Conceptions of Heaven in Dante’s “Paradiso”

In recent decades, books and movies have been released detailing experiences people claim to have had in which they died temporarily and went to heaven (case in point: Miracles from Heaven debuted this weekend). Whether or not these accounts are 100% credible is not my point for today, but rather to point out that people have been talking about experiences in heaven, real or imagined, for centuries, with one of the most popular conceptions being Dante’s Paradiso.

The final book in the classic Divine Comedy picks up immediately after Purgatorio with Dante ascending into the heavens with Beatrice, climbing past the sun, moon, and planets known in that day. It’s the culmination of faith, hope, and love (and maybe salvation as well), and a happy ending to his journey that began so darkly in Inferno.

But what struck me as Dante climbed through the cosmos was what virtues he esteemed best and worthy of their own planet (or circle/space) of honor in heaven. The ones that got me were Mars with its soldiers who died fighting for the faith and Jupiter with its holy rulers. I could see why they were there, and it’s Dante’s story after all, but it struck me as funny. If it was me setting up a structure in heaven, I think I would have composed it differently.

This set me thinking about what ideas we conceive about heaven. The Bible is admittedly vague on exact details about eternity, but the general idea is a return to a type of Eden and perfect communion between God and His saints. With a mystery so grand before us, it is easy to allow our imagination to fill in the gaps. We can start thinking of the ones who garner the most honor (more jewels in their crowns, so to speak) or what we’ll do for eternity or what it will look like.

To a point, these ruminations are probably harmless, but I dare say we can overthink it, like spoiling a movie experience for ourselves because we come up with a plethora of premises from the trailer. Perhaps heaven is better as a surprise, without trying to project our vain imaginations on the eternal home Christ has made for His church. We can stoke the fire of fancy from time to time, but it may be best to remember the best is yet to come.

[Side note: I’m admittedly surprised that I’ve consistently blogged nearly every weekend this year so far (discipline is an amazing thing), but I’m planning on taking a break next week, let the creative juices rest awhile. Feel free to peruse the archives (click on the drop-down menu in the upper righthand corner) while I’m away!]

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