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The Divine Comedy's Empyrean, illustrated by Gustave Doré

In ancient European cosmologies inspired by Aristotle, the Empyrean Heaven, Empyreal or simply the Empyrean, was the place in the highest heaven, which was supposed to be occupied by the element of fire (or aether in Aristotle's natural philosophy). The word derives from the Medieval Latin empyreus, an adaptation of the Ancient Greek empyros (ἔμπυρος), meaning "in or on the fire (pyr)".[1]

In Christian religious cosmologies, the Empyrean was "the source of light" and where God and saved souls resided,[1] and in medieval Christianity, the Empyrean was the third heaven and beyond "the heaven of the air and the heaven of the stars."[2]

The Empyrean was thus used as a name for the incorporeal "heaven of the first day",[3] and in Christian literature for the dwelling-place of God, the blessed, celestial beings so divine they are made of pure light, and the source of light and creation.[1] Notably, at the very end of Dante's Paradiso, Dante visits God in the Empyrean.

The word is used both as a noun and as an adjective, but empyreal is an alternate adjective form. The scientific words empyreuma and empyreumatic, applied to the characteristic smell of the burning or charring of vegetable or animal matter, have the same Greek origin.[1]


Early Christians took inspiration from Aristotle's cosmology in their reckoning of heaven.[2] From the 7th century onwards, the idea of the Empyrean gained traction in the faith because of writers like Isidore of Seville and Bede.[2]

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  1. ^ a b c d Chisholm 1911.
  2. ^ a b c Case, Stephen (2022-12-02). Weintraub, Pam (ed.). "Where God dwelt". Aeon. Retrieved 2023-05-12.
  3. ^ Randles, W. G. L. (1999). The Unmaking of the Medieval Christian Cosmos, 1500–1760. Routledge. According to Saint Basil, the First Heaven (which in the Middle Ages came to be called the Empyrean), has existed already before the Creation in the form of incorporeal light. There was, declared Saint Basil, a certain condition, older than the birth of the world and proper to the supramundane powers, one beyond time, everlasting, without beginning or end. In it the Creator and Producer of all things perfect the works of His art, a spriritual light befitting the blessedness of those who love the Lord...