Self-Reflexivity as Trinitarian and Incarnational

Self-reflexivity is the essential structure of divinity as revealed not only in the Trinity (section 4) but also in the Incarnation. Incarnation transforms the self-enclosure of self-reflection, opening it in selfexposure to a further dimension of relation to otherness. The Trinitarian God is Creator, by the Word—and Sustainer, by the power of the Spirit. However, in the economy of salvation, the Creation exists, according to ancient theological arguments, for the sake of the Incarnation. The Incarnation represents an otherness, namely, humanity, with which divinity becomes one and in which divinity thus productively reflects its own self-identity. In Convivio IV.xix and xxi, Dante stresses the phenomenal fecundity of embodied being. It confers on humans a productive capacity comprising a nobility exceeding that of angels (“nobilitade umana ... quella dell’angelo soperchia,” IV.xix.6) and making man almost another incarnate God (“quasi sarebbe un altro Iddio incarnato,” IV.xxi.10).

Creation as Divine Self-Reflection 91

Dante encompasses this doctrine symbolically at the poem’s climax in a further description of the circle of divinity as a self-engendering of “our effigy.” Even Dante’s phonetics circle obsessively around certain clicking sounds such as the hard consonants “q,” “c,” and “t” in the first tercet, making the self-reflexive intensity of lyric materially audible:

Ouella circulazion che si concetta

pareva in te come lume reflesso,

da li occhi miei aguanto circunspecta, dentro da sé, del suo colore stesso,

mi parve pinta de la nostra effige;

per che ’1 mió viso in lei tutto era messo.

  • (XXXIII. 125-32)
  • (That circling that so conceived

appeared in you as a reflected light, for a while encompassed by my eyes, within itself, of its own color,

appeared to me painted with our effigy;

so that my vision was wholly set on it.)

The “living light” that Dante contemplates thus reflected was introduced as a “simple semblance” (“semplice sembiante,” XXXIII. 109), which alludes to the simplicity of God’s Being. In God, all attributes are identical with one another and indistinguishable from God’s being, so that God’s wisdom, power, goodness, being, and unity are only different names for his absolutely indivisible oneness. The divine Being is itself without difference or distinction and can be named in these various ways only relative to our limited experience and partial knowledge. Yet this simplicity must somehow appear, as the rhetoric of appearance (“parea”) or of semblance (“sembiante”) insists, and this condition brings God’s selfmanifestation into the sphere of phantasmatic self-reflection familiar to Narcissus. The self-reflexivity in question here is not only the Trinitarian structure of divinity: it models also the structure of the human psyche and of language in its lyrical essence. This human image (“nostra effige”) is now a redeemed Narcissus.

In sum, self-reflexivity works in Dante’s Paradiso as the structure through which divinity realizes itself at all levels: first, in its internal selfrelation as a Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; next, in the created order as a reflection of the divine nature and also as incarnate in the Savior; but further, and no less directly, in language itself, especially by virtue of its essentially lyrical structures of phonic and graphic repetition. Dante’s poem reveals divinity not only thematically by description and objective representation, but even more immediately and intimately in its language, in its linguistic and particularly its lyrical form. Lyrical language takes on theological significance as itself a revelation of divinity. This occurs both in the Trinitarian self-reflexivity of this language and in its Incarnational manifestation of meaning in sensuous form. The selfreflection of the Father in the Son is further reflected outward toward all by the Son as Word in the act of Creation. The same divine self-reflection is extended yet further by the Son as Christ in redemption and by the Holy Spirit as Love in the work of sanctification.

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