Previously in The Divine Comedy, the Roman poet Virgil had conducted Dante through the dismal circles of hell. Then they climbed the formidable Mount Purgatory. Beatrice then took over as Dante’s guide. Together they visited nine celestial spheres: the spheres of the moon, Mercury, Venus, the sun, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, the fixed stars, and the Primum Mobile. In the eight lower spheres, Dante conversed with the spirits of various deceased Christians. In the Primum Mobile, Dante beheld the nine orders of angels. They appeared to him as nine concentric circles revolving about a point of light. The point of light was God.
Now Dante was about to leave the Primum Mobile and ascend to the Empyrean, the true home of God and all the blessed. Before doing so, Beatrice explained some things about which Dante was puzzled.
Dante wondered why God had created the angels and the material universe. Beatrice pointed out that God was not trying to gain anything for Himself. His creativity was an expression of His love.
Beatrice also told Dante that God was not inactive before He began His creative work. Such an idea would be fallacious, since the words “before” and “after” did not apply to God’s eternal existence. Time did not begin until the Spirit of God began to move upon the waters.
In fact, the creation of form, matter, and their union was instantaneous. Beatrice assured Dante that Jerome was wrong when he wrote that the angels were created long before the creation of the world in which we live. [I have difficulty reconciling the concept of an instantaneous creation with the fact that six days elapsed before God’s creative activity was complete. Perhaps Beatrice meant to say that the six days, as well as all subsequent history, were but a moment in eternity.]
Beatrice also explained the subsequent history of the angels whom God created. Some fell into sin soon after their creation. The devil, whom Dante had seen in hell, was the first to fall. In contrast, the obedient angels diligently applied themselves to the work that God had assigned to them, namely, governing the movements of the celestial spheres.
After criticizing some foolish ideas that were being taught in the schools down on earth, Beatrice commented on the number of blessed angels. She said that there were so many angels that their number could not be expressed in human speech. [The number googol had not yet been invented at that time. Perhaps this would help, but even googol might be too small. Probably googol raised to the googolth power would be closer.]
After Beatrice stopped speaking, Dante again looked at the concentric circles revolving about the point of light. They gradually disappeared. The angels were returning to the Empyrean.
Dante and Beatrice also ascended to the Empyrean. As Beatrice approached the abode of God, she became even more beautiful than she was before.
As Beatrice pointed out, the Empyrean was essentially different from the places that Dante had previously visited. The nine lower heavens were part of the material universe. The Empyrean was the realm of pure light, namely, intellectual light that was full of love.
“The Divine Comedy of Dante Alighieri”; “Paradiso”; Italian text with English translation by Allen Mandelbaum; Notes by Anthony Oldcorn, Daniel Feldman, and Giuseppe di Scipio