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Dionysius the Areopagite: On the Divine Names and the Mystical Theology.
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CHAPTER III

What is the power of Prayer? Also concerning the Blessed Hierotheus and concerning Reverence and the Writing of Divinity.

1. And first of all, if it like thee, let us consider the highest Name, even “Goodness,” by which all the Emanations of God are conjointly revealed.231231All God’s activities are good. And let us begin with an invocation of the Trinity, the Which, as It surpasseth Goodness, and is the Source of all goodness, doth reveal all conjoined together Its own good providences.232232The particular activities of God exist as one Act in Him, cf. p. 79, n. 2. So St. Thomas (following Aristotle) calls Him Actus Purus. For we must first lift up our minds in prayer unto the Primal Goodness, and by drawing nearer Thereunto, we must thus be initiated into the mystery of those good gifts which are rooted in Its being. For the Trinity is nigh unto all things, and yet not all things are nigh unto It.233233Cf p. 77, n. 1. And when we call upon It with holy prayers and unspotted mind and with our souls prepared for union with God, then are we also nigh Thereto; for It is not in space, so as to be absent from any spot, or to move from one position to another.234234This is profound. Spatial metaphors are always dangerous, though unavoidable, in Theology. In space if A is touching B then B must be touching A. In the spiritual world this is not so. God is near me (or rather to me), and yet I may be far from God because I may be far from my own true self. I must seek my true self where it is, in God. It is the paradox of Personality that my true self is outside myself and I can only gain it by casting aside this counterfeit “self.” Cf. p. 77, n. 1, and Intr., p. 15. Nay, to speak of It as omnipresent doth not express Its all-transcendent all-embracing Infinitude.235235Even the word “omnipresent” suggests that God is in space, whereas really His existence is non-spatial. Let us then press on in prayer, looking upwards to the Divine benignant Rays, even as if a resplendent cord were hanging from the height of heaven unto this world below, and we, by seizing it with alternate hands in one advance, appeared to pull it down; but in very truth instead of drawing down the rope (the same being already nigh us above and below), we were ourselves being drawn upwards to the higher Refulgence of the resplendent Rays. Or even as, having embarked on a ship and clinging to the cables, the which being stretched out from some rock unto us, presented themselves (as it were) for us to lay hold upon them, we should not be drawing the rock towards ourselves, but should, in very truth, be drawing ourselves and the vessel towards the rock; as also, conversely, if any one standing upon the vessel pushes away the rock that is on the shore, he will not affect the rock (which stands immovable) but will separate himself therefrom, and the more he pushes it so much the more will he be staving himself away. Hence, before every endeavour, more especially if the subject be Divinity, must we begin with prayer: not as though we would pull down to ourselves that Power which is nigh both everywhere and nowhere, but that, by these remembrances and invocations of God, we may commend and unite ourselves Thereunto.

2. Now perhaps there is need of an explanation why, when our renowned teacher Hierotheus hath compiled236236τὰς θεολογικὰς στοιχειώσεις ὑπερφυῶς συναγαγόντος. his wonderful Elements of Divinity, we have composed other Tractates of Divinity, and now are writing this present as if his work were not sufficient. Now if he had professed to deal in an ordered system with all questions of Divinity, and had gone through the whole sum of Divinity with an exposition of every branch, we should not have gone so far in madness or folly as to suppose that we could touch these problems with a diviner insight than he, nor would we have cared to waste our time in a vain repetition of those same truths; more especially since it would be an injury to a teacher whom we love were we thus to claim for ourselves the famous speculations and expositions of a man who, next to Paul the Divine, hath been our chief preceptor. But since, in his lofty “Instructions on Divinity,” he gave us comprehensive and pregnant definitions fitted to our understanding, and to that of such amongst us as were teachers of the newly initiated souls, and bade us unravel and explain with whatever powers of reason we possessed, the comprehensive and compact skeins of thought spun by his mighty intellect; and since thou hast thyself oftentimes urged us so to do, and hast remitted his treatise to us as too sublime for comprehension, therefore we, while setting him apart (as a teacher of advanced and perfect spirits) for those above the commonalty, and as a kind of second Scriptures worthy to follow the Inspired Writings, will yet teach Divine Truths, according to our capacity, unto those who are our peers. For if solid food is suited only to the perfect, what degree of perfection would it need to give this food to others? Wherefore we are right in saying that the direct study of the spiritual237237Or “intelligible” (νοητῶν). Cf. p. 52, n. 1. The Scriptures are expressed in symbolic terms which our minds can grasp. Hierotheus was inspired to penetrate to the ultimate truth enshrined in these symbols. Thus he was able not only to assimilate this solid food himself but also to give it to others. Apparently Hierotheus passed through certain extraordinary psychic experiences, which are described in his writings. These particular experiences D. has not himself passed through. But he believes that his own teaching may clear the ground, and so be a preliminary to such flights. He is chiefly explaining principles, but these principles may lead the way to a true experience. St. Paul and other Scriptural writers experienced such extraordinary psychic states, though they do not speak of them in the extravagant terms apparently used by Hierotheus. Cf. 2 Cor. xii. 2–4. Scriptures and the comprehensive teaching of them need advanced capacities, while the understanding and the learning of the matter which contribute thereto is suited to the inferior Initiators and Initiates.238238του ὑφειμένοις καθιερωταῖς καὶ ἱερωμένοις. We have, however, carefully observed the principle: Whatsoever things our Divine Preceptor has throughly dealt with and made clearly manifest we have never in any wise ventured thereon, for fear of repetition, nor given the same explanation of the passage whereof he treated. For239239sc. It would be an impiety to do so, for he is almost equal to the Scriptural Writers, as he showed when he met with them to view the body of the B. V. M. even among our inspired Hierarchs (when, as thou knowest, we with him and many of our holy brethren met together to behold that mortal body, Source of Life, which received the Incarnate God,240240Cf. p. 1, n 1. and James, the brother of God, was there, and Peter, the chief and highest of the Sacred Writers, and then, having beheld it, all the Hierarchs there present celebrated, according to the power of each, the omnipotent goodness of the Divine weakness): on that occasion, I say, he surpassed all the Initiates next to the Divine Writers, yea, he was wholly transported, was wholly outside of himself, and was so moved by a communion with those Mysteries he was celebrating, that all who heard him and saw him and knew him (or rather knew him not) deemed him to be rapt of God and endued with utterance Divine. But why should I tell thee of the divine things that were uttered in that place? For, unless I have forgotten who I am, I know that I have often heard from thee certain fragments of those enraptured praises; so earnest hast thou been with all thy soul to follow heavenly things.

3. But, to say nothing of those mystical experiences (since they cannot be told unto the world, and since thou knowest them well), when it behoved us to communicate these things unto the world and to bring all whom we might unto that holy knowledge we possessed, how he surpassed nearly all the holy teachers in the time he devoted to the task, in pureness of mind, in exactness of exposition, and in all other holy qualities, to such a degree that we could not attempt to gaze upon such spiritual radiance. For we are conscious in ourselves and well aware that we cannot sufficiently perceive those Divine Truths which are granted to man’s perception, nor can we declare and utter those elements of Divine Knowledge which are given unto man to speak. We fall very short of that understanding which the Divine men possessed concerning heavenly truths, and verily, from excess of reverence, we should not have ventured to listen, or give utterance to any truths of Divine philosophy, were it not that we are convinced in our mind that such knowledge of Divine Truth as is possible must not be disregarded. This conviction was wrought within us, not only by the natural impulse of our minds, which yearn and strive for such vision of supernatural things as may be attained, but also by the holy ordinance of Divine Law itself, which, while it bids us not to busy ourselves in things beyond us because such things are both beyond our merits and also unattainable,241241Ecclus. iii. 21; Ps. cxxxi. 1. yet earnestly exhorts us to learn all things within our reach, which are granted and allowed us, and also generously to impart these treasures unto others.2422422 Tim. ii. 2. In obedience to these behests we, ceasing not through weariness or want of courage in such search for Divine Truth as is possible, yea, and not daring to leave without assistance those who possess not a greater power of contemplation than ourselves, have set ourselves to the task of composition, in no vain attempt to introduce fresh teaching, but only seeking by more minute and detailed investigations to make more clear and plain that which the true Hierotheus hath said in brief.


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