DANTE'S SUBLIME COMEDY: PARADISE: Chapter 29
CHAPTER 29: Of the Angels
The long horizon of the gloaming sky
linked the declining sun in the far west
with the far east and the ascending moon. 3
It held them balanced till the moon climbed up,
the sun dropped down to their next hemisphere.
In that soft interval my Lady smiled 6
quietly, happily, at the fixed Point
whose rays had lately almost hurt my sight.
“I will not ask,” said she, “I’ll say instead 9
the words you want to hear, reading them from
this Point at which time-space, where-when unite
in the eternal, infinite I AM 12
whose love made everything, archangels
first. Only God’s Spirit can say how they
flashed into being, movers of the spheres 15
of which, with later potencies, they were
a very grand and necessary part
Jerome believed long ages passed between 18
their coming and the first week of the world
forgetting that in Genesis we read
God’s Spirit did not rest or sleep but moved 21
upon the waters of the deep before
creating light. Angels could not be left
without the ecstasy of serving Him, 24
so now your wish to know where, when and why
they were created should be satisfied.
Know also hardly twenty seconds passed 27
before rebels among them, mad with pride,
declared they would not serve, and so were flung
down to the lowest element, the earth, 30
convulsing, warping it into the pit,
jailing the foul monstrosities you saw
when Virgil led you through. The rest remain 33
delighting in their art, for it maintains
the universal harmony they love,
God’s Grace expanding their intelligence 36
to fit the vastness of their mighty task.
Don’t doubt the merit of receiving Grace
in strengthening a sure and steadfast will. 39
If you have fully understood these words,
ponder the spirits gathered in this place.
Too many Doctors of Divinity 42
preach about angels’ mind and memory,
confusing hearers with obscurity.
To banish pointless ambiguity 45
I will say more. The angels live in sight
of God from whom nothing is hid. Between
Himself and they no interruption stood. 48
So they need no impressions of the past.
Preachers who speak of what they do not know
dream while awake. If they believe their words 51
yet still they are to blame. Some preachers spout
doctrines to show how very wise they are,
and this provokes less anger here than their 54
neglect of what Christ said and did. Just think
of how much blood was shed by humble folk
whose simple speech was first to spread the news. 57
That Christ had risen from the dead. Today
one preacher says that when He died the moon
eclipsed the sun, a second foolishly 60
explains the miracle another way.
Shepard’s who feed their sheep with words like these
are bloating them with wind. Disciples learned 63
from Christ a gospel kindling from their lips
Faith, Hope and Love, which was their shield and spear.
Sermons are now so stuffed with taunts and jokes 66
that if they raise a laugh the preacher’s cowl
inflates and all pleased, but Satan builds
his nests in hoods like these. If folk could see 69
the falsehood of the pardons they receive
they’d fling them down like counterfeited coin.
I have digressed enough, so turn my eyes 72
back to your interest in Heaven’s hosts.
The number of the angels can’t be told
in human speech. The visionary book 75
of Daniel mentions thousands of them,
and also tens of thousands, but nothing
more definite because the primal light, 78
illuminating all, reflects each one
in ways as multiple as splendours poured
upon them. Because affection flows most 81
to what viewers conceive, Love’s sweetness glows
differently in each, some more, some less,
making a myriad reflections of
the pure unchanging rose of whitest light.” 85