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

Concerning “Wisdom,” “Mind,” “Reason,” “Truth,” “Faith.”

1. Now, if it like thee, let us consider the Good and Eternal Life as Wise and as Very Wisdom, or rather as the Fount of all wisdom and as Transcending all wisdom and understanding. Not only is God so overflowing with wisdom that there is no limit to His understanding, but He even transcends all Reason, Intelligence, and Wisdom.399399All wisdom or knowledge implies the distinction between thinker and object of thought. The undifferentiated Godhead is beyond this distinction; but (in a sense) it exists in the Persons of the Trinity and between them and the world, and hence from Them comes Absolute Wisdom, though the Godhead transcends it. And this is supernaturally perceived by the truly divine man (who hath been as a luminary both to us and to our teacher) when he says: “The foolishness of God is wiser than men.”4004001 Cor. i. 25. And these words are true not only because all human thought is a kind of error when compared with the immovable permanence of the perfect thoughts which belong to God, but also because it is customary for writers on Divinity to apply negative terms to God in a sense contrary to the usual one. For instance, the Scripture calls the Light that shines on all things “Terrible,” and Him that hath many Titles and many Names “Ineffable” and “Nameless,” and Him that is present to all things and to be discovered from them all “Incomprehensible” and “Unsearchable.” In the same manner, it is thought, the divine Apostle, on the present occasion, when he speaks of God’s “foolishness,” is using in a higher sense the apparent strangeness and absurdity implied in the word, so as to hint at the ineffable Truth which is before all Reason. But, as I have said elsewhere, we misinterpret things above us by our own conceits and cling to the familiar notions of our senses, and, measuring Divine things by our human standards, we are led astray by the superficial meaning of the Divine and Ineffable Truth. Rather should we then consider that while the human Intellect hath a faculty of Intelligence, whereby it perceives intellectual truths, yet the act whereby the Intellect communes with the things that are beyond it transcends its intellectual nature.401401This is the Doctrine of Unknowing.    Cf. “Through love, through hope, and faith’s transcendent dower,
   We feel that we are mightier than we know.”
This transcendent sense, therefore, must be given to our language about God, and not our human sense. We must be transported wholly out of ourselves and given unto God. For ‘tis better to belong unto God and not unto ourselves, since thus will the Divine Bounties be bestowed, if we are united to God.402402The term “God” is rightly used here because the manifested Absolute is meant. Speaking, then, in a transcendent manner of this “Foolish Wisdom,”4034031 Cor. i. 25. which hath neither Reason nor Intelligence, let us say that It is the Cause of all Intelligence and Reason, and of all Wisdom and Understanding, and that all counsel belongs unto It, and from It comes all Knowledge and Understanding, and in It “are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.”404404Col. ii. 3. For it naturally follows from what hath already been said that the All-wise (and more than Wise) Cause is the Fount of Very Wisdom and of created wisdom both as a whole and in each individual instance.405405(1) Very Wisdom = Wisdom in the abstract.    (2) Wisdom as a whole = Wisdom embodied in the universe as a whole.
   (3) Wisdom in each individual instance = Wisdom as shown in the structure of some particular plant or animal, or part of a plant or animal.

   (1) Is an Emanation; (2) and (3) are created.

2. From It the intelligible and intelligent powers of the Angelic Minds derive their blessed simple perceptions, not collecting their knowledge of God in partial fragments or from partial activities of Sensation or of discursive Reason, nor yet being circumscribed by aught that is akin to these,406406i. e. They are not limited by the material world, which, with its laws, is known through sensation and discursive reason. but rather, being free from all taint of matter and multiplicity, they perceive the spiritual truths of Divine things in a single immaterial and spiritual intuition. And their intuitive faculty and activity shines in its unalloyed and undefiled purity and possesses its Divine intuitions all together in an indivisible and immaterial manner, being by that Godlike unification made similar (as far as may be) to the Supra-Sapient Mind and Reason of God through the working of the Divine Wisdom.407407This speculation is, no doubt, based on experience. A concentration of the spiritual faculties in the act of contemplation produces that unity of the soul of which all mystics often speak. The angels are conceived of as being always in such a state of contemplation. And human souls possess Reason, whereby they turn with a discursive motion round about the Truth of things, and, through the partial and manifold activities of their complex nature, are inferior to the Unified Intelligences: yet they too, through the concentration of their many faculties, are vouchsafed (so far as their nature allows) intuitions like unto those of the Angels. Nay, even our sense-perceptions themselves may be rightly described as an echo of that Wisdom; even diabolic intelligence, qua intelligence, belongs thereto, though in so far as it is a distraught intelligence, not knowing how to obtain its true desire, nor wishing to obtain it, we must call it rather a declension from Wisdom. Now we have already said that the Divine Wisdom is the Beginning, the Cause, the Fount, the Perfecting Power, the Protector and the Goal of Very Wisdom and all created Wisdom, and of all Mind, Reason, and Sense-Perception. We must now ask in what sense God,408408God is the Manifested Absolute. Hence qua Absolute He is supra-sapient, qua Manifested He is wise (cf. ch. i, § 1). The Persons of the Trinity possess one common Godhead (= the Absolute) which is supra-sapient, and in that Godhead. They are One. Yet they are known by us only in their differentiation wherein Supra-Sapience is revealed as Wisdom. Who is Supra-Sapient, can be spoken of as Wisdom, Mind, Reason, and Knowledge? How can He have an intellectual intuition of intelligible things when He possesses no intellectual activities? Or how can He know the things perceived by sense when His existence transcends all sense-perception? And yet the Scripture says that He knoweth all things and that nothing escapes the Divine Knowledge. But, as I have often said, we must interpret Divine Things in a manner suitable to their nature. For the lack of Mind and Sensation must be predicated of God by excess and not by defect.409409Via Negativa. It is not mere negation. And in the same way we attribute lack of Reason to Him that is above Reason, and Imperfectibility to Him that is above and before Perfection; and Intangible and Invisible Darkness we attribute to that Light which is Unapproachable because It so far exceeds the visible light. And thus the Mind of God embraces all things in an utterly transcendent knowledge and, in Its causal relation to all things, anticipates within Itself the knowledge of them all—knowing and creating angels before the angels were, and knowing all other things inwardly and (if I may so put it) from the very beginning, and thus bringing them into existence. And methinks this is taught by the Scripture when it saith “Who knoweth all things before their birth.”410410Susannah 42. For the Mind of God gains not Its knowledge of things from those things; but of Itself and in Itself It possesses, and hath conceived beforehand in a causal manner, the cognizance and the knowledge and the being of them all. And It doth not perceive each class speciically,411411“According to its idea,” “according to the law of its species.” We perceive that this is a rose and that is a horse because we have two separate notions in our minds—one the notion of a rose and the other that of a horse. But in the Divine Knowledge there is only one Notion wherein such specific notions are elements, as the activities of several nerves are elements in one indivisible sensation of taste, or touch, or smell. but in one embracing casuality It knows and maintains all things—even as Light possesses beforehand in itself a causal knowledge of the darkness, not knowing the darkness in any other way than from the Light.412412i. e. Suppose the light were conscious, and knew its own nature, it would know that if it withheld its brightness there would be darkness (for the very nature of light is that it dispels, or at least prevents, darkness). On the other hand, the light could not directly know the darkness, because darkness cannot exist where there is light. The simile is capable of being applied to illustrate God’s knowledge of the world, because the world is imperfect. It applies more fundamentally to God’s knowledge of evil, and is so employed by St. Thomas Aquinas, who quotes this passage and says (Summa, xiv. 10) that, since evil is the lack of good, God knows evil things in the act by which He knows good things, as we know darkness through knowing light. Thus the Divine Wisdom in knowing Itself will know all things: will in that very Oneness know and produce material things immaterially, divisible things indivisibly, manifold things under the form of Unity. For if God, in the act of causation, imparts Existence to all things, in the same single act of causation He will support all these His creatures the which are derived from Him and have in Him their forebeing, and He will not gain His knowledge of things from the things themselves, but He will bestow upon each kind the knowledge of itself and the knowledge of the others. And hence God doth not possess a private knowledge of Himself and as distinct therefrom a knowledge embracing all the creatures in common; for the Universal Cause, in knowing Itself, can scarcely help knowing the things that proceed from it and whereof It is the Cause. With this knowledge, then, God knoweth all things, not through a mere understanding of the things but through an understanding of Himself. For the angels, too, are said by the Scripture to know the things upon earth not through a sense-perception of them (though they are such as may be perceived this way), but through a faculty and nature inherent in a Godlike Intelligence.

3. Furthermore, we must ask how it is that we know God when He cannot be perceived by the mind or the senses and is not a particular Being. Perhaps ‘tis true to say that we know not God by His Nature (for this is unknowable and beyond the reach of all Reason. and Intuition), yet by means of that ordering of all things which (being as it were projected out of Him) possesses certain images and semblances of His Divine Exemplars, we mount upwards (so far as our feet can tread that ordered path), advancing through the Negation and Transcendence of all things and through a conception of an Universal Cause, towards That Which is beyond all things.413413God, being the Manifested Absolute, exists on two planes at once: that of Undifferentiation and that of Differentiation. On this second plane He moves out into creative activity. And thus He is both knowable and unknowable: knowable in so far as He passes outwards into such activity, unknowable in that His Being passes inwards into Undifferentiation. Thus He is known in His acts but not in His ultimate Nature. Hence God is known in all things and apart from all things; and God is known through Knowledge and through Unknowing, and on the one hand He is reached by Intuition, Reason, Understanding, Apprehension, Perception, Conjecture, Appearance, Name, etc; and yet, on the other hand, He cannot be grasped by Intuition, Language, or Name, and He is not anything in the world nor is He known in anything. He is All Things in all things and Nothing in any,414414He is the Super-Essence of all things, wherein all things possess their true being outside of themselves [as our perceptions are outside of ourselves in the things we perceive. (Vide Bergson, Matière et Mémoire.)]. and is known from all things unto all men, and is not known from any unto any man. ‘Tis meet that we employ such terms concerning God, and we get from all things (in proportion to their quality) notions of Him Who is their Creator. And yet on the other hand, the Divinest Knowledge of God, the which is received through Unknowing, is obtained in that communion which transcends the mind, when the mind, turning away from all things and then leaving even itself behind, is united to the Dazzling Rays, being from them and in them, illumined by the unsearchable depth of Wisdom.415415This is experience and not mere theory. Nevertheless, as I said, we must draw this knowledge of Wisdom from all things; for wisdom it is (as saith the Scripture)416416Prov. viii. that hath made all things and ever ordereth them all, and is the Cause of the indissoluble harmony and order of all things, perpetually fitting the end of one part unto the beginning of the second, and thus producing the one fair agreement and concord of the whole.

4. And God is called “Word” or “Reason”417417The reference is, of course, to the opening verses of St. John’s Gospel. The present passage shows that by the term “God” D. means not one Differentiation of the Godhead singly (i. e. not God the Father), but all Three Differentiations together; the undivided (though differentiated) Trinity. by the Holy Scriptures, not only because He is the Bestower of Reason and Mind and Wisdom, but also because He contains beforehand in His own Unity the causes of all things, and because He penetrates all things, “reaching” (as the Scripture saith) “unto the end of all things,”418418Wisdom viii. i and more especially because the Divine Reason is more simple than all simplicity, and, in the transcendence of Its Super-Essential Being, is independent of all things.419419God is called Reason: (1) because He is the Giver of reason; (2j because reason causes unity (e.g. it unifies our thoughts, making them coherent), and God in His creative activity causes unity and in His ultimate Godhead is Unity. This Reason is the simple and verily existent Truth: that pure and infallible Omniscience round which divinely inspired Faith revolves. It is the permanent Ground of the faithful, which builds them in the Truth and builds the Truth in them by an unwavering firmness, through which they possess a simple knowledge of the Truth of those things which they believe420420The Divine Omniscience is: (1) the Object of our faith because we trust in it; (2) the Ground of our faith because the development of our faith comes from it. Faith is a faint image of Divine Knowledge, and is gradually perfected by being changed into knowledge. For if Knowledge unites the knower and the objects of knowledge, and if ignorance is always a cause of change and of self-discrepancy in the ignorant, naught (as saith Holy Scripture) shall separate him that believeth in the Truth from the Foundation of true faith on which he shall possess the permanence of immovable and unchanging firmness. For surely knoweth he who is united to the Truth that it is well with him, even though the multitude reprove him as one out of his mind. Naturally they perceive not that he is but come out of an erring mind unto the Truth through right faith. But he verily knows that instead of being, as they say, distraught, he hath been relieved from the unstable ever-changing movements which tossed him hither and thither in the mazes of error, and hath been set at liberty through the simple immutable and unchanging Truth. Thus is it that the Teachers from whom we have learnt our knowledge of Divine Wisdom die daily for the Truth, bearing their natural witness in every word and deed to the single Knowledge of the Truth which Christians possess: yea, showing that It is more simple and divine than all other kinds of knowledge, or rather that it is the only true, one, simple Knowledge of God.


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