Involuted Mysteries, II: A Grammar of Symbols and Ideas. Some Perennial Themes, Image-complexes, Mythic Archetypes, and Philosophical Topoi in Literature and Art before 1800, Part XI

 Aristotle’s Prime Mover

 Divine Love…Gravitational Attraction…

 The Circle of Love…in Dante, Boethius…

The Music of the Spheres as the Planetary Intelligences’ Hymn of Love to God…

God as Music-Love-Light…

     As Aristotle had explained in his famous doctrine of the Unmoved Mover, God does not cause the universe to move by communicating to it his own motion, for then He himself would be mobile and therefore changeable.  Rather, writes Aristotle in his Metaphysics, “He moves us as beloved”.  He moves other things, that is, as an object of desire moves those who desire it.

The love of the heavenly bodies for God functions as a kind of gravitational pull or “attraction”, to use the word in its ancient and modern connotation, that keeps them in their proper orbits:  “in check” as Boethius puts it, else they would “stray” from their “true path” and fly off centrifugally into oblivion, destroying the stable order of things.

This, too, is originally an ancient pagan theme, of which the Neoplatonists Plotinus, Prophyry, and Proclus rarely tired; and in due course, it matured into an enduring Christian topos:  one that envisages Love as flowing in a circuit, first emanating outward from its Centre and into the cosmos.  The superfluity of God’s Love and Goodness is the proximate reason that He must create:  so as to have an object for his Love.  That Love, still flowing outward, sustains creation in order and harmony; finally, in the form of the reciprocal love of creatures for their Creator, it loops backward toward and into its Source.

It is this yearning for reunion with the First Cause and Source of their being that the mystic experiences; and on the plane of cosmology, it is the same force that, in the end time, will bring about the ingathering and absorption of the world back into the divine womb from which it first emerged.

 

Now to speak of love “moving” the cosmos is, of course, to anthropomorphize (in the same way in which the mythic poets  anthropomorphize when they imagine stones and rivers responding to Orpheus’ music of the spheres).  In order for them to be moved by “love” for God, the planetary spheres must be conscious and intellectual beings, which they are, whether conceived as Intelligences (by Plato) or as Angels (by Christians).

The identification of the biblical Angels with the Platonic Intelligences that inhabited the heavenly bodies, in fact, plausibly led Christian theologians to argue that the music of the spheres was in fact the hymn of praise that the angelic choirs sang to God, as we’ll see in due course.  In any case, the indwelling spiritual personalities with which the planets are said to love God can only be understood as emanations of his own Being, as immanent particles of his own Intelligence and Love, whence that Love which flows outward from Him flows backward and inwards into Him again as an apocatastasis of his own substance.

Once again, that is, Love is another God-image–like Justice, Logos, Immanent Mind, Light, Musical Harmony, or whatever imagery happens to be favoured by poet, philosopher, or theologian–, another metaphor for the Divine Being that animates and ensouls the entire universe, from the music-loving rocks on the lowest rung of the ladder of existence, through the music-loving plants, the beasts, men, to the choiring angels and the planets in which they sing.  Suffused and sustained by his Love, all circle around God as around their Centre; all begin and end in Him.

 

The yearning love for the Divine Centre is the motive power that propels Dante’s ascent from Purgatory into Heaven, at the beginning of the Paradiso (as it propels all mystics upward to the vision of God and the mystic union into which they are blissfully absorbed).  While still in the Earthly Paradise atop the Mountain of Purgatory, Dante prays to the Divine Light to fill him with its music (another paradoxical conflation of the imagery of light and sound):

The glory of Him who moves all things so-ever
Impenetrates the universe, and bright
Thy splendor burns…
Within that heav’n which most receives His light
Was I…
O power divine, grant me in song to show
The blest realm’s image…

His prayer answered, Dante then feels himself “trans-humanized”, as he writes:  transformed or apotheosized, that is, into Paul’s new man; and having mystically ascended into Heaven, he credits the attractive power of God’s Love-Light:

…O Love that rul’st the height…
….that didst uplift me by Thy light.

Thereupon, predictably enough, he hears the harmony of the spheres, which, along with the Light, he says, has kindled his yearning to know the Source and Cause of All:

The wheel Thou mak’st eternal through innate
Desire of Thee, no sooner took mine ear
With strains which Thou dost tune and modulate…
The unwonted sound, the bright and burning beams,
Kindled my eagerness to know their cause
Beyond the yearning of my dearest dreams…

 

In the Commedia in general, and for his ascent to Heaven in particular, Dante was influenced above all by Boethius, and at the risk of repeating myself—but then, as I have said, the early poets and thinkers delighted avidly in repeating themselves–, I draw your attention to one final example from theConsolation, the magnificent hymn (metre 9) in book III that unites all of these images:

   Oh God, Maker of heaven and earth, Who govern the world with eternal reason, at your command time passes from the beginning.  You place all things in motion, though You are yourself without change.  No external causes impelled You to make this work from chaotic matter.  Rather it was the form of the highest Good, existing within You without envy, which caused You to fashion all things according to the eternal exemplar.  You who are most beautiful produce the beautiful world from your divine mind, and forming it in your image, You order the perfect parts in a perfect whole.

You bind the elements in harmony so that cold and heat, dry and wet are joined, and the purer fire does not fly up through the air, nor the earth sink beneath the weight of water.

You release the world-soul throughout the harmonious parts of the universe as your surrogate…to give motion to all things.  That soul…pursues its revolving course in two circles [i.e., outward and inward], and, returning to itself, embraces the profound Mind…

In like manner, You create souls…and, adapting them to their high flight in swift chariots, You scatter them through the earth and sky.  And when they have turned again toward You, by your gracious law of Love, You call them back like leaping flames…

…The sight of Thee is Beginning and End.

For Boethius, once again, Justice, Harmony, Fire, World-Soul, Eternal Reason, and Love are all cognate images of the Divine Mind or Soul that animates the universe, holds it together in order, and recalls all creatures back into Itself under the impulse of their own inborn yearning for God as their common Source.

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