The Divine Comedy – Paradiso
Dante and Beatrice speak to the teachers of wisdom Thomas Aquinas, Albertus Magnus, Peter Lombard and Sigier of Brabant in the Sphere of the Sun (fresco by Philipp Veit), Canto 10.

The Divine Comedy – Paradiso

Dante and the Franciscans, Part Seven

While the Inferno and Purgatorio were revolutionary in language and inventiveness, and remain remarkable even today, the text of Paradiso reaches an even higher level, differing from any other literary composition. The source for this uniqueness may be found in the section’s Canto XXIV, based on St. Paul’s definition of faith in the Letter to the Hebrews: “…the substance of things hoped for…”

The poetry of the Paradiso is based entirely on things that cannot be seen, but only hoped for through faith. The theme is the bliss of Paradise, the perfect fulfillment of the human, infinite desire for identification with the Divine Reality. While we’re here on earth, this can only be experienced mystically.

Though Dante strives to make this Reality impressive and beautiful through images of absolute splendor, he warns that this is just a shadow, the faint memory of a dream that has vanished or an impression left on the soul. But the world he recalls is not vague – it has a rationally defined order and structure, based on the ‘similarity’ between the human and Divine minds that is characteristic of literature.

Here in Paradise, Dante doesn’t use tangible representations such as landscape or human figures. The only landscape is the sky, and people are just flames. Rather than chronicling events, vices, and virtues, this is an interior experience like the vision of St. Paul, which Dante places in the middle of the first Canto. Here time is not measured, nor the journey described. The passages from one heaven to another is not an act of the body, but a gaze.

An illustration by Gustave Dore (1832-1883)

Individuals in Paradise do not tell of earthly deeds. When we meet St. Francis of Assisi, St. Dominic, and others, their stories have a wider purpose: to reproach and exhort against a corrupt world. Paradiso is the eternal reality of the highest human desire; a reality that makes individual earthly events distant and small.

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(The content of this article appears on, the Conventual Franciscan website, and is taken from: Dante Alighieri, Commedia, con il commento di Anna Maria Chiavacci Leonardi, Bologna, Zanichelli, 2001, La terza cantica pp. IX-XVIII.)