Notes From a Retreat-IIA

{More notes taken from my retreat dedicated to Dionysius the Areopagite and his theme of Luminous Darkness, as given in reflections composed by Fr. Maximos Davies of Holy Resurrection Monastery}

In Dionysius’ eyes, the whole world is theophany. Everything in this world reveals God to us. The Theophany is not a discrete event, but is instead a permanent state of life-it is all a revelation of God.
But this is only true if the world, in every detail, makes sense.

Therefore, we can say that God is in everything, or He is in Nothing.” Denys Turner’s reflections on the Atheism Tapes understand and express this matter quite clearly.

Everything points to God, everything makes sense with a hidden meaning that transcends all. The alternative to this transcendence is to say that God is not in X, therefore, there is another God for X.

One can object and ask the following question—“How is God in War, Death, etc.?” How is God in all of life?

Dionysius would respond to this not by pointing to God in the most tragic elements of life–instead, he would concede that the meaningless in life is apparent to life. But nevertheless, this meaningless would be only “apparent”. It is the surface, the DOXA of all of life.

However, we can become confused when the DOXA is always believed. The world is a network of whys, not a sequence of whats. To be “unknowing” is to leave the doxa of the unconnectedness of life. It is to enter into the connectedness of the divine why, which is most often not the surface understanding of our existence on earth. For the Divine Mind, the Divine Thought, who is the logos, the morphe corresponds to the logos itself. This logos explains the intelligibility of the world-the world is not always intelligible to us, but at the root of it all, the world is completely intelligible to the intellect/logos who is beyond all things. The God is good for making the whole world.

Logic demands, therefore, that God is beyond the world. He would need to be beyond the logos–utterly beyond the reach of the world, at peace, seeing the morphe and the logos. The world is, in Dionysius’ view, at peace in God.

He is “no thing”, which makes this peace possible. It makes it possible for us to mystically say that God is “All in all or Nothing in None”.

We see this clearly from this quotation of Dionysius:

We must examine how we know God, Who is neither an object of intellectual or sensible perception, nor is absolutely anything of things existing. Never then is it true to say that we know God; not from His own nature (for that is unknown and surpasses all reason and mind), but from the ordering of all existing things, as projected from Himself and containing a sort of images and likenesses of His Divine exemplars, we ascend, as far as we have power, to that which is beyond all, by method and order in the abstraction and pre-eminence of all, and in the Cause of all. Wherefore, Almighty God is known even in all and apart from all. And through knowledge, Almighty God is known and through unknowing (agnosia). And there is of Him, both conception, and expression, and science, and contact, and sensible perception, and opinion, and imagination and name and all the rest. And He is neither conceived, nor expressed, nor named. And He is not any of existing things, nor is He known in any one of existing things. And He is all in all, and nothing in none. And He is known to all, and from all, and to none from none. For, we both say these things correctly concerning God, and He is celebrated from all existing things, according to the analogy of all things, of which He is Cause. And there is, further, the most Divine Knowledge of Almighty God, which is known, through unknowing (agnosia) during the union above mind; when the mind, having stood apart from all existing things, then having dismissed also itself, has been made one with the super-luminous rays, thence and there being illuminated by the unsearchable depth of wisdom. Yet even from all things, as I said, we may know It, for It is according to the sacred text, the Cause formative of all, and ever harmonizing all, and (Cause) of the indissoluble adaptation and order of all, and ever uniting the ends of the former to the beginnings of those that follow, and beautifying the one symphony and harmony of the whole.
–Divine Names VII.3.

This leads us to understand that God knows and contains all things in one grasp. (Divine Names VII.2)

Hierarchy is therefore not a structure designed to keep us from God, but is instead that which makes life with God possible. It provides a distinction, a shimmering darkness. One can read Dionysius and ask, “Why does he write in circles?”

But the writing of Dionysius invites annotation. Asking the world questions is to exist as a Platonic/Socratic thinker. It is a call to move beyond appearances into the deeper reality. If there is no meaning, then why do we even use language at all?

We can speak of the dynamics of language/the deeper reality with this cyclical depiction:


Ugliness can lead to multiplicity, leaving rest/unity            shock of beauty leads one back to the truth source, rest/unity

Descent into multiplicity/appearances ——–>>>          Ascent, gathering back to unity, the truth

Contemplation shocks us into seeing the Cause. This is “neo-Platonic” in the sense that Plato’s Parmenides expresses the same truth.
In the process of descent, we are made, in ascent we are being united to the Maker. The world makes sense because it has been thought by the Maker.

We can see this by requoting Dionysius, and focusing on cause.

So we need to see the movement in this order.

I. God can be known in existence
II. God cannot be known as an existing thing.

III. Therefore, to known the “non-existent” God, it must be done in a different way, the way of unknowing (agnosia).

If God is unknown, we cannot see Him in Cause. Cause as a mechanism is far too weak to explain the prime mover. It would mean that there was a cause for God. But that would make God only the best being who sort of “kicks off” all of creation. An efficient cause of all – this is a fundamentalist onotheology, a la Heidegger.

In the Greek view, the cause is the discovery of the shape that is the telos itself. As Aristotle put it, this is the “entelechy”.

The Chaos and formless nothing described in Genesis 1 has an internal call and a response. And Love is the cause of this giving. We want to be united to God, for this is our telos.

Yea, reason will dare to say even this, that even the non-existing participates in the Beautiful and Good”
–Divine Names IV.7

This telos for the beautiful Good that is even present in the non-existing, is actually a quote from Proclus.

This is not a pre-existing view of reality, however.

The Creator/Creation distinction is based on a mechanistic view of the universe, of existence itself. But existence is not from a command, it is from an invitation from the Creator to us.

If all were a command in this world, nature and grace would be broken. Peace and love would both be fake, as all of existence would be force.

Causation, therefore, must be seen in noesis, and not kinesis. Knowledge vs. movement.

We went on to read:

The Divine Wisdom, then, by knowing Itself, will know all things.
–Divine Names VII.2

God has an intense desire for Himself. In loving us, he is yearning for God Himself. As Romans 8:26 states:

In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.

We must redefine our understanding of freedom and life itself-this act is mysticism itself. We don’t give our life to God, as mystics we come to realize that life is His.

The Incarnation completes the rationalism that underlies New Age/Pagan thinking.

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