The Convivio 
by Dante Alighieri 
translated by Richard Lansing 

Book 02

Chapter 4

Now that in the preceding chapter it has been shown what this third heaven is and how it is ordered in itself, it remains to show who they are who move it. And so we must first know that its movers are substances separate from matter, namely Intelligences, which the common people call Angels. Although the truth is now known, different people have held different opinions about these creatures as they have about the heavens. There were certain philosophers, among whom seems to be Aristotle in his Metaphysics (although in the first book on Heaven he appears incidentally to think otherwise), who believed that there were only as many of these beings as there were circular movements in the heavens, and no more, saying that any others would have existed in vain for eternity and have lacked all activity, which would be impossible since their being consists of their activity. There were others, like Plato, a most eminent man, who maintained that there are not only as many Intelligences as there are movements in heaven but also as many as there are species of things, just as there is one species for all men, another for all gold, another for all dimensions, and so on. They held that just as the Intelligences of the heavens brought them into being, each its own, so other Intelligences brought into being all other things and exemplars, each its own species; and Plato called them “ideas,” which is as much as to say universal forms and natures.

The pagans call them Gods and Goddesses, although they did not think of them in a philosophical sense as did Plato, and they venerated images of them and built great temples to them, as, for example, to Juno whom they called goddess of power, to Pallas or Minerva whom they called goddess of wisdom, to Vulcan whom they called god of fire, or to Ceres whom they called goddess of grain. These matters and opinions are made evident by the testimony of the poets, who depict in various places the custom of the pagans both in their sacrifices and in their creed, and they are also manifest in the many ancient names which survive as names or surnames of places and of ancient buildings, as anyone who wishes can easily discover.

Although the above-mentioned opinions were the product of human reason and no scant observation, they nevertheless did not perceive the truth because of both a deficiency of reason and a lack of instruction; for even by reason alone it can be perceived that the creatures mentioned above are of far greater number than are the effects which men can apprehend. One reason is this: no one, whether philosopher, pagan, Jew, Christian, or member of any sect, doubts that they are full of all blessedness, either all or the greater part of them, or that these blessed ones are in the most perfect state of being. Consequently, since human nature as it exists here has not only one blessedness but two, namely that of the civil life and that of the contemplative life, it would be illogical for us to find that these beings have the blessedness of the active (that is, of the civil) life, in governing the world, and not that of the contemplative life, which is more excellent and more divine. And since the one that has the blessedness of governing cannot have the other because their intellect is one and perpetual, there must be others outside this ministry who live by contemplation alone. Because this life is more divine, and the more divine a thing is the more it is like God, it is manifest that this life is more loved by God; and if it is more loved, the more has its blessedness been bountiful; and if it has been more bountiful, the more living beings has he given to it than to the other. We conclude from this that the number of these creatures is much greater than the effects reveal.

This does not run counter to what Aristotle seems to say in the tenth book of the Ethics, namely that the contemplative life alone befits separate substances.(14) Although the contemplative life alone befits them, to the contemplative life of just a certain number of them falls the circular movement of the heaven, which is the governing of the world, which is a kind of civil order conceived within the contemplation of its movers.

The other reason is that no effect is greater than its cause, because the cause cannot give what it does not have; consequently, since the divine intellect is the cause of everything, above all of the human intellect, it obtains that the human intellect does not transcend the divine, but is out of all proportion transcended by it. Therefore if for the above reasons and for many others we understand that God could have created almost innumerable spiritual creatures, it is manifest that he has made this greater number of them. Many other reasons can be adduced, but let these suffice for the present.

No one should be surprised if these and other reasons which we might have concerning this matter are not fully demonstrated; but nevertheless we should admire the excellence of these creatures–which transcends the eyes of the human mind, as the Philosopher says in the second book of the Metaphysics–and affirm their existence. For although we cannot perceive them with the senses (from which our knowledge originates), yet there shines in our intellect some light of their most lively existence insofar as we perceive the above-mentioned reasons and many others–just as one whose eyes are closed may affirm that the air is luminous because some slight radiance or ray of light, such as passes through the pupils of a bat, reaches him. For in just this way the eyes of our intellect are closed, as long as the soul is bound and imprisoned by the organs of our body.

14. separate substances Beings that have a soul but no body, namely the Angels.


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