Writings attributed to St. Dionysius the Areopagite

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From the Mystical Theology:

from the first Chapter

What has actually to be said about the Cause of everything is this. Since it is the Cause of all beings, we should posit and ascribe to it all the affirmations we can make in regard to beings, and, more appropriately, we should negate all these affirmations, since it surpasses all being. Now we should not conclude that the negations are simply the opposites of the affirmations, but rather that the cause of all is considerably prior to this, beyond privations, beyond every denial, beyond every assertion.

This, at least, is what was taught by the blessed Bartholomew. He says that the Word of God is vast and miniscule, that the Gospel is wide-ranging and yet restricted. To me it seems that in this he is extraordinarily shrewd, for he has grasped that the good cause of all is both eloquent and taciturn, indeed wordless. It has neither word nor act of understanding, since it is on a plane above all this, and it is made manifest only to those who travel through foul and fair, who pass beyond every summit of every holy ascent, who leave behind them every divine light, every voice, every word from heaven, and who plunge into darkness where, as scripture proclaims, there dwells the One who is beyond all things. It is not for nothing that the blessed Moses is commanded to submit first to purification and then to depart from those who have not undergone this. When every purification is complete, he hears the many-voiced trumpets. He sees the many lights, pure and with rays streaming abundantly. Then, standing apart from the crowds and accompanied by chosen priests, he pushes ahead to the summit of the divine ascents. And yet he does not meet God himself, but contemplates, not him who is invisible, but rather where he dwells. This means, I presume, that the holiest and highest of the things perceived with the eye of the body or the mind are but the rationale which presupposes all that lies below the Transcendent One. Through them, however, his unimaginable presence is shown, walking the heights of those holy places to which the mind at least can rise. But then he [Moses] breaks free of them, away from what he sees and is seen, and he plunges into the truly mysterious darkness of unknowing. Here, renouncing all that the mind may conceive, wrapped entirely in the intangible and the invisible, he belongs completely to him who is beyond everything. Here, being neither oneself nor someone else, one is supremely united to the completely unknown by an inactivity of all knoweldge, and knows beyond the mind by knowing nothing.

from the second Chapter

I pray we could come to this darkness so far above light! If only we lacked sight and knowledge so as to see, so as to know, unseeing and unknowing, that which lies beyond all vision and knowledge. For this would be really to see and to know: to praise the Transcendent One in a transcending way, namely through the denial of all beings. We would be like sculptors who set out to carve a statue. They remove every obstacle to the pure view of the hidden image, and simply by this act of clearing aside they show up the beauty which is hidden.

Now it seems to me that we should praise the denials quite differently than we do the assertions. When we made assertions we began with the first things, moved down through intermediate terms until we reached the last things. But now as we climb from the last things up to the most primary we deny all things so that we may unhiddenly know that unknowing which itself is hidden from all those possessed of knowing amid all beings, so that we may see above being that darkness concealed from all the light among beings.

from the third Chapter

The fact is that the more we take flight upwards, the more our words are confined to the ideas we are capable of forming; so that now as we plunge into that darkness which is beyond intellect, we shall find ourselves not simply running short of words but actually speechless and unknowing. In the earlier books my argument travelled downwards from the most exalted to the humblest categories, taking in on this downward path an ever-increasing number of ideas which multiplied with every stage of the descent. But my argument now rises from what is below up to the transcendent, and the more it climbs, the more language falters, and when it has passed up and beyond the ascent, it will turn silent completely, since it will finally be at one with him who is indescribable.

from The Divine Names

from the first Chapter

Now, O blessed man, after the _Outlines of Theology_ I will go on, as best I may, to the explanation of the Divine Names. Let us, however, keep in mind the sacred rule of the Scriptures, that we should set forth the truth of those things which are spoken of God, not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but by making evident the power inspired by the Spirit in the theologians whereby, in a manner ineffable and unknown, we are united to the Ineffable and Unknown in that union which is far above all our powers and energies, whether rational or intellectual.

We must therefore entirely refrain from speaking or forming any conception whatever of the super-essential and hidden God except about those things which are divinely revealed in the holy Scriptures; for we must admit that the unknowing of that Super-essentiality above all reason, intellect and essence is the super-essential knowledge, while we aspire to that transcendent Light in so far as the ray of the Divine Scriptures imparts itself to us and as we strive towards those highest Splendours with holiness and reverence towards God.

For if the all-wise and all-true Scriptures are to be trusted, divine things revealed and contemplated are adapted to the capacity of each mind, since the Goodness of the Supreme God, in Its all-reserving Justice, divinely tempers to finite powers Its Infinitude which passes understanding.

For, just as that which is intelligible cannot be known and contemplated by means of that which is sensible, nor that which is simple, formless and imageless by means of that which has type and form, nor the incorporeal and intangible which is beyond the limits of form and image by means of that which has bodily form, so, clearly, by the same word of truth, above the essential is the super-essential Infinity and above intellect, the super-intellectual Unity; and that One which is beyond thought is inconceivable by all thought; that Good beyond words is an unutterable Mystery; unific Cause of all unities, super-essential Essence, super-intellectual Intellect, ineffable Word, beyond word, intellect and name; in the likeness of no being; the Cause of all being, yet Itself not being; as That which abides above all things that are, alone having power to make, with full knowledge, a revelation of Itself.

Concerning this super-essential and hidden Deity, as has already been said, we must not presume to speak, nor even to think, beyond that which has been divinely revealed to us in the sacred Scriptures, for, as Itself has, of Its Goodness, taught us concerning Itself, the knowledge and contemplation of Its essential nature is beyond the reach of all beings, since It is super-essentially exempt from them all. And you will find that many theologians have celebrated It not only as invisible and incomprehensible, but also as inscrutable and past finding out; and it is certain that there is no trace of any traveller who has penetrated to Its most hidden Infinitude.

Yet the Good is not wholly unshared by any of the things that are, for It lovingly tempers to all things Its super-essential Ray, firmly rooted in Itself, by illuminations adapted to the particular nature of each, and thus draws up into such contemplation, communion and similitude as is fitting to them, the holy minds which strive after It with all their powers; neither seeking with insolent presumption a greater illumination than is divinely fitted to their capacity, nor falling headlong through inclining to that which is below; but steadily, with unwavering eyes, gazing upon that Ray which shines upon them and with a love befitting those Illuminations shed upon them, with holy reverence and devout wisdom, speeding upwards on new wings.

from the second Chapter

Similarly in a house the lights from lamps, to use a sensible and familiar example, wholly interpenetrate one another, yet have a complete and clear distinction from one another and are united in their distinction and distinct in their unity; and again, we may see in a house in which there are many lamps together that the lights from all are united in one light so that one indivisible radiance shines forth from them all and no one, I think, could distinguish in the air containing all the lights the light of one particular lamp from all the rest, nor could he see the light of one separately from that of another, since the wholes are altogether mingled without being confused. But if anyone should take out of the house one lamp, the whole of its light would be removed without taking with it any light from the others or leaving with them any of its own light. For as I have said, there was a perfect union of all in the whole, entirely unmixed and in no wise confused; and this, indeed, when the light was in body -- the air -- and arose from material fire.

Therefore we assert that the super-essential union is established not only above unions in bodies, but also even above unions in souls and in the Intelligences of those Godlike and super-celestial Lights, whole permeating whole, in a pure and supermundane manner, through a participation analogous to their powers of participation in the all-transcendent Union.

from the third Chapter

Let us then uplift ourselves by our prayers in the sublime return to those beneficent Rays, as though a luminous cord hung from the highest heaven and we, seizing it with hands upstretched one after another, appeared to draw it down, but in truth did not draw it down, since it extended both above and below, but were ourselves raised upwards to the higher splendours of the luminous Rays. Or as though, after going on board a ship, we pulled upon cables stretched from a rock to ourselves, placed as it were for us to seize, then we should not be drawing the rock towards ourselves, but in truth should be drawing ourselves and the ship to the rock. Again, if anyone standing on a ship pushes against a rock which is on the shore, he does not affect the stationary and immovable rock, but separates himself from it, and the more he pushes, the more he is thrust away from it. Hence, before every work, and especially in theological matters, we must begin with prayer, not as though we were drawing to ourselves the Power which is everywhere and nowhere present, but that by our remembrance and invocation of Deity we may entrust ourselves to It and be united to It.

from the fourth Chapter

For the light comes forth from the Good and is an image of goodness; wherefore the Good is celebrated under the name of Light, just as the archetype is manifested by the image. For just as the goodness established by God above all things reaches from the highest and most perfect beings to the lowest and yet is above all, so that the highest cannot excel its perfection, nor the lowest escape its embrace, but rather it gives light to all that can receive it and creates them and gives them life, perpetuates and perfects them, and is the measure of beings and their principle of eternity, number, order and integration, their cause and end; so, too, the great sun, wholly bright and evershining - the manifested image and a feeble and distant echo of the divine goodness - both illumines all that can receive its light whilst itself preserving its exempt unity, and unfolds to the visible universe above and below the splendour of its own rays. [...]

Let us now celebrate the intelligible name of the Light given to the Good, and declare that He who is the Good is called Intellectual or Spiritual Light because He fills all the celestial minds with super-celestial light and drives out from all souls whatever ignorance and error there may be within them, and imparts to them all His holy Light and purifies their intellectual sight from the mist in which their ignorance envelops them, and energises and opens the eyes that were closed through the great weight of darkness, and bestows at first a tempered radiance; then when they taste the light as it were and desire more, He gives it in greater measure and shines upon them more abundantly for they have loved it much, and ever uplifts them to things beyond, according to their power of gazing upward.

The Good, therefore, which is above all light is called spiritual Light as being the source of all rays and the overflowing plenitude of light, illuminating all the intelligences above, around or within the world from its fulness, and renewing all their powers of intelligence and enclosing them all in its trascendent embrace, whilst abiding above them all in its super-excellence. And it contains within itself in a simple manner the whole sovereignty of the light-giving power and is the archetypal Light above all light, and possesses the Light within itself in a manner above and before all things, and so draws together and brings into unity all spiritual and rational beings.

This One Good and Beautiful is in Its unity the cause of the multitude of good and beautiful things. From It are all the principles of all beings, the unions and distinctions, the sameness and difference, the similarities and dissimilarities, the communions of contrary things adn the unconfused mingling in things unified, the providences of those above, the interdependence of those of the same order, the conversions of those below, the guarded and immutable stability of their identity; and on the other hand, the intercommunication of all things, each in its own measure, their unconfused adaptations and harmonies and sympathies, and the comminglings of all things in the whole, the indestructible bonds between all things, the unfailing succession of generations, all rest and motion in intellects, souls and bodies; for all things have thier rest and motion through That which, established above rest and motion, moves each one according to the laws of its nature in its own proper movement.

Now the Divine Intellgences are said to be moved in a circle when they are united to the beginningless and endless illuminations of the Beautiful and the Good; but in a straight line when they extend their providences to those below themselves, since they direct all things rightly; and in a spiral because even while providentially guiding those below themselves, they abide immutably within their own self-identity, ceaselessly dancing around the good and beautiful Cause of all identity.

Again the motion of the soul is also circular - the entering into itself, away from outer things, and the unified concentration of its spiritual powers which as it were establishes it in a circular motion and, turning it inwards from the multitude of extrenal things, collects it first to itself, then, as having become one, unites it to those Powers which are perfectly unified and thus leads it to the Beautiful and the Good which is above all things that are, One and the Same, without beginning and without end.

But the soul has a spiral motion in so far as it is enlightened, according to its capacity, by te Divine knowledge, not intellectually and immediately, but throught detailed discursive reasoning and as it were by a variety of successive processes. And it moves in a straight line when, not entering into itself to be moved by intellectual unity - for this, as I said, is the circular motion - but going forth to the things around it, it is led back from the outer things, as from certain symbols, to simple and unitive contemplations.

Of these three motions, and those we perceive in the universe, and much more than these, the stability and permanence of each, the Beautiful and the Good is the cause and bond and end, above all rest and motion. Through It, from, in and towards It, and for the sake fo It are all rest and motion. For both from It and through It are the being and life both of spirit and soul, whence in the whole of Nature are the magnitudes - the small, the great, the equal, and all the measures and proportions of beings, their harmonies and composites, the wholenesses and the parts, every unity and multitude, the the connections fo parts, the unions of every multitude, the perfections of the wholes, the qualities, the quantities, the bounds, the infinitude, the compositions adn the dissolutions, all infinity adn all that is finite, all limits, orders, summits, elements, forms, every essence, every power, all reason, intuition, apprehension, knowledge, union, and, in a word, all things are from the Beautiful and the Good, and have their being in the Beautiful and the Good, and turn towards the Beautiful and the Good: indeed, all that is and that comes into existence has its being and is brought into existence through the Beautiful and the Good, and to It all things look, and by It they are moved and held together, and because of It and through It and in It are all archetypes, all final, efficient, formal and material causes, and, in a word, all beginnings, middles and ends: to sum it up, all things that are have their being form the Beautiful and the Good - and more, the things that are not are super-essentially in the Beautiful and the Good, and It is of all things the trascendent Principle and End and absolute Perfection, for form It and in It and to It are all things, as says the sacred Word.

The Words of the most holy Hierotheus from the Hymns of Love

"Love, whether it be the Divine or angelic, or intellectual, or psychical, or animal, or natural, of which we speak, must be conceived to be a uniting and commingling power; moving the Above to the providential care of the below; moving equals to communicon with one another; and moving the below to turn to that which is more exalted and more excellent than themselves.

"Since we have set forth in order the many loves from the One, declaring in turn what are the kinds of knowledge and power of the mundane and supermundane loves, above whihc, according to the purpose explained in the discourse, the hierarchies of the intellectual and intelligible loves hold government, next above which are the self-intelligible and Divine, where reign those tryly beautiful lvoes which have real being, which have been duly celebrated by us, let us now by retracing our steps and leading all back again to the One All-embracing Love and Father of them all, bring them together and collect them from the many by first gathering them into two universal Loving Powers, over which is the undivided rulership and pre-eminence of that Cause, irresistible in Its universal Love beyond all things, and to which the love of all beings in the universe, each in its own measure, reaches upwards.

"And now, while again gathering these into one, let us say that there is one simple Power which of Itself moves all things to be mingled in unity - beginning from the Good and going to the lowest of existing things, and thence returning in due order through all the ranks of beings to the Good; circling from Itself, through Itself, by Itself and to Itself perpetually after the same manner."


Evil can be said to be brought into being only accidentally: through another existence and not from a principle of its own. Hence that which is done appears to be right because it aims at a certain good, yet in reality it is not right because we regard as good something which is not good. Clearly, then, that which is desired is one thing and that which results is another. Evil, therefore, is straying from the path - from intention, nature, cause, principle, end, bound, purpose and subsistence. Thus evil is also deficiency, weakness, disproportion, failure, a lack of purpose, of beauty, of life, of intelligence, unreasonable, imperfect, unstable, without case, indefinite, unproductive, inactive, impotent, disordered, unbalanced, indeterminate, unsubstantial, having in itself no kind of subsistence whatsoever.

from the fifth Chapter

Now we must pass on to the Name of Being; truly given by the theologians to Him who truly is. But it must be remembered that it is not the purpose of this treatise to reveal the Super-essential Being in its super-essential nature (for this is inexpressible and unknown and wholly unmanifested, and surpasses all intellection) but to celebrate the emanation of the Essential Principle of the Godhead which creates the essences of all things in the whole universe. For the Divine Name of Good, as revealing all the emanations of the Universal Cause, is extended both to the things which are and the things which are not, and is above that which is and that which is not. But the Name of Being is extended to all beings and is above essence; again, the Name of Life is extended to all that lives and is above life; and the Name of Wisdom is extended to all intellectual, rational and sensible beings and is above them all.

This treatise, then, seeks to celebrates the Names of God which shew forth the Divine Providence. It does not profess to describe the Absolute, Super-essential Goodness, the Being, Life and Wisdom of the Absolute, Super-essential Deity which, as the Scripture says, is established in the secret places, above all Goodness and Deity and Essence and Wisdom and Life; but it celebrates the beneficent Providence which has been revealed as transcendent Goodness and Cause of all good things, and as Being, Life and Wisdom, as Producing Cause of essence and life, and Giver of widsom to those that partake of essence, life, intellect, reason and sense-perception. But it does not say that Goodness is one thing and that Being is a different thing, and that Life is other than Wisdom, or that there are many Causes and that some Godheads produce some things while others produce other things, some pre-eminenetly, others in a subordinate manner, but we say that the whole of the Good Emanations and the Divine Names which we celebrate are all of the One God, and that the first Name declares the whole Providence of the One God, while the other Names set forth His more general and more particular Providences. [...]

Having discussed this matter, let us now celebrate the Good as That which truly is, Giver of Essence to all beings. He who is, is through His Power the super-essential substantial Cause of all beings and Creator of being, principle, substance, essence, nature; Source and Measure of eternity; Reality beyond time; Eternity of beings; Time of all that comes into being; the "to be" of all things, whatsoever their manner of being; Origin of all things, howsoever brought into being. From Him who is are eternity, essence, being, time, generation, that which is generated, the essence in all beings, and all things whatever which have subsistence or existence.

How, then, can God possibly be a being, since He is absolutely unconditioned, embracing and fore-containing the whole of being in Himself? Hence He is called King of Eternity, since by Him and around Him the whole of being is and subsists.

And He neither was, nor will be, nor became, nor is becoming, nor will become; rather He is not; but He is the "to be" of all beings, and not only are all beings, but also the very essence of all beings, from Him who is before all ages. For He is the Eternity of eternities, the First, before all ages.

Let us then repeat that all beings and all ages have their being from the Pre-subsistent. From Him are all eternity and time, and the Pre-subsistent is the Principle and Casse of all ages and times adn of all beings of every kind. All things participate in Him and from nothing does He stand aloof. He is before all things and all things subsist in Him and, in general, if anything is in any manner whatsoever, it si and is thought and is preserved in the Pre-subsistent.

And before all other participations, that of being is the first; and Being itself is prior to the being of Life itself and to the being of Wisdom itself and to the being of the Divine Sameness itself. And all other beings, in whatever else they participate, themselves participate in Being itself, and there is nothing of which Being itself is not the essence and eternity.

Therefore God is celebrated in a more excellent manner above all things, from the first of His gifts, as Being; for as pre-subsistent and super-subsistent and excellent and super-excellent in Being He pre-established all Being - I mean Being itself - and subordinated all things, whatever their mode of existence, to Being itself. For the principles of existing things all participate in being, therefore both are, and are principles; and first are, then are principles. And if you wish to say that Life itself is the principle of life to all the living as such, and Sameness itself is the principle of sameness to all things that are similar as such, and Unity itself to all things that are united as such, and Order itself to all things that are ordered as such, and similarly with all the rest which, through participating in this or in that or in both or in many of these principles are this or that or both or many, you will find that of these participations, the first is the participation in being and this in the first place they are what they are, then they are principles of being to this or that; hence, through their own participation in being, they have being and impart being to others. And if these principles subsist through their participation in being, so much the more do the many exist through participation in these principles.

The absolute Goodness itself, as pouring forth the first gift of Being itself, is named from this more ancient and primal participation. And from It and in It are Being itself and the principles of all things that are. And all beings and every mode of existence are sustained by It, and this is an omnipotent, all-comprehensive Unity. similarly in a monad every member pre-exists as a unit, and the monad holds every number in itself singly and in it every number is united, but in proceeding from it is differentiated adn multiplied. And at the centre of a circle all the radii are brought together in a single unity and this point holds within itself all the radii united to one another and to the one origin from which they proceeded. And in the centre they are perfectly united, but at a short distance from it they are separated, adn the greater their distance from the centre, the greater their separation, and in short, the nearer they are to the centre, ten more they are united to it and to one another, and the further from the centre, the further apart they are from one another.

Furthermore, all the several principles in nature are united in the whole nature of the universe in an unconfused union. And in the soul the powers which provide for every part of the body are united in a oneness. It is not unfitting, therefore, that ascending from faint images to the Cause of all, weshould contemplate with supermundane vision all things, even opposite things, as unified and united in the Cause fo all. For It is the Principle of all principles, from which are Being itself and all things, whatsoever their mode of being; every principle, every end, every life, immortality, wisdom, order, harmony, power, protection, stability, distribution, intellect, reason, sense-perception, quality, rest, motion, union, mixture, friendship, agreement, difference, every limit, all principles of whatever kind which, possessing being, characterise all things. [...] For as our sun, while remaining one and shedding a uniform light, renews the substances and qualities of sensible existences, however many and various they may be, and nourishes, preserves, perfects, differentiates, unites, warms, fructifies and makes productive all existing things and causes them to grow and change, to take root and bud forth, quickens them and gives them life, so that each one of the whole partakes in its own manner of one and the same sun, and the one sun fore-contains in itself unitively the causes of the many participants, much more must it be admitted of the very Cause of the sun and of all things that the paraddigms of all things pre-subsist in It in one super-essential unity; since It sends forth essences according to a progression from Essence.

from the seventh Chapter

Furthermore we must ask, "How do we know God, since he can be perceived neither by the mind no the senses, nor is He any of the things in the universe?" Perhaps it may truly be said that we do not know God in His own Nature (for His Nature is unknown and transcends all reason and mind) yet, as I said, we may know Him even from allthings, for He is, as the Scriptures say, the Producer of all, eternally harmonizing all, and is the Cause of the indissoluble agreement and order of all, eternally uniting the ends of primary things to the beginnings of secondary things and beautifying the one symphony and harmony of the universe.

from the Letters

from Letter Nine: To Titus the hierarch

Now I thought it necessary to explicate as well as I could to him and to others the great variety of sacred symbols used by scripture to reveal God, for if one looks at them from the outside they seem filled with incredible and contrived fantasy. Some examples. Regarding the transcendent generation of God, scripture speaks of God's womb begetting God in a corporeal way. It speaks of the Word coming like a breath of air from a human heart. It depicts the Spirit as breathed out from a mouth. It talks of the divine bosom embracing the Son of God and it present this to us in a bodily way. For physical imagery it resorts to trees, leaves, flowers, roots, bubbling fountains of water, radiant sources of shining light, together with all those other revealing depictions in the transcendent Word of God. In the domain of the mind, in the area of God's providence, whether it be with respect to his gifts, his appearances, his powers, his attributes, his allotments, his abodes, his processions, his distinctions, or his unions, these are all variously represented in the forms of men, of wild or domestic animals, of plants, and of stones. God is clothed in feminine adornments or in the armour of barbarians. He is given the attributes of an artisan, be he potter or refiner. He is put on horses, on chariots, on thrones. Well-laid feasts are put on for him. He is represented as drinking, as inebriated, as sleeping, as someone hung-over. And what about his anger, his grief, his various oaths? His changes of mind, his curses, his rages, the various and equivocal sophistries he employs in order to evade his promises? What about the war of the giants, described in Genesis, during which, it is said, God was afraid of those powerful men and tricked them, even though they were building their tower not to harm anyone but for their own salvation? What about the council held in heaven for the purpose of cheating and deceiving Ahab? And in the _Songs_ there are those passionate longings fit only for prostitutes. There are too those other sacred pictures boldly used to represent God, so that what is hidden may be brought out into the open and multiplied, what is unique and undivided may be divided up, and multiple shapes and forms be given to what has neither shape nor form. All this is to enable the one capable of seeing the beauty hidden within these images to find that they are truly mysterious, appropriate to God, and filled with a great theological light.

But let us not suppose that the outward face of these contrived symbols exists for its own sake. Rather, it is the protective garb of the understanding of what is ineffable and invisible to the common multitude.

from The Celestial Hierarchy

from Chapter two

We cannot, as mad people do, profanely visualise these heavenly and godlike intelligences as actually having numerous feet and faces. They are not shaped to resemble the brutishness of oxen or to display the wildness of lions. They do not have the curved beak of the eagle or the wings and feathers of birds. We must not have pictures of flaming wheels whirling in the skies, of material thrones made ready to provide a reception for the Deity, of multicoloured horses, or of spear-carrying lieutenants, or any of those shapes handed on to us amid all the variety of the revealing symbols of scripture. The Word of God makes use of poetic imagery when discussing these formless intelligences but, as I have already said, it does so not for the sake of art, but as a concession to the nature of our own mind. It uses scriptural passages in an uplifting fashion as a way, provided for us from the first, to uplift our mind in a manner suitable to our nature.

These pictures have to do with beings so simple that we can neither know nor contemplate them. What if someone therefore thinks that the scriptural imagery for these minds is incongruous and that the names given to the angels have the inadequacy of a pretence? Indeed, it could be argued that if the theologians wanted to give corporeal form to what is purely incorporeal, they should have resorted to a more appropriate and related fashioning, and that they should have begun with what we would hold to be noblest, immaterial and transcendent beings, instead of drawing upon a multiplicity of the earthiest forms and applying these to godlike realities which are utterly simple and heavenly. Now perhaps this intends to lift us upwards and not lead the celestial appearances down into incongruous dissimilarities. But in fact it illicitly defies the divine powers and also misleads our mind, entangling it in profane compositions. One would likely then imagine that the heavens beyond really are filled with bands of lions and horses, that the divine praises are, in effect, great moos, that flocks of birds take wing there or that there are other kinds of creatures all about or even more dishonourable material things, whatever the completely dissimilar similarities of the revealing scriptures depict as tending towards the absurd, counterfeit, and emotional.

But if one looks at the truth of the matter, the sacred wisdom of scripture becomes evident, for, when the heavenly intelligences are represented with forms, great providential care is taken to offer no insult to the divine powers, as one might say, and we ourselves are spared a passionate dependence upon images which have something of the lowly and the vulgar about them. Now there are two reasons for creating types for the typeless, for giving shape to what is actually without shape. First, we lack the ability to be directly raised up to conceptual contemplations. We need our own upliftings that come naturally to us and which can raise before us the permitted forms of the marvellous and unformed sights. Second, it is most fitting to the mysterious passages of scripture that the sacred and hidden truth about the celestial intelligences be concealed through the inexpressible and the sacred and be inaccessible to the _hoi polloi_. Not everyone is sacred, and as scripture says, knowledge is not for everyone.

As for the incongruity of scriptural imagery or the impropriety of using humble forms to represent the divine and holy ranks, this is a criticism to which one must say in reply that sacred revelation works in a double way.

It does so, firstly, by proceeding naturally through sacred images in which like represents like, while also using formations which are dissimilar and even entirely inadequate and ridiculous. Sometimes the mysterious tradition of the scriptures represents the sacred blessedness of the transcendent Deity under the form of "Word", "Mind", and "Being". It shows thereby that rationality and wisdom are, necessarily, attributes of God, that he is also to be deemed a true subsistence and the true cause of the subsistence of every being, and that he may also be represented as light and hailed as life. Now these sacred shapes constantly show more reverence and seem vastly superior to the making of images drawn from the world. Yet they are actually no less defective than this latter, for the Deity is far beyond every manifestation of being and of life; no reference to light can characterise it; every reason or intelligence falls short of similarity to it.

Then there is the scriptural device of praising the deity by presenting it in utterly dissimilar revelations. He is described as invisible, infinite, ungraspable, and other things which show not what he is but what in fact he is not. This second way of talking about him seems to me much more appropriate, for, as the secret and sacred tradition has instructed, God is in no way like the things that have being and we have no knowledge at all of his incomprehensible and ineffable transcendence and invisibility.

Since the way of negation appears to be more suitable to the realm of the divine and since positive affirmations are always unfitting to the hidenness of the inexpressible, a manifestation through dissimilar shapes is more correctly to be applied to the invisible. So it is that scriptural writings, far from demeaning the ranks of heaven, actually pay them honour by describing them with dissimilar shapes so completely at variance with what they really are that we come to discover how those ranks, so far removed from us, transcend all materiality. Furthermore, I doubt that anyone would refuse to acknowledge that incongruities are more suitable for lifting our minds up into the domain of the spiritual than similarities are. High-flown shapes could well mislead someone into thinking that the heavenly beings are golden or gleaming men, glamorous, wearing lustrous clothing, giving off flames which cause no harm, or that they have heavenly minds. It was to avoid this kind of misunderstanding among those incapable of rising above visible beauty that the pious theologians so wisely and upliftingly stooped to incongruous dissimilarities, for by doing this they took account of our inherent tendency towards the material and our willingness to be lazily satisfied by base images. At the same time they enabled that part of the soul which longs for the things above actually to rise up. Indeed the sheer crassness of the signs is a goad so that even the materially inclined cannot accept that it could be permitted or true that the celestial and divine sights could be conveyed by such shameful things. And remember too that there is nothing which lacks its own share of beauty, for as scripture rightly says, "Everything is good".

Everything, then, can be a help to contemplation; and dissimilar similarities derived from the world, about which I have been talking, can be applied to those beings which are both intelligible and intelligent. Of course one has always to remember the enormous difference between what is typical of the domain of intelligence and that of the senses. Thus, among those lacking in intelligence, anger is a raging, passionate and irrational urge, whereas among those endowed with reason it is something else, and has to be understood to be such. For intelligent beings anger is, I believe, the sturdy working of reason in them and the capacity they have to be grounded tenaciously in holy and unchanging foundations.

So, then, forms, even those drawn from the lowliest matter, can be used, not unfittingly, with regard to heavenly beings. Matter, after all, owes its subsistence to absolute beauty and keeps, throughout its earthly ranks, some echo of intelligible beauty. Using matter, one may be lifted up to the immaterial archetypes. Of course one must be careful to use the similarities as dissimilarities, as discussed, to avoid one-to-one correspondences, to make the appropriate adjustments as one remembers the great divide between the intelligible and the perceptible.

We will find that the mysterious theologians employ these things not only to make known the ranks of heaven but also to reveal something of God himself. They sometimes use the most exalted imagery, calling him for instance sun of righteousness, star of the morning which rises into the mind, clear and conceptual light. Sometimes they use more intermediate, down-to-earth images. They call him the blazing fire which does not cause destruction, water filling up life and, so to speak, entering the stomach and forming inexhaustible streams. Sometimes the images are of the lowliest kind, such as sweet-smelling ointment and corner stone. Sometimes the imagery is even derived from animals so that God is described as a lion or a panther, a leopard or a charging bear. Add to this what seems the lowliest and most incongruous of all, for the experts in things divine gave him the form of a worm.

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