The inexhaustible source of light
Saturday, 1 Oct 2016
On the question of appearances and what lies beyond, Dante stepped out of his pilgrim’s garb to address us directly.
In Canto X of Paradise he urged the reader to gaze with him at the order of the universe, in mind and space, and the art of the Maker, whilst invoking the Trinity ascomposed of the primal Power, the Son, and the Holy Spirit or breath of Love.
And there begin to brood upon the skillThe Creator’s eternal engagement with the creation is expanded upon in the Canto X sun metaphor.
Of that performer who, in his own mind,
So loves it that he never takes his eyes off it.
The goodness of the sun is symbolic of pure giving. Dante draws upon ideas from Plato, Plotinus and the pseudo-Dyonisius. The latter wrote of the sun which
gives light to whatever is able to partake of its light in its own way...Dante rejected the Aristotelian causality of Aquinas and Augustine, the conception of God as the One who imparts a cause or a motion to things, a beginning with an effect and teleology.
Soit is with the Good. Existing far above the sun, an archetype far superior to its dull image, it sends the rays of its undivided goodness to everything with the capacity, such as this may be, to receive it…
Between cause and effect Aristotle opened a gap between man’s will and the divine. God was absolutely transcendent and man was left on earth by himself. This development was not atheism, God was there after all, He created the universe. He may be good or benign, but we cannot say or know for sure.
The gap opened up by causality was filled later by Enlightenment thinking, which ran counter to the emergent Platonic ideals of Dante and others during the Renaissance. The Enlightenment thinkers were the heirs of Augustine and Aquinas, not their nemeses.
Giordano Bruno would die for his heresy against the church’s accommodation with Aristotle, not against Christianity per se.
The sun metaphor illuminated Dante’s idea of the Trinity as the inexhaustible source that keeps giving. It gives to all and we are all part of this gift that is so loved by a Creator who ‘never takes his eyes off it’.
Dante rejected the causa efficiens of Augustine and Aquinas in favour of a creation that involved the participation of the creatures. More than just the result of efficiency and aetiology, the human mind partakes of the inexhaustible source of light.
© John Dunn.