The Convivio 
by Dante Alighieri 
translated by Richard Lansing 

Book 02

Chapter 5

It has been said that because of a lack of instruction the ancients did not perceive the truth concerning spiritual creatures, even though the people of Israel were in part taught by their prophets, “through whom, by many manners of speech and in many ways, God had spoken to them,” as the Apostle says.(15) But we have been taught about this by him who came from him, by him who made them, by him who preserves them, that is by the Emperor of the Universe, who is Christ, son of the sovereign God and son of the Virgin Mary, the true woman and daughter of Joachim and of Adam, the true man who was slain by us, by which he brought us to life. “He was the light that shines for us in the darkness,” as John the Evangelist says; and he told us the truth concerning those things which without him we could not know nor truly perceive.(16)

The first thing and the first secret that he showed us was one of the above-mentioned creatures, and this was his great ambassador who came to Mary, a young maiden thirteen years of age, on behalf of the heavenly Healer. Our Saviour said with his own lips that the Father was able to give him many legions of angels; when he was told that the Father had ordered the Angels to minister unto and serve him, he did not deny it was true. Consequently it is evident to us that those creatures exist in extraordinary numbers, for his spouse and secretary the Holy Church–of whom Solomon says “Who is this that comes from the desert, laden with those things that give delight, leaning upon her friend?”–affirms, believes, and preaches that these most noble creatures are all but innumerable.(17) And she divides them into three hierarchies, which is to say three holy or divine principalities, each hierarchy having three orders, so that the Church holds and affirms that there are nine orders of spiritual creatures.(18)The first is that of the Angels, the second of the Archangels, the third of the Thrones; and these three orders make up the first hierarchy: not first in order of nobility, nor of creation (for the others are nobler and all were created at one time), but first in the order of our ascent to their degree of elevation. Then come the Dominations, next the Virtues, then the Principalities, and these make up the second hierarchy. Above these are the Powers and the Cherubim, and above all are the Seraphim, and these make up the third hierarchy.

The principal motive of their contemplation lies in the numerical position in which the hierarchies and in which the orders reside. For, since the Divine Majesty exists in three persons who have one substance, it is possible to contemplate them in a threefold manner. For it is possible to contemplate the supreme power of the Father, upon which the first hierarchy gazes, that is, the one which is first in nobility and which we count as last. It is also possible to contemplate the supreme wisdom of the Son; this the second hierarchy gazes upon. And it is possible to contemplate the supreme and most fervent love of the Holy Spirit; this the last hierarchy gazes upon, which being nearest to us bestows upon us the gifts which it receives. Since each person of the divine Trinity can be considered in a threefold manner, there are in each hierarchy three orders that contemplate in different ways. It is possible to consider the Father with regard to but him alone, and this contemplation the Seraphim perform, who perceive more of the First Cause than any other angelic nature. It is possible to consider the Father with respect to the relation he has to the Son, that is, how he is separated from him and how united with him; and this the Cherubim contemplate. It is further possible to consider the Father with respect to how the Holy Spirit proceeds from him, and how it is separated from him and how united with him; and this contemplation the Powers perform. In this same way it is possible to contemplate the Son and the Holy Spirit: consequently it is appropriate that there should be nine classes of contemplative spirits, to gaze upon the light which can only be completely beheld by itself.

Here one word must not be left unsaid. I say that of all these orders a certain number were lost as soon as they were created, perhaps one-tenth in number, for the restoration of which part human nature was afterwards created.(19) The moving heavens, which are nine, declare the numbers, the orders, and the hierarchies, and the tenth proclaims the very unity and stability of God. Therefore the Psalmist says: “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.”(20) Consequently it is reasonable to believe that the movers of the heaven of the Moon belong to the order of the Angels, and those of Mercury to that of the Archangels, and those of Venus to that of the Thrones; all of whom, receiving their nature from the love of the Holy Spirit, perform their operation, which is innate in them, namely, the movement of that heaven, filled with love, from which the form of the said heaven derives a potent ardor by which the souls here below are kindled to love, according to their disposition. Because the ancients recognized that this heaven was the cause of love here below, they said that Love was the son of Venus, as Vergil attests to in the first book of the Aeneid, where Venus says to Love: “My son, my power, son of the supreme father, who heeds not the darts of Typhoeus”;(21) and Ovid, in the fifth book of the Metamorphoses, when he says that Venus said to Love: “My son, my arms, my power.”(22)

These Thrones, who are assigned to govern this heaven, are not great in number, though the philosophers and the astrologers have estimated it diversely according to how diversely they have estimated its rotations, although all are agreed on this point: that there are as many of them as there are movements made by the heaven. According to the best demonstration of the astrologers as we find it summarized in the book of the Constellations of the Stars, these movements are three: one according to which the star moves along its epicycle; a second according to which the epicycle moves together with the whole heaven in concert with that of the Sun; a third according to which that whole heaven moves, following the movement of the starry sphere, from west to east, one degree every one hundred years.(23) Thus for these three movements there are three movers. Moreover, the whole of this heaven moves and revolves with the epicycle from east to west once every day. Whether this movement derives from some intellect or from the pull of the Primum Mobile, only God knows, for it seems to me presumptuous to reach a conclusion on this point.

These movers by their intellect alone produce the revolution in that proper subject which each one moves. The most noble form of heaven, which has in itself the principle of this passive nature, revolves at the touch of the motive power which understands it; and by touch I mean contact, though not in a bodily sense, with the virtue which is directed toward it. These are the movers to whom my speech is addressed and about whom I make my inquiry.

15. as the Apostle says Paul, Hebrews 1:1.

16. as John the Evangelist says John 1:5.

17. of whom Solomon says Song of Songs 8:5.

18. nine orders of spiritual creatures Dante follows the order of angels established by Gregory the Great in Book XXXII of his Moralia. In Paradiso, he adopts the order proposed by Dionysius the Areopagite (see Par. XXVIII, 98-135): Seraphim, Cherubim, Thrones, Dominations, Virtues, Powers, Principalities, Archangels, Angels.

19. a certain number were lost The fallen angels, who became devils and populated Hell. See Par. XXIX, 49 and Inf. VII, 11-12.

20. “The heavens declare . . .” Psalm 19:1 (King James Version).

21. “My son, my power, . . .” Aeneid I, 664.

22. “My son, my arms, my power.” Metamorphoses V, 365.


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