Divine Comedy: Paradiso

The Empyrean

From the Primum Mobile, Dante ascends to a region beyond physical existence, the Empyrean, which is the abode of God. Beatrice, representing theology,[45] is here transformed to be more beautiful than ever before, and Dante becomes enveloped in light, rendering him fit to see God[45] (Canto XXX):

"Like sudden lightning scattering the spirits of sight so that the eye is then too weak to act on other things it would perceive, such was the living light encircling me, leaving me so enveloped by its veil of radiance that I could see no thing. The Love that calms this heaven always welcomes into Itself with such a salutation, to make the candle ready for its flame."[46]

Dante sees an enormous rose, symbolising divine love,[45] the petals of which are the enthroned souls of the faithful (both those of the Old Testament and those of the New). All the souls he has met in Heaven, including Beatrice, have their home in this rose.[45] Angels fly around the rose like bees, distributing peace and love. Beatrice now returns to her place in the rose, signifying that Dante has passed beyond theology in directly contemplating God,[47] and St. Bernard, as a mystical contemplative, now guides Dante further (Canto XXXI).

St. Bernard further explains predestination, and prays to the Virgin Mary on Dante's behalf. Finally, Dante comes face-to-face with God Himself (Cantos XXXII and XXXIII). God appears as three equally large circles occupying the same space, representing the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit:[48]

"but through my sight, which as I gazed grew stronger, that sole appearance, even as I altered, seemed to be changing. In the deep and bright essence of that exalted Light, three circles appeared to me; they had three different colors, but all of them were of the same dimension; one circle seemed reflected by the second, as rainbow is by rainbow, and the third seemed fire breathed equally by those two circles."[49]

Within these circles Dante can discern the human form of Christ. The Divine Comedy ends with Dante trying to understand how the circles fit together, and how the humanity of Christ relates to the divinity of the Son but, as Dante puts it, "that was not a flight for my wings."[50] In a flash of understanding, which he cannot express, Dante does finally see this, and his soul becomes aligned with God's love:[48]

"But already my desire and my will were being turned like a wheel, all at one speed, by the Love which moves the sun and the other stars."[51]

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