeregno cen portava / veloci
quasi come '1 ciel vedete" (Par.II, 19-21). Admiring harmony in the
limited sense as an intellectual would is as nothing compared with
increasingit. Dante'swriting works to this end, since it is the activity by
which a poet who writes "in pro del mondo che mal vive" (Purg.XXXII,
103) harmoniouslyinforms his own spiritualtrajectory,reformshimself
and ascendsto become an adornment of the heavens.When one who
has seen God and lived describeshis flight, his description is necessarily
a rationalactivity,for by urging others to such movement, he promotes
orderand becomes the willing agent of Providence.Thus does the poem
respondto neo-Platonic distrustof poetry'seffects.The Poet has established his place with the aid of grace and leads others there as well.
Reason must guide Dante'spoetic choices in orderthat readingbecome


Dante Studies, CX, 1992

flight homeward for the fledgling, pursuing reader.Only thus can the
Poet earn his name, Dante Alighieri, "Wing-Bearing Giver."
In ParadisoII(w. 37- 39), the Poet describeshis entry into the firststar,
which was as solid as diamond or pearl,and continues, saying that if he
were in fact in the body,"accenderne dovriapiu il disio / di veder quella
essenzain che si vede / come nostra naturae Dio s'unio" (w. 40-42).
The miracleof his graced completion of naturallaw,he believes,should
the Incarnation.The
spur our desire to understandanother mysterium,
Poet is teaching us how to respond to the miraculous;one index of the
fatallimitation on the spiritualvision of the damned was their differing
inability to recognize and understand the miraculous nature of the
Pilgrims journey through hell, and the grace that enabled it. Surpriseat
his presenceis both rareand obtuse.Let two examplessuffice:Francesca's
greeting the Pilgrim as you who "visitando vai" {Inf. V, 89), and
Cavalcante'sfalse- and proud- assumptionthat the Pilgrimjourneyed
"peraltezzad'ingegno" {Inf.X, 59). The grace that makessuch ajourney
possible,that chooses such an unworthy man as Dante ("me degno a cio
ne io ne altri '1 crede,"Inf. II, 33) over others, would have scandalized
the intellectual, especially such a one as the magistrate and heretic,
Pelagius,who demanded that God give man what Pelagius knew he
deserved.When reasonstudiescreation,its love for God should increase,
but in order truly to know, it must realize that nature'sorderlinessis a
vestigiumto be penetrated and surpassed,because beyond it lie the
mysteria.Dante must likewise surpasshis carnal self-understandingby
graspinghimself as imagoDei; that is, humbly as signum,not as res.
The blessedrejoice in the mysterious"inequities"of gracejust as they
do in the impersonality of spiritual physics, as we see in the case of
Constance,who describesherself as having born to the second wind of
Swabiaits thirdand finalpower {Par.Ill, 118- 120). The humility implicit
in her self-descriptionwould be unthinkableto the individualistFarinata,or his child-obsessedcompanion,Cavalcante.Wind is meteorologiXI (w. 100-102), it symbolizes the transient.
cal; indeed in Purgatorio
Constances humility abounds in Heaven: although damned Francesca
performedher wish to be conformed to her misprisionsof the Lancelot,
in Heaven Piccardaperformsher conformity to the order establishedby
the Holy Spirit, an order expressedin reason {Par.Ill, 52-54). Piccarda
conforms herselfnot to the visible and imagistic,but to the invisible,and
by virtue of her existence in the Word,to the divine act of reading{Par.


Dante's Paradiso from Number to Mysterium, JAMEST. CHIAMPI

X, 1-6). Francescafashionedherselfin romance;Piccardais fashioned as

a creaturerewritten to conformity to the Word as it is read in love by
the Father,and as the Word readsHim. "E 'n la sua volontade e nostra
pace"(Par.Ill, 85): her submissivefreedom makesher like the psalteryof
ten stringsin the Psalms,responsiveto the hand of God.
As numbers and circles offer a glimpse at the immutable, so do
perfected human beings whose natural place is where numbers and
circleshave their origin. Their immutablewill is an ethical kinshipwith
circularity.Dante passesto incarnationalimagery:Scripturecondescends
to man's capacity and attributeshands and feet to God having other
meaning (Par.IV, 43-45). It is as though Dante had constructed an
analogy between the ability to grasp circularity in relation to this
particularcircle and the ability to understandperfected humanity in
relationto one's humanityhere and now.The Poet alludesto the survival
of the personalityin a timeless,disincarnatestate when the Pilgrim fails
to recognize Piccarda,whom he knew in life (Par. IV, 58-62). This
unrecognizabilityof familiarfaces enacts the fate of the self in Heaven,
when the soul has become foreign to itself. When the Poet shows his
indifference to the Pilgrim he was by interrupting his narrative,we
realize that the encounter with Piccardawas prophetic.Poet will be to
Pilgrim as the novus homo to the vetus homo of Paul, or as brusque
Beatricewas to courtly Virgil.Now, as he travelsupward,the light which
greaterlove procuresis the means to a transformationof the self which
delights and surprisesthe self, leading to yet greater dwelling in newness- greater unfamiliarity- and greater change. Dante is moving toward his own perfection as reformed individual within a perfected
humanity,and becoming strangeto himself, as strangeto himself as the
souls he knew are unfamiliarto him. All this movement is an ongoing
holocaust of the familiar.And finally,the man who once felt pity for
Francescawill claim:"Bene e che sanzatermine si doglia / chi, per amor
di cosa che non duri / etternalmente,quello amor si spoglia"(Par.XV,
10-12). What a "hardsaying"these too rarelycited verseshave been for
Dante criticism.Their rejectionby estheticistcriticismshows the degree
to which it failed its own criterion of novelty.20
The Pilgrim mustlearn to dwell in newness of mind.When a radiance
of pure joy (Par.V, 6) hides Beatrice from the Pilgrim, we realize that
the Pilgrim must grow happierand freer (in the sense of indifferentto
mundane things) in orderto see her clearly.The Pilgrim'svision must be


Dante Studies, CX, 1992

conformed to its object, in this case, a perfected humanity. Peter Damian

burns with an illumination that comes directly from the Supreme
Essence: "Quinci vien l'allegrezza ond'io fiammeggio; / per ch'a la vista
mia, quant' ella e chiara, / la chiarita de la fiamma pareggio" (Par. XXI,
88-90) . The same joy Peter Damian feels, the Holy Spirit, will eventually
help the Pilgrim perform a holocaust of his free will, since that joy draws
him nearer to an unlimited good before which there can be no free
choice.21 As Trajan learned, it is wise to accept the counsel of one who
is better; the drama of the Paradiso is based on the premise that the
counsel of one whose will is perfect is more salutary than an understanding of geometry. Plato knew nothing of salvation, and Augustine
made no journey to heaven. Dante knows that the speech of those who
have survived death is more cogent. Of course, the Pilgrim's grasp of the
nature of free will as God's greatest gift was aided by the revelation of
the independent worlds arithmetic and geometry reveal. Nevertheless,
the Pilgrim is moving toward perfect fixity of the will in God, perfect
self-forgetfulness, a state imaged in the vow whereby free choice is
annihilated. With freedom annihilated, language that expresses human
being in the impersonal idiom of physics will be most apt. Perfection is
both his and not his insofar as he recognizes that his qualities are the
gifts of an all-good God. Thus, when Dante tells his reader to stare at
the heavenly wheels (Par. X, 7), he seems at first glance unwittingly to
follow Plato's exercitatio which employed astronomy to educate the
Guardians, but his goal is actually to direct his reader toward the origin
of all quality, toward home.
Reason teaches a limited newness. In the Consolation of Philosophy,
Lady Philosophy helped Boethius recover his true nature by showing
him that what he calls goods are not necessarily good for man; that in
any case they should not be transformed into absolutes, because human
nature far surpasses them, and that they only belong to Fortune anyway.
Lady Philosophy excoriates the love of honor, claiming that honors
bestowed upon the wicked only underscore their dishonor:

And why does this happen? It happens because you choose to call things by
falsenames,even though the things in question may be quite different,and the
things are then found to contradict their names by their effects. Therefore,
material possessions are not rightly called riches, worldly power is not true
power, and public honor is not true honor, (p. 36)


Dante's Paradiso from Number to Mysterium, JAMEST. chiampi

The circling of the Paradisoworks to the illumination of this notion.

Thus in ParadisoXXIII,130-132, we learn what true wealth is (and again
in XXVII,9); this is spelled out in Canto X: "Ne la corte del cielo, ond'
io rivegno, / si trovan molte gioie care e belle / tanto che non si posson
trar del regno" (w. 70-72). Such jewels are safe from Vanni Fucci. In
ParadisoXXIV,1-3, pace Ciacco, we learn what true food is, and throughout the canticle, pace Pier della Vigna, what true honor and glory are.
Dante is performing an activity of redefinition, finding the proper names
for things. Beatrice's words - "L'alto disio che mo t'infiamma e urge, /
d'aver notizia di cio che tu vei, / tanto mi piace quanto piu turge" (Par.
XXX, 70-72) - by their ambiguous imagery suggest the love excessive
sensuality forecloses. God's "great munificence" (Par.XXXI,88-90), true
wealth, is actually the means by which man is freed from the body and
made pleasing to Him. We can surmise that to be present to an
omniscient God is true fame. To be recalled to the self-sufficiency he
once knew man/woman must become indifferent to earthly goods.
Let us return to the artesliberates,keeping in mind that they can pose
the soul many of the same dangers as poetry; above all inspiring an
idolatrous absorption that treats them as terminal values. Dante's geometry is personal, as in these words the Pilgrim speaks to Cacciaguida:
"O carapiota mia che si t'insusi,
che, come veggion le terrene menti
non capere in triangol due ottusi,
cosi vedi cose contingenti
anzi che sieno in se, mirando il punto
a cui tutti i tempi son presenti."
Here geometry's axiomatic certitude is merely an analogy for the
certitude of Providence that underlies history's incessant change. The
point that gave rise to time and to what lies beyond it is now seen
to bring together all time in itself. In the Pilgrim's words to Cacciaguida,
geometry reveals its instrumental nature it is the vehicle for a description of the achievement of human happiness, the complete satisfaction
of the intellect and will. And it underscores a difference: the intellectual
may be satisfied by scientia,but the Christian yearns for the sapientia it
reveals, a certitude created in imitation of the Word. Boethius claimed
that the highest creation is the human will, which can love - make use


Dante Studies, CX, 1992

of - itself, and, we must recall, that it itself is by no means a terminal

value. Speaking with Cacciaguida, the Poet reveals the anagogy of such
self-love when the Pilgrim gazes at his own will - directed toward
God - in loving admiration like a redeemed Narcissus: "Per tanti rivi
s'empie d'allegrezza / la mente mia, che di se fa letizia / perche puo
sostener che non si spezza" (Par.XVI,19-21). The Pilgrim rejoices in the
very capacity of his mind to contain the immutable, but the immutable
here is not geometry. Geometry's role was to suggest, however dimly,
that we are capax Dei. As in Augustine, geometry's proportions offer no
happiness in themselves to compare with that which comes from
following them back to their origin in Pure Form. The intellectual
knows light when he grasps the geometrical point, and can come to
know a certain limited self-sufficiency, but it is joyless compared to the
light Beatrice knows in the Empyrean, the mind of God, a "luce
intellectual, piena d'amore; / amor di vero ben, pien di letizia" (Par.XXX,
40-41), perfect self-sufficiency.22
The Poet joins the artesarithmetic, geometry and music in rendering
what Platonic intellectualism could not know, the Christian God:
QuelTuno e due e tre che sempre vive
e regna sempre in tre e 'n due e 'n uno,
non circunscritto,e tutto circunscrive,
tre volte era cantato da ciascuno
di quelli spiriti con tal melodia,
ch'ad ogne merto sariagiusto muno.
Once again the Poet shows that geometry is itself finally a sign which
can be followed back to its origin in goodness, the pure order that makes
this a rational cosmos. But that is at the same time to say that the origin
and end of geometry is mysterium,for geometry's unchanging axioms
and relations arise from the surd of three persons in one God.23 In these
verses, Dante has made one and two and three a name of God, and taken
such an arithmetic, as well as geometry and music, and related them to
justice ("giusto muno"), which is his principle of spiritual form. Dante's
God here transcends and annuls intellectual arithmetic with a portrayal
of an arithmetic that lives, shapes, and intervenes; thus Cacciaguida
invokes God, "trino e uno, / che nel mio seme se' tanto cortese" (Par.
XV,48-49). Arithmetic, after all, cannot comprehend what defies the law


Dante's Paradiso/rom Number to Mysterium, JAMEST. CHIAMPI

of identity,A = A. (How would an intellectual regardthe notion of a

virgin mother who is daughterof her son? As the foolishness of God.)
The difficulty of Cacciaguida'sarithmetic name of God serves as yet
another mute underscoring of the carnal banality of Francescas name
of God, "3 re de l'universo"(Inf.V, 91).
As Augustine and Dante would have it, geometry and astronomyare
transcendedby the Cross in Heaven:
si costellatifaceannel profbndo
Martequei raggiil venerabilsegno
in tondo.
che fangiunturedi quadranti
Qui vince la memoriamialo 'ngegno;
che quellacrocelampeggiava
si ch'io non so trovareessemprodegno.
A geometrical crossis simply a figure createdwhere two lines intersect
at right angles, but this Cross possesses a quasi-sacramentalnature,
seeming to bring about by grace what it symbolizes. Thus, while any
such intersection of straightlines might awakenreason to ideal entities,
the Cross occasions wordless rapturein the pious- the Cross "che mi
rapiva,sanzaintender l'inno" (Par.XIV,121-123). Dante has yielded up
his attention to the Cross,which binds him more tightly than could art,
or the diversefascinationsof hell, as if to show that
love, the artesliberates,
of wisdom. These quadrantswithin the circle are
an index of the Pilgrim's spiritual development, because they look
forwardto their fusion in the final image, that of the geometer seeking
to squarethe circle.They make it clear that in some way it will be less
an isolated image than the culmination of a development toward an
encounter with perfect human being. If the familiarconventions of love
poetry enrapturedFrancesca,here a geometric figure enrapturesDante
which is incarnatedhistoricallyin the Cross of Christ.
In Christ'snature as true God and true man, we have the mysterium
that reconciles a divine love of the world with human contemptus
He is the crucified crossed point. Being Christlike means imitating
the perfect human will in its act of love. Heaven is the immutableplace
proper to man possessed of reason,which on earth permitted him to
know such immutable things as the truths of geometry,arithmetic and
music.As these liberaldisciplineshelped man towardself-sufficiency- a

Dante Studies, CX, 1992

love of the world which does not know it as a terminal value- here in
Heaven these disciplines are revealed to be themselves instrumental to
the goal of salvation, man's highest desire:

Ivi e perfetta,maturae intera

ciascunadisi'anza;in quella sola
e ogne parte la ove sempr'era,
perche non e in loco e non s'impola;
e nostra scalainfino ad essa varca.

The final vision (Par. XXXIII,127-135), which Dante renders as Christ

in the circling is, from this perspective, the point where the exemplarity
of perfect personhood crosses the scientiaof the artes.But this is also the
final repudiation of the non-Christian rationalist at the same time, for
the point that will enrapture the Pilgrim is fused with the human flesh
of Christ that was assumed into Heaven after His Resurrection.24
To return for a moment to astronomical imagery: the eclipse of the
sun when Christ died (Par. XXVII,36) could be said to announce the
final transcendence of the pretensions of unaided intellect by the
mysteriumof the incarnate Word's participation in history. The authority
of the New Testament now guides man to a higher knowledge than
unaided reason could have provided, as we learn from the Pilgrim's
examination on charity: "Per filosofici argomenti / e per autorita che
quinci scende / cotale amor convien che in me si 'mprenti" (Par.XXVI,
25-27). In response the Pilgrim hears: "Per intelletto umano / e per
autoritadi a lui concorde / d'i tuoi amori a Dio guarda il sovrano" (Par.
XXVI,46-48). This is as if to say,all well and good, but what else draws
you to God? The Pilgrim's answer: belief in Christ's death, which has
saved him from the sea of misdirected love, and set him on the shore of
charity. Ulysses could not boast so much. Authority alone and authority
abetted by reason direct love where the unaided intellect cannot reach:
"O benigna vertu che si li 'mprenti, / su t'essaltasti per largirmi loco /
a li occhi li che non t'eran possenti" (Par.XXIII,85-87). The subjects of
the Pilgrim's examinations - faith, hope and charity- are the means to
a higher vision than unaided reason provides, cleansing the inner sight
as they direct it beyond the material world.


Dante's Paradiso from Number to Mysterium, JAMEST. CHIAMPI

Following the humbling of the artes,poetry renounces its pretension

to autonomy of the naturalorder.Loving God assummumbonum,as final
object of the will, the souls praise that righteousness which expresses
itself in each object'slocation in the place it belongs: "Qui si rimirane
l'arte ch'addorna / cotanto affetto, e discernesi '1 bene / per che '1
mondo di su quel di giu torna" (Par.IX, 106-108). This is to progress
from the love of one's own rightly directedwill to love of the Exemplar's
will, which is turned to itself as its highest object (Par.XXXIII,
The souls smile on account of the "valorch'ordino e provide"(Par.IX,
105)- esthetic inevitability.Providence,which makes creation both apt
and beautiful,is the final absorbingartwork,because the possession of
unlimited good, from which no one can turn, is necessarilya yielding
the vision
of the attention to God. This is all part of Pilgrim'sexercitatio:
of Heaven which kept the Pilgrim'svision moving from partto part (Par.
XXXI,52-54), and only yields to fixity in the Empyrean,will free him
from entrapmentin art when he returnsto earth.25
If Plato'sguardiansfound harmonyliberating,here a personalastronomy in the form of a chorus of the blessed liberates the Pilgrim by
carryingon the catharsisthe neo-Platonistsrejected:"Io m'innamorava
tanto quinci, / che 'nfino a li non fu alcunacosa / che mi legasse con si
dolci vinci" (Par.XIV,127-129). Celestialharmony hasfreed the Pilgrim
from the entrappingharmoniesof the songs of earth.Here the inappropriate enjoyment of music, as in the encounter with Casella,is repudiated.This harmonyknows God asits end;it is laudativelyand sacrificially
- not proudly autonomous- according to the law formureferential
lated in Paradise:"Pero che '1 ben, ch'e del volere obietto, / tutto
s'accoglie in lei, e fuor di quella / e defettivo cio ch'e li perfetto"(Par.
This overcoming of poetry is actually poetry's homecoming: the
is imbued with a neo-Platonic Christiannostalgiafor the world
of transcendentbeauty from which the soul exiled itself in sin, but
whose memory survives to guide every judgment of beauty. Each
intransitivemoment- the experience of poetry- which is freedom in
Heaven is entrapmenton earth.Every mundane experience of absorption in poetry unknowingly looks backwardto the origin of both art
andan- thispoem itself- in Heaven.Here we havethe decisivesurpassing
of Platonic contemplation in a universethat furtherassertsits rationality
by satisfyinghuman desire:"Io sentivaosannardi coro in coro / al punto


Dante Studies, CX, 1992

fisso che li tiene a li ubi,/ e terra sempre,ne' quai sempre fiioro" (Par.
XXVIII,94-96). Unlike the geometers point, this point not only holds
each soul in its proper place, but circumscribesall position. In these
verses,the languageof geometry speaksof the satisfactionof the human
will by an infinite object. But then, were man/woman's yearnings
incapableof fulfilment,the universewould not be rational,and we like
Virgil would live without hope in desire.
Dante has takenpoetry and shown that its intransitivepower does not
lie in its material being, but beyond it. Doing so, he reveals that the
readers esthetic experience of the loss of self is a shadowy preface of
pious self-sacrifice.In other words,like all Christianlove, our properuse
(utt) of the poem must be self-transcending.To recapitulate:we begin
with the puntothat overcameFrancesca,and,aswe continue our reading,
with faith guiding an inquiring reason,come to see that the final Punto
is inextended being, God Himself,and that for reasonswe cannot know,
He as Fatherrequiredthat His Son be punto(Par.XXXII,6) in order that
we might return to Him. And if our natural love makes us arrows
directed at that Punto,a point which circumscribesand encloses all
creation, then that arrow strikes everywhere. To help him achieve
newness of vision, Dante asksthat his readerread in a praising,self-sacrificing- i.e., pious- way to the end, where poetry'snumbersreturnto
their origin in divine mind.
Universityof California,Irvine
Irvine, California

1. The Divine Comedyof Dante Alighieri,ed. and trans.Charles S. Singleton, vol. 3 (Princeton:
Princeton University Press,1970-1975), 584. All citations are taken from this edition and will be
indicated in the text.
2. See alsoJohn Freccero,"InfernalInversionand ChristianConversion (Infernoxxxiv)," Italka,
XLII(1965), 35. See also Frecceros "The Final Image:ParadisoXXXllf Dante:ThePoeticsof
ed. Rachel Jacoff (Cambridge,Mass,and London, England:HarvardUniversity Press,
1986), 245-257; Bruno Nardi, "'Si come rota ch'igualmente e mossa',"in Nel mondodi Dante
(Roma: Edizioni di "Storia e Letteratura,"1944), 337- 350; Joseph Anthony Mazzeo, Medieval
CulturalTraditionin Dante's "Comedy"(Ithaca,New York:Cornell University Press, 1960)- see
XVI(1962), 63-67, for some succinct observations
also Frecceros review of Mazzeo in Symposium,
on the role of grace in the poem- and Kenelm Foster,O.P.,"Dante'sVision of God,"in TheTwo
Dantesand OtherStudies(Berkeley and Los Angeles:University of CaliforniaPress,1977), 66-85.


Dante'sParadiso^romNumberto Mysterium,JAMES
3. This term, familiar from the seventh book of St. Augustine's Confessions,forms the basso
ostinatoof my study.For its relevanceto the Divine Comedy,see John Freccero,"Dante'sPrologue
Scene," Dante Studies,LXXXiv(1966),1-25.
4. See J. T. Chiampi, "Dante's Pilgrim and Reader in the 'Region of Want',"StanfordItalian
Review,in (1983), 163-182, and Robert J. O'Connell, S.J.,St.Augustine'sEarlyTheoryofMan,A. D.
386-391 (Cambridge,Mass.:HarvardUniversity Press,1968), 227-232.
in St. Augustine(Cambridge,
5. See Robert J. O'Connell, S.J.,Art and the ChristianIntelligence
Mass.:HarvardUniversity Press, 1978). O'Connell claims "In a word, [Augustine] asks the artes
to help us leave behind the entire incarnateworld of art"(44). I believe that Dante's taskborrows
much from this. See also FrancisX. Newman, "St.Augustine'sThree Visions and the Structureof
the Commedia"ModernLanguageNotes,LXXXll(1967),56-78.
6. DantisAlagheriiEpistolae:TheLettersof Dante,2nd. ed., ed. and trans.Paget Toynbee (Oxford:
Clarendon Press,1966), 199. Consider the distrustof music Augustine expressesin the tenth book
of The Confessions(trans.John K. Ryan [GardenCity, New Jersey:Doubleday, I960]):
Sometimes I think that I grant [melodies] more honor than is proper.This is when I feel our
spiritsarousedto a flaming piety more devoutly and ardentlyby such sacredwords when they are
sung well than if they are not so chanted,and when I see that all our spiritualaffections,in keeping
with their diversity,have corresponding modes of voice and song and are stirredup by a kind of
secret propriety.But this sensual pleasure,to which the soul must not be delivered so as to be
weakened,often leads me astray,when sense does not accompany reason in such wise as to follow
patiendy after it, but, having won admittance for reason'ssake,even tries to run ahead and lead
reason on. Thus in such things I unconsciously sin, but later I am conscious of it. (p.261)
7. Vol. 30, The Gospelof Grace,ed. and trans.Cornelius Ernst, O.P. (New York and London:
McGraw-Hill and Eyre and Spottiswoode, 1972), 127.
8. Trans.John J. McMahon, S.J.,vol. 2 of The Writingsof SaintAugustine(Washington:Catholic
University of America Pressand Consortium Books, 1947), 122.
9. See John A. Scott, "Dante'sAdmiral ItalianStudies,xxvii (1972), 28-40.
10. 1 choose Plato here in the interestsof simplicity.The choice of Plotinus would have been
more historicallyprecise in discussingAugustine'sNeo-Platonism. Dante, of course,had no direct
access to the Republic.
11. See St. Augustine, TheMagnitudeof The Soul:
A line has no other extension than that of length. Now, if you take away the only extension a
line has,namely length, nothing of extension remains.Therefore,whatever is superior to a line is
necessarilywithout extent and admits no division or cutting whatever.Therefore,all for naught
is our labor in seeking after the soul's magnitude;there is no such thing, since the soul, we grant,
is superior to a line. (pp.84-85)
Augustine makes his point about the relationshipbetween geometry and human identity in an
elegant conclusion on the next page:"In divine Providence it cannot happen that the pious, chaste,
and diligent quest of religious souls for themselves and their God, that is, for truth, should go
unrequited"(p. 86).
12. In his article "Christian Philosophy: The Intellectual Side of Augustine's Conversion"
(AugustinianStudies,xvii [1986]), Eugene Kevane makes the interesting observation:
Augustine'sphilosophy restson a metaphysicswhich ascends to the Supreme Being who is a
Person, the source of the being, unity, truth and goodness of the natures which constituted the
created cosmos. This metaphysicsis akin to prayer.In fact, it provides the rationalfoundation for


Dante Studies,CX,1992
- falsely attributedto Augustine- we read "Quid autem est oratio, nisi ascensio
In SermonCXXX
animae de terrestribusad caelestia,inquisitio supernorum, invisibilium desiderium" (PL XXXIX,
1886-1887). In this very broad sense, the Paradisobecomes a prayer.
13. Consider Augustine on humility,its sublimity and relation to grace in Concerningthe City
of God Againstthe Pagans(trans.Henry Bettenson [Harmondsworth,Baltimore and Ringwood:
Penguin Books, 1972]):
I know how great is the effort needed to convince the proud of the power and excellence of
humility,an excellence which makes it soar above all the summits of this world, which sway in
their temporal instability,overtopping them all with an eminence not arrogatedby human pride,
but granted by divine grace, (p. 5)
Nowhere does he damn its contrary,pride, more forcefully than in The Trinity(trans.Stephen
McKenna, C.SS.R., vol. 45 of The Fathersof the Church[Washington:The Catholic University of
America Press,1963]):
There are certain ones, however,who think themselvescapableby their own strengthof being
purified,so as to see God and to inhere in God, whose very pride defiles them above all others.
For there is no vice which the divine law resistsmore, and over which that most proud spirit,the
mediator to things below and the obstacle to things above,receivesa greaterpower of domination:
unless one either avoids the secret snareshe is laying by going along a different way, or if he is
openly raging through a sinful people, which is interpretedAmelec, and by his opposition denies
the passageto the land of promise,he be overcome by the cross of Christ, which was prefigured
by the extended hands of Moses, (p. 156)
In the Confessions,
Augustine admits this vice prevented his learning from Scripture:
None such as I was at that time could enter into it, nor could I bend my neck for its
passageways.When I first turned to that Scripture,I did not feel towardsit as I am speaking now,
but it seemed to me unworthy of comparison with the nobility of Cicero's writing. My swelling
pride turned away from its humble style, and my sharp gaze did not penetrate into its inner
meaning.But in truth it was of its naturethat its meaning would increasetogether with your little
ones, whereas I disdainedto be a little child and, puffed up with pride, I considered myself to be
a great fellow, (p. 82)
14. Trans.D. W. Robertsonjr. (Indianapolisand New York:Bobbs-Merrill, 1958), 10.
15. Trans.Thomas F.Gilligan,O.S.A.,invol. 1 of The WritingsofSt.Augustine,(New York:Cima,
1948), 357. Dante affirmsthis point when he feels joy in the scriptive present recalling how he
read the book of the universe:"La forma universaldi questo nodo / credo ch'i' vidi, perche piu
di largo, / dicendo questo, mi sento ch'i' godo" (Par.xxxiu 91-93).
16. It is tempting to find in Of TrueReligion(trans.J. H. S. Burleigh [Chicago, Illinois:Regnery,
1966]) a relationshipbetween the enjoyment of what moderns call art and pride:
It is sin which deceives souls, when they seek something that is true but abandon or neglect
truth. They love the works of the artificermore than the artificeror his art, and are punished by
falling into the error of expecting to find the artificer and his art in his works, and when they
cannot do so they think that the works are both the art and the artificer.God is not offered to the
corporeal senses, and transcendseven the mind. This is the origin of all impiety of sinners who
have been condemned for their sins.Not only do they wish to scrutinize the creation contraryto
the commandment of God, and to enjoy it ratherthan God's law and truth- that was the sin of
the first man who misused his free will- but in their state of condemnation they also make this


Dante'sParadisofrom Numberto Mysterium,JAMES
addition to their sin. They not only love but also serve the creatureratherthan the Creator,and
worship the partsof the creation from the loftiest to the lowliest, (pp.64-65)
x were "per il fabbroloro a veder
Hence the poet will claim that the speakingreliefs of Purgatory
care"(99). Enjoying the work of art for its own sake is a prideful act that recallsthat of Adam.
17. Consider, for example, Boethius in The Consolationof Philosophy(trans.Richard Green
[Indianapolisand New York:Bobbs-Merrill, 1962]):
We believe that our just humility may earn the priceless rewardof divine grace,for this is the
only way in which men seem able to communicate with God; we arejoined to that inaccessible
light by supplicationbefore receiving what we ask. (p. 107)
18. The Holy Bible TranslatedFrom the Latin Vulgate,eds. The English College at Douay and The

English College at Rheims (New York:The Douay Bible House, 1953), 32. All biblical citations
are taken from this text.
19. See J. T. Chiampi, Shadowy Prefaces:Conversion and Writing in the "Divine Comedy" (Ravenna:

Longo, 1980), 49-78. On the theme of the point, see also FrancoMasciandaro'ssensitiveand useful
article,"Notes on the Image of the Point in the Divine Comedy"Italica,LIV(1977), 215-226. One
do not offer Dante the inspiration
wonders if Augustine'swords in the firstbook of the Confessions
for the movement I am describing:
"One and one are two, and two and two are four" was for me a hateful chant, while the
wooden horse full of armed men, the burning of Troy,and Creusa'sghost were most sweet but
empty spectacles,(p. 57)
Francescawas one who did not yearn for the geometrical point, but contented herself with the
sweet but empty spectaclesof chivalric romance.
20. As we have seen, cold geometry is indecorous, but it is not the only way Dante alienates
the reader.Consider the Poet's words describing the fourth heaven, the Heaven of the Sun: "Tal
era quivi la quartafamiglia / de l'alto Padre,che sempre la sazia,/ mostrando come spirae come
figlia"(Par.x, 49-51). It should be borne in mind that "spirare"and "figliare"are the Father'sact
of reading/loving the Word (Par.x, 1-6). But if we cast a carnalglance at the killing letter,we find
that the Fathershows his family,the blessed,how he begets- a repellent image indeed. This is little
differentfrom the description of Francis'saffairwith the despised hag, Poverty (Par.XI,60), or the
sexual image of the bell of Paradisox, 139-144 - all heirs of the tradition of the Song of Songs.
But here one person of the triune point has become an obscene parent.What could be further
removed from the austeredignity of geometry? But these images sharewith the geometrical this,
that in their differentways they are scandalousaffrontsto literarydecorum, examples perhapsof
the "foolishnessof God." In Heaven we are at a point that precedes and survivesmundane ethics
and literarysensibility.
21. It would be interesting to compare blessed Peter Damian'sflaming with that of the false
counselors Ulysses and Guido da Montefeltro in Infernoxxvi, and thence with the conflagration
Dante aims to cause (Par.I, 34). Their counsel was not sanctioned by the Holy Spirit and was
importunate, unlike that of Peter Damian who had to be dragged from the cloister to the
cardinalate,and that of the Poet. Peter Damian's sanction is underscored in his speech. Perhaps
Justinianthe law giver,whom we meet in the Heaven of Mercury,is a more cogent example:"Per
piu letizia si mi si nascose / dentro al suo raggio la figura santa"(Par.v, 136-137). Light is not
flame,of course,but that is the point: light is another version of home, one contraryto the darkness
of the isolated ego Bernarddescribed in De DiligendoDeo. And as Augustine showed, it is scrutiny
of the inner light which revealsthe truthsof geometry and arithmetic that aids our voyage home.
22. On light in the Paradiso,see Charles S. Singleton's magisterial pages in Dante Studies2:
Journeyto Beatrice(Cambridge,Mass.:HarvardUniversity Press,1958), 15-38.


Dante Studies, CX, 1992

23. See TeodolindaBarolini,"Dante'sHeaven of the Sun as a Meditation on Narrative,"Lettere

ltaliane,XL(1988), 3-36.
24. This according to St. Andrew in Iacopo da Voragines GoldenLegend(trans.GrangerRyan
and Helmut Rippereer [New York:Arno Press,19691),16.
25. This seems to be a constant of confessional literature.One useful index of Augustine's
spiritualprogresswould trace his response to art from book one of the Confessionswherein the
young Augustine "[wept] over Dido's death, because she killed herself for love" (p. 56) to book
ten wherein the spirituallymature Augustine can rejoice that "the delights of the ear had more
firmly entangled and subdued me, but you broke them and set me free"(p. 261).