I The Paradiso’s Theology of Language and its Lyric Origins

The Paradiso’s Theology of Language and its Lyric Origins

Out of the Abyss

The Self-Reflexive Trinitarian Structure of God and Creation

At the beginning of the tenth canto of the Paradiso, Dante invokes the interior life of the Godhead as consisting in relations among the persons of the Holy Trinity. This life is manifest analogically in the works of the Creation in both the physical and the spiritual cosmos:

Guardando nel suo Figlio con 1’Amore

che 1’uno e 1’altro etternalmente spira,

lo primo e ineffabile Valore

quanto per mente e per loco si gira

con tant’ordine fe, ch’esser non puote

sanza gustar di lui chi cid rimira.

  • (X.l-6)
  • (Looking on his Son with Love,

which the one and the other eternally exhales, the first and ineffable Worth

made all that revolves in the mind and in space with such order that whoever gazes on all this cannot fail to taste of Him.)

God contemplates his own image in his only begotten Son with Love. This Love emerges as a person in its own right and is identified with his Spirit, the Holy Spirit, the third person or “hypostasis” of the Trinity that is breathed forth (“spira”) eternally from the other two—in conformity with the filioque doctrine of the Roman Church. Reflecting thus lovingly on his own perfect image, God created or made (“fe”) the visible universe of stars and planets in space, as well as the invisible, purely intellectual or “mental” universe of the angels, who turn the spheres of the heavens (“quanto per mente e per loco si gira”).

God creates specularly, by means of this reflection on himself. The intimate life of love within the Godhead is thereby reflected and projected outward into the Creation. All beings throughout the universe are made in the image of this self-reflexive, self-engendering divine Being. The fundamental difference, of course, is that the images are only created being rather than the increate Being of the Creator. This means that the selfreflexive being of creatures is not an absolute, self-standing existence, but only a reflection. Only the unique Being of the Creator fully and absolutely is. Only the Creator is unqualified and unconditioned Being. All other beings depend for their very being on this unique Being, whom all resemble or imitate in infinitely variable form and measure.

The self-reflexive structure of the divine life thus provides the model for the order of the entire created universe. All is made in the image of the Son’s being the perfect image of the Father and the Holy Spirit the hypostasis of their self-reflexive relation, their Love (“Amore”). Consequently, it is impossible, according to Dante, for whoever turns a contemplating gaze toward the heavens, not to at least glimpse (literally “taste”) the reflected image of God in the order of the Creation. All beings—especially the highest—cannot help but reflect the Supreme Being from whom they have their being and are created.

Once this panoramic gaze at the opening of Paradiso X has moved from the Creator to the intellectual creation (the angelic orders) and arrives at the physical (stellar and planetary) universe, it focuses in particular on the earth’s temporal ordering by the sun’s revolutions. This cosmic order within the orbit of the sun and its temporal scansion are seen to reflect the eternal Being of God. Time, as it appears visibly in the motions and processes of the universe, is an image of the eternal Life of the Trinity—of the “processions” of the Son from the Father and of the Holy Spirit from the Father and the Son. The whole created order is a self-reflection of the Godhead, which constitutes itself likewise intrinsically by means of self-reflection.

Self-reflexivity belongs to the internal structure of the Godhead (insofar as God can be revealed to us at all) and defines also the innermost structure of the Creation. Indeed, the Creation is nothing but a self-reflection of God gotten up out of nothing—ex nihilo. Scripture instructs us that God can be seen reflected analogically in all Creation: “the invisible things of him since the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead” (Romans 1:20). Saint Francis’s “Canticle of the Sun” (Laudes Creaturarum), at one exaltedly sacred source of vernacular tradition, already lends surpassingly lyrical expression to all Creation as the image and praise of its Creator.

Of course, in our life on earth, God is seen only “through a glass darkly” (“videmus nunc per speculum in aenigmate,” I Corinthians 13:12). Nevertheless, God’s glory, apart from being made crystal clear in the Son, “being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person” (Hebrews 1:3), is manifest also in the perfection of Creation as reflected in the heavens, which act as the unblemished selfreflection of increate in created being. Dante’s whole poem is moving

The Self-Reflexive Trinitarian Structure 37 toward a speculative climax or apotheosis in which Paradise, as the assembly of the blessed in the celestial Rose, is going to be seen as the consummate created reflection of God. Such a mirroring reflection crystallizes as the crowning metaphor for God’s unrepresentable glory and splendor.

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