The Mystical Theology The Mystical Theology
    DionysiustheAreopagite
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    THEMYSTICALTHEOLOGY
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    CHAPTERI
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    WhatistheDivineDarkness?
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    SupernalTriad,Deityaboveallessence,knowledgeandgoodness;GuideofChristianstoDivineWisdom;directourpathtotheultimatesummitofyourmysticalknowledge,mostincomprehensible,mostluminousandmostexalted,wherethepure,absoluteandimmutablemysteriesoftheologyareveiledinthedazzlingobscurityofthesecretSilence,outshiningallbrilliancewiththeintensityoftheirDarkness,andsurchargingourblindedintellectswiththeutterlyimpalpableandinvisiblefairnessofgloriessurpassingallbeauty.
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    Letthisbemyprayer;butdo,dearTimothy,inthediligentexerciseofmysticalcontemplation,leavebehindthesensesandtheoperationsoftheintellect,andallthingssensibleandintellectual,andallthingsintheworldofbeingandnonbeing,thatyoumayarisebyunknowingtowardstheunion,asfarasisattainable,withitthattranscendsallbeingandallknowledge.(1)Forbytheunceasingandabsoluterenunciationofyourselfandofallthingsyoumaybeborneonhigh,throughpureandentireself-abnegation,intothesuperessentialRadianceoftheDivineDarkness.(2)
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    Butthesethingsarenottobedisclosedtotheuninitiated,bywhomImeanthoseattachedtotheobjectsofhumanthought,andwho——
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    believethereisnosuperessentialRealitybeyond,andwhoimaginethatbytheirownunderstandingtheyknowitthathasmadeDarknessItssecretplace.AndiftheprinciplesofthedivineMysteriesarebeyondtheunderstandingofthese,whatistobesaidofothersstillmoreincapablethereof,whodescribethetranscendentalFirstCauseofallbycharacteristicsdrawnfromthelowestorderofbeings,whiletheydenythatitisinanywayabovetheimageswhichtheyfashionaftervariousdesigns;whereastheyshouldaffirmthat,whileitpossessesallthepositiveattributesoftheuniverse(beingtheUniversalCause)yet,inamorestrictsense,itdoesnotpossessthem,sinceittranscendsthemall;whereforethereisnocontradictionbetweentheaffirmationsandthenegations,inasmuchasitinfinitelyprecedesallconceptionsofdeprivation,beingbeyondallpositiveandnegativedistinctions.
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    ThustheblessedBartholomewassertsthatthedivinescienceisbothvastandminute,andthattheGospelisgreatandbroad,yetconciseandshort;signifyingbythis,thatthebeneficentCauseofallismosteloquent,yetuttersfewwords,orratherisaltogethersilent,ashavingneither(human)speechnor(human)understanding,becauseitissuper-essentiallyexaltedabovecreatedthings,andrevealsitselfinItsnakedTruthtothosealonewhopassbeyondallthatispureorimpure,andascendabovethetopmostaltitudesofholythings,andwho,leavingbehindthemalldivinelightandsoundandheavenlyutterances,plungeintotheDarknesswheretrulydwells,astheOraclesdeclare,thatONEwhoisbeyondall.(3)
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    ItwasnotwithoutreasonthattheblessedMoseswascommandedfirsttopurifyhimselfandthemtoseparatehimselffromthosewhohadnotundergonepurifcation;andaftertheentirepurification——
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    heardmanytrumpetsandsawmanylightsstreamingforthwithpureandmanifoldrays;andthathewasthereafterseparatedfromthemultitude,withtheelectpriests,andpressedforwardtothesummitofthedivineascent.Nevertheless,hedidnotattaintothePresenceofGoditself;hesawnotit(foritcannotbelookedupon)butthePlacewhereitdwells.AndthisItaketosignifythatthedivinestandhighestthingsseenbytheeyesorcontemplatedbythemindarebutthesymbolicalexpressionsofthosethatareimmediatelybeneathitthatisaboveall.Throughthese,ItsincomprehensiblePresenceismanifesteduponthoseheightsofItsHolyPlaces;thatthenItbreaksforth,evenfromthatwhichisseenandthatwhichsees,andplungesthemysticintotheDarknessofUnknowing,whenceallperfectionofunderstandingisexcluded,andheisenwrappedinthatwhichisaltogetherintangible,whollyabsorbedinitthatisbeyondall,andinnoneelse(whetherhimselforanother);andthroughtheinactivityofallhisreasoningpowersisunitedbyhishighestfacultytoitthatiswhollyunknowable;thusbyknowingnothingheknowsThatwhichisbeyondhisknowledge.(4)
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    CHAPTERII
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    ThenecessityofbeingunitedwithandofrenderingpraisetoitthatistheCauseofallandaboveall.
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    WepraythatwemaycomeuntothisDarknesswhichisbeyondlight,and,withoutseeingandwithoutknowing,toseeandtoknowthatwhichisabovevisionandknowledgethroughtherealizationthatbynot-seeingandbyunknowingweattaintotruevisionandknowledge;andthuspraise,superessentially,itthatis——
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    superessential,bythetranscendenceofallthings;evenasthosewho,carvingastatueoutofmarble,abstractorremoveallthesurroundingmaterialthathindersthevisionwhichthemarbleconcealsand,bythatabstraction,bringtolightthehiddenbeauty.(5)
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    Itisnecessarytodistinguishthisnegativemethodofabstractionfromthepositivemethodofaffirmation,inwhichwedealwiththeDivineAttributes.Forwiththeselatterwebeginwiththeuniversalandprimary,andpassthroughtheintermediateandsecondarytotheparticularandultimateattributes;butnowweascendfromtheparticulartotheuniversalconceptions,abstractingallattributesinorderthat,withoutveil,wemayknowthatUnknowingwhichisenshroudedunderallthatisknownandallthatcanbeknown,andthatwemaybegintocontemplatethesuperessentialDarknesswhichishiddenbyallthelightthatisinexistingthings.
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    CHAPTERIII
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    WhataretheaffirmationsandthenegationsconcerningGod?
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    IntheTheologicalOutlines(6)wehavesetforththeprincipalaffirmativeexpressionsconcerningGod,andhaveshowninwhatsenseGod-sHolyNatureisOne,andinwhatsenseThree;whatiswithinItwhichiscalledPaternity,whatFiliation,andwhatissignifiedbythenameSpirit;howfromtheuncreatedandindivisibleGood,theblessedandperfectRaysofitsGoodnessproceed,andyetabideimmutablyonebothwithintheirOriginandwithinthemselvesandeachother,co-eternalwiththeactbywhichthey——
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    springfromit;howthesuperessentialJesusentersinessentialstateinwhichthetruthsofhumannaturemeet;andothermattersmadeknownbytheOraclesareexpoundedinthesameplace.
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    Again,inthetreatiseonDivineNames,wehaveconsideredthemeaning,asconcerningGod,ofthetitlesofGood,ofBeing,ofLife,ofWisdom,ofPower,andofsuchothernamesasareappliedtoit;further,inSymbolicalTheologywehaveconsideredwhatarethemetaphoricaltitlesdrawnfromtheworldofsenseandappliedtothenatureofGod;whatismeantbythematerialandintellectualimagesweformofit,orthefunctionsandinstrumentsofactivityattributedtoit;whataretheplaceswhereitdwellsandtheraimentinwhichitisadorned;whatismeantbyGod-sanger,griefandindignation,orthedivineinebriation;whatismeantbyGod-soathsandthreats,byItsslumberandwaking;andallsacredandsymbolicalrepresentations.Anditwillbeobservedhowfarmorecopiousanddiffusedarethelasttermsthanthefirst,forthetheologicaldoctrineandtheexpositionoftheDivineNamesarenecessarilymorebriefthantheSymbolicalTheology.
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    Forthehigherwesoarincontemplationthemorelimitedbecomeourexpressionsofthatwhichispurelyintelligible;evenasnow,whenplungingintotheDarknessthatisabovetheintellect,wepassnotmerelyintobrevityofspeech,butevenintoabsolutesilenceofthoughtsandofwords.Thus,intheformerdiscourse,ourcontemplationsdescendedfromthehighesttothelowest,embracinganever-wideningnumberofconceptions,whichincreasedateachstageofthedescent;butinthepresentdiscoursewemountupwardsfrombelowtothatwhichisthehighest,and,accordingtothedegreeoftranscendence,soourspeechisrestraineduntil,theentireascentbeingaccomplished,webecomewhollyvoiceless,inasmuchasweareabsorbedinitthatistotallyineffable.Butwhy,youwillask,——
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    208——
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    doestheaffirmativemethodbeginfromthehighestattributions,andthenegativemethodwiththelowestabstractions?-Thereasonisbecause,whenaffirmingthesubsistenceofThatwhichtranscendsallaffirmation,wenecessarilystartfromtheattributesmostcloselyrelatedtoItanduponwhichtheremainingaffirmationsdepend;butwhenpursuingthenegativemethodtoreachThatwhichisbeyondallabstraction,wemustbeginbyapplyingournegationstothingswhicharemostremotefromIt.
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    ForisitnotmoretruetoaffirmthatGodisLifeandGoodnessthanthatGodisairorstone;andmustwenotdenytoGodmoreemphaticallytheattributesofinebriationandwraththantheapplicationsofhumanspeechandthought?
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    CHAPTERIV
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    Thatitthatisthepre-eminentCauseofallthingssensiblyperceivedisnotitselfanyofthosethings.
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    WethereforemaintainthattheuniversalandtranscendentCauseofallthingsisneitherwithoutbeingnorwithoutlife,norwithoutreasonorintelligence;norisitabody,norhasitformorshape,quality,quantityorweight;norhasitanylocalized,visibleortangibleexistence;itisnotsensibleorperceptible;norisitsubjecttoanydisorderorinordinationnorinfluencedbyanyearthlypassion;neitherisitrenderedimpotentthroughtheeffectsofmaterialcausesandevents;itneedsnolight;itsuffersnochange,corruption,division,privationorflux;noneofthesethingscaneitherbeidentifiedwithorattributeduntoit——
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    CHAPTERV
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    Thatitthatisthepre-eminentCauseofallthingsintelligiblyperceivedisnotitselfanyofthosethings.
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    Again,ascendingyethigher,wemaintainthatitisneithersoulnorintellect;norhasitimagination,opinionreasonorunderstanding;norcanitbeexpressedorconceived,sinceitisneithernumbernororder;norgreatnessnorsmallness;norequalitynorinequality;norsimilaritynordissimilarity;neitherisitstanding,normoving,noratrest;neitherhasitpowernorispower,norislight;neitherdoesitlivenorisitlife;neitherisitessence,noreternitynortime;norisitsubjecttointelligiblecontact;norisitsciencenortruth,norkingshipnorwisdom;neitheronenoroneness,norgodheadnorgoodness;norisitspiritaccordingtoourunderstanding,norfiliation,norpaternity;noranythingelseknowntousortoanyotherbeingsofthethingsthatareorthethingsthatarenot;neitherdoesanythingthatisknowitasitis;nordoesitknowexistingthingsaccordingtoexistingknowledge;neithercanthereasonattaintoit,nornameit,norknowit;neitherisitdarknessnorlight,northefalsenorthetrue;norcananyaffirmationornegationbeappliedtoit,foralthoughwemayaffirmordenythethingsbelowit,wecanneitheraffirmnordenyit,inasmuchastheall-perfectanduniqueCauseofallthingstranscendsallaffirmation,andthesimplepre-eminenceofItsabsolutenatureisoutsideofeverynegation-freefromeverylimitationandbeyondthemall——
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    NOTES
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    (1)Unknowing,oragnosia,isnotignoranceornescienceasordinarilyunderstood,butrathertherealizationthatnofiniteknowledgecanfullyknowtheInfiniteOne,andthatthereforeitisonlytrulytobeapproachedbyagnosia,orbythatwhichisbeyondandaboveknowledge.Therearetwomainkindsofdarkness:thesubdarknessandthesuper-darkness,betweenwhichlies,asitwere,anoctaveoflight.Butthenether-darknessandtheDivineDarknessarenotthesamedarkness,fortheformerisabsenceoflight,whilethelatterisexcessoflight.Theonesymbolizesmereignorance,andtheotheratranscendentunknowing-asuperknowledgenotobtainedbymeansofthediscursivereason.
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    (2)-OftheFirstPrinciple,-saysDamascius,-theancientEgyptianssaidnothing,butcelebrateditasaDarknessbeyondallintellectualorspiritualperception-aThrice-unknownDarkness-ThisisforeveraboutthePavilionsofthatgreatLightUnapproachable.ItiscausedbythesuperabundanceofLightandnotbytheabsenceoflumination:itis-adeepbutdazzlingDarkness-(HenryVaughan)-Thelightshinethinthedarkness-(St.John,1,5)-InThylightweshallseelight-(Psalm36,9).
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    (3)St.JohnoftheCross,forinstance,wroteofotherkindsofdarkness;forexample,thedarknessofthenightofpurgation,andthedarknightofthesoul,buttheDivineDarknessisinadifferentcategoryfromthese.
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    (4)Particularlyimportanthereistheconceptofbeyond-being,therecognitionthatwhatisknownintheunknowingisbeyondtherealmofbeingandcannotbeadequatelydescribed,althoughnegationcomescloserthanaffirmation——
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    (5)Comparethewell-knownanalogyofPlotinus:-
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    Withdrawintoyourselfandlook;andifyoudonotfindyourselfbeautifulasyet,doasdoesthesculptorofastatuecutawayallthatisexcessive,straightenallthatiscrooked,bringlighttoallthatisshadoweddonotceaseuntilthereshallshineoutonyoutheGodlikeSplendourofBeauty;untilyouseetemperancesurelyestablishedinthestainlessshrine-(Ennead,1,6,9).
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    (6)Dionysiusreferstoseveralofhistreatises,butbesidestheMysticalTheologytheotherextantworksofhisareDivineNames,TheCelestialHierarchies,EcclesiasticalHierarchy,andvariousepistles.SeeTheCompleteWorks,ColmLuibheid,trs.,(PaulistPress:1987),now,unfortunately,outofprint.