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Paradiso by Laffoley

Paradiso by Laffoley

The Paradiso is the most complex of the three parts of the Divine Comedy. Much more than morality is treated herein. In can be said that this part is a poetic treatment of dogmatic and systematic theology. But our concern will be morality; and here will be represented the infused virtues: the four cardinal virtues and the three theological virtues. Dante’s treatment in this part is not as cleanly divided as in the Purgatorio, but his order is rational and consistent with Aquinas and the teachings of the Church.

The Paradiso is represented by the celestial spheres. In general there are nine spheres (Cantos II-XXIX) before one reaches the Empyrean (Cantos XXX-XXXIII). The First Sphere is that of the Moon and the Inconstant is represented therein (Cantos II-IV). The Second is Mercury for the Ambitious (Cantos V-VII). The Third is Venus obviously for the Lovers (Cantos VIII-IX). The Fourth is the Sun appropriately for the Wise (Cantos IX-XIV). The Fifth is Mars for the Warriors of the Faith (Cantos XIV-XVIII). The Sixth is Jupiter for Just Rulers (Cantos XVIII-XX). The Seventh is Saturn for Contemplatives(Cantos XXI-XXII). The Eighth is the Fixed Stars for the Theological Virtues (Cantos XXII-XXVII). The Ninth is the Primum Mobile (Cantos (XXVII-XXIX). Then there is the Empyrean –the abode of God.

Returning to the infused virtues, the late Fr. John Hardon, S.J. summed up St. Thomas’ treatment of them quite succinctly. He says of these virtues:

They are directly produced by God in the operative faculties of a man, and differ mainly from the acquired because they do not imply the human effort which determines the faculty to a particular kind of activity, namely facility induced by repetition. God Himself pours in [<infundere>] the infused virtues, not by compulsion or overriding the free will of man, but without dependence on us, which Augustine says, “are produced in us by God without our assistance.” They are supernatural gifts, freely conferred through the merits of Christ, and raise the activity of those who possess them to the divine level in the same way that sanctifying grace elevates their nature to a share in the life of God. They are supernatural precisely because they transcend the natural capacities of mind and will either to acquire or operate.i

The infused moral virtues, the cardinal virtues less prudence, are treated in the First through Third Spheres. In these spheres, the cardinal virtues less prudence are treated through there represented lack: inconstancy–fortitude, ambition–justice, lovers–temperance. Prudence is not treated here for it is the governing virtue of the infused moral virtues. As it is a governing virtue, the lack of any of the other virtues shows a lack of that which was necessary to regulate them: prudence.

The Paradiso then pivots as if on a hinge at the Fourth Sphere with a general treatment of the cardinal virtues without deficiency by treating of the wise which represents prudence itself. This makes sense, for as prudence regulates the mean of the other virtues, for the other virtues to exist in a soul, prudence must necessarily be there. Thus, justice as a virtue cannot exist in a man if he lacks prudence, for without it he cannot find the mean of the virtue of justice. With prudence treated in this sphere, therein is contained all the other cardinal virtues. Hence we encounter the likes of St. Thomas, Gratian, King Solomon, etc.

After this, the Fifth through Seventh Spheres deal with the cardinal virtues of fortitude, justice, and temperance respectively without a consideration of prudence proper (as that was taken care of in the Fourth Sphere). Again, these virtues are treated, but is done so positively without a consideration of their lack. The virtues are addressed as such as their privation have already been discussed. Her we have: Mars–fortitude, Jupiter–justice, Saturn–temperance.

Examination on Love by Gustav Dore

Examination on Love by Gustav Dore

Moving onto the Eighth Sphere, Dante treats of the three theological virtues. These virtues, unlike the infused moral virtues, are concerned directly with God while the cardinal virtues are concerned with the proximate end of human activities.iii Therefore, in the hierarchy of heaven, Dante correctly places the theological virtues above the cardinal virtues. Further, he places the theological virtues in the proper hierarchy in relation to each other. Cantos XXIII and XXIV addresses faith. Canto XXV addresses hope. Cantos XXVI and XXVII address love or charity. Let us again reiterate St. Thomas and echoed by Dante: love (caritas) is the form of all the other virtues for the object of charity/love is the same as its end. Therefore, Dante places charity last among all of the virtues in theDivine Comedy for it is the highest.
But where does this leave us? How is the end realized? Let us look to the Primum Mobile

Its own motion unfactored, all things derive
their motions from this heaven as precisely
as ten is factored into two and five.
–Canto XXVII, lines 115-117

This is the realm of the First Moved –the realm of the angels themselves. Herein is the first motion. Now, whatever is moved is moved by another. As we cannot have an infinite regress, there needs be a first motion. This is it. Though this is an explanation of motion/change in the created order, it gives us an analogous look into the moral order, and Dante knows it which is another reason it is placed here just before the Empyrean. Again, moral actions are good actions; virtues are good habits; they receive their goodness from their end, the ultimate of which is God, which is their cause –again ultimately God. Therefore, the first motion in the soul toward the good, particularly those motions that result in actions or movements of the will that are “meritorious” or salvific, must originate in God as the unmoved First Mover, for He is the End and Cause. (This is where Pelagius fell.) But as God is the Ultimate Cause, He is the Ultimate End. Thus, the moral life lived according to that end brings us to Dante’s Empyrean.

Mystic Rose by Gustav Dore

Mystic Rose by Gustav Dore

All men want to be happy. But in what does their happiness –their true happiness–consist? Their happiness consists in the perfection of their being. But all created beings are beings by participation in that which is Being itself. Therefore, one’s perfection must come from that which is Being Itself. But as we are volitional creatures, we must be inclined toward that Being. God is Being Itself. It is necessary then for men to be inclined toward God, for the perfection of their being only occurs to the extent participated being is united to Being simply. As the object of the intellect is the “what it is” of a thing, which is the essence, the perfection of the intellect is in the contemplation of the Essence of the First Cause which is the same as its Being. Furthermore, the perfection of the will is to be moved by the intellect toward the good without constraint. Thus the perfection of the will is to be moved toward Goodness Itself, which is its Essence, which is its Being, which is God. Therefore, the unmitigated contemplation and adoration of God comprises man’s true happiness. This is want Dante depicts in the Empyrean. He summarizes it thusly:

There in Heaven, a lamp shines in whose light
the Creator is made visible to His creature,
whose one peace lies in having Him in sight.
–Canto XXX, lines 100-102

iFr. John Hardon, S.J. “Meaning of Virtue in Thomas Aquinas”.

iiSt. Thomas Aquinas. Summa Theologica, II-IIae, q.47, a.6.

iiiFr. John Hardon, S.J. “Meaning of Virtue in Thomas Aquinas”.

ivAristotle. Physics, Book VII, Ch. 1, 241b24.

vSt. Thomas Aquinas. Commentary on Aristotle’s Physics, Lecture 9


Written by Paleo Thomist

December 6, 2010 at 8:17 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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