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

ConcerningGreat,” ”Small,” ”Same,” ”Different,” ”Like,” “Unlike,” ”Standing,” ”Motion,” ”Equality.”

1. Now, since Greatness and Smallness are ascribed to the Universal Cause, and Sameness and Difference, and Similarity and Dissimilarity, and Rest and Motion, let us also consider these Titles of the Divine Glory so far as our minds can grasp them. Now Greatness is attributed in the Scriptures unto God, both in the great firmament and also in the thin air whose subtlety reveals the Divine Smallness.438438Boundless space cannot contain God, yet He is wholly contained in a single point of that apparent nothingness which we call air. Cf. Section 3. And Sameness is ascribed to Him when the Scripture saith, “Thou art the same,” and Difference when He is depicted by the same Scriptures as having many forms and qualities. And He is spoken of as Similar to the creatures, in so far as He is the Creator of things similar to Himself and of their similarity; and as Dissimilar from them in so far as there is not His like. And He is spoken of as Standing and Immovable and as Seated for ever, and yet as Moving and going forth into all things.439439Cf. St. Augustine, Confessions, 1, Section 1.    The great paradox is that God combines perfect Rest and perfect Motion. Idealism has seized the first aspect, Pragmatism and Vitalism the second. A sense of both is present in the highest Mystical experience and in the restful activity or strenuous repose of Love. These and many similar Titles are given by the Scriptures unto God.

2. Now God is called Great in His peculiar Greatness which giveth of Itself to all things that are great and is poured upon all Magnitude from outside and stretches far beyond it; embracing all Space, exceeding all Number, penetrating beyond all Infinity440440Cf. 155, n. 3. both in Its exceeding fullness and creative magnificence, and also in the bounties that well forth from It, inasmuch as these, being shared by all in that lavish outpouring, yet are totally undiminished and possess the same exceeding Fullness, nor are they lessened through their distribution, but rather overflow the more. This Greatness is Infinite, without Quantity and without Number.441441It is a Quality, not a quantity. Vulgarity consists in mistaking quantity for quality. This has been the mistake of the modern world. And the excess of Greatness reaches to this pitch through the Absolute Transcendent outpouring of the Incomprehensible Grandeur.

3. And Smallness, or Rarity, is ascribed to God’s Nature because He is outside all solidity and distance and penetrates all things without let or hindrance. Indeed, Smallness is the elementary Cause of all things; for you will never find any part of the world but participates in that quality of Smallness. This, then, is the sense in which we must apply this quality to God. It is that which penetrates unhindered unto all things and through all things, energizing in them and reaching to the dividing of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow; and being a Discerner of the desires and the thoughts of the heart, or rather of all things, for there is no creature hid before God.442442Heb. iv. 12. We can conceive of the mind’s search for God in two ways: as a journey, (1) outwards, to seek Him beyond the sky, (2) inwards, to seek Him in the heart. Psalm xix. combines both ways. So does the Paradiso. Dante passes outwards through the concentric spheres of space to the Empyrean which is beyond space and encloses it. There he sees the Empyrean as a point and his whole journey from sphere to sphere as a journey inwards instead of outwards. (Canto xxviii. 16.) The Mystics often speak of “seeing God in a Point.” God is in all things as the source of their existence and natural life; and in us as the Source of our existence and spiritual life. This Smallness is without Quantity or Quality;443443The Potentiality of all quality is without particular quality. Cf. p. 155, n. 2. It is Irrepressible, Infinite, Unlimited, and, while comprehending all things, is Itself Incomprehensible.

4. And Sameness is attributed to God as a super-essentially Eternal and Unchangeable Quality, resting in Itself, always existing in the same condition, present to all things alike, firmly and inviolably fixed on Its own basis in the fair limits of the Super-Essential Sameness; not subject to change, declension, deterioration or variation, but remaining Unalloyed, Immaterial, utterly Simple, Self-Sufficing, Incapable of growth or diminition, and without Birth, not in the sense of being as yet unborn or imperfect, nor in the sense of not having received birth from this source or that, nor yet in the sense of utter nonexistence; but in the sense of being wholly or utterly Birthless and Eternal and Perfect in Itself and always the Same, being self-defined in Its Singleness and Sameness, and causing a similar quality of Identity to shine forth from Itself upon all things that are capable of participating therein and yoking different things in harmony together.444444It causes each thing (1) to be a thing, (2) to co-exist harmoniously with other things. For It is the boundless Richness and Cause of Identity, and contains beforehand in Itself all opposites under the form of Identity in that one unique Causation which transcends all identity.445445It contains the potential existence of all things, however different from each other, as the air contains the potential life of all the various plants and animals.

5. And Difference is ascribed to God because He is, in His providence, present to all things and becomes all things in all for the preservation of them all,446446Since He is the Super-Essence of all things, their life is ultimately His Life—i. e. He is, in every case, the underlying Reality of their individual existence. while yet remaining in Himself nor ever going forth from His own proper Identity in that one ceaseless act wherein His life consists; and thus with undeviating power He gives Himself for the Deification of those that turn to Him.447447Because He is the underlying Reality of our separate personalities, which have their true being outside themselves in Him, therefore in finding our true selves we find and possess His Being. Cf. St. Bernard: Ubi se mihi dedit me mihi reddidit. And the difference of God’s various appearances from each other in the manifold visions of Him must be held to signify something other than that which was outwardly shown. For just as, supposing we were in thought to represent the soul itself in bodily shape, and represent this indivisible substance as surrounded by bodily parts, we should, in such a case, give the surrounding parts a different meaning suited to the indivisible nature of the soul, and should interpret the head to mean the Intellect, the neck Opinion (as being betwixt reason and irrationality), the breast to mean Passion, the belly Animal Desire, and the legs and feet to mean the Vital Nature: thus using the names of bodily parts as symbols of immaterial faculties; even so (and with much greater reason) must we, when speaking of Him that is beyond all things, purge from false elements by sacred heavenly and mystical explanations the Difference of the Forms and Shapes ascribed to God. And, if thou wilt attribute unto the intangible and unimaged God, the imagery of our threefold bodily dimensions, the Divine Breadth is God’s exceeding wide Emanation over all things, His Length is His Power exceeding the Universe, His Depth the Unknown Mystery which no creature can comprehend. Only we must have a care lest, in expounding these different forms and figures we unwittingly confound the incorporeal meaning of the Divine Names with the terms of the sensible symbols.448448i. e. We must not take metaphorical titles literally (much bad philosophy and much sentimentality and also brutality in Religion, has come from taking anthropomorphic titles of God literally). This matter I have dealt with in my Symbolical Divinity: the point I now wish to make clear is this: we must not suppose that Difference in God means any variation of His utterly unchanging Sameness. It means, instead, a multiplicity of acts wherein His unity is undisturbed, and His all-creative fertility while passing into Emanations retains its uniformity in them.

6. And if God be called Similar (even as He is called “Same,” to signify that He is wholly and altogether like unto Himself in an indivisible Permanence) this appellation of “Similar” we must not repudiate. But the Sacred Writers tell us that the All-Transcendent God is in Himself unlike any being, but that He nevertheless bestows a Divine Similitude upon those that turn to Him and strive to imitate those qualities which are beyond all definition and understanding. And ‘tis the power of the Divine Similitude that turneth all created things towards their Cause. These things, then, must be considered similar to God by virtue of the Divine Image and Process of Similitude working in them; and yet we must not say that God resembles them any more than we should say a man resembles his own portrait. For things which are co-ordinate may resemble one another, and the term “similarity” may be applied indifferently to either member of the pair; they can both be similar to one another through a superior principle of Similarity which is common to them both. But in the case of the Cause and Its effects we cannot admit this interchange. For It doth not bestow the state of similarity only on these objects and on those; but God is the Cause of this condition unto all that have the quality of Similarity,449449If anything derived this quality from some other source than God, that thing, instead of standing towards God in the relation of effect to Cause, would be co-ordinate with Him. But as it is, all things stand towards God in the relation of effect to Cause. and is the Fount of Very Similarity;450450Vide supra on Very Existence, Very Life, Very Wisdom, etc. and all the Similarity in the world possesses its quality through having a trace of the Divine Similarity and thus accomplishes the Unification of the creatures.

7. But what need is there to labour this point? Scripture itself declares451451Cf. e. g. Ps. lxxxvi. 8. that God is Dissimilar to the world, and not to be compared therewith. It says that He is different from all things, and (what is yet more strange) that there is nothing even similar to Him. And yet such language contradicts not the Similitude of things to Him. For the same things are both like unto God and unlike Him: like Him in so far as they can imitate Him that is beyond imitation, unlike Him in so far as the effects fall short of the Cause and are infinitely and incomparably inferior.

8. Now what say we concerning the Divine attributes of “Standing” and “Sitting”? Merely this—that God remains What He is in Himself and is firmly fixed in an immovable Sameness wherein His transcendent Being is fast rooted, and that He acts under the same modes and around the same Centre without changing; and that He is wholly Self-Subsistent in His Stability, possessing Very Immutability and an entire Immobility, and that He is all this in a Super-Essential manner.452452i. e. This stability is due to Undifferentiation. For He is the Cause of the stability and rest of all things: He who is beyond all Rest and Standing. And in Him all things have their consistency and are preserved, so as not to be shaken from the stability of their proper virtues.

9. And what is meant, on the other hand, when the Sacred Writers say that the Immovable God moves and goes forth unto all things? Must we not understand this also in a manner befitting God? Reverence bids us regard His motion to imply no change of place, variation, alteration, turning or locomotion, whether straightforward, circular, or compounded of both; or whether belonging to mind, soul, or natural powers; but to mean that God brings all things into being and sustains them,453453St. Augustine frequently explains God’s activity to consist in His causing His creatures to act, while Himself resting. and exerts all manner of Providence over them, and is present to them all, holding them in His incomprehensible embrace, and exercising over them all His providential Emanations and Activities. Nevertheless our reason must agree to attribute movements to the Immutable God in such a sense as befits Him. Straightness we must understand to mean Directness of aim and the unswerving Emanation of His energies, and the outbirth of all things from Him. His Spiral Movement must be taken to mean the combination of a persistent Emanation and a productive Stillness. And His Circular Movement must be taken to mean His Sameness, wherein He holds together the intermediate orders and those at either extremity, so as to embrace each other, and the act whereby the things that have gone forth from Him return to Him again.

10. And if any one takes the Scriptural Title of “Same,” or that of “Righteousness,” as implying Equality, we must call God “Equal,” not only because He is without parts and doth not swerve from His purpose, but also because He penetrates equally to all things and through all, and is the Fount of Very Equality, whereby He worketh equally the uniform interpenetration of all things and the participation thereof possessed by things which (each according to its capacity) have an equal share therein, and the equal454454i. e. “Due,” “right,” cf. p. 161, n. 3. power bestowed upon all according to their worth; and because all Equality (perceived or exercised by the intellect, or possessed in the sphere of reason, sensation, essence, nature, or will) is transcendently contained beforehand as an Unity in Him through that Power, exceeding all things, which brings all Equality into existence.


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