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

ConcerningPerfectandOne.”

1. So much for these titles. Now let us, if thou art willing, proceed to the most .important Title of all. For the Divine Science attributes all qualities to the Creator of all things and attributes them all together, and speaks of Him as One.494494Religion, in its highest forms, and Philosophy and Natural Science postulate and seek some Unity behind the world. Hence Unity is regarded as the ultimate attribute. Thus Plotinus calls the Absolute “The One.” God possesses all Attributes not separately but indivisibly, as pure light contains all colours. how such a Being is Perfect: not only in the sense that It is Absolute Perfection and possesseth in Itself and from Itself distinctive Uniformity of Its existence,495495Though the Godhead is the Super-Essence of the creatures, yet on the other hand It is distinct from them because It transcends them. (See next note.) This aspect of distinctness is manifested in the fact that the Emanation of Absolute Life, etc., is distinct from the Persons of the Trinity, the aspect of identity is manifested in the fact that They possess Absolute Life antecedently to the act of Emanation. and that It is wholly perfect in Its whole Essence, but also in the sense that, in Its transcendence It is beyond Perfection; and that, while giving definite form or limit to all that is indefinite, It is yet in Its simple Unity raised above all limitation, and is not contained or comprehended by anything, but penetrates to all things at once and beyond them in Its unfailing bounties and never-ending activities.496496The Godhead is Perfect: (1) absolutely, and not by participation in some other essence; (2) transcendently, and not in such a manner as to he differentiated froth other essences (for on the super-essential plane of the Undifferentiated Godhead there is no other essence than It). The Emanation of Absolute Life, etc., is perfect absolutely, because, being a direct overflow from the Godhead, it does not participate in any other Essence; but not transcendently, because it is differentiated from the particular things which share it. That is why it does not contain Exemplars. The creatures. possess their true and undifferentiated being not in the Emanation but in the ultimate Godhead. The Emanation is, we may say, transcendental, or timeless, but not transcencient, or undifferentiated. D., by saying that “in Its transcendence . . . It penetrates to all things at once and beyond them,” teaches incidentally that the Godhead’s Transcendence and Immanence are ultimately the same fact. They are two ways of looking at the one truth of Its Undifferentiation. Since It is undifferentiated the Godhead is beyond our individual being; but since It is undifferentiated It is not ultimately other than ourselves. It is beyond our essence and is our Super-Essence. The theory of mere Transcendence is Deism, that of mere Immanence is Pantheism. True religion demands both in one fact and as one fact. So God is both near and far (see the Bible passim). He is far because He is nearer to us than our own souls are. “Thou wast within, I was outside” (St. Augustine). Hence true Introversion is an act of self-transcendence. We must lose ourselves to find ourselves. Moreover, the Title “Perfect” means that It cannot be increased (being always Perfect) and cannot be diminished, and that It contains all things beforehand in Itself and overflows in one ceaseless, identical,497497Identical because timeless. abundant and inexhaustible supple, whereby It perfects all perfect498498“Perfect,” a term taken from the Mysteries expressing the final state of the initiated. things and fills them with Its own Perfection.

2. And the title “One” implies that It is all things under the form of Unity through the Transcendence of Its single Oneness,499499See p. 184, n. 3. and is the Cause of all things without departing from that Unity. For there is nothing in the world without a share in the One; and, just as all number participates in unity (and we speak of one couple, one dozen, one half, one third, or one tenth) even so everything and each part of everything participates in the One, and on the existence of the One all other existences are based, and the One Cause of all things is not one of the many things in the world,500500Cf. X., 2. but is before all Unity and Multiplicity and gives to all Unity and Multiplicity their definite bounds.501501The Godhead is not one individual, or essence, among others, but is the Super-Essence of them all. The numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, etc. = 1 x 1, 1 x 2, 1 x 3, 1 x 4, etc. Thus in the form “1 x 1” the first figure represents the unity underlying all numbers, the second figure represents unity as a particular number among other numbers. The first figure may thus be taken as a symbol of the Godhead, the second figure as a symbol of all created unity. For no multiplicity can exist except by some participation in the One:502502Though created unity differs (see last note) from Uncreated Unity, yet it is, so to speak, a reflection thereof, as essence is a reflection of Super-Essence. So each number, because based on an underlying Unity, is itself a unit, and the underlying Unity of the Godhead shines through the world in all the harmonies and systems of things. that which is many in its parts is one in its entirety; that which is many in its accidental qualities is one in its substance;503503A tree is one tree though (1) made up of root, trunk, branches, leaves, etc., (2) green in the leaves and brown in the trunk, etc. that which is many in number or faculties is one in species;504504There are many oaks with different capacities of growth and productiveness, yet all belong to the same “oak species”; and there are many species or kinds of trees (oaks, chestnuts, firs, etc.) yet all belong to the genus “tree.” that which is many in its emanating activities is one in its originating essence.505505A man’s thoughts, desires and acts of will all spring from his one personality. There is naught in the world without some participation in the One, the Which in Its all-embracing Unity contains beforehand all things, and all things conjointly, combining even opposites under the form of oneness. And without the One there can be no Multiplicity; yet contrariwise the One can exist without the Multiplicity just as the Unit exists before all multiplied Number.506506Just as in the series 1 x 2, 1 x 3, 1 x 4, etc., if you destroy the 2, 3, 4, etc., the 1 remains, so if the universe disappeared the Godhead would still remain. (Cf. Emily Brontë: “Every existence would exist in Thee.”) And if all things be conceived as being ultimately unified with each other, then all things taken as a whole are One.507507All things possess the same Super-Essence, and that is why they are connected together in this world.

3. Moreover, we must bear this in mind: that when we attribute a common unity to things we do so in accordance with the preconceived law of their kind belonging to each one, and that the One is thus the elementary basis of all things.508508Cf. p. 186, n. 3. And if you take away the One there will remain neither whole nor part nor anything else in the world; for all things are contained beforehand and embraced by the One as an Unity in Itself. Thus Scripture speaks of the whole Supreme Godhead as the Cause of all things by employing the title of “One”; and there is One God Who is the Father and One Lord Jesus Christ and One unchanging Spirit, through the transcendent indivisibility of the entire Divine Unity, wherein all things are knit together in one and possess a supernal Unity and super-essentially pre-exist. Hence all things are rightly referred and attributed unto It, since by It and in It and unto It all things possess their existence, co-ordination, permanence, cohesion, fulfilment, and innate tendency. And you will not find anything in .the world but derives from the One (which, in a super-essential sense, is the name of the whole Godhead) both its individual existence and the process that perfects and preserves it.509509i. e. Both its unity in space and its unity in time. And we also must, in the power of the Divine Unity, turn from the Many to the One and declare the Unity of the whole single Godhead, which is the One Cause of all things; before all distinctions of One and Many, Part and Whole, Definiteness and Indefiniteness,510510A thing is definite when we can say of it: “This is not that,” indefinite when it is doubtful whether this is, or is not, that. The Godhead not being a particular thing, belongs to a region where there is no “this” or “that.” So we cannot say, on that ultimate plane either: “This is not that,” or, “It is doubtful whether this is that.” Hence the mystical act of Unknowing. Knowledge distinguishes things, Unknowing passes beyond this act yet without confusion. In Unknowing the distinction between Thinker and Object of Thought is (from one point of view) gone; and yet the psychical state is a luminously clear one. Our personalities in their Super-Essence are merged yet unconfused. Finitude and Infinitude;511511See p. 162 on “Greatness” and “Smallness.” giving definite shape to all things that have Being, and to Being itself; the Cause of everything and of all together—a Cause both co-existent and pre-existent and transcendent, and all these things at once; yea, beyond existent Unity itself, and giving definite shape to existent Unity itself. For Unity, as found in the creatures, is numerical; and number participates in Essence: but the Super-Essential Unity gives definite shape to existent unity and to every number, and is Itself the Beginning, the Cause, the Numerical Principle and the Law of Unity, number and every creature. And hence, when we speak of the All-Transcendent Godhead as an Unity and a Trinity, It is not an Unity or a Trinity such as can be known by us or any other creature, though to express the truth of Its utter Self-Union and Its Divine Fecundity we apply the titles of “Trinity” and “Unity” to That Which is beyond all titles, expressing under the form of Being That Which is beyond Being.512512Numerical unity is a number among other numbers and so implies differentiation. The Godhead is undifferentiated. But no Unity or Trinity or Number or Oneness or Fecundity or any other thing that either is a creature or can be known to any creature, is able to utter the mystery, beyond all mind and reason, of that Transcendent Godhead which super-essentially surpasses all things. It hath no name, nor can It be grasped by the reason; It dwells in a region beyond us, where our feet cannot tread. Even the title of “Goodness” we do not ascribe to It because we think such a name suitable; but desiring to frame some conception and language about this Its ineffable Nature, we consecrate as primarily belonging to It the Name we most revere. And in this too we shall be in agreement with the Sacred Writers; nevertheless the actual truth must still be far beyond us. Hence we have given our preference to the Negative method, because this lifts the soul above all things cognate with its finite nature, and, guiding it onward through all the conceptions of God’s Being which are transcended by that Being exceeding all Name, Reason, and Knowledge, reaches beyond the farthest limits of the world and there joins us unto God Himself, in so far as the power of union with Him is possessed even by us men.

4. These Intelligible Names we have collected and endeavoured to expound, though falling short not only of the actual meaning thereof (for such a failure even angels would be forced to confess), nor yet merely of such utterance as angels would have given concerning them (for the greatest of those among us who touch these themes are far inferior to the lowest of the angels); nor yet do we merely fall behind the teaching of the Sacred Writers thereon or of the Ascetics, their fellow-labourers, but we fall utterly and miserably behind our own compeers. And hence if our words are true and we have really, so far as in us lies, attained some intellectual grasp of the right way to explain the Names of God, the thanks are due to Him Who is the Creator of all things; granting first the faculty of speech and then the power to use it well. And if any Synonym hath been passed over we must supply and interpret that also by the same methods. And if this treatment is wrong or imperfect, and we have erred from the Truth either wholly or in part, I beg thy loving-kindness to correct my unwilling ignorance, to satisfy with argument my desire for knowledge, to help my insufficient strength and heal my involuntary feebleness; and that, obtaining thy stores partly from thyself and partly from others and wholly from the Good, thou wilt also pass them on to us. And I pray thee be not weary in this kindness to a friend, for thou seest that we have not kept to ourselves any of the Hierarchic Utterances which have been handed down to us, but have imparted them without adulteration both to yourselves and to other holy men, and will continue so to do as long as we have the power to speak and you to hear. So will we do no despite unto the tradition, unless strength fail us for the perception or the utterance of these Truths. But be these matters as God wills513513This anthropomorphic phrase is not inconsistent with the conceptions D. has been expounding; because he regards the limits of individual human capacities, etc., as timelessly existent in the Super-Essence. By a natural, though inadequate, metaphor, the limits of the resulting activities are spoken of as due to God’s Will. that we should do or speak.

And be this now the end of our treatise concerning the Intelligible Names of God. Now will I proceed, God helping me, to the Symbolical Divinity.


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