“I rejoice to see your order”
“I rejoice to see your order”
Paul and the Dionysian Hierarchies
Abstract and Keywords
This chapter examines how Paul animates the Dionysian hierarchies. It addresses several of the stalled questions in the scholarship on the CD, questions to which the influence of Paul offers a fresh perspective. Specifically, this chapter argues that Dionysius' own definition of hierarchy derives from Paul's understanding of the “body of Christ” as a divinely ordained ecclesial order; that Dionysius' Christology derives from Paul's experience of the luminous Christ on the road to Damascus; that Dionysius' appeals to Iamblichean “theurgy”—understood as “cooperation” (sunergeia) with the work of God that deifies the “co‐worker of God” (sunergos theou)—also finds inspiration in Paul.
In the first part of this investigation, Chapters One and Two, I surveyed the late antique milieu from which the CD emerged and the modern scholarship thereon, most of which has passed over the question of the pseudonym and the influence of Paul but some of which has provided promising leads. In the second part of this investigation, which begins with this chapter, I demonstrate how the figure and writings of Paul animate the whole corpus. In other words, I argue for a modest but novel approach to the CD: that we take seriously the many references and allusions to Paul and see how they might help us understand the vision of a man who wrote under the name of his disciple. In this chapter, then, I interpret the Dionysian hierarchies—as described in the Celestial Hierarchy and Ecclesiastical Hierarchy—against a Pauline backdrop. I focus on the introductory chapters to both treatises on the hierarchies (CH 1–3, EH 1) on the conviction that it is precisely here—where we meet the definition of hierarchy in general and the introductory accounts of the two specific hierarchies1—that the influence of Paul is most keenly felt. The CH goes on to describe the angelic ranks and the EH the orders and sacraments of the church. While Paul is also present in (p.82) these more detailed treatments of the angels and the sacraments, space precludes full treatment. This chapter investigates Paul's relevance to three broad themes in the CD: (I) the definition of hierarchy as order, understanding and activity; (II) Jesus and the hierarchies; and (III) the purpose of hierarchy: deification through cooperation. I want to insist again, as I did in the Introduction, however, that the influence of Paul on the CD does not preclude other, undeniable influences, specifically the earlier Eastern Christian tradition (especially the Cappadocians) and later Neoplatonism (especially Proclus). In what follows, I do not mean to suggest that this sixth‐century pseudonymous author wove his unique mystical theology from the threads of the Pauline epistles alone, but rather that, steeped in the traditions of Eastern Christianity and Neoplatonism as he surely was, he read and understood Paul as anticipating many of the turns and themes he found so attractive in these later traditions.
I. The Definition of Hierarchy
In the third chapter of the CH Dionysius offers a definition of hierarchy: “In my opinion, a hierarchy is a sacred order, an understanding and an activity being approximated as closely as possible to the divine.”2 At least two of the elements of this definition—order (τάξις) and activity (ἐνέργεια)—have important Pauline parallels, especially when taken together. In Chapter Five I will return to the second element of this definition—hierarchy as a “state of understanding” (ἐπιστήμη)—and explain how this “understanding” relates to Paul's own ecstatic love of the divine.
Although Paul uses the word “order” (τάξις) twice in his letters,3 and appeals to the eschatological “order” once by another name (τάγμα),4 the important parallel between Dionysius and Paul has less to do with the use of the term τάξις itself or related terms, and more to do with the notion of a divinely sanctioned and ordered arrangement. For this notion Paul prefers the figure of the “body” (σῶμα) and his premier treatment of this figure is 1 Cor 12. Speaking to the Corinthian community in crisis, Paul reminds his charges that “just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one, so it is with Christ.”5 The Corinthian church is “the body of Christ and individually members of it.”6 This body of Christ relies on each of its individual members—the foot, the hand, the eye, the ear—to perform its appointed task, for “God has so arranged the body…that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another.”7 The health of the body of Christ, therefore, relies on the harmonious orchestration of difference. On this model, unity requires differentiation. Moving from the figure of the body and its members to the constituency of the Corinthian community, Paul describes how God appointed apostles, prophets, teachers, “deeds of power, gifts of healing, forms of assistance, forms of leadership, [and] various kinds of tongues.”8
Like the Corinthian church, the Dionysian hierarchies suffer from crises and challenges. Dionysius' Letter 8 is addressed to a certain monk Demophilus—a “crowd‐pleaser”9—who deigned to break the order of the ecclesiastical hierarchy. This monk apparently objected to the fact that his superior welcomed a penitent back into (p.84) communion and so thrust his way into the inner sanctuary to steal away with the “sacred things.”10 Dionysius chastises this monk and defends the order of the hierarchy, alluding to Paul's advice to the Corinthians: “[E]ach must keep to himself, and not meditate things too high and too deep for him, but contemplate alone things prescribed for him according to order.”11 And later in the same letter, Dionysius alludes to Paul again, this time his advice to Timothy regarding the relationship of the governance of self to the governance of community.12 Paul, therefore, provides not only a model for the establishment of a divinely sanctioned and ordered arrangement, but also advice for the continual maintenance of that order.
Between Paul's body of Christ and our author's hierarchy stand two important intermediaries: the author of 1 Clement and Ignatius of Antioch. Both are writers from the end of the first century who transform Paul's notion of the body of Christ as a divinely sanctioned and ordered arrangement of the community into a more elaborate and rigid celestial and ecclesiastical order. These early intermediaries are not chosen at random: Dionysius himself mentions both figures in the course of the CD.13 Modern scholars have expressed surprise that our sixth‐century author, who takes care to maintain his first‐century pseudonymous identity, seems to have slipped in mentioning Clement and Ignatius, since an ancient reader with a keen historical sense might have noticed that the Areopagite would have had to live to a very great age in order to have known Clement or to have read Ignatius' letter.14 It is likely that our sixth‐century author did not (p.85) know the precise dating of these figures or their texts and so did not recognize that his mentioning them might compromise his pseudonymous identity. Quite to the contrary, it seems that he mentions them, as he mentions other first‐century figures, in order to flesh out his sub‐apostolic community. More to the point, it suggests that he knows the manner in which both authors draw on Paul to develop an elaborate and rigid order, both celestial and ecclesiastical.
The anonymous letter to the church in Corinth, dated to the very late first century, has long been attributed by tradition to Clement, the third bishop of Rome. The author of this letter—let us hereafter call him Clement—writes to a Corinthian church again in turmoil. The letter refers to a “vile and profane faction,”15 and goes on to explain that younger members of the community have deposed the elders who, according to Clement, constitute the latest link in the apostolic chain of succession. The letter is an appeal to the Corinthian church to restore order and peace by means of humility and obedience, both to God and to the divinely ordained superiors of the community.
Not surprisingly, Clement arrogates the voice of Paul and thereby seems almost to collapse time: again Paul must lovingly censure the unruly Corinthians. And yet Clement does not simply repeat the words of Paul, but situates his figure of the community as the body of Christ within an even more robust understanding of order. God, the “Creator of the entire world,”16 has set all things in harmonious order: the heavens, the movements of the sun and moon, the “chorus of stars,” plants and beasts, the abyssal depths of the sea, the seasons, the winds—all these things “roll along the tracks that have been appointed to them, in harmony, never crossing their lines, in accordance with the arrangement he has made.”17 This harmonious order, of course, extends to the life of the church, which, following Paul in 1 Corinthians, Clement likens to a body:
(p.86) Take our own body. The head is nothing without the feet, just as the feet are nothing without the head. And our body's most insignificant parts are necessary and useful for the whole [1 Cor 12:21–2]. But all parts work together in subjection to a single order, to keep the whole body healthy.18
And yet for Clement even the figure of the body seems insufficient to convey the rigid sense of order and obedience. Perhaps surprisingly for a bishop of Rome, where tradition places the martyrdom of Paul at the hands of the imperials, Clement decides on more martial imagery to convey his full meaning:
And so, brothers, with all eagerness let us do battle as soldiers under his blameless commands. Consider those who soldier under our own leaders, how they accomplish what is demanded of them with such order, habit, and submission. For not all are commanders‐in‐chief or commanders over a thousand troops, or a hundred, or fifty, and so on. But each one, according to his own rank [1 Cor 15:23], accomplishes what is ordered by the king and the leaders.19
There is, according to this view, a clear chain of command: “Christ came from God and the apostles from Christ…And as [the apostles] preached throughout the countryside and in the cities, they appointed the first fruits of their ministries as bishops and deacons of those who were about to believe.”20 The apostolic succession is here mapped onto both God's harmonious creation and the martial order. To contest this apostolic succession—as it seems some in Corinth had done—was to revolt against God and creation and thereby forfeit salvation.21 Salvation was to be found in communion (p.87) with the apostolic Church: not only humility and obedience were necessary, so too the participation in the sacramental life of the community:
Since these matters have been clarified for us in advance and we have gazed into the depths of divine knowledge, we should do everything the Master has commanded us to perform in an orderly way and at appointed times. He commanded that the sacrificial offerings and liturgical rites be performed not in a random or haphazard way, but according to set times and hours. In his superior plan he set forth both where and through whom he wishes them to be performed, so that everything done in a holy way and according to his good pleasure might be acceptable to his will. Thus, those who make their sacrificial offerings at the arranged times are acceptable and blessed. And since they follow the ordinances of the Master, they commit no sin. For special liturgical rites have been assigned to the high priest, and a special place has been designated for the regular priests, and special ministries are established for the Levites. The lay person is assigned to matters enjoined on the laity.22
None other than “Jesus Christ, the high priest of our offerings,” presides over this sacramental life through his ordained representatives. And as we meet him in church, “through this one we gaze into the heights of the heavens; through this one we see the reflection of his perfect and superior countenance; through this one the eyes of our hearts have been opened; through this one our foolish and darkened understanding springs up into the light.”23 We will return below to a number of themes raised here: the notion that Jesus is the deifying light that shines through the hierarchies and ushers us into the work of God through the sacraments, especially baptism. Now we need only note that 1 Clement is an important stage along the way between the Pauline figure of the Corinthian community as the “body of Christ” and the Dionysian definition of hierarchy as both an order (τάξις) and an activity (ἐνέργεια). In 1 Clement we see some of the characteristic features of Dionysian hierarchy: the development of a more robust and more rigid understanding of order that runs from the celestial realms down through the ecclesiastical life of the church to the very edges of creation; the emphasis on the maintenance of this (p.88) order and the consequences of unruliness; the insistence that every order has an activity that renders its operations harmonious.
I.A.2. Ignatius of Antioch
Ignatius, a near contemporary of Clement's, wrote seven letters—six to Christian churches and one to Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna—on his way to martyrdom at Rome, sometime during Trajan's rule (98–117 CE). Like Clement, Ignatius takes the epistolary opportunity to enjoin a vision of order on his audience: here, the Christian churches of Asia Minor. And not surprisingly, also like Clement, Ignatius is steeped in the letters of Paul, especially 1 Corinthians, and indeed seems to model his own epistolary corpus on Paul's correspondence. Like Paul and Clement after him, Ignatius sees the “body of Christ” in danger on all sides and from within.24 Internal strife threatens the body with disintegration. And whereas Clement pleas for order on the basis of an elaborate vision of a cosmos “roll[ing] along the tracks that have been appointed to [it], in harmony,” and with it a clear account of apostolic succession, Ignatius insists that we obey the ecclesiastical order—especially the bishop—on the grounds that this ecclesiastical order is a reflection of the divine order:
You should render [your bishop] all due respect according to the power of God the Father…the Father of Jesus Christ, the bishop of all.25
I urge you to hasten to do all things in the harmony of God, with the bishop presiding in the place of God and the presbyters in the place of the council of apostles, and the deacons, who are especially dear to me, entrusted with the ministry of Jesus Christ, who was with the Father before the ages and has been manifest at the end.26
Thus, for Ignatius, order is guaranteed not so much by the fact of a linear historical development—apostolic succession—as by the timeless reflection by the church of the heavens. The influence of this “mystical nexus between the earthly Church and the sphere of the divine”27—this “Church mysticism”28—on Dionysius is easy enough (p.89) to see: “Wherefore, the Divine Institution of the sacred Rites, having deemed it worthy of the supermundane imitation of the Heavenly Hierarchies, and having depicted the aforesaid immaterial Hierarchies in material figures and bodily compositions…transmitted to us our most Holy Hierarchy.”29 Of course the details of order differ: the Ignatian orders of bishops, presbyters, and deacons and their divine counterparts do not map easily onto the ecclesiastical and celestial hierarchies of Dionysius. And yet the notion that Paul's ordered arrangement of the church, the body of Christ, has become, in the letters of Ignatius, a reflection of a celestial order, is a significant step in tracing the Dionysian hierarchies to their Pauline roots.
We have spoken at length now about order (τάξις): Paul's “body of Christ,” Clement's “orderly way” of apostolic succession situated in a smoothly running cosmos, Ignatius' reflection by the church of the heavens. And we have seen how the Dionysian sacred order—hierarchy—can be traced back through Ignatius and Clement to Paul, his purported teacher. It remains for us to say something of energy of activity (ἐνέργεια), the third component of Dionysius' definition of hierarchy.
I.B. Energy (ἐνέργεια)
For Paul, the maintenance of order, the health of the body of Christ, requires “a still more excellent way,”30 a specific activity or energy. The term Dionysius uses for this activity or energy in his definition of hierarchy, ἐνέργεια, is a term one finds often in the letters of Paul; two especially demand our attention:31
(p.90) Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every joint with which it is supplied, when each part is working properly [κατ᾽ ἐνέργειαν], makes bodily growth and upbuilds itself in love [εἰς οἰκοδομὴν ἑαυτοῦ ἐν ἀγάπῃ]. (Eph 4:15–16)
[The Lord Jesus Christ] will change our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power [κατὰ τὴν ἐνέργειαν] that enables him even to subject all things to himself. (Phil 3:21)
According to both of these passages, then, there is an ἐνέργεια that allows the body to move and grow properly, conforming ever more to the head of Christ and his body of glory. In 1 Cor 13, Paul commends love (ἀγάπη) as the activity—the “still more excellent way”—that will heal the fractured body of the community. All members—eye and ear, apostle and prophet—are brought into order and health by means of love.
If in Paul the activity that ensures the health of the body of Christ is love, then in Clement and Ignatius that activity is significantly narrowed: they both preach humility and above all obedience.32 And although Dionysius follows Clement and Ignatius in their elaboration of order, he cannot countenance such a narrow construal of activity. For the activity of the hierarchies Dionysius uses several figures, chief among them light (ϕῶς). By figuring the activity of the hierarchies as light, Dionysius may seem to be, like Clement and Ignatius, departing from Paul and love (ἀγάπη). Not so. For Dionysius, light and love become nearly interchangeable terms for the activity of the hierarchies. Compare these two passages:
[Hierarchy] perfect[s] its own followers as Divine images, mirrors most luminous and without flaw, receptive of the primal light and the supremely Divine ray, and devoutly filled with the entrusted radiance, and again, spreading this radiance ungrudgingly to those after it, in accordance with the supremely Divine regulations.33
And this is the common goal of every Hierarchy—the clinging love towards God and Divine things divinely and uniformly ministered.34(p.91)
Dionysius uses light and love interchangeably because ultimately what is at work in the hierarchies is none other than Jesus himself, who is, for Dionysius, both light and love.35 It is important to see that this dual activity in the Dionysian hierarchies is not so much a departure (cum Clement and Ignatius) from Paul, as it is a meditation on Paul, to whom Jesus appeared as blinding light36 and for whom the Incarnation was the “loving kindness of God our savior.”37 Dionysius therefore follows Paul insofar as he characterizes the activity of the hierarchies as love (ἀγάπησις)38 and refers to the Incarnate Jesus as God's “love for humanity” (ϕιλανθρωπία) such that the two Greek words for love become nearly interchangeable. But Dionysius goes further and observes that “the theologians seem to me to treat as equivalent the name of Loving‐kindness [ἀγάπης] and that of Love [ἔρωτος].”39 Dionysius, however, seems to think that he is making a rather uncontroversial move, and one already suggested by Paul himself. For while Dionysius may say that Paul was “a true lover [ἀληθὴς ἐραστὴς],”40 it is Paul himself who confesses to being out of his mind—in ecstasy—for God: “if we are beside ourselves [ἐξέστημεν], it is for God” (2 Cor 5:13).41
As a sixth‐century author concerned with the articulation and maintenance of the celestial and ecclesiastical hierarchies, then, the author of the CD finds ample resources not only in Paul himself, but also in some of Paul's immediate interpreters, here the author of 1 Clement and Ignatius of Antioch. As he writes himself back into the first century through his pseudonymous identity as Dionysius the Areopagite, he joins a conversation already well under way, one in which the Pauline sōma christou is evolving into a more rigid and elaborate account of the order of the church and the heavens. The Dionysian hierarchies owe much to these early elaborations of the sōma christou, even as the author of the CD insists that light and (p.92) love (agapē = erōs = philia)—none other than Christ himself—is the energy that pulses through the ranks of this order.
II. Jesus and the hierarchies
Having surveyed the Pauline backdrop to Dionysius' definition of hierarchy, we need now consider how we enter or have “access” to the hierarchies. This brings us to the figure of Jesus and the controversial issue of Dionysian Christology. The CD made its first appearance in the early sixth century in a period of intense Christological controversy: the persistent disputes over the Council of Chalcedon of 451. In the early 530s, during the reign of Justinian, both Monophysite and Chalcedonian advocates begin to cite the CD in support of their own Christological views. And apart from the doubts raised by Hypatius of Ephesus in 532 regarding the authenticity of the CD, the debate centered on whether and to what extent the sub‐apostolic collection anticipated the current orthodoxy.42 All sides seemed confident that Dionysius supported their own position—a result, no doubt, of the vague Christological terminology of the CD. It is striking to note that amidst all this intense Christological scrutiny of the CD, never once does an early reader accuse Dionysius of lacking a sufficient Christology. And yet this is precisely what modern scholars have fixed upon: the allegedly insufficient treatment of Christ in the CD—this despite the fact that the CD mentions Jesus or Christ at least fifty‐six times, even calling upon him in prayer. One suspects that this modern complaint grows out of Luther's famous dismissal, “Dionysius Platonizes more than he Christianizes.”43 The unquestioned assumption of most twentieth‐century scholarship is that whatever Christology the CD exhibits is largely “cosmetic,” masking his true Platonic commitments.44 By reading the CD almost exclusively against the (p.93) backdrop of Neoplatonism, scholars have obscured the influence of Paul and consequently missed or at least misunderstood Dionysian Christology.45 For Dionysius the hierarchies communicate light and love. And Paul is in fact the linchpin for understanding Dionysian Christology and its relationship to the hierarchies, as it is Paul who provides Dionysius with an account of Jesus as both light and love and “access” to the hierarchies. For Dionysius, Jesus is the deifying light that is at work in the hierarchies, as witnessed in Paul's blinding experience of the luminous Christ on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:3–9; 22:6–11). And for Dionysius, again following Paul, Jesus is also our only “access” (Rom 5:2) to the hierarchies, bestowed, however, not on the lonely road to Damascus but in baptismal rites of the church, wherein we share in his death (Rom 6:3).
II.A. Jesus as deifying light
Contrary to expectation, the first words of the CD46 are those of an apostle, James: “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights” (Jas 1:17).47 The (p.94) Areopagite first introduces himself to his readers, then, as an exegete, glossing a single verse from James:
Further also, every procession of illuminating light, proceeding from the Father, whilst visiting us as a gift of goodness, restores us again gradually as an unifying power, and turns us to the oneness of our conducting Father, and to a deifying simplicity.48
Immediately following this gloss, Dionysius offers up a prayer to Jesus:
Invoking then Jesus, the Paternal Light, the Real, the True, “which lighteth every man coming into the world,” [John 1:9] “through Whom we have access to the Father” [Rom 5:2; cf. Eph 2:18, 3:12], Source of Light…49
For Dionysius, hierarchies communicate light and love, and this light, which proceeds from and returns to its source, the Father, is none other than Jesus. He cites the prologue to John in support of this view, and thereby also rounds out the apostolic community of which he is part.50 Within only a handful of lines, our pseudonymous author has put himself in the midst of a conversation between James, Paul, and John.51 Jesus appears again in the opening of the treatise on “our hierarchy,” the Ecclesiastical Hierarchy:
Jesus Himself—the most supremely Divine Mind and superessential, the Source and Essence, and most Supremely Divine Power of every Hierarchy and Sanctification and Divine operation—illuminates the blessed Beings who are superior to us, in a manner more clear, and at the same time more intellectual, and assimilates them to His own Light, as far as possible.52
(p.95) If “[t]he purpose, then, of Hierarchy is,” as Dionysius says in CH 3.2, “the assimilation and union, as far as attainable, with God,” then it is no wonder that both treatises on the hierarchies begin by appeal to Jesus, for as divine light, he “lighteth every man coming into the world” and “assimilates them to His own Light, as far as possible.” Jesus is the deifying light at work in all hierarchies.
Although John is the obvious biblical warrant for Dionysius here, there is also an important Pauline backdrop. Several passages from Paul's letters support Dionysius' understanding of Jesus as light: 2 Cor 4:6 (“For it is the God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ”); Eph 5:8 (“For once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light”); Col 1:12 (“the Father…has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light”). From only these three it is clear that Jesus is associated with light and that God the Father is figured as its source.
But of course our author had another resource: the Acts of the Apostles, from which he drew his pseudonym. And it is in Acts that we find the most important backdrop to the notion of Jesus as light: Paul's conversion on the road to Damascus.53
Now as [Saul] journeyed he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed about him [ἐξαίϕνης τε αὐτὸν περιήστραψεν ϕῶς ἐκ τοῦ οὐρανοῦ]. And he fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting; but rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” The men who were traveling with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one. Saul arose from the ground; and when his eyes were opened, he could see nothing; so they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. And for three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank. (Acts 9:3–9)
Here Jesus appears to Paul as a blinding light from heaven. True to his pseudonymous identity, our author need not rely on the Gospel of John to understand that Jesus is the Light who ushers us, sometimes (p.96) against our will, into the saving work of the hierarchies. For the man who had become a believer in the wake of Paul's speech to the court of the Areopagus would certainly have heard from Paul's own mouth the testimony of this conversion, as the tribune does in Acts 22:6–11.
The case is strengthened by the presence of a single and unobtrusive adverb in two of the three accounts from Acts: “suddenly” (ἐξαίϕνης): “suddenly a light from heaven flashed about [Paul].”54 In his third letter—which along with the first and second letters is addressed to Gaius, Paul's associate mentioned in Rom 16:23, 1 Cor 1:14, Acts 19:29, 20:4—Dionysius takes up the theme of the “sudden” and its relationship to Jesus. It is the shortest of Dionysius' ten letters and worth quoting in full:
“Sudden” is that which, contrary to expectation, and out of the, as yet, unmanifest, is brought into the manifest. But with regard to Christ's love of man, I think that the Word of God suggests even this, that the Superessential proceeded forth out of the hidden, into the manifestation amongst us, by having taken substance as man. But, He is hidden, even after the manifestation, or to speak more divinely, even in the manifestation, for in truth this of Jesus has been kept hidden, and the mystery with respect to Him has been reached by no word nor mind, but even when spoken, remains unsaid, and when conceived unknown.55
It is a testimony to the prejudices of scholarship that this letter has been read against the backdrop not of Jesus' “sudden” appearance to Paul as blinding light but against the backdrop of the history of the word “suddenly” in Platonism.56 Thus Ronald Hathaway condescends to tell us that “the author of the Corpus Areopagiticum is (p.97) given to dropping hints” and that “suddenly” is an obvious reference to the Third Hypothesis of Plato's Parmenides, which deals with “the nature of the moment of simultaneous change (τὸ ἐξαίϕνης).”57 Rorem cites Hathaway's point in his notes to Luibheid's translation of the CD, leaving the average reader with no sense that the Third Letter has anything to do with Paul or his blinding vision of Jesus on the road to Damascus.
Back to the Third Letter: “But with regard to Christ's love of man,” Dionysius writes, “I think that the Word of God [τὴν θεολογίαν], suggests even this, that the Superessential proceeded forth out of the hidden, into manifestation amongst us, by having taken substance as man.” By “the Word of God,” Dionysius means scripture.58 And of the various instances in which scripture uses the word “suddenly,”59 the account of Paul's conversion from Acts fits best with the theme of this letter: “Christ's love of man” and his “having taken substance as man.” However short, the Third Letter is one of Dionysius' most sustained and dense treatments of Christ and the Incarnation.
For Dionysius, the Incarnation or “philanthropy” of Christ, much like the presence of God throughout hierarchical creation, both reveals and conceals, makes manifest and keeps hidden the “unsayable” and “unknowable” “mystery of Jesus.” Thus Jesus the light brings with him a portion of darkness, as Paul experienced all too well on the road to Damascus: “I could not see because of the brightness of that light” (Acts 22:11). If indeed God, in Jesus or in creation, is “hidden…even in the manifestation,” then Dionysian Christology can be read as a response to Paul's rhetorical question from 2 Cor 6:14: “What fellowship is there between light and darkness?” Promise of a fellowship between light and (p.98) darkness, vision and blindness, take us deeper into the CD, past the treatises on the hierarchies to the Divine Names and Mystical Theology. But it is important to note that Jesus the deifying light, while ushering us into the continuous stream of divine work, also leaves us—however purified, illumined, and perfected60—also without words, without understanding, always at a loss.
II.B. Jesus and access
In CH 1.2 and again in CH 2.5, Dionysius calls on Jesus in prayer: “Invoking then Jesus”; “But let Christ lead the discourse—if it be lawful for me to say—He Who is mine—the Inspiration of all Hierarchical revelation.” Jesus is also invoked early and often in the Ecclesiastical Hierarchy:
Jesus Himself—the most supremely Divine Mind and superessential, the Source and Essence, and most supremely Divine Power of every Hierarchy and Sanctification and Divine operation—illuminates the blessed Beings who are superior to us, in a manner more clear, and at the same time more intellectual, and assimilates them to His own Light, as far as possible; and by our love of things beautiful elevated to Him, and which elevates us, folds together our many diversities, and after perfecting into a uniform and Divine life and habit and operation, holily bequeaths the power of the Divine Priesthood.61
But now I will attempt to describe our Hierarchy, both its source and essence, as best I can; invoking Jesus, the source and Perfecting of all Hierarchies.62
Neither of the two treatises on hierarchies, it seems, can begin without explicit appeal to Jesus. And perhaps this goes well beyond the matter of the text: we cannot enter the hierarchies without Jesus. This is what Dionysius tells us in CH 1.2: “Jesus…‘through Whom we have access [προσαγωγὴν]’ to the Father, the light which is the source of all light.” Dionysius is here quoting Rom 5:2—“Through [our Lord Jesus Christ] we have obtained access [προσαγωγὴν] to this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in our hope of sharing the (p.99) glory of God.”63 If Dionysius' understanding of Jesus as deifying light is based significantly on Paul's experience on the road to Damascus, and if Jesus is our access to the continuous stream of God's work, then we might expect Dionysius to figure access on the model of Paul: as a private, luminous visitation of Jesus by which we are initiated into the deifying work of his Father.
But in fact Dionysius does not understand access as a private luminous visitation on each of our roads to Damascus. We obtain “access” in the sacraments of the liturgy. The Pauline term “access” (προσαγωγή) and its corresponding verb (προσάγω) appear often in the Ecclesiastical Hierarchy's description of the sacraments of baptism (EH 2) and ointment or myron (EH 4), as well as the orders of the clergy (EH 5) and the funerary rites (EH 7). What concerns us is the first sacrament, baptism, for which Dionysius prefers two terms: “illumination” (ϕώτισμα) and “divine birth” (θεογενεσία).64 According to Dionysius, “divine birth” is “the source of the religious performance of the most august commandments,” the way
…which forms the habits of our souls into an aptitude for the reception of other sacred sayings and doings [ἱερουργιῶν], the transmission of our holy and most divine regeneration.65
Not surprisingly, then, baptism is our access to the divine workings of God: it disposes and opens us; it clears an uplifting path. But how does Jesus figure in this? Moved by the love of God and feeling “a religious longing to participate in these truly supermundane gifts,” an aspirant approaches someone already initiated and asks him “to undertake the superintendence of his introduction” or “access” (τῆς τε προσαγωγῆς αὐτοῦ).66 Later this sponsor is described as “guide of (p.100) his introduction” or “access” (again, προσαγωγῆς).67 The sponsor brings the aspirant before the hierarch, who calls together “a full religious assembly…[in] common rejoicing over the man's salvation.”68 Dionysius then provides a detailed description of the rite of “divine birth,” complete with hymns, kisses, professions of faith and repudiations of evil, unction, signs of the cross, and immersion in water.
After the description of the rite, Dionysius offers here, as he does for each sacrament, a “contemplation” (θεωρία) of the hidden meanings of these perceptible gestures and symbols. It is this contemplative account of baptism as “illumination” that clarifies the role of Jesus. The turn from west to east symbolizes not only the aspirant's renunciation of his evil and wayward past, but is also opportunity to turn from occident to orient and thereby “declaring clearly that his position and recovery will be purely in the Divine Light.”69 The hierarch himself becomes luminous, emanating the light that cascades from the benevolent Father through his Son, Jesus the Christ:70 “[The initiate is] made brilliant by his luminous life”71 and “thus [he comes to look] upwards to the blessed and supremely Divine self of Jesus.”72 In baptism, therefore, the aspirant suffers the same luminous visitation by Jesus the deifying light as did Paul on the road to Damascus.
But that is not all. Dionysius tells us that the “holy anointing” of the aspirant in fact “summon[s] in type the man initiated to the holy contests, within which he is placed under Christ as Umpire.”73 This athletic imagery is also drawn from Paul: 1 Cor 9:24–774 and (p.101) 2 Tim 2:5.75 Besides “illumination,” then, baptism is a “divine birth” into a struggle against sin. But this birth is also, of course, simultaneously a death:
[When] he has overthrown, in his struggles after the Divine example, the energies and impulses opposed to his deification, he dies with Christ—to speak mystically—to sin, in Baptism.76
In baptism we not only meet Jesus the deifying light, but also “mystically” share in his death. And of course this interpretation of the baptismal rite also comes directly from Paul: “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?”77 Herein lies Dionysius' account of the cross, which modern scholars have consistently faulted Dionysius for shorting. And yet it precisely here, at the very point of “access” to the saving work of Jesus in the hierarchies, that the initiate must not only stand at the foot of the cross but also die with Jesus, arms outstretched.
It should come as no surprise, then, that Dionysius elsewhere quotes the following famous line from Ignatius' letter to the Romans: “My erōs has been crucified” (Ὁ ἐμὸς ἒρως ἐσταύρωται).78 The pun operates on three levels: (1) Jesus—for whom I yearn, my beloved—has been crucified; (2) Jesus himself is love crucified, figured both as God's “love for humanity” (ϕιλανθρωπία) and also the ecstatic erōs or yearning that once prompted God to create the world and now prompts God, preeminently through the Incarnation, to bid us return; (3) our yearning has been crucified, that is, we are called to answer ecstasy with ecstasy by passing through death on the cross.
Contrary to the claims of so many modern scholars, then, there is a robust Dionysian Christology and that Christology is deeply Pauline. Jesus is both our only “access” to the work of God (θεουργία), the loving activity (ἐνέργεια) of the hierarchies, and also simultaneously that very work and activity. He grants us this access in the sacraments, (p.102) first and foremost the sacrament of baptism, what Dionysius calls “illumination” and “divine birth.” In baptism we have our share in what Paul experienced on the road to Damascus: entry into the streaming and deifying light of Jesus. This “illumination” is both a birth into a new life and a death on the cross to sin. Jesus, the love of God for humanity (ϕιλανθρωπία), is also love crucified (Ὁ ἐμὸς ἒρως ἐσταύρωται). Paul becomes our model of how to respond to this crucified love, for it is Paul, the ecstatic lover (ἐραστὴς),79 who tells us that with Christ we die to sin and with Christ we live anew: “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.”80
III. The purpose of hierarchy: deification through cooperation
Having been given “access” to the hierarchies and thereby suffering the light and love of Jesus, initiates must finally turn to the end or “purpose” (σκοπός) of hierarchy itself. According to our author's introductory gloss on James, “every procession of illuminating light…turns us to the oneness of our conducting Father, and to a deifying [θεοποιόν] simplicity.”81 Later, he explains that “[t]he purpose, then, of Hierarchy is the assimilation and union, as far as attainable, with God.”82 By the time of our author, the notion of deification had made a remarkable journey from the margins to the center of Christian soteriology. Its provenance is Plato's Thaeatetus: “Therefore we ought to try to escape from earth to the dwelling of the gods as quickly as we can; and to escape is to become like God, so far as this is possible.”83 From the second through the fourth centuries, one can trace the rise of deification in Christian theology:84 from its first expression in Irenaeus of (p.103) Lyons,85 to its development in the Alexandrians, Clement86 and Origen,87 to its fruition in Athanasius.88 Although Christian theologians appropriated the notion of deification from Platonism, the New Testament offered ample resources for enriching this philosophical idiom. While 2 Peter 1:4b89 and Luke 20:3690 loomed large, John and Paul91 provided the bulk of these scriptural resources. Bernard McGinn has characterized the development of deification—or “divinization”—thus:
The root of the Christian doctrine of divinization, developed by the Greek fathers on the basis of a Platonic background…is [to be found] in the consonance the fathers saw between the believer's identification with Christ, the God‐man, as taught by Paul and John, and the teaching of the best philosophers about the goal of human existence.”92
(p.104) Note that insofar as early Christian writers consider deification a properly Christian goal, they consider it entirely apostolic. That our author places such emphasis on deification, therefore, would not compromise but only strengthen (at least among his contemporaries) his pseudonymous identity as a disciple of Paul.
As he expounds on deification as the “goal of hierarchy,” Dionysius leans on a specific phrase of Paul's: “fellow workman for God” or “co‐worker of God” (θεοῦ συνεργὸν) (1 Cor 3:9; 1 Thess 3:2):93
For each of those who have been called into the Hierarchy, find their perfection in being carried to the Divine imitation in their own proper degree; and, what is more Divine than all, in becoming a fellow‐worker with God, as the Oracles say, and in shewing the Divine energy in himself manifested as far as possible.94
Why does our author single out and elevate this particular Pauline phrase? Previous generations of scholars would perhaps agree with E.R. Dodds and charge him with merely “dressing up” Platonist themes with the “Christian draperies” of scripture. But in fact Dionysius relies on this particular Pauline phrase, “co‐worker of God,” for precisely the root ἔργον, “work.” The word “work” is subject to a sort of lexical proliferation in the CD and serves as one of the threads which binds the whole together. It never appears alone, but always in combinations that can be difficult to track and appreciate in translation: good work (ἀγαθουργία), theurgy (θεουργία), sacred work (ἱερουργία), liturgy (λειτουργία), and cooperation (συνεργία).95 We have already met one of these combinations: energy (ἐνέργεια), one of the three elements in Dionysius' tripartite definition of hierarchy. Presumably, then, deification understood as cooperation means cooperation (συνεργία) with the energy (ἐνέργεια) of the hierarchies.96
This wide‐ranging vocabulary of “work” (ἔργον) has been subject to a considerable amount of attention, owing to the fact that many scholars are anxious that Dioynsius seems to import wholesale the language and practice of pagan “god‐work” or “theurgy” (θεουργία) into his mystical theology. A brief history of theurgy will allow us to appreciate better Dionysius' inheritance and innovation of this tradition.97
The tenth‐century Byzantine encyclopedia, the Suda (nos. 433 and 434), introduces a second‐century father and son team who have come to be known as the Juliani: Julian pater, “the Chaldean,” wrote four books about demons; Julian filius, “the Theurgist,” wrote oracles in verse (λόγια δ᾽ ἐπῶν) as well as “theurgical” and “ritual” treatises (theourgika and telestika). The logia or “oracles” here attributed to Julian filius are thought to be none other than The Chaldean Oracles that came to be regarded by the later Neoplatonists as authoritative revelation on a par with Plato's Timaeus. Franz Cumont famously dubs the Oracles the “Bible of the last neo‐Platonists.”98 These hexameter verse Oracles have unfortunately been largely lost; what remains of them are fragmentary quotes in the works of later admiring Neoplatonists.99 One such admirer is Proclus, who thrice remarks that the Oracles were “handed down by the gods” (θεοπαράδοτος).100 This has led some scholars to wonder whether the Oracles were transmitted through some sort of medium, with pater perhaps summoning the soul of Plato to speak through filius.101 In any case, such speculation aside, we cannot be certain of the authorship—who or how—of the Oracles.
Although the Oracles are regarded as the source for the theory and practice of theurgy, their fragmentary transmission makes it impossible to discern with any precision exactly what the Juliani meant by θ (p.106) εουργία. As for the practice of theurgy, “no systematic presentation of Chaldean theurgic ritual is preserved in any of the relevant sources.”102 What the fragments do suggest about theurgical practice make it hard to distinguish from ancient magical traditions, and indeed scholars often appeal to these traditions to flesh out the practice of theurgy—but at the risk of collapsing any distinction between the two. This resemblance also plagues the question of the theory of theurgy, specifically what its practitioners understand as its goal: union with the divine or wonderworking or both.
Much of the interpretive impasse regarding theurgy is reflected in a fundamental ambiguity in the word itself. If “theurgy” (θεουργία) is a conjunction of the phrase, “the work of God” (ἔργον θεοῦ), then there are two obvious interpretations. If θεοῦ is understood as an objective genitive, then theurgy is the work that the theurgist does on the gods, that is, he influences or even compels them to do whatever he wishes. If θεοῦ is understood as a subjective genitive, then theurgy is the work that the gods themselves do, presumably in and through the theurgist, in which case he becomes a sort of vessel for divine action. The problem is that the Oracles do not clearly settle the issue. In the absence of a clear answer from the Oracles themselves, scholars have looked to adjacent traditions. Those who are suspicious of theurgy tend to assimilate it to overtly manipulative magical traditions and figure it along the objective axis.103 Those who are more generous to theurgy tend to assimilate it to the later Neoplatonists' theories of theurgy and figure it along the subjective axis. Some prefer to see two threads within the larger theurgic tradition, one focused on magical manipulation and the other on deifying union with the gods. The history of scholarship on theurgy can be plotted along this objective vs. subjective genitive spectrum.
One thing, however, is certain: whatever the theory and practice of theurgy was for the Juliani and their Oracles, the notion of theurgy that Dionysius inherits depends in large part on the Neoplatonists' interpretations of this older tradition. The standard version of the narrative figures Plotinus (205–70) as disinterested in theurgy as in all (p.107) forms of magic, Porphyry as remaining loyal to Plotinus by rebuking theurgy, and Iamblichus bucking the trend and thereby establishing a new one, after which Neoplatonists are all theurgists of one stripe or another. This narrative is, in its broad brush strokes, correct. Porphyry reports a now famous episode in which a friend of Plotinus invites him to join him on his sacrificial rounds at the local temples, to which invitation Plotinus responds, “[The gods] ought to come to me, not I to them.”104 Although even Porphyry admits that he does not know how to understand this line from his teacher—perhaps it was meant in good humor—it has come to represent the prevailing view that Plotinus was at the very least disinterested in, and perhaps even hostile to, cultic practices, magic, and, so it is inferred, theurgy. Plotinus never mentions theurgy as such, but he does acknowledge and give credence to magic, if only as a technique that can influence the lower, irrational self.105
Porphyry is widely regarded as the great skeptic of theurgy, who, following Plotinus, figures it as no better or worse than magic. Plotinus insists that the human nous is in unbroken, if slumbering, union with the divine Nous, the second hypostasis of his so‐called “Trinity”: One‐Mind‐Soul. As a result of this union, the nous is not ultimately conditioned by its embodiment, and can ascend to its divine counterpart through such concentrated internal efforts as Porphyry attributes to Plotinus in his Vita. Whereas the standard narrative would put Porphyry clearly on the side of Plotinus, and label the both of them ‘rationalists,’ Georg Luck argues that the record testifies, on the contrary, that Porphyry equivocates on the matter of theurgy, never rejecting it outright but consistently “wondering whether it is really essential and whether it achieves what its supporters claim.”106 In his City of God, Augustine of Hippo calls Porphyry to task for precisely this, “maintaining two contradictory positions, and wavering between a superstition…and a philosophical standpoint.”107 While Augustine faults Porphyry's general vacillation on the matter of theurgy, he praises him for his Letter to Anebo, where the philosopher exposes theurgy as a means of compelling the gods—who are of course not gods, for Augustine, but merely fallen angels or (p.108) demons—to accomplish some mercenary end.108 Unfortunately the Letter to Anebo survives only in fragments, but from what remains it is clear that Porphyry does find it astonishing that at least some theurgists feel that they can compel the gods to do their bidding.109 Apart from this affront to divine impassibility, Porphyry is also disgusted with the fact that certain theurgists put their art to petty purposes, including one theurgist who thwarted a rival's efforts to ply his trade.110 Porphyry's complaints would seem to give some credence to the notion that theurgy was, at least in the third century, a rather broad tradition, including mercenary and mystical threads.
It is now generally agreed that Dionysius' appeal to theurgy owes much to Iamblichus' spirited defense of its theory and practice against the criticisms of Porphyry. Iamblichus of Chalcis (circa 245–325 CE) was a student of Porphyry's in Rome, but differed sharply with him and so refused the chance to become his successor.111 Instead he returned to his native Syria and established his own philosophical school in the suburbs of Antioch. Porphyry's Letter to Anebo roused Iamblichus to pen what is regarded as the masterpiece of theurgical theory, On the Mysteries.112 Iamblichus offers an unabashedly mystical account of theurgy. He is especially keen to rebut Porphyry's charges that theurgists presume to compel the gods in any way:
For the illumination that comes about as a result of invocations is self‐revelatory (αὐτοϕανής) and self‐willed (αὐτοθελής), and is far removed from being drawn down by force, but rather proceeds to manifestation by reason of its own divine energy and perfection (διὰ τῆς θείας τε ἐνεργείας καὶ τελειότητος), and is as far superior to (human) voluntary (p.109) motion as the divine will of the Good is to the life of ordinary deliberation and choice. It is by virtue of such will, then, that the gods in their benevolence and graciousness unstintingly shed their light upon theurgists, summoning up their souls to themselves and orchestrating their union with them, accustoming them, even while still in the body, to detach themselves from their bodies, and to turn themselves towards their eternal and intelligible first principle.113
The agency in all the work of theurgy is, according to Iamblichus, always divine. In scholarly terms, then, Iamblichus insists that the theo‐ in “theurgy” be understood as a subjective genitive, that the gods are always at work “disposing the human mind to participation in the gods.”114
Despite the disinterest of Plotinus and the intermittent suspicions of Porphyry, Iamblichus seems to have won the day. After him, Neoplatonists are consistently enthusiastic about theurgy and come to regard The Chaldean Oracles as divine revelation—in Cumont's words, a “bible” of sorts. Furthermore, at least in the realm of theurgic theory, Iamblichus' successors follow his lead and regard “god‐work” as the channeling of a divine energy always on offer, and not as a means to compel the gods to do our bidding. He is, in short, the great theoretical reformer of theurgy and renders it in such a way that it can be easily adapted to a Christian mystical theology, which of course is exactly what Dionysius does.
III.B. Dionysius and “Christian theurgy”
But scholars have not always been so kind to Iamblichus and his influence on Dionysius. E.R. Dodds, for instance, dismisses Iamblichus' On the Mysteries as “a manifesto of irrationalism, an assertion that the road to salvation is found not in reason but in ritual.”115 (p.110) Dodds believes that theurgy—be it pagan or Christian—is best understood along the objective axis, that is, as magic aimed to compel the gods to do our bidding—this despite the fact that Iamblichus insists that we are in the passive role in theurgy, that we do not compel but channel the work of the gods. Taking care to protect Dionysius from such aspersions as Dodds levels against Iamblichus and other theurgists, some scholars have sought to distinguish sharply between pagan (Iamblichus) and Christian (Dionysius) forms of theurgy.116 One way to distinguish them is to fall back on the difference between the subjective and objective interpretations of the word “theurgy” itself.117 On this reading, pagan theurgy is best understood along the objective axis, while Christian theurgy is best understood along the subjective axis.
Nowhere in his On the Mysteries, however, does Iamblichus use the term theurgy in such a way as to suggest that he understands it to be an objective genitive.118 This distinction seems motivated largely by “apologetic interests” and the anxiety among Christian scholars that Dionysius is “too Neoplatonic.”119 In fact, theurgy is for both (p.111) Iamblichus and Dionysius understood along the subjective axis, and thereby names the continuous stream of divine activity pulsing through the hierarchical orders. For Iamblichus, theurgical prayer is “not an address to the gods but a way of entering the power of their voice and awakening a corresponding voice in one's soul.”120 Thus theurgical rituals are the divinely revealed means of entering the continuous circuit of divine activity always already under way; they are “the gods addressing man, calling us back to divinity through rituals designed by the Demiurge himself in the act of creation.”121 For Iamblichus—and this holds for Dionysius as well—“in theurgy human activity becomes the vehicle for a divine activity.”122 Thus, in a sense, the subjective genitive includes and subsumes the objective genitive—“God's work” includes and subsumes our “works addressed to the gods”—so that “there are not two incompatible meanings of theourgia: the actor of the human rite, in his ritual effacement, imitates in his order the communication of the indivisible and the divisible that the divine demiurgy accomplishes at every moment.”123
“Theurgy” and its cognate “theurgical” appear more than ten times in the CH, more than thirty times in the EH, five times in the DN, and once in Epistle 9.124 Despite these many appeals to the vocabulary of theurgy, there is no evidence of the creep of theurgical practices into the descriptions of the sacraments performed in the Christian liturgy, as recorded in the EH. In other words, none of the rites themselves recorded in that treatise would raise any eyebrows among his contemporary Christian readers (“illumination” = baptism; “synaxis” = Eucharist; “myron” = anointment). Having said that, his description of these rites might indeed raise eyebrows, especially if not primarily because of his appeal to the vocabulary of pagan theurgy. But if we inquire further into this vocabulary, we see that it is not the practice but the theory of theurgy that has so significantly influenced Dionysius.
(p.112) The first mention of theurgy comes in CH 4.4, where Dionysius remarks that John the Baptist was to serve as a prophet of “the human theurgy of Jesus” (τῆς…ἀνδρικῆς τοῦ ᾽Ιησοῦ θεουργίας).125 This phrase makes clear that for Dionysius the preeminent “work of God” is none other than the Incarnation. John of Scythopolis, who wrote the first scholia on the CD in the middle of the sixth century, appreciates this fact when he comments on this phrase:
The Incarnation of Christ is a human theurgy, in which God while in the flesh did divine things. Observe how he here speaks of the “human theurgy” of Jesus. Through the word “human” he shows that he became a complete human; and through the word “theurgy”, that he is both God and human, the same [person] effecting the divine signs.126
While John, a Chalcedonian loyalist if ever there was one, may be inclined to discern an orthodox Christological formulation latent in Dionysius' words, he also confirms that the primary sense of theurgy for Dionysius, the preeminent work of God, is none other than Christ's Incarnation. In EH 3.3.4 Dionysius uses the same phrase in the plural, “the human theurgies of Jesus,” as a description of the gospels.127 Several lines later, he says that the purpose of the Psalms or “divine odes” is “to sing all the words and works of God” (τὰς θεολογίας τε καὶ θεουργίας ἁπάσας ὑμνῆσαι).128 In the next section, speaking of how the New follows on the Old Testament, he writes that “…the one [Old Testament] affirmed the theurgies of Jesus, as to come; but the other [New Testament], as accomplished; and as that [OT] described the truth in figures, this [NT] showed it present. For the accomplishment, within this [NT], of the prediction of that [OT], established the truth, and theurgy is the consummation of theology” (καὶ ἔστι τῆς θεολογίας ἡ θεουργία συγκεϕαλαίωσις).129 All this would lead us to conclude that, for Dionysius, theurgy or “the work of God” is Christ Incarnate, the event the Old Testament foretold and the New Testament celebrates as accomplished.
“Theurgy” refers generally to God's salvific work in the world, and specifically to his preeminent work, the Incarnation; “energy” would (p.113) also seem to refer generally to God's work in (ἐν‐έργεια) the world, that is, in the hierarchies, and specifically to the light of Christ that flows through them. In this regard, “theurgy” and “energy” are nearly interchangeable: they both refer to Christ, whom we are called to channel as conduits. We have seen how both of the hierarchical treatises open by soliciting this luminous Christ. In CH 1.2, Dionysius exhorts us to call on “Jesus, the paternal light, that which is, ‘the truth that enlightens every human coming into the world,’ [John 1:9] ‘through whom we have access to the Father,’ [Rom 5:2; cf. Eph 2:18, 3:12] the source of light.”130 In EH 1.1, Dionysius explains how
Jesus himself, the most supremely divine mind beyond being, the source and essence and most supremely divine power of every hierarchy and sanctification and theurgy [θεουργίας], illuminates the blessed beings who are greater than we are…and thus by looking upwards to the blessed and supremely divine ray of Jesus, reverently gazing upon whatever it is permitted us to see, illuminated with the knowledge of the visions, we will be able to become, with respect to mystical understanding, purified and purifiers, images of light and theurgical [θεουργικοὶ], perfected and perfecting.131
By beholding the light of Christ, the “divine ray of Jesus,” we become “theurgical,” that is, we become “images” of Christ's light, purified and perfected because Christ‐like.
Nowhere is this clearer than in CH 3.2, where, just after he has announced that the goal of hierarchy is the deification of its members, he explains that,
[f]or each member who has been called into the hierarchy, perfection consists in being uplifted to the imitation of God according to proper analogy and, what is even more divine than all, as the scriptures say, to become “a co‐worker with God” (θεοῦ συνεργὸν) and to show the divine energy (τὴν θείαν ἐνέργειαν) in himself as far as is possible.132
To return to where we started: Dionysius borrows the phrase “co‐worker with God” from Paul because understands the Pauline phrase as a description of Christians who have agreed to channel and show forth “the divine energy,” the light of Christ. Although he uses cognates (p.114) freely, Dionysius refrains from using the title “theurgist” or “god‐worker” (θεουργός).133 This Pauline phrase, however, which could be translated literally “co‐god‐worker,” is very close to “theurgist” indeed.
III.C. Paul the theurgist
Ironically, Iamblichus enables us to appreciate what is so Pauline about the Dionysian understanding of deification and theurgy, for once we lay aside scholarly distinctions we can see how very close Iamblichus and Paul are. For both, the divine is continually at work and bids us join it, calls us to become, in Paul's words, θεοῦ συνεργοί, “fellow workmen for God”—or better, “cooperators with God.” Iamblichus does not use the terms συνεργός or συνεργέω for this cooperation, but prefers to speak of the receptive capacity of the soul (ἐπιτηδειότης) and of a soul that experiences sympathy (συμπάθεια) with the divine.134 And while Paul never of course uses the term θεουργία and while most of his use of the word ἔργον is reserved for the distinction between faith and works, he does refer to the “work of God” (Rom 14:20), the “work of the Lord” (1 Cor 15:58; 16:10) and the “work of Christ” (Phil 2:30).135 Paul is, in his own way, a theurgist. The preeminent “work of God,” for Paul, is of course the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, while for Iamblichus it is the created order and the rites revealed in ancient times. For both, to become a theurgist is to let this divine work wash over you and to speak its saving words back to it. This amounts to prayer. Compare Iamblichus' account of prayer—
(p.115) If anyone would consider the hieratic prayers, how they are sent down to men from the Gods and are symbols of the Gods, how they are known only to the Gods and possess in a certain way the same power as the Gods, how could anyone rightly believe that this sort of prayer is derived from our empirical sense and is not divine and spiritual? (DM 48.5–11)
—with Paul's accounts of how it is the Spirit who prays through us in Gal 4:6 (“And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying ‘Abba, Father!’ ”); Rom 8:16 (“When we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are sons of God, and if sons, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ”); Rom 8:26 (“Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words”). Are these verses not an almost perfect match with the description of Iamblichean prayer as “not an address to the gods but a way of entering the power of their voice and awakening a corresponding voice in one's soul”? If in Iamblichus there is a “ritual effacement” of the actor in prayer, so too is there in Paul, as if the Spirit effaces the pray‐er in much the same way as Christ effaces Paul in Gal 2:20 (“it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me”).
To return, then, to our theme of deification as “the goal of every hierarchy”: it should be clear by now why Dionysius chooses this particular Pauline phrase, from among the many at his disposal, to flesh out his account of how hierarchies deify: “Indeed for every member of the hierarchy, perfection consists in…[becoming] a ‘fellow workman for God.’ ” For Dionysius, deification consists in our becoming “co‐workers with God,” that is, becoming something through which the work of God (θεουργία) moves. Such movement presumes space, and so creation, as an ordered “theophany,” a series of interlocking hierarchies, is the arrangement of distance that makes possible proximity. The height of proximity is union, which throughout the CD is deification's constitutive pair. Despite the prevalent descriptions of ascent, proximity and union are not achieved by our moving closer to the source, ascending the hierarchy, but rather by allowing the source to move more fully through us.136 Thus Dionysius (p.116) could say, with Paul, “it is well for a man to remain as he is.”137 Insofar as there is ascent, therefore, it is assent—the assent of each order of the hierarchy to the work of God. Each order of the hierarchy becomes in turn “ritually effaced,” that is, emptied of its own self as it is filled with another. Creation can be understood, then, as a circuit and the choice facing every order of creation is whether and how well it will conduct the currents that run out from and back to the source.
We need not therefore choose between Iamblichus and Paul, between a safely Christian and a dangerously pagan Dionysius. For as regards their understanding of deification and union as assent to the work of God, this Christian and pagan meet. The “ritual effacement” of the “actor of the human rite” in Iamblichean θεουργία reminds us that for Dionysius too this assent to become a medium through which the divine moves is given in a ritual context, the liturgy of the church. In short, cooperation (συνεργία) with the work of God (θεουργία) or the divine energy (ἡ θεία ἐνέργεια), which is available only through the liturgy (λειτουργία), renders us co‐workers with God (θεοῦ συνεργοί), theurgical (θεουργικοί)—in effect, theurgists. Thus the notions of deification and union, with both their Iamblichean and Pauline legacies, are in the CD woven tightly into a liturgical, sacramental, and ecclesiastical vision.
The liturgical hierarchy presents a way of soliciting deifying union with the unknown God, namely creatures' consent to allow the light and love of Christ to pass through them and rest in them. In this chapter, I have argued that the very definition of hierarchy as order and activity, the understanding of Christ as the luminous and loving energy that flows through the hierarchy, and the fact that the goal of hierarchy is deification through cooperation all find inspiration in Paul. When we understand these themes against a Pauline backdrop, I argue, we can make some progress on the debates regarding hierarchy, Christology, and theurgy in the CD. In the next chapter, I turn my attention to the complementary, contemplative program laid out in the CD, namely the perpetual affirmation and negation of the divine names. For this “apophatic” regimen, I argue, Dionysius also looks to his master, Paul.
(1) In fact, there is a third hierarchy, the “legal” hierarchy or “hierarchy of the law,” which refers to the community organized around the Mosaic law (EH 2.1 392C [CD II 69.17]; EH 3.2.10 440A [CD II 89.20]; EH 5 501B–C [CD II 104.20–105.16]; Ep. 8 1089C [CD II 178.13]). This third hierarchy is a rather odd fit with the celestial and ecclesiastical hierarchies, and seems to be included so as to round out the pair and deliver a “triad” of hierarchies—Dionysius being keen on such triads, even if, as here, forced.
(2) CH 3.1 164D; CD II 17.3–4 (translation my own): Ἔστι μὲν ἱεραρχία κατ᾽ ἐμὲ τάξις ἱερὰ καὶ ἐπιστήμη καὶ ἐνέργεια πρὸς τὸ θεοειδὲς ὡς ἐϕικτὸν ἀϕομοιουμένη; cf. CH 3.2 165B; CD II 18.10–13: “He, then, who mentions Hierarchy, denotes a certain altogether Holy Order, an image of the supremely Divine freshness, ministering the mysteries of its own illumination in hierarchical ranks, and sciences, and assimilated to its own proper Head as far as lawful” (Οὐκοῦν ἱεραρχίαν ὁ λέγων ἱεράν τινα καθόλου δηλοῖ διακόσμησιν, εἰκόνα τῆς θεαρχικῆς ὡραιότητος, ἐν τάξεσι καὶ ἐπιστήμαις ἱεραχικαῖς τὰ τῆς οἰκείας ἐλλάμψεως ἱερουργοῦσαν μυστήρια καὶ πρὸς τὴν οἰκείαν ἀρχὴν ὡς θεμιτὸν ἀϕομοιουμένην).
(3) 1 Cor 14:40: “All things should be done decently and in order [κατὰ τάξιν]”; Col 2.5: “I rejoice to see your order [τάξιν] and the firmness of your faith in Christ.” In addition, however, the various verbs formed from this same root are well attested in his letters, especially 1 Corinthians, attesting to his interest in the maintenance of order: τάσσω: Rom. 13:1; διατάσσω: 1 Cor 7:17, 9:14, 11:34, 16:1; Gal 3:19; Titus 1:5; ἐπιτάσσω: Philem 8.
(4) 1 Cor 15:23: “Each in his own order” (ἓκαστος δὲ ἐν τῷ ἰδίῳ τάγματι).
(5) 1 Cor 12:12.
(6) 1 Cor 12:27.
(7) 1 Cor 12:24–5.
(8) 1 Cor 12:28.
(9) See Golitzin, “Dionysius Areopagita: A Christian Mysticism?” 176.
(10) Ep. 8.1 1088B; CD II 175.10–13.
(11) Ep. 8.1 1092A; CD II 180.1–3. This not only recalls 1 Cor 12 generally, but also 1 Cor 7:26 (“it is well for a person to remain as he is”) and 1 Tim 4:16 (“Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; continue in these things, for in doing this you will save both yourself and your hearers).
(12) Ep. 8.3 1093B; CD II 183.4–6: “Naturally, our blessed Law‐giver from God does not deem right that one should preside over the Church of God, who has not already well presided over his own house.”; cf. 1 Tim 3:5: “if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how can he take care of God's church?”
(13) In DN 5.9 824D; CD I 188.11, Dionysius mentions “Clement, the philosopher.” Rorem suggests that Dionysius may have meant Clement the “co‐worker” whom Paul mentions in Phil 4:3, not Clement, the third bishop of Rome and purported author of 1 Clement (Rorem, Pseudo‐Dionysius, 102n186); in DN 4.12 709B; CD I 157.10–11, Dionysius mentions Ignatius and quotes from his Letter to the Romans (7:2).
(14) Our earliest scholiast, John of Scythopolis, takes Dionysius to mean Clement the bishop of Rome and does not see the citation as a significant challenge to his authenticity (SchDN 329.1, 332.1). John also passes over the mention of Ignatius of Antioch without comment (SchDN 264.6–7). See Rorem and Lamoureaux, John of Scythopolis and the Dionysian Corpus, 101, 105–6.
(15) 1 Clement 1.1. All quotations from 1 Clement and Ignatius of Antioch are from Ehrman, The Apostolic Fathers I.
(18) 1 Clement 37.5.
(20) Ibid., 42.1–4. Clement goes on to explain how these first bishops and deacons would inaugurate the succession: “So too our apostles knew through our Lord Jesus Christ that strife would arise over the office of the bishop. For this reason, since they understood perfectly well in advance what would happen, they appointed those we have already mentioned; and afterwards they added a codicil, to the effect that if these should die, other approved men should succeed them in their ministry. Thus we do not think it right to remove from the ministry those who were appointed by them or, afterwards, by other reputable men, with the entire church giving its approval. For they have ministered over the flock of Christ blamelessly and with humility, gently and unselfishly receiving a good witness by all, many times over…But we see that you have deposed some from the ministry held blamelessly in honor among them, even though they had been conducting themselves well” (44.1–6).
(24) Smyrnaeans 1.1–2.
(25) Magnesians 3.1; cf. Ephesians 3.2, 5.3; Romans 9.1; Philadelphians 1.1; Polycarp 6.1.
(26) Magnesians 6.1.
(27) Richardson, Early Church Fathers, 76.
(29) CH 1.3 121C; CD II 8.14–16; cf. CH 1.3 124A; CD II 9.8–11: “…the philanthropic Source of sacred mysteries, by manifesting the Heavenly Hierarchies to us, and constituting our Hierarchy as fellow‐ministers [συλλειτουργόν] with them, through our imitation of their Godlike priestliness, so far as in us lies…” On the importance of the root ἒργον in this term συλλειτουργόν, see section II below.
(30) 1 Cor 12:31.
(31) Others include: Eph 1:19: “the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working [ἐνέργειαν] of his great power”; Eph 3:7: “Of this gospel I have become a servant according to the gift of God's grace that was given me by the working [ἐνέργειαν] of his power”; Col 1:29: “For this I toil and struggle with all the energy [ἐνέργειαν] that he powerfully inspires within me”; Col 2:12: “And you were buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the working [ἐνεργείας] of God, who raised him from the dead.”
(32) 1 Clement 13–19; Magnesians 2.1; Ephesians 6.1.
(33) CH 3.2 165A; CD II 18.2–6: καὶ τοὺς ἑαυτοῦ θιασώτας ἀγάλματα θεῖα τελῶν ἔσοπτρα διειδέστατα καὶ ἀκηλίδωτα, δεκτικὰ τῆς ἀρχιϕώτου καὶ θεαρχικῆς ἀκτῖνος καὶ τῆς μὲν ἐνδιδομένης αἴγλης ἱερῶς ἀποπληρούμενα, ταύτην δὲ αὖθις ἀϕθόνως εἰς τὰ ἑξῆς ἀναλάμποντα κατὰ τοὺς θεαρχικοὺς θεσμούς.
(34) EH 1.3 376A; CD II 66.13–15: Ἁπάσῃ δὲ τοῦτο κοινὸν ἱεραρχίᾳ τὸ πέρας. ἡ πρὸς θεόν τε καὶ τὰ θεῖα προσεχὴς ἀγάπησις ἐνθέως τε καὶ ἑνιαίως ἱερουργουμένη…
(35) For Jesus as light, see section III. A below.
(36) Acts 9:3–9.
(37) Titus 3:4: ἡ ϕιλανθρωπία…τοῦ σωτῆρος ἡμῶν θεου.
(38) EH 1.3 376A; CD II 66.14.
(39) DN 4.12 709B; CD I 157.15–16.
(40) DN 4.13 712A; CD I 159.6.
(41) DN 4.13 712A; CD I 159.3–8: “Wherefore also, Paul the Great, when possessed by the Divine Love, and participating in its extatic power, says with inspired lips, ‘No longer I, but Christ who lives in me.’ (Gal 2:20). As a true lover, and beside himself, as he says, to Almighty God [2 Cor 5:13], and not living the life of himself, but the life of the Beloved, as a life excessively esteemed.”
(43) “Babylonian Captivity” (1520), WA 6, 562; cited in Rorem and Luibheid, Pseudo‐Dionysius, 44.
(44) Rorem, “The Uplifting Spirituality of Pseudo‐Dionysius,” 144; see also Vanneste, “Is the Mysticism of Pseudo‐Dionysius Genuine?” 297: “the Neoplatonic system of Proclus…is presented in the Areopagitica in Christian garb”; Rowan Williams, The Wound of Knowledge, 120: “On the basis of the Hierarchies, Dionysius' Christianity seems rather peripheral.”
(45) Perhaps the best spokesman for this trend is Hauken, “Incarnation and Hierarchy: The Christ according to Ps.‐Dionysius”: “[A]ny attempts at reconstructing a Christology from the various references to Christ in [Dionysius'] works is always in danger of arguing from silence and reading into the material views he never held.— His thought is thoroughly God‐centered, and he represents a God‐mysticism rather than a Christ‐mysticism or anything like a ‘Jesus‐religion’. About this there can be little doubt” (317); “by involving Christ the in the hierarchies Denis seems to remove himself considerably from his supposed master, St. Paul” (319). One prominent exception to this trend is Golitzin, who was roused to give a fuller picture of Dionysian Christology in response to Wesche's contention that “Dionysius' thralldom to Neoplatonism has undercut his understanding of the Christian faith” (for the full exchange, see Wesche, “Christological Doctrine and Liturgical Interpretation in Pseudo‐Dionysius,” 53–73; Alexander Golitzin, “On the Other Hand,” 305–23; Wesche, “A Reply to Hieromonk's Alexander's Reply,” 324–7). I will draw on the work of Golitzin as I chart the relationship between Dionysian Christology, the hierarchies and Paul. Two essays will prove especially helpful: Golitzin, “ ‘Suddenly, Christ’: The Place of Negative Theology in the Mystagogy of Dionysius Areopagites,” 8–37; idem, “Dionysius Areopagita: A Christian Mysticism?” 161–212.
(46) If we take the CH as the first of the four treatises.
(47) Dionysius' own account of how God both graciously descends from unity into multiplicity and yet remains entirely united and at rest reads as if it were further exegesis of Jas 1:17. CH 1.2 121B; CD II 8.5–10: “For it never loses its own unique inwardness, but multiplied and going forth, as becomes its goodness, for an elevating and unifying blending of the objects of its care, remains firmly and solitarily centred within itself in its unmoved sameness.”
(48) CH 1.1 120B; CD II 7.4–7: Ἀλλὰ καὶ πᾶσα πατροκινήτου ϕωτοϕανείας πρόοδος εἰς ἡμᾶς ἀγαθοδότως ϕοιτῶσα πάλιν ὡς ἑνοποιὸς δύναμις ἀνατατικῶς ἡμᾶς ἀναπλοῖ καὶ ἐπιστρέϕει πρὸς τὴν τοῦ συναγωγοῦ πατρὸς ἑνότητα καὶ θεοποιὸν ἁπλὸτητα.
(49) CH 1.2 121A; CD II 7.9–11: Οὐκοῦν Ἰησοῦν ἐπικαλεσάμενοι, τὸ πατρικὸν ϕῶς, τὸ ὂν τὸ ἀληθινόν, ὅ ϕωτίζει πάντα ἄνθρωπον ἐρχόμενον εἰς τὸν κόσμον, δι᾽ οὗ τὴν πρὸς τὸν ἀρχίϕωτον πατέρα προσαγωγὴν ἐσχήκαμεν.
(50) John 1:9: “The true light that enlightens every man was coming into the world.”
(51) The same John, on Patmos, to whom the Tenth Letter is addressed.
(52) EH 1.1 372A–B; CD II 63.12–64.4: Ἰησοῦς, ὁ θεαρχικώτατος νοῦς καὶ ὑπερούσιος, ἡ πάσης ἱεραρχίας ἁγιαστείας τε και θεουργίας ἀρχὴ καὶ οὐσία καὶ θεαρχικωτάτη δύναμις, ταῖς τε μακαρίαις καὶ ἡμῶν κρείττοσιν οὐσίαις ἐμϕανέστερον ἅμα καὶ νοερώτερον ἐλλάμπει καὶ πρὸς τὸ οἰκεῖον αὐτὰς ἀϕομοιοῖ κατὰ δύναμιν ϕῶς.
(53) There are three versions of Paul's conversion: Acts 9:3–9, in which the story is told by the third‐person narrator; Acts 22:6–11, in which Paul gives his own account; and Acts 26:13–18. The three accounts differ as to whether the visitation was invisible but audible (Acts 9), visible but inaudible to Paul's companions (Acts 22), or unspecified (Acts 26).
(54) Ἐξαίϕνης appears in Acts 9:3 and 22:6, but not in the version from Acts 26.
(55) Ep. 3 1069B; CD II 159.3–10: 〈〈Ἐξαίϕνης〉〉 ἐστὶ τὸ παρ᾽ ἐλπίδα καὶ ἐκ τοῦ τέως ἀϕανοῦς εἰς τὸ ἐκϕανὲς ἐξαγόμενον. Ἐπὶ δὲ τῆς κατὰ Χριστὸν ϕιλανθρωπίας καὶ τοῦτο οἶμαι τὴν θεολογίαν αἰνίττεσθαι, τὸ ἐκ τοῦ κρυϕίου τὸν ὑπερούσιον εἰς τὴν καθ᾽ ἡμᾶς ἐμϕάνειαν ἀνθρωπικῶς οὐσιωθέντα προεληλυθέναι. Κρύϕιος δὲ ἐστι καὶ μετὰ τὴν ἔκϕανσιν ἤ, ἵνα τὸ θειότερον εἴπω, καὶ ἐν τῇ ἐκϕάνσει. Καὶ τοῦτο γὰρ ᾽Ιησοῦ κέκερυπται, καὶ οὐδενὶ λόγῳ οὔτε νῷ τὸ κατ᾽ αὐτὸν ἐξῆκται μυστήριον, ἀλλὰ καὶ λεγόμενον ἄῤῥητον μένει καὶ νοούμενον ἄγνωστον.
(56) The exception here, as in so many other cases, is Golitzin. Golitzin acknowledges, indeed expands, the possible Platonic and Neoplatonic treatments of “suddenly,” but also cites four passages from the New Testament (including the two accounts of Paul's conversion from Acts that both mention ἐξαίϕνης) and a wealth of passages from late antique Eastern Christian texts which take up the “sudden.” See Golitzin, “ ‘Suddenly, Christ’: The Place of Negative Theology in the Mystagogy of Dionysius Areopagites,” 22–3.
(57) Hathaway, Hierarchy and the Definition of Order, 79, 80. While Hathaway is certainly correct that our author would have been familiar with the Parmenides and the Neoplatonic commentaries on its deductions, as a pseudonymous disciple of Paul giving an account of Jesus as the deifying light of the hierarchies, he must certainly have had Acts (9:3 and 22:6) in mind.
Even considering a Platonic provenance of the word “suddenly,” the more relevant passage would seem to be Diotima's speech to Socrates in Symposium 210e: “You see, the man who has been thus far guided in matters of Love [τὰ ἐρωτικὰ], who has beheld beautiful things in the right order and correctly, is coming now to the goal of Loving [πρὸς τέλος ἤδη ἰὼν τῶν ἐρωτικῶν]: all of a sudden [ἐξαίϕνης] he will catch sight of something wonderfully beautiful in its nature; that, Socrates, is the reason for all his earlier labors.”
(58) Rorem, Biblical and Liturgical Symbols, 11–26.
(59) Mal 3:1; Mark 13:36; Luke 2:13, 9:39; Acts 9:3, 22:6.
(60) On the triad purification, illumination, perfection, see CH 3.
(61) EH 1.1 372A–B; CD II 63.12–64.7.
(62) EH 1.2 373B; CD II 65.19–21.
(63) See also Eph 2:18: “for through [Christ] we have both have access in one Spirit to the Father”; Eph 3:12: “This was according to the eternal purpose in which [God] has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have obtained boldness and confidence of access through our faith in him.”
(64) “Divine birth” is, in fact, our author's preferred term (cf. EH 2 397A, 404C; 3 425C; 4 484C); “Illumination” appears in the two subtitles (EH 2 392A, 393A) and in the etymology given in EH 3 425A. The word “baptism” appears only twice in the CD, and refers not to the entire rite, but to the immersion in water (EH 2 404A; 7 565A). See Rorem and Luibheid, Pseudo‐Dionysius, 200n17; 201n21; 207n43.
(65) EH 2.1 392A; CD II 68.22–69.3: ἡ πρὸς τὴν τῶν ἄλλων ἱερολογιῶν καὶ ἱερουργιῶν ὑποδοχὴν ἐπιτηδειότατα μορϕοῦσα τὰς ψυχικὰς ἡμῶν ἓξεις, ἡ πρὸς τὴν τῆς ὑπερουρανίας λήξεως ἀναγωγὴν ἡμῶν ὁδοποὶησις; Ἡ τῆς ἱερᾶς καὶ θειοτάτης ἡμῶν ἀναγεννήσεως παράδοσις.
(66) EH 2.2.2 393B; CD II 70.14.
(67) EH 2.2.7 396D; CD II 73.3.
(68) EH 2.2.4 393C; CD II 71.5–6: Εἶτα πᾶσαν ἱερὰν διακόσμησιν ἐπὶ συνεργίᾳ μὲν καὶ συνεορτάσει τῆς τἀνδρὸς σωτηρίας.
(69) EH 2.3.5 401B; CD II 76.18–19.
(70) EH 2.3.3 400A–B; CD II 75.1–8: “[T]he divine Light is always unfolded beneficently to the intellectual visions, and it is possible for them to seize it when present, and always being most ready for the distribution of things appropriate, in a manner becoming God. To this imitation the divine Hierarch is fashioned, unfolding to all, without grudging, the luminous rays of his inspired teaching, and, after the Divine example, being most ready to enlighten the proselyte…always enlightening by his conducting light those who approach him…”
(71) EH 2.3.8 404C; CD II 78.13–14.
(72) EH 1.1 372B; CD II 64.10–11.
(73) EH 2.3.6 401D; CD II 77.10–12.
(74) 1 Cor 9:24–7: “Do you not know that in a race all the runners compete, but only one receives the prize? Every athlete exercises self‐control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. Well, I do not run aimlessly, I do not box as one beating the air; but I pommel my body and subdue it, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.”
(75) 2 Tim 2:5: “An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules.”
(76) EH 2.3.6 404A; CD II 77.20–2.
(77) Rom 6:3; cf. Col 2:12: “and you were buried with him in baptism”; 2 Tim 2:11: “The saying is sure: if we have died with him, we shall also live with him.”
(78) DN 4.12 709B; CD I 157.10–11; Romans 7.2.
(79) DN 4.13 712A; CD I 159.6: “[Paul was] a true lover [ἐραστὴς].”
(80) Gal 2:20.
(81) CH 1.1 120B; CD II 7.4–7.
(82) CH 3.2 165A; CD II 17.10‐11: Σκοπὸς οὖν ἱεραρχίας ἐστὶν ἡ πρὸς θεὸν ὡς ἐϕικτὸν ἀϕομοίωσίς τε και ἔνωσις αὐτὸν. For other discussions of deification and hierarchies, see EH 1.1 372A–B, 1.3 373D–376B, 2.1 392A.
(83) Plato, Thaeatetus 176B: ϕυγὴ δὲ ὁμοίωσις θεῷ κατὰ τὸ δυνατὸν.
(84) For a recent and capacious treatment of the rise of the notion of deification, see Russell, The Doctrine of Deification in the Greek Patristic Tradition; more recently, see Kharmalov, The Beauty of the Unity and the Harmony of the Whole.
(85) Irenaeus, Adversus Haereses V: “the only true and steadfast Teacher, the Word of God, our Lord Jesus Christ, who did, through His transcendent love, become what we are, that He might bring us to be even what He is Himself” (solum autem verum et firmum magistrum sequens, Verbum Dei, Jesum Christum Dominum nostrum: qui propter immensam suam dilectionem factus est quod sumus nos, uti nos perficeret esse quod est ipse).
(86) Clement, Protrepticus 1.8: “the Logos of God became man so that you may learn from man how man may become God” (ναί ϕημι, ὁ λόγος ὁ τοῦ θεοῦ ἄνθρωπος γενόμενος, ἵνα δὴ καὶ σὺ παρὰ ἀνθρώπου μάθῃς, πῇ ποτε ἄρα ἄνθρωπος γένηται θεός); cited in McGinn, The Foundations of Mysticism, 107.
(87) Origen, Commentary on the Gospel of John, 13.24: “the intellect which is totally purified and is raised above the material to attend to the contemplation of God with the greatest attention is deified [θεοποιεῖται] by what it contemplates”; cited in McGinn, The Foundations of Mysticism, 128.
(88) Athanasius, On the Incarnation 54: “He became man so that we might become god” (αὐτὸς γὰρ ἐνηνθπώπησεν, ἵνα ἡμεῖς θεοποιηθῶμεν).
(89) 2 Pet 1:4b: “that through these things you may become partakers of the divine nature” (ἴνα διὰ τούτων γένεσθε θείας κοινωνοὶ ϕύσεως).
(90) Luke 20:36: “they are equal to the angels” (ἰσάγγελοι γάρ εἰσιν).
(91) Including: Rom 5.5 (“God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us”); Rom 8:9 (“you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you”); Rom 8:11 (“If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you”); 1 Cor 6:17 (“But anyone united to the Lord becomes one spirit with him”); Gal 2:19–20 (“It is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me”); Gal 3:27 (“As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ”); Gal 4:6–7 (“And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying ‘Abba, Father!’ So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son then also an heir, through God); Phil 1:20 (“Christ will be exalted now as always in my body, whether by life or by death”).
(92) McGinn, The Foundations of Mysticism, 107.
(93) 1 Cor 3:9: “We are co‐workers of God” (θεοῦ γάρ ἐσμεν συνεργοί); 1 Thess 3:2: “And we sent Timothy, our brother and co‐worker of God” (συνεργὸν τοῦ θεοῦ).
(94) CH 3.2 165B; CD II 18.14–17: ἐστι γὰρ ἑκάστω̣ τῶν ἱεραρχίᾳ κεκληρωμένων ἡ τελείωσις τὸ κατ᾽ οἰκείαν ἀναλογίαν ἐπὶ τὸ θεομίμητον ἀναχθῆναι καὶ τὸ δὴ πάντων θειότερον ὡς τὰ λόγιά ϕησι θεοῦ συνεργὸν γενέσθαι καὶ δεῖξαι τὴν θείαν ἐνέργειαν ἐν ἑαυτῷ κατὰ τὸ δυνατὸν ἀναϕαινομένην.
(95) Besides these abstract substantives there are verbs, adjectives, and agent nouns: ἀγαθουργέω, ἀγαθουργικός, ἀγαθουργός; θεουργικός, θεουργός; ἱερουργέω, ἱερουργικός, ἱερουργός; λειτουργικός, λειτουργός; συνεργέω, συνεργός.
(96) I should note that Proclus also uses συνεργός and its cognates, as well as various combinations based on ἔργον, so Dionysius is not departing from Proclus here, but rather showing how Paul and Proclus agree. On why Proclus should agree with Paul, see Chapter Four.
(97) For a longer treatment, see Stang, “La herencia cristiana de la teurgia pagana.”
(98) Cumont, Oriental Religions in Roman Paganism, 279.
(99) For an en face edition, Greek and English, see Majercik, The Chaldean Oracles: Text, Translation, and Commentary.
(100) Majercik, Fragments 146, 150, and 169.
(101) See Saffrey, “Les Néoplatociens et les Oracles chaldaïques,” 225; Dodds, “Theurgy and its Relationship to Neoplatonism,” 56.
(102) Dodds, “Theurgy and its Relationship to Neoplatonism,” 24.
(103) According to Dodds, then, the practice of theurgy amounts to “the procedures of vulgar magic [applied] primarily to a religious end” (Dodds, “Theurgy and its Relationship to Neoplatonism,” 61).
(104) Porphyry, Vita Plotini, 10.
(105) Plotinus, Enneads 4.4.43.
(106) Luck, “Theurgy and Forms of Worship in Neoplatonism,” 209.
(107) Augustine, De civitate dei, X.9.
(109) Sodano, ed. and trans., Porfirio: Letter ad Anebo.
(110) Augustine, De civitate dei, X.11.
(111) The last thirty years have been witness to a resurgence of interest in Iamblichus: Dillon, ed. and trans., Iamblichi Chalcidensis in Platonis Dialogos Commentariorum Fragmenta; Lloyd, “The Later Neoplatonists,” 269–325; Steel, The Changing Self; Smith, Porphyry's Place in the Neoplatonic Tradition, 81–99; Sheppard, “Proclus' Attitude to Theurgy,” 212–24; Shaw, “Rituals of Unification in the Neoplatonism of Iamblichus,” 1–28; idem, Theurgy and the Soul; idem, “Neoplatonic Theurgy and Dionysius the Areopagite,” 573–99; idem, “After Aporia: Theurgy in Later Neoplatonism,” 57–82; Fowden, The Egyptian Hermes, 131–41; Finamore, Iamblichus and the Theory of the Vehicle of the Soul; Blumenthal and Clark, eds., The Divine Iamblichus: Philosopher and Man of Gods.
(112) Clarke, Dillon, and Hershbell, eds. and trans., Iamblichus: De mysteriis.
(113) Iamblichus, De mysteriis, I.12.
(114) Ibid. No one has argued more eloquently for this reading of Iamblichus than Gregory Shaw, who is understandably astonished that modern scholars are still keen to paint Iamblichean theurgy as manipulative and mercenary magic. I am indebted to Shaw for my earlier discussion of the subjective vs. objective genitive framing of theurgy. See Shaw, “Neoplatonic Theurgy and Dionysius the Areopagite.” See also idem, Theurgy and the Soul.
(115) Dodds, The Greeks and the Irrational, 287; cited by Shaw, “Neoplatonic Theurgy and Dionysius the Areopagite,” 577. In his Introduction to Proclus' The Elements of Theology, Dodds says of the Proclean synthesis: “it has for the student of Neoplatonism the same sort of value relatively to the Enneads which the study of anatomy has for the zoologist relatively to the examination of the living and breathing animal” (x). Later he makes clear his feelings about post‐Plotinian Neoplatonism, both pagan and Christian: “Though Plotinus is commonly treated as the founder of Neoplatonism, in the wider movement we are considering he stands not at the point of origin but at the culminating crest of the wave. Formally, the later Neoplatonic school owes more to him than to any other individual thinker save Plato; yet spiritually he stands alone” (xix).
(116) Although Rorem is credited with first fully acknowledging the scope of Dionysius' debt to Iamblichus (previously attention had been focused on Dionysius' relationship with Proclus), he also introduces this distinction between genitives. See Rorem, “Iamblichus…” 456; Luibheid and Rorem, Pseudo‐Dionysius, 52n11; Rorem, Biblical and Liturgical, 14–15; Rorem, Pseudo‐Dionysius: A Commentary, 120; see also Shaw, “Neoplatonic Theurgy and Dionysius the Areopagite,” 582–3.
(117) Louth takes up Rorem's distinction between genitives so as to guard readers from being “so hasty as to suppose that [Dionysius] means by [theurgy] just what the Neoplatonists did” (Denys the Areopagite, 73–4).
(118) Luibheid and Rorem, Pseudo‐Dionysius, 52n11; see Rorem, Biblical, 14–15; see idem, Pseudo‐Dionysius, 120. The passage Rorem cites is De mysteriis I.2: “We will provide, in an appropriate manner, explanations proper to each, dealing in a theological mode with theological questions and in theurgical terms with those concerning theurgy, while philosophical issues we will join with you in examining in philosophical terms.” Nothing here seems to suggest that “theurgy” is understood as an objective genitive, which leads Shaw to conclude that Rorem simply erred in citing this passage. See Shaw, “Neoplatonic Theurgy and Dionysius the Areopagite,” 588.
(119) Shaw, “Neoplatonic Theurgy and Dionysius the Areopagite,” 573, 576.
(120) Shaw, “Neoplatonic Theurgy and Dionysius the Areopagite,” 589.
(123) Annick Charles‐Saget, “La Théurgie, la nouvelle figure de l'ergon dans la vie philosophique,” 113; cited by Shaw, “Neoplatonic Theurgy and Dionysius the Areopagite,” 590.
(124) Based on the Index in CD II for θεουργία, θεουργικός, and θεουργός. In the four instances in which Dionysius uses the term θεουργός, he uses it as an adjective, following Iamblichus, and not as a noun meaning “theurgist.” See LSJ “θεουργός” III.
(125) CH 4.4 181B; CD II 23.3 (translation my own).
(126) SchCH 57.2, in Paul Rorem and John C. Lamoreaux, John of Scythopolis and the Dionysian Corpus: Annotating the Areopagite, 156.
(127) EH 3.3.4 429C; CD II 83.20. Translations in this paragraph are my own.
(128) EH 3.3.4 429D; CD II 84.2–3.
(129) EH 3.3.5 432B; CD II 84.17–21.
(130) CH 1.2 121A; CD II 7.9–11.
(131) EH 1.1 372A–B; CD II 63.12–64.2, 64.10–14 (translation my own, with my emphasis).
(132) CH 3.2 165B; CD II 18.14–17 (translation my own).
(133) That is, he uses θεουργός only as an adjective, functionally equivalent to θεουργικός.
(134) Shaw, “Neoplatonic Theurgy and Dionysius the Areopagite,” 590; for ἐπιτηδειότης, see DM III.11.125.4; III.24.157.13; III.27.165.10; 165.12; IV.8.192.2; V.10.210.2; VI.2.242.11; X.3.288.1; for συμπάθεια, see DM III.16.137.15; III.27.164.6; V.7.207.11; V.10.210.12; X.3.288.3–4.
(135) Rom 14:20: “Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God [ἔργον θεοῦ]”; 1 Cor 15:58: “Therefore, my beloved, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord [ἔργῳ τοῦ κυρίου], because you know that in the Lord your labor [κόπος] is not in vain”; 1 Cor 16:10: “If Timothy comes, see that he has nothing to fear among you, for he is doing the work of the Lord [ἔργον κυρίου] just as I am”; Phil 2:30: “[Epaphroditus] came close to death for the work of Christ [τὸ ἔργον Χριστοῦ], risking his life to make up for those services that you could not give me.”
(136) See Louth, Denys the Areopagite, 39: “Further, deification means for Denys that the deified creature becomes so united to God that its activity is the divine activity flowing through it”; idem, The Origins of the Christian Mystical Tradition, 171: “What ascent means—at least in part—is a more perfect union with that divine energy (or will) which establishes one in the hierarchy. So one ‘ascends’ into the hierarchy rather than up it.”
(137) 1 Cor 7:26.