“No Longer I”
“No Longer I”
The Apophatic Anthropology of Dionysius the Areopagite
Abstract and Keywords
Chapter Five charts the “apophatic anthropology” of the CD. Paul is Dionysius' preeminent witness to this “apophasis of the self.” For Dionysius, Paul loves God with such a fervent erōs that he comes to stand outside himself, in ecstasy, and thereby opens himself to the indwelling of Christ, and so appears to his sober peers as a lovesick madman. Dionysius draws on the Platonic and Philonic taxonomies of madness and ecstasy, but complements and corrects this philosophical inheritance by appeal to Paul. The chapter concludes by returning to the definition of hierarchy with which Chapter Three begins and arguing that the second element of that definition—hierarchy as a “state of understanding” (epistēmē)—must be understood as a play on words, that through hierarchy we can enjoy an ecstatic epistēmē, that is, an under‐standing predicated precisely on standing‐outside ourselves.
Keywords: apophatic anthropology, apophasis, eros, ecstasy, madness, union, Philo, Plato, Paul, episteme
In the previous chapter, I examined how Dionysius looks to Paul as the premier mystical theologian and witness to mystical union. In this chapter, I chart the anthropology that corresponds to this mystical theology, what I am calling the “apophatic anthropology” of the CD. This is not merely one theme among many, but the consummation of all the themes I have investigated hitherto. Apophasis—of God and self—is what binds together the mystical enterprise of the CD. In the first, brief part of this chapter (I), I argue that an apophatic theology necessarily entails an “apophatic anthropology,” in other words that apophasis is best understood as a sort of asceticism that delivers a self that is as unknown as the God with whom it seeks to suffer union. I borrow the term “apophatic anthropology” from Bernard McGinn and Denys Turner, who use it to describe the peculiar understanding of the human self that suffers union with the divine in some prominent Dionysian descendents, including John Scottus Eriugena, Meister Eckhart, and John of the Cross. In the second, much longer part of the chapter (II), I trace the apophatic anthropology in the Mystical Theology and the Divine Names. Although the exemplars of the apophasis of the self differ between the two works—Moses and Paul, respectively—the championing of erōs, ecstasy, and madness is consistent. In the third part of the chapter (III), I set the Dionysian logic of erōs, ecstasy, and madness against the backdrop of two important ancient templates: the taxonomy of love madness in Plato's Phaedrus and the allegorical exegesis of Abra(ha)m's ecstasy in Philo's Who is the Heir of Divine Things. I show how Dionysius (p.154) both inherits and innovates on these ancient templates, each with their own logic of erōs, ecstasy, and madness. The standard by which Dionysius judges these templates is the figure of Paul, who for him is the exemplary lover of the divine beloved, whose erōs literally carries him outside of himself in his love for God, whose ecstatic love appears as madness to his peers, and whose apophasis of self—split, doubled, cleft—renders him open to the indwelling of Christ. Finally, in the fourth part of this chapter (IV), I entertain a recent challenge to apophatic anthropology: Christian Schäfer, I argue, misunderstands a lone, but important, repudiation of ecstasy in DN 11 in such a way as to obscure how central the apophasis of the self is to the whole of the CD. In short, Schäfer fails to distinguish between the denial (ἄρνησις) of the self, whereby a creature refuses its assigned nature and place in the hierarchy (which refusal Dionysius repudiates), from the apophasis of the self, whereby a creature accepts its assigned nature and place in the hierarchy but consents to have the divine energy—ἐνεργεία, Christ, the “work of God” (ἔργον θεου̑)—flow through it and so ecstatically displace it (which consent Dionysius champions). I conclude the chapter by returning to the definition of hierarchy with which Chapter Three begins and arguing that the third element of that definition—hierarchy as a “state of understanding” (ἐπιστήμη)—must be understood as a sort of play on words, that through hierarchy the creature can enjoy an ecstatic epistēmē, that is, an under‐standing only by standing‐outside itself.
I. Apophatic theology and apophatic anthropology
A recent attempt to survey the whole of “apophatic discourses” insists that “for negative theologies, it is possible to say only what God is not,” and that apophasis amounts to a series of “attempts to devise and, at the same time, to disqualify ways of talking about God.”1 This approach figures the via negativa as a solution to a problem: because God outstrips all our categories of thought, language, and even being, we cannot say what God is, only what God is not. On this construal, (p.155) apophasis is a linguistic protocol or a special “genre of discourse” that polices our speech about God, lest we misstep and utter the unutterable.2 This trend, in turn, mirrors a trend in twentieth‐century scholarship on ancient philosophy. Under the influence of Anglo‐American “analytic” philosophy, according to which the “love of wisdom” amounts to a series of “problems” which beg solution, twentieth‐century scholarship on ancient philosophy has by and large sought to discern which problems and solutions were dear to the hearts of the ancient sages.3 Near the end of the twentieth century, however, Pierre Hadot bucked this trend with a now famous collection of essays, Exercices spirituels et philosophie antique, which argued vigorously that ancient philosophy is not only a method of solving problems through disciplined inquiry but also and perhaps primarily a program of “spiritual exercises” whose aim is to reconstitute the self.4 Quite literally, according to Hadot, ancient philosophy is a sort of asceticism (askesis = “exercise”), committed to both anthropology and its implementation, that is, both to normative accounts of selfhood and the exercises or practices meant to realize them.
Hadot's corrective can be fruitfully applied to our understanding of apophasis in general and Dionysius in particular. Contrary to the characterization above, for Dionysius at least, our only hope of saying what God is not depends entirely on God having already told us, repeatedly and in different idioms, what God is. Furthermore, the contemplative program that Dionysius recommends, in which we affirm and negate the divine names in perpetuity, is not offered as a discourse that aims to solve problems that arise when creatures speak of the uncreated. On the contrary, Dionysius draws attention to such insoluble problems precisely so that his readers might make use of the problems inherent in language in their efforts to invite the divine to break through language. In fact, Dionysius goads us on in our speech, seeking to order and orient our words so that we can best solicit union with the unknown God. Of course the self who is united to the unknown God must also become unknown, that is, suffer “the resistless and absolute ecstasy in all purity, from thyself and all.”5 (p.156) According to Dionysius, then, making appropriate use of language—specifically the divine names—will change the user. The perpetual affirmation (kataphasis) and negation (apophasis) of the divine names—along with the negation of negation and the contemplation of entirely dissimilar names—are, in Hadot's words, “spiritual exercises” that Dionysius recommends to the reader to transform him‐ or herself in pursuit of union with the unknown God. Thus the entire contemplative program of the CD much be understood as a sort of asceticism, and as such entails a specific understanding of selfhood and a regimen for achieving—or rather, suffering—this transformation of the self.
A few scholars have discerned the fact that apophatic or mystical theology has a corresponding anthropology.6 Thomas Tomasic has made the point with respect to Dionysius himself, arguing that mystical theology not only assumes a mystical anthropology—“theologia and anthropologia enter into a dialectic of mutual disclosure”—but actually brings it about: “[the via negativa is] a purgation, an asceticism, indispensable for attaining subjectivity…the radical, ontological ‘otherness’ of subjectivity over against what it is not.”7 The mutual disclosure of God and self as unknown has long been acknowledged to be the case with both Meister Eckhart and his joint heir to the Dionysian fortune, John Scottus Eriugena. Bernard McGinn has written extensively on both figures and has made the connection explicit.8 For Eriugena, because the human self is the only true imago dei, like the God of whom it is an image it does not know what it is (that is, it does not know itself as a what). Thus “the primacy of negative theology in Eriugena is complemented by his negative anthropology.”9 For Eriugena, negative theology and negative anthropology are grounded in the conviction that divine and human subjectivity are one and the same in essence. One important conclusion of this conviction is that God is the subject in any and all human (p.157) knowledge of God—that is, God comes to know God through humans knowing God. Corollary to this conclusion is what McGinn calls the “negative dialectic of the divine nature”: “To know humanity in its deepest hidden darkness is to know God.”10 Meister Eckhart follows Eriugena here, insisting that God and soul enjoy a union of indistinction owing to the fact that they share the same ground, or Grunt. If the soul is united to God in its ground, then it must be as completely unknown and unknowable as God. Consequently, to know the unknown God one must know the unknown self. For Eckhart too, then, negative theology calls forth what McGinn terms a “negative mystical anthropology”11 in which is acknowledged “the priority of unknowing in the search for God.”12 McGinn rightly credits this anthropology and the primacy of unknowing in Eriugena and Eckhart to Dionysius.
Despite sharp differences with McGinn over the viability of the category of mysticism, Denys Turner discerns a similar “apophatic anthropology”13 in such figures as Eckhart, the author of The Cloud of Unknowing, and John of the Cross—all of them ardent Dionysians. And like Tomasic and McGinn, Turner deems their anthropology “as radical as their apophatic theology, the one intimately connected with the other.”14 While Turner seems most interested in distinguishing the “experience of negativity”—which for him descends into modern experientialism—from the “negativity of experience”—which he champions for delivering us precisely from the modern binds of self and experience—he is nevertheless a helpful witness to the mounting conviction that mystical theology and anthropology are inseparable.
Although both McGinn and Turner credit Dionysius with a “negative mystical” or “apophatic” anthropology, they seem more interested in tracing the outlines of subsequent Dionysians such as Eriugena, Eckhart, John of the Cross, and the anonymous author of the Cloud of Unknowing than in plumbing the CD for its own account of the apophasis of the self. In what follows, I borrow their notion of a “negative mystical” or an “apophatic” anthropology to name the peculiar and normative understanding of selfhood that corresponds (p.158) to Dionysius' mystical theology. Moreover, I borrow Hadot's notion of philosophy as a “spiritual exercise” to argue that Dionysius' mystical theology is best understood as an ascetic regimen meant to solicit union with the unknown God and thereby to render the human self similarly unknown.
II. The apophatic anthropology of Dionysius the Areopagite
II.A. Apophatic anthropology in the Mystical Theology
The most obvious place to turn for Dionysius' “apophatic anthropology” is the Mystical Theology. Immediately following the opening prayer addressed to the “Trinity beyond being, being god, beyond good,” Dionysius offers Timothy the following advice:
O dear Timothy, by thy persistent commerce with the mystic visions, leave behind (ἀπόλειπε) both sensible perceptions and intellectual efforts, and all objects of sense and intelligence, and all things not being and being, and be raised aloft unknowingly (ἀγνώστως) to the union, as far as attainable, with Him Who is above every essence and knowledge. For by the resistless and absolute ecstasy (ἐκστάσει) in all purity, from thyself and all, thou wilt be carried on high, to the superessential ray of the Divine darkness, when thou hast cast away all, and become free from all (πάντα ἀϕελὼν καὶ ἐκ πάντων ἀπολυθείς).15
The effort to solicit union with the unknown God is here figured as a liturgical event: the “commerce with the mystic visions (τὰ μυστικὰ)” being a clear reference to the mysteries of the Eucharist.16 This liturgical event, however, asks quite a bit from the worshipper, namely that he or she “leave behind” his or her perception and intellection, as well as the distinction between being and non‐being—“cast away all, and become free from all.” We divest ourselves of our dearest faculties and categories in hopes of being “carried on high, to the superessential ray of the Divine darkness.” But this ascent to the luminous, divine darkness also requires that we stand outside ourselves, that we suffer ecstasy (τῃ̑…ἑαυτου̑…ἐκστάσει).
…none of the uninitiated listen to these things—those I mean who are entangled in things being, and fancy there is nothing superessentially above things being, but imagine that they know, by their own knowledge, Him, Who has placed darkness as His hiding‐place.17
These “uninitiated” provide the foil to his apophatic anthropology: they cling to the efficacy of their own intellectual faculties and their knowledge of beings. Sight, intellect, and knowledge in fact become obstacles to our union with the invisible, unknown God:
[We pray that] through not seeing and not knowing (δι᾽ ἀβλεψίας καὶ ἀγνωσίας), [we will be able] to see and to know that the not to see nor to know is itself the above sight and knowledge. For this is veritably to see and to know and to celebrate superessentially the Superessential (τὸν ὑπερούσιον ὑπερουσίως ὑμνη̑σαι), through the abstraction of all existing things (διὰ τη̑ς πάντων τω̑ν ὄντων ἀϕαιρέσεως).18
To know the “Superessential” or God “beyond being” (ὑπερούσιον) we must deny all the beings that we associate with this God as the cause of beings. The word translated here as “abstraction” is ἀϕαίρεσις (from ἀϕαιρέω), literally a “taking” or “clearing away.” It is a sculptural term, made famous by Plotinus in Enneads I.6.9, where he bids us become sculptors of our selves.19 Dionysius says that in order to see and to know the unknown God—through unseeing and unknowing, of course—we must work “just as those who make a life‐like statue,” (p.160) carving away beings so as to discern the God beyond being. But this process is a double one, just as it is for Plotinus: as we cleave through ontological clutter in pursuit of the outline of an unknown God, we also set the chisel to the stone of our own selves, clearing away those faculties that blur that outline in ourselves.20 We become “just as those who make a life‐like statue…by extracting (ἐξαιρου̑ντες) all the encumbrances which have been placed upon the clear view of the concealed, and by bringing to light, by the mere cutting away (τῃ̑ ἀϕαιρέσει μόνῃ), the genuine beauty concealed in it.”21 The hidden image, the beauty that dwells in the stone, is both the unknown God and the unknown self, who are simultaneously disclosed in the ascetic endeavor of “extraction” (ἐξαιρέω) and “clearing” or “cutting away” (ἀϕαιρέω). There is, then, no refuge for the self that would seek union with the unknown God: it must be entirely cleared away along with our most cherished names for the divine.
If not solitary, this liturgical pursuit of union with the unknown God seems at the very least to be profoundly lonely, for
[the Cause of all is] manifested without veil and in truth, to those alone who pass through both all things consecrated and pure, and ascend above every ascent of all holy summits, and leave behind all divine lights and sounds, and heavenly words, and enter into the gloom, where really is, as the Oracles say, He Who is beyond all.22
The model for this lonely ascent is none other than “the blessed Moses,” who leaves all his impure fellows behind as he scales Sinai. At the summit, alone, Moses
…enters into the gloom of the agnōsia; a gloom veritably mystic, within which he closes all perceptions of knowledge and enters into the altogether impalpable and unseen, being wholly of Him Who is beyond (p.161) all, and of none, neither himself nor other; and by inactivity of all knowledge, united in his better part to the altogether Unknown, and by knowing nothing, knowing above mind.23
This description of Moses in the “gloom of the agnōsia” repeats the advice Dionysius gave Timothy in the opening of the MT. Here, an effort of radical renunciation prompts the self to suffer ecstasy, to stand outside itself: “neither himself nor other.” This ecstasy invites someone else, namely “Him Who is beyond all,” to take possession of this split self, and to unite itself—“the altogether Unknown”—to this ecstatic self. From the vantage of this self who is no longer itself, union hinges on the “inactivity of all knowledge,” or rather, “knowing nothing.”
II.B. Apophatic anthropology in the Divine Names
In the Divine Names, Dionysius offers a much fuller account of apophatic anthropology, and one in which the exemplar is not Moses, but the apostle Paul. The first chapter of the Mystical Theology advises Timothy to suffer ecstasy in his pursuit of the unknown God and warns him to safeguard this ecstatic pursuit from the “uninitiated.” So too the first chapter of the Divine Names introduces both caution and abandon. On the one hand, Dionysius will insist that
[The Good elevates] those holy minds, who, as far as is lawful and reverent, strive after It, and who are neither impotently boastful towards that which is higher than the harmoniously imparted Divine manifestation, nor, in regard to a lower level, lapse downward through their inclining towards the worse, but who elevate themselves determinately and unwaveringly to the ray shining above them.24
Note the string of adverbs that counsel measured pursuit of the divine: “as far as is lawful and reverent” (ὡς θεμιτὸν…ἱεροπρεπω̑ς), “determinately” (εὐσταθω̑ς), “unwaveringly” (ἀκλινω̑ς). At first (p.162) glance, we find the same prudence in the following sentence: “and, by their proportioned love of permitted illuminations, are elevated with a holy reverence, prudently and piously (μετ᾽ εὐλαβείας ἱερα̑ς σωϕρόνως τε καὶ ὁσίως), as on new wings.” And yet the “love” that enables us to take flight is none other than ἔρως. Erōs is the love that carries us outside ourselves, thereby allowing us to take flight.
All mention of erōs and ecstasy, however, is suspended for the remainder of this chapter and the whole of the next. In DN 3 Dionysius returns to these themes, when he explains to Timothy that he does not wish to repeat the teachings of his own instructor, Hierotheus, for “[it would be an] injustice to one, both teacher and friend…that we, who have been instructed from his discourses, after Paul the Divine, should filch for our own glorification his most illustrious contemplation and elucidation.”25 Dionysius does, however, narrate an event in which he and Hierotheus took part and which tradition has understood as a description of the “dormition” of the Virgin Mary:
For, amongst our inspired hierarchs (when both we, as you know, and yourself, and many of our holy brethren, were gathered together to the depositing of the Life‐springing and God‐receptive body, and when there were present also James, the brother of God, and Peter, the foremost and most honoured pinnacle of the Theologians, when it was determined after the depositing, that every one of the hierarchs should celebrate, as each was capable, the Omnipotent Goodness of the supremely Divine Weakness), [Hierotheus], after all the Theologians, surpassed, as you know, all the other divine instructors, being wholly entranced, wholly raised from himself (ὅλος ἐξιστάμενος ἑαυτου̑), and experiencing the pain of his fellowship with the things celebrated (καὶ τὴν πρὸς τὰ ὑμνούμενα κοινωνίαν πάσχων), and was regarded as an inspired (θεόληπτος) and divine Psalmist by all, by whom he was heard and seen and known, and not known.26
Here Dionysius joins ranks with the apostles and the authors of the scriptures to witness the departure of Mary and the ecstasy of his teacher Hierotheus. Just as in the opening chapter of the MT, where Moses' ecstatic plunge into the “gloom of the agnōsia” is figured as a liturgical event, so here in DN 3 Hierotheus suffers ecstasy in the (p.163) Eucharistic liturgy that follows Mary's “dormition.”27 To those who witness his ecstasy, he seems “inspired,” literally “grasped by God” (θεόληπτος).28 This again repeats the sequence from the end of the MT: ecstasy quite literally splits the self, and renders it open to the grasp of God.
While Dionysius acknowledges Hierotheus as his teacher, he also makes clear that the apostle Paul is the one to whom they both—or three, if you count Timothy—owe their initiation into these mysteries. Earlier in the DN, Dionysius describes Paul as “the common conductor of ourselves, and of our leader [Hierotheus] to the Divine gift of light,—he, who is great in Divine mysteries—the light of the world”;29 later he refers to him as “the truly divine man, the common sun of us [Dionysius and Timothy], and of our leader [Hierotheus].”30 It should come as no surprise, then, that Dionysius attributes both his own views on erōs and ecstasy and those of Hierotheus to the apostle Paul.
This happens in the dense center of DN 4, which becomes a sort of fugue on erōs and ecstasy, both human and divine. In DN 4 Dionysius contemplates the premier divine name, “Good” (ἀγαθόν),31 into which is folded, however, other divine names, such as “beautiful” (καλόν), “Beauty” (κάλλος), “Love” (ἀγάπη), and “beloved” (ἀγαπητόν). The Good brings all beings into being, and as Beauty “call[s] (καλου̑ν) all things to Itself (whence also it is called Beauty)(κάλλος).”32 This play on words—Beauty (κάλλος) bids or calls (καλέω)—goes back to Plato's Cratylus,33 and the etymology underwrites the view that God as Beauty both calls all things into existence and then calls all existing things back to their source:
(p.164) [A]nd by the Beautiful all things are made one, and the Beautiful is origin of all things, as a creating Cause, both by moving the whole and holding it together by the love (ἔρωτι) of its own peculiar Beauty; and end of all things, and beloved (ἀγαπητὸν), as final cause (for all things exist for the sake of the Beautiful) and exemplary (Cause), because all things are determined according to It.34
Here Dionysius is already eliding the difference between erōs and agapē, which for ease I will generally translate, following Rorem and Luibheid, “yearning” and “love” (although Parker prefers “love” for erōs and “loving‐kindness” for agapē). After citing Paul as a source for how Beauty benevolently proceeds through and returns all creation to its source (Rom 11:36), Dionysius completes the elision between erōs and agape, in a long passage that deserves to be quoted in full:
By all things, then, the Beautiful and Good is desired (ἐϕετὸν) and beloved (ἐραστὸν) and cherished (ἀγαπητόν); and, by reason of It, and for the sake of It, the less love (ἐρω̑σι) the greater suppliantly; and those of the same rank, their fellows brotherly; and the greater, the less considerately; and these severally love the things of themselves continuously; and all things by aspiring to the Beautiful and Good, do and wish all things whatever they do and wish. Further, it may be boldly said with truth, that even the very Author of all things, by reason of overflowing Goodness, loves (ἐρᾳ̑) all, makes all, perfects all, sustains all, attracts all; and even the Divine Love is Good of Good, by reason of the Good (ὁ θει̑ος ἔρως ἀγαθὸς ἀγαθου̑ διὰ τὸ ἀγαθόν). For Love itself, the benefactor of all things that be (ὁ ἀγαθοεργὸς τω̑ν ὄντων ἔρως), pre‐existing overflowingly in the Good, did not permit itself to remain unproductive in itself (ἄγονον ἐν ἑαυτῳ̑ μένειν), but moved itself to creation, as befits the overflow which is generative of all.35
Dionysius is aware that this elision will raise some eyebrows and so he spends the following two sections of DN 4 defending it. He entertains the notion that someone might think that his elision runs “beyond the Oracles,” since God is, after all, described only as ἀγάπη, never as ἔρως.36 He makes a distinction between the mere “empty sounds” of words and “what such a word signifies” which can be rendered “through other words of the same force and more explanatory.”37 (p.165) He admonishes his potential critics to awaken their higher faculties: “we use sounds, and syllables, and phrases, and descriptions, and words, on account of the sensible perceptions; since when our soul is moved by the intellectual energies to the things contemplated, the sensible perceptions by aid of sensible objects are superfluous.”38 Just as the “mental part of [our] soul” recognizes that “four” is the same as “twice two,” so that same part of our soul, “moved by intellectual energies,”39 should realize that erōs and agapē are “equivalent.”40 To bolster his case, Dionysius then cites a handful of scriptural passages and one of “our sacred expounders” as witnesses to this yearning.41 Although it would seem to jeopardize his pseudonym, Dionysius cites the famous line from Ignatius of Antioch's letter to the Romans: “My own love is crucified (Ὁ ἐμὸς ἔρως ἐσταύρωται)”. In all of these citations, however, the yearning attested is our own, for God, not God's for us. Perhaps realizing, then, that this textual record does not deliver erōs as a divine name, Dionysius concludes his defense by reiterating that “those who have rightly listened to things Divine” should know that “Love” (erōs) and “Loving‐kindness” (agapē) “is placed by the holy theologians in the same category throughout the Divine revelations,”42 so that 1 John 4:16 could just as well read ὁ θεὸς ἔρως ἐστίν, “God is erōs.”
DN 4.13 follows and is the climax of this chapter and perhaps even of the entire treatise. It begins with a line which, when unfolded, yields the essential message of both the MT and the DN: “But Divine Love is ecstatic, not permitting (any) to be lovers of themselves, but of those beloved (Ἔστι δὲ καὶ ἐκστατικὸς ὁ θει̑ος ἔρως οὐκ ἐω̑ν ἑαυτω̑ν εἰ̑ναι τοὺς ἐραστάς, ἀλλὰ τω̑ν ἐρωμένων).”43 The phrase “Divine Love” (ὁ θει̑ος ἔρως), of course, has a double meaning. First, it means our yearning for God the beloved, a love that carries us outside of ourselves so that we are beholden both to God and to others: “They (p.166) shew this too, the superior by becoming mindful (προνοίας) of the inferior; and the equals by their mutual coherence (συνοχη̑ς); and the inferior, by a more divine respect (ἐπιστροϕη̑ς) toward things superior.”44 Within the hierarchy of creation, erōs is the love that compels us, who are firmly fixed in our own rank in the hierarchy, to stretch out in loving concern (προνοίας, συνοχη̑ς, ἐπιστροϕη̑ς) for our neighbors, be they above or below or equal to us on the great chain of being. In 1 Cor 12, Paul insists that “love” (ἀγάπη) is what safeguards the health of the body of Christ, that love enables the harmonious orchestration of difference in this sacred order. Since we know from DN 4.11–12 that erōs and agapē are equivalent, it seems clear that this account in 4.13 of how our “divine Love” binds the hierarchy together serves to recall for the reader the definition of hierarchy (from the early chapters of the CH and EH) and its roots in Paul.
Paul is then immediately elevated as the premier witness to our divine yearning for the divine beloved:
Wherefore also, Paul the Great, when possessed by the Divine Love, and participating in its ecstatic power, says with inspired lips, “I live no longer, but Christ lives in me.” As a true lover, and beside himself, as he says, to Almighty God, and not living the life of himself, but the life of the Beloved, as a life excessively esteemed.45
According to Dionysius, Paul so yearned for God that he was carried outside of himself. Paul, of course, never uses the language of erōs in his letters. But Dionysius quotes 2 Cor 5:13, where Paul famously asserts: “if we are beside ourselves [ἐξέστημεν]—it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you [Corinthians].” Because erōs and agapē are equivalent and because erōs delivers ecstasy, Dionysius infers that Paul must have been “a true lover (ἐραστής).” Paul emerges then as the model of the ecstatic lover of the divine beloved. And lest we suppose that this single mention of ecstasy was an isolated indiscretion for the apostle, Dionysius also cites Gal 2:20: “ (p.167) It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.”46 Paul is “possessed” (κατοχῃ̑…γεγονὼς) by his yearning and “participates” (μετειληϕὼς) in its ecstatic power, such that he comes to live the life of his beloved. By Paul's own confession, then, he has been ecstatically displaced to the point where, to paraphrase the MT, he is “neither [entirely] himself nor [entirely] someone else.” For while Paul says “no longer I,” he also says “Christ who lives in me.” Dionysius says that Paul speaks here with “inspired lips,” literally “with a mouth in which God resides” (ἐνθέῳ στόματι).47
But this “divine Love” of which Paul is our exemplar has another meaning, one that has been mounting throughout DN 4. Our yearning for God is in fact a response to God's yearning for us, indeed for all of creation. In other words, we yearn because we have been yearned for:
One might make bold to say even this, on behalf of truth, that the very Author of all things, by the beautiful and good love (ἔρωτι) of everything, through an overflow of His loving goodness (τη̑ς ἐρωτικη̑ς ἀγαθότητος), becomes out of Himself (ἔξω ἑαυτου̑ γίνεται), by His providences for all existing things, and is, as it were, cozened by goodness and affection and love (ἀγαθότητι καὶ ἀγαπήσει καὶ ἔρωτι θέλγεται) and is led down (κατάγεται) from the Eminence above all, and surpassing all, to being in all, as befits an extatic superessential power centered in Himself (κατ᾽ ἐκστατικὴν ὑπερούσιον δύναμιν ἀνεκϕοίτητον ἑαυτου̑).48
Earlier, in DN 4.10, Dionysius says that it was God's yearning that prevented him from “remain[ing] in [him]self (ἐν ἑαυτῳ̑ μένειν)” and (p.168) moved him instead to create the world.49 That same yearning is still at work: God cannot remain at rest, content with himself. Instead, God is “cozened” or “beguiled”(θέλγεται) by the goodness of his own creation, and processes into and returns that creation to its source. This divine ecstasy, then and now, does not compromise his rest; in other words, God leaves one sort of rest—remaining in himself—so as to achieve another kind of rest, the perfect flow of Christ through the circuit of creation, ordered hierarchically precisely to communicate this light and love.
Dionysius associates God's own erōs and ecstasy with two other divine names: one conceptual name—“jealous” (ζηλωτής)—and one sensory name—“drunk” (μεθύοντα). What do we learn from a proper contemplation of these divine names? In DN 4.13, Dionysius explains that “those skilled in Divine things call Him even Jealous, as (being) that vast good Love towards all beings, and rousing His loving inclination to jealousy.”50 God is named yearning and jealousy not only because God yearns after and is jealous for his creation, but because he stirs in his creation that same yearning and jealousy.
Although Dionysius says that he has taken up the matter of the “sensory” names in another treatise, The Symbolic Theology, he gives a sense of how he would submit the sensory names to the same anagogical contemplation as he does the conceptual names in his Letter 9. Among the anthropomorphisms that beg interpretation, Dionysius considers the fact that scripture describes God as “drunk” (μεθύοντα). Here he suggests to another disciple of Paul, Titus, how best to understand this startling divine name:
For, as regards us, in the worse sense, drunkenness (ἡ μέθη) is both an immoderate repletion, and being out of mind and wits (νου̑ καὶ ϕρενω̑ν ἔκστασις); so, in the best sense, respecting God, we ought not to imagine drunkenness as anything else beyond the super‐full immeasurableness of all good things pre‐existing Him as Cause (τὴν ὑπερπλήρη κατ᾽ αἰτίαν προου̑σαν ἐν αὐτῳ̑ πάντων τω̑ν ἀγαθω̑ν ἀμετρίαν). But, even in respect to being out of wits (του̑ ϕρονει̑ν ἔκστασιν), which follows upon drunkenness, we must consider the pre‐eminence of Almighty God, which is above conception, in which he overtops our conception, as being above conception and above being conceived (ὑπὲρ τὸ νοει̑ν ὢν ὑπὲρ τὸ νοει̑σθαι), and above being itself; and in short, Almighty God is inebriated with, and outside of (ἐξεστηκώς), all good things whatever, as (p.169) being at once a super‐full hyperbole of every immeasurableness of them all.51
The divine name “drunkenness” yields two anagogical interpretations. First, while “drunkenness” signals for creatures an “immoderate repletion,” for the creator it signals a “super‐full immeasurableness,” that is, the endless and overflowing power of the Good, as cause, to bring things into being. Second, “drunkenness” means “being out of mind and wits,” which means that God, despite being the cause of all, stands beyond the understanding of his creatures. Thus “drunkenness” suggests both the immanence of God as the superabundant cause of all, and the transcendence of God, as always standing apart from, and thereby beyond, any understanding. In both instances, ecstasy (ἔκστασις, ἐξεστηκώς) is assimilated to the Dionysian notion of God's being “beyond” (ὑπέρ‐), that is, both bestowing a gift, here being, and always eluding the analogy that would allow the recipient to trace that gift back to its giver.
Our ecstatic yearning after God, then, is in response to God's ecstatic yearning after us, and indeed all creation. Enticed by the prospect of yearning for a beloved creation, God stood outside himself to create and now stands outside himself, yearning for creation to return to its source. Proper contemplation of God as the Good yields this interpretation of erōs and ecstasy, which interpretation in turn is refracted and deepened through the contemplation other divine names, such as “jealous” and “drunk.” Just as scripture teaches us these uplifting facts about God's ecstatic yearning through the divine names, it also teaches us to push past even these names: “[The theologians] have given the preference to the ascent through negations (ἀποϕάσεων), as lifting the soul out of things kindred to itself (ἐξιστω̑σαν…τω̑ν ἑαυτῃ̑ συμϕύλων)…and at the furthest extremity attaching it to Him, as far indeed as is possible for us to be attached to that Being.”52 However edifying and anagogical our interpretations of the divine names are, negations are to be preferred precisely because they force us to stand outside ourselves, and our finite natures. The impulse behind perpetual negation, then, is a yearning for God that will accept no proxies—that is to say, no idols. Even our contemplations of the divine names must be sacrificed at the altar to the unknown God. Erōs is the engine of apophasis, a yearning that (p.170) stretches language to the point that it breaks, stretches the lover to the point that he splits.
III. Erōs, ecstasy, and madness in Plato, Philo, and Paul
III.A. Divine Names 7: Paul the negative theologian
As we have already seen in DN 4, Paul is for Dionysius the exemplary ecstatic lover of the divine, he who yearns for the divine beloved to such an extent that he splits (2 Cor 5:13) and belongs thereafter entirely to that divine beloved (Gal 2:20). But in DN 7, Paul also serves as the exemplary negative theologian, where Dionysius credits him with an edifying contemplation of the divine name “Wisdom.” The fact that God is “Wisdom's self (αὐτοσοϕίαν),” Dionysius says, means both that is the cause of all wisdom and transcends all wisdom.53 Paul, “the truly divine man,” understands that divine wisdom transcends human wisdom, for as he says in 1 Cor 1:25: “the foolishness (μωρὸν) of God is wiser than men.”54 Elsewhere in this same letter Paul plays human and divine wisdom and foolishness off each other, such that while “the foolishness of God is wiser than men,” so too “the wisdom of this world is folly with God” (3:19).55 This jarring (p.171) play between wisdom and folly—and specifically the fact that Paul figures the Wisdom of God as human “foolishness”—suggests to Dionysius that Paul is “negating” (ἀποϕάσκειν) the divine name: “[the theologians] deny, with respect to God, things of privation (στερήσεως), in an opposite sense…[declaring] Him, Who is often sung, and of many names, to be unutterable and without name.”56 Paul's penchant for negations is seen in his use of alpha‐privative adjectives: Dionysius mentions only two here, “invisible” (ἀόρατος) and “inscrutable” (ἀνεξιχνίαστος).57 Dionysius then invites his reader to consider “foolishness” not as a strict denial of wisdom that should signal superabundant wisdom (such as ἄσοϕος or ὑπέρσοϕος would be), but as an even more potent name, one “which appears unexpected and absurd in it (παράλογον καὶ ἄτοπον), but which leads (ἀναγαγὼν) to the truth which is unutterable and before all reason.”58 According to this line of thinking, “foolishness” is an instance of what Dionysius calls in CH 2.3 “dissimilar revelations”: “the incongruous dissimilarities…goading [the soul] by the unseemliness of the phrases (to see) that it belongs neither to lawful nor seeming truth, even for the most earthly conceptions, that the most heavenly and Divine visions are actually like things so base.”59 The great benefit of these absurd names is that they hover between affirmation and negation, and force us, by their very absurdity, to acknowledge how utterly other the divine in fact is. According to Dionysius, Paul practices apophasis, and understands that the absurd is often a subtler manner of negation than a denial that suggests superfluity. This is because Paul understands that “our mind has the power for thought, through which it views things intellectual, but that the union through which it is brought into contact with things beyond itself surpasses the nature of the mind. We must then contemplate things Divine, after this Union, not after ourselves.”60 Apophasis then is an effort to force us out of ourselves by forcing us out of our words. Echoing Paul in 2 Cor 5:13, Dionysius says that “standing outside (ἐξισταμένους) of our (p.172) whole selves, [we should become] wholly of God. For it is better to be of God, and not of ourselves.”61
But what does it look like to suffer ecstasy and belong wholly to God? What does it look like to suffer union with God, in which knower and known belong entirely to one another? Dionysius tells us that:…
For, well does he know, who has been united to the Truth, that it is well with him although the multitude may admonish him as “out of his mind” (ἐξεστηκότα). For it probably escapes them, that he is “out of his mind” (ἐξεστηκώς) from error to truth, through the veritable faith. But, he truly knows himself, not, as they say, mad (μαινόμενον), but as liberated from the unstable and variable course around the manifold variety of error, through the simple, and ever the same, and similar truth.62
The crowds (οἱ πολλοὶ) are in fact right: he who suffers union with God is “out of his mind” or “beside himself.” But they misunderstand his ecstasy, and fail to see that he is standing outside of error. To them, who persist in error, he appears mad. Erōs, ecstasy, and madness, then, are knotted together as features of the self that would solicit union with the divine.
III.B. Plato's Phaedrus
Dionysius is here drawing on a long tradition of Greek speculation regarding divine madness and its relation to erōs and ecstasy. E.R. Dodds opens his chapter “The Blessings of Madness” with a famous quote from Plato's Phaedrus: “Our greatest blessings come to us by way of madness,” Socrates says, “provided it is given us as a divine gift” (τὰ μέγιστα τω̑ν ἀγαθω̑ν ἡμι̑ν γίγνεται διὰ μανίας, θείᾳ μ (p.173) έντοι δόσει διδομένης).63 Socrates is arguing that it is better for a young man to accept as his lover an older man who is madly in love with him, than to settle for a measured and distant lover (ὁ μὲν μαίνεται, ὁ δὲ σωϕρονει̑). This bold claim, however, requires that Socrates offer a taxonomy and defense of madness.64 The four types of madness Socrates discusses are all instances of “divine” madness, as opposed to madness due to natural causes such as disease.65 He covers the first three is short order: (1) prophetic madness that delivers knowledge of the future, associated with Apollo;66 (2) “telestic” or ritual madness that provides release to a community in times of crisis, associated with Dionysus;67 and (3) poetic madness, in which the Muses inspire songs through possession.68 Although all of these types of divine madness deliver great blessings, Socrates is most concerned to explain and defend a fourth type, the erotic madness that a lover suffers in pursuit of his beloved.
But in order to prove the value of erotic madness, Socrates introduces a long excursus on the nature of the immortal soul and its perennial transmigration. Socrates famously likens the soul to a pair of winged horses with a charioteer. The gods' souls have horses that “are all good and of good descent” and therefore obedient; ours, however, “are mixed”—one noble horse, the other base—and therefore difficult to control.69 Every ten thousand years, all souls participate in a great parade: at the head of the host are the gods, followed by the other souls arranged in order of likeness to the gods. The gods lead this parade on a great ascent to “the vault of heaven”: their horses make the climb easily while ours struggle. The gods and those who persevere in spite of the “toil and struggle…reach the top, pass outside and take their place on the outer surface of the heaven (ἔξω πορευθει̑σαι ἔστησαν ἐπὶ τῳ̑ του̑ οὐρανου̑ νώτῳ), and when they have taken their stand, the revolution carries them round and they behold the things outside of the heaven (αἱ δὲ θεωρου̑σι τὰ ἔξω του̑ ο (p.174) ὐρανου̑).”70 At the height of the ascent, the gods suffer a sort of ecstasy: they stand, not outside themselves exactly, but outside their proper place, heaven, and behold “the region above the heaven” (τὸν δὲ ὑπερουράνιον τόπον).71
What lies on the other side of heaven, nourishing the souls' wings for its next ascent and revolution? Nothing less than “the colorless, formless, and intangible truly existing essence” (ἡ γὰρ ἀχρώματός τε καὶ ἀσχημάτιστος καὶ ἀναϕὴς οὐσια ὄντως οὐ̑σα):
In the revolution [the divine intelligence (θεου̑ διάνοια) of every soul] beholds (θεωρου̑σα) absolute justice, temperance, and knowledge (καθορᾳ̑ μὲν αὐτὴν δικαιοσύνην, καθορᾳ̑ δὲ σωϕροσύνην, καθορᾳ̑ δὲ ἐπιστήμην), not such knowledge as has a beginning and varies as it is associated with one or another of the things we call realities, but that which abides in the real eternal absolute (ἀλλὰ τὴν ἐν τῳ̑ ὅ ἐστιν ὂ ὄντως ἐπιστήμην οὐ̑σαν); and in the same way it beholds and feeds upon the other eternal verities (τἀ̑λλα…τὰ ὄντα ὄντως).72
In Platonic metaphysical terms, what the gods behold or contemplate (θεωρου̑σα), suffering an ecstasy of place, are the “forms,” “the things that really exist” (τἀ̑λλα…τὰ ὄντα ὄντως) and from which true knowledge derives.73
So much for the gods; those hapless souls struggling behind them might manage to lift their heads outside of heaven and catch a glimpse of these forms, perhaps only seeing one or another, but never the whole. Souls ruthlessly compete for these glimpses, since contemplation of the forms nourishes the wings and permits the souls to remain aloft until the next parade, ten thousand years hence. Most souls, however, battered by the melée, fall to the earth and into bodies commensurate with their contemplation: the noblest embodiment is “a philosopher or lover of beauty (ϕιλοκάλου), or one of a musical or loving nature (ἐρωτικου̑)”; the basest human embodiment is a tyrant, just below sophists.74
The sensible world into which souls fall is a dim reflection of the intelligible world from which they fall. But even these dim reflections can remind the fallen soul of “those things which [it] once beheld, (p.175) when it journeyed with God and, lifting its vision above the things which we now say exist, rose up into real being.”75 The philosopher or lover of beauty beheld more real being than any of the other embodied souls, and therefore remains “in communion through memory with those things the communion with which causes God to be divine.”76 Only here does the excursus circle back to the theme at hand, the fourth type of madness:
Now a man who employs such memories rightly is always being initiated into perfect mysteries and he alone becomes truly perfect; but since he separates himself (ἐξιστάμενος) from human interests and turns his attention toward the divine, he is rebuked by the vulgar, who consider him mad (ὡς παρακινω̑ν) and do not know that he is inspired (ἐνθουσιάζων).77
The philosopher, held in rapt attention by the divine, stands apart from everyday human matters, and is regarded as “mad” (literally “moved aside”) and “inspired.” This philosopher, when he sees instances of sensible beauty, remembers the true, intelligible beauty his soul contemplated prior to its embodiment. He loves the instances of sensible beauty because they remind him of this beauty. Of all the intelligible forms, beauty shines most clearly in the sensible world; of all the senses, “sight is the sharpest.”78 Thus sensible beauty more than any other sensible quality arouses in the soul a memory of its former life, and as a result the soul loves, longs for, yearns after sensible beauty, and through it, intelligible beauty:
[T]his [fourth kind of madness] is, of all inspirations, the best and of the highest origin to him who has it or shares in it, and…he who loves (ὁ ἐρω̑ν) the beautiful, partaking in this madness (ταύτης μετέχων τη̑ς μανίας) is called a lover (ἐραστὴς).79
[W]hen [the philosopher] sees a godlike face or form which is a good image of beauty, he shudders at first, and then something of the old awe comes over him, then, as he gazes (προσορω̑ν), he reveres the beautiful one as a god, and if he did not fear to be thought stark mad (τὴν τη̑ς σϕόδρα μανίας δόξαν), he would sacrifice to his beloved as to an idol or a god.80
Socrates' speech continues for pages, but this suffices to show why Socrates argues that the young man should always look for an older (p.176) man who is madly in love with him, for this love madness attests to the degree of contemplation that the older man's soul enjoyed in its prior life and guarantees that his love for the young man is enflamed by his yearning for intelligible reality.
Socrates' discourse on the soul's ascent, ecstatic contemplation of the forms, and love madness in the Phaedrus serves as a template for Dionysius in the Divine Names. Of course Dionysius innovates on this template. While for Plato, the immortal gods are on this side of the ontological divide between sensible and intelligible, leading our contemplation of the forms, for Dionysius, the angels play the role of Plato's gods, and the hierarchical orders contemplate the proportionate revelations that the unknown God sends over the chasm between creature and creator. And while for Plato, the forms we compete to contemplate are intelligible, for Dionysius what lives on the other side of heaven is beyond any and all intelligibility. Put simply, while Plato here lumps immortal with mortal souls, all seeking a glimpse of the intelligible forms, Dionysius lumps sensible with intelligible revelation, all of which is an accommodation to our creaturely capacities, revealed so as to lead creatures back to their source but insufficient to capture the essence of that source. And the logic of erōs, ecstasy, and madness is somewhat different in the two authors. For Plato, all souls compete to be in a position to stand outside heaven and contemplate the forms. Those who do enjoy a glimpse of this ecstatic vision subsequently fall into bodies, but appear to their peers as lovesick madmen, yearning after sensible beauty, but as faint traces of intelligible beauty. For Dionysius, we respond to God's own ecstatic erōs, yearning for God just as he yearns for us, to a point that our erōs carries us outside ourselves and thereby renders us open to possession by God through Christ. For Dionysius, just as for Plato, this ecstatic lover appears to his peers as a madman.
III.C. Philo: Who is the Heir of Divine Things
Between Plato and Dionysius, however, stands another accomplished taxonomist, Philo, who in his Who is the Heir of Divine Things parses four types of ecstasy.81 This treatise is an allegorical reading of (p.177) Gen 15: 2–18, where Abram, who is not yet Abraham, laments his lack of an heir, and God promises him that his offspring will be as the stars in heaven. Philo, however, allegorizes Abram's lament such that Abram comes to speak for anyone who wishes to inherit “divine things.” Philo answers:
[O]ne alone is held worthy of these [divine things], the recipient of inspiration from above, of a portion heavenly and divine, the wholly purified mind which disregards (ἀλογω̑ν) not only the body, but that other section of the soul which is devoid of reason (ἄλογον) and steeped in blood, aflame with seething passions and burning lusts.82
The heir must be purified not only of body but also of the baser qualities of the soul. Philo explains: “Who then shall be the heir? Not that way of thinking which abides in the prison of the body of its own free will, but that which, released (λυθεὶς) from its fetters into liberty, has come forth outside (ἔξω…προεληλυθὼς) the prison walls, and if, we may so say, has left behind itself (καταλελοιπώς…αὐτὸς ἑαυτόν).”83 As evidence for this claim, Philo cites Gen 15:4, “he who shall come out of thee shall be thy heir” (LXX: ὅς ἐξελεύσεται ἐκ σου̑, οὑ̑τος κληρονομήσει σε). The mounting sense is that the soul must suffer ecstasy in order to inherit the divine, a sense that is confirmed in the following speech, made directly to the soul, also basing its claim on an allegorical reading of Genesis:
Therefore, soul, if some yearning (πόθος) to inherit the good and divine things should enter you, leave (κληρονομη̑σαι) not only “the land”—that is, the body—and “kindred”—that is, sense perception (αἴσθησιν)—and “your father's house”—that is, reason (λόγον), but also flee from yourself (σεαυτὴν ἀπόδραθι) and stand outside of yourself (ἔκστηθι σεαυτη̑ς); as those who are possessed (κατεχόμενοι) and corybants, be inspired with frenzy and be possessed by some prophetic inspiration. For the understanding which is inspired and is no longer in itself (ἐνθουσιώσης γὰρ καὶ οὐκέτ᾽ οὔσης ἐν ἑαυτῃ̑ διανοίας), but has been violently agitated and driven mad by heavenly love (ἀλλ᾽ ἔρωτι οὐρανίῳ σεσοβημένης κἀκμεμηνυίας), and is led by the truly Existent (καὶ ὑπὸ του̑ ὄντως ὄντος ἠγμένης), and is drawn along upwards toward it (while truth (p.178) advances and removes obstacles before the feet) so that the understanding may advance down the road as upon a highway—this is the heir.84
This passage begins with an allegorical reading of Gen 12:1, where God says to Abram, “Go from your land and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you.”85 Philo reads land, kindred, and home as body, sense, and reason, and thus God's command—“leave!”—as an imperative to lead an apophatic and ecstatic askēsis. This spiritual exercise will carry the soul and its understanding outside of itself, “violently agitated” by its love for the divine and so “driven mad.”
Much later in the treatise, Philo makes his way to Gen 15:12, “As the sun was going down, a great ecstasy fell on Abram; lo, and a dread and great darkness fell upon him.”86 This mention of ecstasy prompts Philo, following Plato, to distinguish between four types of ecstasy: (1) “a mad fury” produced by natural causes; (2) an “extreme amazement” at sudden and unexpected events; (3) a “passivity of mind” such as it can ever be fully at rest; and, finally, (4) “the best form of all is the divine possession or frenzy (ἔνθεος κατοκωχή τε καὶ μανία) to which the prophets as a class are subject.”87 Obviously, Philo is most interested in the fourth type, but spends several pages describing the first three types and associating each with discrete episodes from Genesis and Exodus. Finally, he is able to explain what the setting of the sun signifies in 15:2:
For the reasoning faculty in us is equivalent to the sun in the cosmos, since both bear light. For what the reasoning faculty is in us, the sun is in the world, since both of them are light‐bringers, one light sending out to all with respect to sense perception, the other illumining us through grasping the mental faculties. So therefore while the mind still shines and traverses us as at noonday, such a light pouring forth in every soul, we are in ourselves, we are not possessed. But when sunset comes, as is likely, ecstasy and inspired possession and madness fall. For when the divine light shines, the human sets; when the former sets, the human (p.179) light emerges and rises. This happens often to the prophetic class. Among us the mind is evicted at the arrival of the divine spirit, and it enters again at the spirit's removal. It is not willed that mortal should cohabitate with the immortal. Therefore the setting of the reasoning power and the darkness which surrounds it produce ecstasy and madness which is from divine possession.88
The setting of the sun in Gen 15:12 refers to the setting of Abram's rational faculty and the rising of the divine light. The rational faculty (λογισμός) is figured as the sun at noon, when all is illuminated and we are entirely ourselves, in ourselves. When this sun sets, however, “a dread and great darkness” falls. This darkness is in fact the overwhelming light of the divine, which we experience as darkness because we are accustomed to the weaker, derivative light of our own making, namely reason. With this darkness falls “ecstasy, inspired possession, and madness” (ἔκστασις, ἔνθεος κατοκωχή, μανία) and the “divine spirit” (του̑ θείου πνεύματος) forces the “eviction” (ἐξοικίζεται) not only of reason but also of the mind (ὁ νου̑ς). According to Philo, however, these events happen discretely and serially: there is no overlap between human and divine; one swiftly replaces the other. Prophets often suffer this shift, as Abram does here. This fourth type of ecstasy, much like Plato's love madness, will appear to bystanders as precisely what it is, infirmity of reason and mind. But unlike the infirmity of reason and mind that characterizes the first type of ecstasy, this infirmity is paradoxical evidence of communion with—or, to use Philo's term, inheritance of—“divine things.”89
(p.180) This enthusiasm for ecstasy as divine possession and madness finds an interesting echo in another work of Philo on Abram, now Abraham. In On the Migration of Abraham, Philo reflects on his own practice of writing, confessing how he suffers frustrations just as all writers do.90 But he also confesses that
[a]t other times, I have come empty and have suddenly become full (ὅτε κενὸς ἐλθὼν πλήρης ἐξαίϕνης ἐγενόμην), the ideas descending like snow and invisibly sown, so that under the impact of divine possession I had been filled with corybantic frenzy and become ignorant (ἀγνοει̑ν) of everything, place, people present, myself, what was said and what was written.91
It is tempting to read this confession against the backdrop of Philo's description of the fourth type of ecstasy in Who is the Heir of Divine Things; if we do, then Philo is confessing here to the eviction of his own self in the practice of writing. In line with his earlier account of serial selves—divine following upon human—this confession attests to successive subjectivities, kenotic (κενὸς) and plenary (πλήρης). Philo says that he suffered this swing from empty to full “suddenly” (p.181) (ἐξαίϕνης)—an adverb that for a Jewish Platonist suggests a variety of connections, biblical and Platonic, all of them associated with the manifestation of God.92 What is most striking about this passage, however, is not the mention of the sudden shift of subjectivities, but rather Philo's claim that, while writing, he suffers divine possession such that he “becomes ignorant” (ἀγνοει̑ν) of his surroundings, including himself. Philo may mean simply that this sudden shift brings with it an unparalleled focus of attention, “sharp‐sighted vision, exceedingly distinct clarity of objects, such as might occur through the eyes as the result of the clearest display.”93 But consider how Dionysius might read Philo's confession, literally: “I unknow everything: place, people, myself, what was said and what was written.”94 Philo would seem to Dionysius to be confessing to the complete “unknowing” (ἀγνωσία) that marks our union with the unknown God. The fact that Philo seems to have suffered this union through, at least in part, the practice of writing, will prove especially crucial to our understanding of the aim of pseudonymous writing. I will return to this theme in the Conclusion.
Philo's taxonomy of ecstasy and confession to serial subjectivity bear as much on Dionysius understanding of ecstasy and madness as Plato's Phaedrus does. First of all, Dionysius, following Philo, finds abundant evidence in the scriptures for the sort of love madness that Plato celebrates. While Philo focuses here on Abram/Abraham, Dionysius devotes his attention to the figure of Moses, in the Mystical Theology, and of course Paul, in the Divine Names. Second, while Plato elevates intelligible reality above humans and gods, Dionysius will follow Philo's more astringent, apophatic imagination, whereby the soul that would inherit divine things must suffer an ecstasy that carries it entirely out of its reason and understanding, beyond all intelligibility. For both Philo and Dionysius, this ecstasy comes when the divine light enters us, and we appear to our neighbors as mad. Third, Dionysius will follow Philo, who is himself following a long and distinguished tradition of biblical and philosophical reflection, in (p.182) insisting that the ecstatic intrusion of the divine into the incumbent self happens “suddenly.” Fourth, Dionysius finds abundant resources in Philo's confession to his own experience of ecstasy in writing. Specifically, Dionysius will find in Philo a witness to the fact that the practice of writing can solicit the sudden shift of selves. Finally, Dionysius will discover that Philo himself offers testimony to the fact that this ecstatic intrusion is accompanied by the unknowing of everything, especially one's own self. Thus while Plato keeps faith in nous, Philo becomes for Dionysius an important forerunner in the articulation of an apophatic anthropology and an ascetic practice (which includes writing) meant to realize that apophasis of the self.95
III.D. Paul the madman
Dionysius innovates on the Philonic as much as the Platonic template. The best way to track his departure from both Plato and Philo is to appreciate how he understands himself as a disciple of Paul. Paul corrects Plato's faith in intelligible reality by serving as the premier negative theologian, preaching God's transcendence through strict (p.183) negations (alpha-privatives) and absurd pairings (divine wisdom and foolishness). Paul also serves as the exemplary ecstatic lover of the divine, and thereby alters Plato's version of the logic of erōs, ecstasy, and madness. Whereas for Plato, mad lovers are souls who still remember their brief tryst with true being and so pine after its faint traces in sensible reality, for Dionysius, mad lovers are those, such as Paul, who heed the call of the first mad lover, God himself, and whose erōs stretches them to the breaking point, whereat God descends to inhabit them.
Perhaps the most significant departure Dionysius makes from Philo has to do with precisely the matter of this divine inhabitation. For Philo, selves follow serially. In other words, the human is evicted by the divine, for “it is not willed that mortal should cohabitate with the immortal.”96 For Dionysius, of course, this cannot be so, because Paul is the premier instance of divine inhabitation of the human self. Dionysius understands this to have happened to Paul on the road to Damascus, where Jesus appears to him as “a light from heaven, brighter than the sun” (Acts 26:13). For Dionysius, Jesus is the divine light of which Philo unknowingly speaks. Dionysius also understands Paul's confession in Gal 2:20 that “it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me,” as a description of the ongoing residence of Christ in Paul. In the first, “sudden” intrusion and in the ongoing residence, there is, for Dionysius, no full eviction of Paul, but rather a double residence. In none of the three versions of this event that appear in Acts does Paul ever lose his own voice; on the contrary, he dialogues with the luminous intruder Christ. Likewise with the ongoing residence: Paul confesses that while “it is no longer I…it is Christ who lives in me.” Unlike Philo's prophets or the Pythian oracles, Paul never speaks as Christ in the first person. Philo figures our rational faculty and the divine as two suns that cannot appear in the sky at once; as one rises, the other sets. Continuing Philo's allegory of heavenly bodies, we might say that Dionysius understands the divine and the human as the sun and the moon, respectively. Generally, the two appear apart: the (divine) sun during the day and the (human) moon at night. The moon is most visible in the dark, but it is visible because it reflects the light of the sun. In those seasons when the sun (p.184) and moon are both in the sky during the day, the moon is of course dimmer than at night, pale in comparison to the sun, the source of all light. This would be the condition in which the divine has taken up an ongoing residence in the human self; the self is so dimmed by the light of the divine that it confesses, as Paul does, that “it is no longer I, but Christ who lives in me.” To carry the allegory even further, the sudden intrusion of the divine into the human self might be likened to a solar eclipse, when the moon can be seen as a ring of light, but only because it is illuminated from behind by the sun. This would be an interesting allegory for the coincidence of the human and the divine, not least because Dionysius claims to have witnessed the solar eclipse that accompanied the death of Christ on the cross.97 Thus the premier coincidence of human and divine—the incarnation, death, and resurrection of Christ—are accompanied by a heavenly sign that allegorically instructs us how we too, following the example of Paul, can suffer our own coincidence of human and divine, our own solar eclipses.
While Paul never loses his own voice, he does lose, at least for a time, his sight: “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 9:8–9; cf. 22:11). This too would seem to mark a departure from Philo, who says that when he suffered his own ecstasy in writing, he enjoyed an unusual clarity of vision. It also marks, however, a tension within Philo himself, since he elsewhere suggests that ecstasy brings with it darkness, a setting of the sun of our rational faculty. To be fair, this also marks a tension within Paul, who on another occasion describes the same visitation, but does not mention his loss of sight and instead reports that Christ appointed him apostle to the Gentiles in order “to open their eyes, that they might turn from darkness to light” (Acts 26:18). Perhaps the tension in Paul and Philo is resolved by appeal to the same dialectic that would have divine wisdom appear as foolishness, or being drunk on God appear as possession of the soberest truth. Here Paul is blinded by the overwhelming light of Christ and so plunged into darkness. But Paul then sets out to teach the Gentiles to turn to (p.185) this light, and so suffer, just as he did, a blinding encounter with the luminous Christ. Paradoxically, then, blindness in the face of God is the very height of vision, compared to which our sensible vision is as blindness. Likewise with Philo: when describing prophetic ecstasy from a distance, he suggests that the eviction of the rational faculty brings with it darkness. But it is only darkness for the rational faculty that is setting, since what is on the rise is the light of the divine spirit. With this light would seem to come, then, the sort of clarity of vision to which Philo bears personal witness, “such as might occur through the eyes as the result of the clearest display.” But if Philo is right that selves follow serially, then how can he maintain that he experiences this darkness that descends as the clearest light? For if he sets when the divine rises, as he suggests happens with ecstasy, how is it that he can claim to experience such “sharp‐sighted vision”? In other words, how can Philo report on how darkness becomes light when Philo, strictly speaking, is no longer there. Perhaps, then, there is even in Philo some hesitation regarding the notion that selves, or for that matter, —light and darkness, —follow a strict serial order. Philo not only seems to have survived, somehow, the shift from kenotic to plenary self, but also to give report on the fact that during his divine possession, he simultaneously suffers light and darkness. If Philo wavers on this point, perhaps to safeguard the distance between human and divine, Dionysius follows his master, Paul, and insists that the human and the divine cohabit in the self and that this doubled self also experiences the descent of divine darkness as brilliantly luminous. This is no where clearer than in the opening prayer of the Mystical Theology, where Dionysius prays the Trinity to lead us up to the “mysteries of theology” which abide in “super‐luminous gloom” (τὸν ὑπέρϕωτον…γνόϕον) and that “in its deepest darkness [the mysteries shine] above the most super‐brilliant.”98
Back to the Divine Names: Chapter 7 concludes by suggesting that the one who suffers union with the unknown God will appear as a madman, out of his mind. This prompted our long excursus, an examination of the Platonic and Philonic backdrop to Dionysius' elevation of madness and ecstasy. We have seen how Dionysius innovates on this inheritance, drawing on Paul to correct Jew and (p.186) Greek alike. In fact, for Dionysius, Paul is the exemplary madman as well. How so? Certainly Dionysius can point to 2 Cor 5:13 as evidence of Paul's ecstatic love for the divine, but where can Dionysius find evidence that Paul was mad? In Acts 26, Paul, imprisoned in Caesarea, gives account of himself to King Agrippa and the Roman procurator of Judea, Festus. He goes on to narrate his conversion on the road to Damascus, where Jesus appears to him as “a light from heaven, brighter than the sun” (26:13). Acts 26:24–5 tells us that when Paul concluded his long apologia, “Festus said with a loud voice, ‘Paul, you are mad (μαίνῃ); your great learning is turning you mad (μανίαν περιτρέπει).’ But Paul said, ‘I am not mad (οὐ μαίνομαι), most excellent Festus, but I am speaking the sober truth (ἀληθείας καὶ σωϕροσύνης ῥήματα ἀποϕθέγγομαι).’ ” For Dionysius, this episode illustrates perfectly the fine line that Paul walks between reason and madness, sobriety and ecstasy. To those who persist in error—here Festus—Paul is indeed a madman, drunk on a drunk God. But for those who suffer union with God, this madness is nothing less than possession of—or possession by—the soberest truth (ἀληθείας…σωϕροσύνης). Recall that in the beginning of his discourse Socrates distinguishes the mad from the sober lover (ὁ μὲν μαίνεται, ὁ δὲ σωϕρονει̑). And yet it is the mad lover whose soul, in its prior, disembodied life, glimpsed the forms, including “absolute temperance” (καθορᾳ̑ δὲ σωϕροσύνην), and now madly yearns after traces of those forms, especially the form of beauty. Thus the sobriety of the distant lover, of Festus, and the crowds whom Dionysius here spurns, is a false sobriety. True sobriety paradoxically consists in having an ecstatic vision of what is real—for Plato, this is contemplation of the forms; for Dionysius, this is union with the unknown God in the “gloom” of unknowing. This chapter thereby concludes by circling back to the its beginning, where it praises Paul as the exemplary negative theologian: just as Paul plays human and divine wisdom and foolishness off one another so as to let the unknown God remain ultimately alien to our human notions of wisdom and foolishness, so Paul's erotic ecstasy plays human and divine madness and sobriety off one another so that the exemplary lover of the divine beloved, Paul, hangs between the balance of reason and madness, sobriety and ecstasy. For Dionysius, the way to possess or be possessed by immutable, stable, sober truth is precisely to give up possession of the immutable, stable, sober self: true immutability requires mutation, stability instability, sobriety insobriety, and possession dispossession.
There is, however, at least one instance in which Dionysius explicitly refuses ecstasy and seemingly, by extension, the apophasis of the self. This refusal comes late in the Divine Names, in Chapter 11 on the divine name “Peace,” although the relevant background is laid in the long and infamous excursus on evil in DN 4. God is called “Peace,” Dionysius says, because “the divine Peace, standing of course indivisibly, and showing all in one, and passing through all, and not stepping out of Its own identity (τη̑ς οἰκείας ταὐτότητος οὐκ ἐξισταμένης).”99 God as Peace does not suffer ecstasy, then, but “remains (μένει), through excess of union, super‐united, entire, to and throughout Its whole self.”100 And if God is Peace, then all creatures should yearn for peace and so likewise refuse ecstasy:
For all things love to dwell at peace, and to be united amongst themselves, and to be unmoved and unfallen from themselves, and the things of themselves. And the perfect Peace seeks to guard the idiosyncrasy of each unmoved and unconfused, by its peace‐giving forethought, preserving everything unmoved and unconfused, both as regards themselves and each other, and establishes all things by a stable and unswerving power, towards their own peace and immobility.101
Just as God as Peace does not depart from God's own individuality, so creatures do not, or at least should not, wish to lose their own individuality. On the contrary, they should wish to be at one with themselves, unconfused, “establish[ed]…by a stable and unswerving power.” This would seem to contradict the apophatic anthropology we have been tracing through the Mystical Theology and Divine Names. What are we to make of this?
(p.188) Christian Schäfer provides the most recent, and most helpful, analysis of these baffling concluding chapters of the Divine Names. Schäfer situates this discussion of divine Peace in the broader context of Chapters 8 through 11, whose divine names all have to do with what Schäfer calls “dynamic steadying,” one of his many translations of the term μονή, usually rendered “rest.”102 According to Schäfer, μονή has two senses in the Divine Names: on the one hand, it refers to “God's unchangeable unity, unchangeable though God is Creator by self‐extroversion and conceived of as a dynamic Trinity”; on the other hand, it refers to “a creational μονή, conceived as the στάσις (which is a synonym for it) or the ‘stand‐still,’ which is the creational extroversion of God on different levels and the peace (εἰρήνη) that all Creation has according to and thanks to its inner order.”103 Schäfer highlights this second sense of μονή, namely creatures' “rest” in their place in the order of all creation—hence his penchant for translating μονή as the “halt” or “abiding” of divine procession.104 As God creates through procession, he fixes creatures in their place such that everything comes to “rest” or “abide” in its allotted rank. This μονή is not a “static calmness” but a “dynamic steadying,” “an energetic harmony where things are ‘at work’ (which ἐν ἐργῳ̑ εἰ̑ναι, and hence ‘energy’ originally mean), for all things aspire to their ontological οἰκείωσις, that is, to ‘settle down’ in their ‘proper being.’”105 Insofar as creatures abide in their place in the hierarchy of creation, this creaturely rest can be understood as peace, that is, “agreement with oneself (reflexively), with others (horizontally), and ultimately with the ‘Peace beyond peace’ (vertically).”106
(p.189) Following Schäfer, we would do well to read the startling refusal of human and divine ecstasy in DN 11.2–3 against this broader account of God creating through procession and fixing that creation in its place through “rest” or “dynamic steadying.” On this construal, God's peace, the fact that God “remains, through excess of union, super‐united,” establishes creation's peace, the condition “preserving everything unmoved and unconfused, both as regards themselves and each other.”107 But even as Schäffer helps us understand the broader context and importance of this lone refusal of ecstasy, he fails to square this account with the many more endorsements of ecstasy, human and divine, throughout the Mystical Theology and the Divine Names. Can this account of creation's “abiding” in its place, creatures being “establish[ed]…by a stable and unswerving power,” in fact be squared with the ecstasy of creation in its yearning for the creator, the very apophatic anthropology we have been so closely following? In order to answer this question, we must back up to DN 4 and consider this lone refusal of ecstasy against the backdrop of the long discussion there on the nature and provenance of evil. Here again, we will have Schäfer as a companion, but as we will see, he fails to appreciate the apophatic anthropology of the CD and so, I argue, misapprehends how creation is supposed to respond to its creator.
In addition to the fugue on erōs and ecstasy, DN 4 contains a long and infamous excursus on the nature and provenance of evil. Dionysius turns his attention to evil when an imaginary interlocutor asks: if God—named the Good and the Beautiful—calls all of creation into existence, then what is evil and where does it come from? Dionysius addresses this question in the following eighteen chapters of DN 4, now infamous because much of it is lifted from Proclus' treatise On the Subsistence of Evils. In fact, it is Dionysius' rather unabashed cribbing of Proclus that enabled scholars to demonstrate that the CD was not authored by Dionysius the Areopagite, but rather by someone writing under his name in the wake of Proclus in the fifth century.108
Many scholars have been vexed by this excursus: why, in a chapter praising God as the Good, does Dionysius devote so much space to (p.190) the question of evil? First of all, recall that in the first half of DN 4 Dionysius lays out an unrelenting normative ontology, wherein what exists is good, because God as the Good and the Beautiful calls all creatures into existence. This normative ontology has a complex genealogy, befitting the author's pseudonymous identity as a Greek convert to Christianity and disciple of Paul. The conviction that what exists must in fact be good finds corroboration not only in Plato—to whom it is often credited109—but also in both testaments of the Bible. Paul (or “deutero”‐Paul) is certainly echoing Gen 1:31—“and God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good”—when he writes in 1 Tim 4:4, “everything created by God is good.” As a descendent of this complex genealogy, Dionysius is committed to what Schäfer calls “the age‐old trilemma of monistic theodicies,” namely (1) that there is only one omnipotent creator; (2) that the one creator is good; and (3) that nevertheless there is evil in the world.110 And so, Schäfer argues, DN 4 becomes perforce a diptych on good and evil, for “a consistent monistic theory of worldly reality [a normative ontology whereby existence = good] that does not want to be diminished or endangered by the paradox of evil cries out loud for a discussion of the problem, and all the more in a theo‐ontology that defines the entire world as being God's translucent Goodness.”111
Such an unrelenting normative ontology, however, leaves one little room: the only available response to the question of evil is some sort of privation theory, whereby evil, strictly speaking, does not exist, or at least not on its own, but drains existence from creatures. Dionysius borrows the Proclean version of this privation theory, according to which evil is a parhypostasis (παρυπόστασις), a term difficult to translate: a sort of “by‐product” or “by‐being,” something that falls short of and so preys on beings, that is to say, proper substances or (p.191) hypostases. The prefix par‐, denoting a departure or declension from being or substance (hypostasis), places evil at the edges of normative ontology. As such, evil “is not according to nature,” and cannot be described from within the system of normative ontology, other than by negations and metaphors, such as accident, parasite, and disease.112 And lest we think that our inability to name and specify evil mirrors our inability to do the same with respect to the unknown God, Dionysius insists that
[Evil is not] non‐existing, for the absolutely non‐existing will be nothing, unless it should be spoken of as in the Good superessentially. The Good, then, will be fixed far above both the absolutely existing and the non‐existing; but the Evil is neither in things existing, nor in things non‐existing, but, being further distant from the Good than the non‐existing itself, it is alien and more unsubstantial.113
Evil is to be distinguished from the divine superfluity of being, beyond being, that to us can appear as nonbeing or nothingness.
As God processes and creates the world, God fixes creatures in their place in the hierarchical order and assigns each of them a proper nature (οἰκεία ϕύσις). Evil targets these creatures, diverting them from proper place and nature, draining them of their being.114 More specifically, evil plagues those creatures endowed with freedom, namely angels, demons and humans. Part of the proper nature of rational creatures is to have freedom, of will and of desire, and evil insidiously inserts itself into the fissures opened by the gift of freedom, and pulls creatures away from their proper nature and being. Dionysius never explains why certain creatures were given this freedom, but Schäfer argues that we can infer that, for Dionysius, freedom constitutes the perfection of creation, a gift from God that enables us to be like God now, insofar as God is perfectly free, and to accept our (p.192) assigned place and nature.115 Unfortunately, perfection has a parasite, namely evil, which turns creatures away from their creator, which for Dionysius amounts to sin.
Schäfer argues that, for Dionysius, this understanding of sin “has its origin in the free denying of one's own being and the craving to be something else, something alien to one's proper nature.”116 While the premier sin, according to Schäfer, is “the excessively egocentric craving to ‘be like God’ (Gen 3:5),” a sin is really anything that “endangers and mocks the rational autonomy of a human being's characteristic nature,” any “betrayal” of its οἰκεία ϕύσις.117 Schäfer cites DN 8.6 in support of his claim, where Dionysius says, “A denial of oneself is a falling away from truth. Now truth is a being and a falling away from truth is a falling away from being.”118 Schäfer concludes that sin is equivalent to “self‐denial” (ἄρνησις ἑαυτου̑), “an intentional blindness which renders a sound self‐acknowledgement impossible.”
Schäfer is certainly right to read the refusal of ecstasy in DN 11 and the repudiation of self‐denial in DN 8 against the broader backdrop of God's “fixing” creatures in their places and natures in the hierarchy of creation and the disorder that the disease of evil introduces into that “dynamic steadying” of all creation. The unfortunate result, however, is that Schäfer conveys the sense that Dionysius would like that all creatures remain as they are, in their place, and to refrain from aspiring to become like God. If this were the case, then the CD would seem to offer up two contradictory theological anthropologies: one according to which the self respects its own integrity and another according to which the self seeks to breach that integrity. Can the two be squared?
Dionysius only uses the term “denial” (ἄρνησις) twice, and the related verb “to deny” (ἀρνέομαι) once—all in DN 8.6. First he defends Paul's insistence in 2 Tim 2:13 that “God cannot deny himself” against Elymas the magician's (from Acts 13:8) objection that this would seem to limit God.119 He goes on to say that a denial of self (ἄρνησις ἑαυτου̑) is a falling away from truth and being. Dionysius' repudiation of the term “denial” here follows the overwhelming witness of the scripture writers, for the verb “deny” in the (p.193) New Testament is almost always used to designate the denial of Christ.120 In fact, the only endorsement of denial—specifically the denial of self—comes on the lips of Jesus himself, in Luke 9:23: “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself.”121 Despite this lone endorsement, Dionysius follows the preponderance of the scripture writers and makes a distinction between the denial of self, which is a rebellious sin against one's assigned place in the hierarchy, and the apophasis of the self, which is the contemplative practice that complements the apophasis of the divine names. And so while Schäfer is right that Dionysius repudiates the denial of self, he fails to balance that with the overwhelming endorsement of the apophasis of the self, wherein erōs stretches the self to the point that it splits and so renders it open to divine possession.
Schäfer also associates the denial of self with the “excessively egocentric craving ‘to be like God’ (Gen 3:5).”122 Here too we need to make an important distinction. It cannot be the case that Dionysius considers the aspiration ‘to be like God’ a grievous sin, since he explicitly states that the very goal of creation is deification: “The purpose, then, of Hierarchy is the assimilation and union, as far as attainable.”123 Rorem and Luibheid here helpfully translate ἀϕομοίωσίς not as “assimilation” but “be[ing] as like as possible” to God, which provides a clearer retort to Schäfer. We need to make a distinction, then, between the sort of deification that creatures pursue by refusing their allotted place and nature in the hierarchy and the sort of deification that creatures solicit precisely by accepting their allotted place and nature and consenting to conduct the divine energy that courses through the hierarchy. For convenience's sake, we might call the former apotheōsis and the latter theopoiēsis, although Dionysius himself makes no such explicit terminological distinction.124
(p.194) Finally, Schäfer translates μονή as “dynamic steadying,” which he understands as “an energetic harmony where things are ‘at work’ (which ἐν ἐργῳ̑ εἰ̑ναι, and hence ‘energy’ originally mean).” What Schäfer overlooks, however, is that this “energy” (ἐνεργεία) is none other than Christ, who courses through creation as light and love, and renders the hierarchy harmonious. Harmony, however, is not automatic, but hinges on creaturely consent—the gift of freedom where evil attempts to burrow in. Creatures consent not only to their assigned place, but to be displaced at precisely their assigned place. What displaces them is Christ himself, who intrudes into the erotic, ecstatic self and thereby deifies it. Of course this “endangers” what Schäfer calls the “rational autonomy” of the self with a hyper‐rational theonomy of the self. Schäfer is therefore not wrong, only incomplete. Yes, we are called to remain as we are, where we are, in our place in the great chain of being. And yet we are to remain there because it is there and only there that we can consent to have the divine energy flow over and through us, to displace us. What Schäfer is tracing out—namely the denial of self as rebellious sin—is in fact the backdrop to the fervent endorsement of the apophasis of the self as the ultimate act of deifying submission to the divine.
The apophatic anthropology of the CD is not simply one feature among many in this difficult, at times baffling, collection. In fact, the twin practices of apophasis—of God and of self—are what bind the CD together. As we have seen, God, “beguiled by goodness,” created the world, created the world as a hierarchy in order that there would be an order to that creation and sufficient distance between creatures so that the divine energy might move through creation. This divine energy is none other than the “work of God” (theurgy, θεουργία), Christ himself, who courses through the hierarchy appearing to creatures as light and love. To each creature is given the choice to consent to this light and love, that is, to allow it to pass through in two directions, as the energy processes downward and returns upward to the neighboring ranks, and to rest in the creature. To all of creation is given this same choice, but humans access this energy through the rites of the church. When we consent to have Christ (p.195) pass through us—as we do once at baptism and regularly at the Eucharist—we seek to be what Paul calls “co‐workers with God” (συνεργοι̑ θεου̑). This “cooperation” (συνεργία) with the work of God is for Dionysius none other than divinization, the very goal of hierarchy. We cooperate first by consenting to be displaced by Christ, and we thereby look to lead a split existence, remaining in our rank in the hierarchy of creation and yet suffering union with the very source of that creation.
To solicit this union, however, we must do more than consent to Christ in the context of a certain church rite. Or, put another way, truly to consent to Christ requires a very demanding regimen, in which we must sacrifice God and self on the altar. The regimen demands that we perpetually contemplate the divine names, then negate them, and negate those negations in turn. The regimen also demands that we strip ourselves as bare as we strip God, shedding our most cherished faculties and identities. What drives this endless apophasis of God and self is love (ἔρως = ἀγάπη), a yearning for the divine beloved that will accept no intermediaries. This unrelenting love eventually carries us outside ourselves such that we suffer ecstasy, responding to the ecstasy that God continually enjoys in calling creation back to its source. Our ecstasy solicits union with the unknown and ecstatic God, and we come to know this God through unknowing (ἀγνωσία).
The apophasis of the self is therefore woven throughout the CD. With this broad picture in place, then, we can finally consider why Dionysius includes in his definition of hierarchy the claim that hierarchy is “a state of understanding” (ἐπιστήμη). In Chapter One, I argued that Dionysius' definition of hierarchy as a “sacred order” (τάξις ἱερὰ) through which courses an “activity” or “energy” (ἐνέργεια) is an elaborate reinterpretation of Paul's notion of the “body of Christ” (σω̑μα χριστου̑) as the divinely sanctioned and ordered arrangement through which “love” (ἀγάπη) should move. But how is hierarchy also a “state of understanding”? First of all, hierarchy permits creatures to suffer a kind of knowledge of the unknown God, a knowledge that is best understood as “unknowing.” And we solicit this unknowing when we love God to the point that we split, that we suffer ecstasy. The word Dionysius uses here for “state of understanding,” ἐπιστήμη, derives from the verb ἐπίσταμαι, literally “ (p.196) I stand upon.”125 Likewise ἐκστάσις (“ecstasy”) derives from ἐξίστημι, literally “I stand outside.” As the wordplay attests, ecstasy (ἐκστάσις) delivers understanding (ἐπιστήμη). God understands hierarchical creation because God once stood outside of himself to create it and now stands outside of himself calling it back. We creatures, established in our place in the hierarchy, are offered the possibility of understanding—the unknowing/knowledge of God—if we stand outside ourselves and heed the call of the creator. The “state of understanding” that Dionysius includes in his definition of hierarchy, then, is the knowledge that creator and creature will have of one another when there is what René Roques calls a “symmetry of ecstasies.”126
(1) Franke, ed., On What Cannot Be Said, 1.
(3) See, for instance, Russell, The Problems of Philosophy, or James, Some Problems of Philosophy.
(4) Hadot, Exercices spirituels et philosophie antique; English translation, Philosophy as a Way of Life.
(5) MT 1.1 1000A; CD II 142.9–11.
(6) For Dionysius, apophasis presumes kataphasis, our negation of the names of God presumes God's revelation of those names. Dionysius' term for this pair is “mystical,” but I will follow contemporary convention and use the term “apophatic” as a synecdoche for “mystical.”
(7) Tomasic, “Negative Theology and Subjectivity: An Approach to the Tradition of the Pseudo‐Dionysius,” 411, 428.
(8) McGinn, The Growth of Mysticism, 105–6; see also idem, “The Negative Element in the Anthropology of John the Scot”; idem, The Mystical Thought of Meister Eckhart.
(9) McGinn. The Growth of Mysticism, 105.
(11) McGinn, The Mystical Thought of Meister Eckhart, 48.
(13) Turner, The Darkness of God, 6.
(15) MT 1.1 997B–1000A; CD II 142.5–11.
(16) See Rorem and Luibheid, Pseudo‐Dionysius, 70n131.
(17) MT 1.2 1000A; CD II 142.12–15.
(18) MT 2 1025B; CD II 145.1–5.
(19) “And if you do no yet see yourself beautiful, then, just as someone making a statue which has to be beautiful cuts away [ἀϕαιρει̑] here and polishes there and makes one part smooth and clears another till he has given his statue a beautiful face, so you too must cut away [ἀϕαίρει] excess and straighten the crooked and clear the dark and make it bright, and never stop ‘working on your statue’ [Plato, Phaedrus 252D7] till the divine glory of virtue shines out on you, till you see ‘self‐mastery enthroned upon its holy seat’ [ibid., 254B7]. If you have become this, and see it, and are at home with yourself in purity, with nothing hindering you from becoming is this way one, with no inward mixture of anything else, but wholly yourself, nothing but true light, not measured by dimensions, or bounded by shape into littleness, or expanded to size by unboundedess, but everywhere unmeasured, because greater than all measure and superior to all quantity; when you see that you have become this, then you have become sight; you can trust yourself then; you have already ascended and need no one to show you; concentrate your gaze and see” (Plotinus, Enneads, 258–61).
(20) Klitenic Wear and Dillon miss the fact that for both Plotinus and Dionysius, negative theology involves a negative anthropology: “The two passages [MT 2 1025B and Enn. I.6.9] in so far as Dionysius urges the catechumen to find God by sloughing away the material of creation, whereas Plotinus urges one to find the divine beauty of the Soul by attending to its imperfections, but the overall imagery is very similar” (Dionysius the Areopagite and the Neoplatonist Tradition, 125).
(21) MT 2 1025B; CD II 145.5–7.
(22) MT 1.3 1000C; CD II 143.13–17: μόνοις ἀπερικαλύπτως καὶ ἀληθω̑ς ἐκϕαινομένην τοι̑ς καὶ τὰ ἐναγη̑ πάντα καὶ τὰ καθαρὰ διαβαίνουσι καὶ πα̑σαν πασω̑ν ἁγίων ἀκροτήτων ἀνάβασιν ὑπερβαίνουσι καὶ πάντα τὰ θει̑α ϕω̑τα καὶ ἤχους καὶ λόγους οὐρανίους ἀπολιμπάνουσι καὶ «εἰς τὸν γνόϕον» εἰσδυομένοις, «οὑ̑» ὄντως ἐστίν, ὡς τὰ λόγιά ϕησιν, ὁ πάντων ἐπέκεινα.
(23) MT 1.3 1001A; CD II 144.10–15:…εἰς τὸν γνόϕον τη̑ς ἀγνωσίας εἰσδύνει τὸν ὄντως μυστικόν, καθ᾽ ὃν ἀπομύει πάσας τὰς γνωστικὰς ἀντιλήψεις, καὶ ἐν τῳ̑ πάμταν ἀναϕει̑ καὶ ἀοράτῳ γίγνεται, πα̑ς ὢν του̑ πάντων ἐπέκεινα καὶ οὐδενός, οὔτε ἑαυτου̑ οὔτε ἑτέρου, τῳ̑ παντελω̑ς δὲ ἀγνώστῳ τῃ̑ πάσης γνώσεως ἀνενεργησίᾳ κατὰ τὸ κρει̑ττον ἑνούμενος καὶ τῳ̑ μηδὲν γινώσκειν ὑπὲρ νου̑ν γινώσκων.
(24) DN 1.2 588D–589A; CD I 110.14–19.
(25) DN 3.2 681A–B; CD I 140.3–5.
(26) DN 3.2 681C–684A; CD I 141.4–14.
(27) The phrases “commerce with the mystic visions (τὰ μυστικὰ θεάματα)” from MT 1 997B (CD II 142.5) and “experiencing the pain of his fellowship with the things celebrated (τὴν πρὸς τὰ ὑμνούμενα κοινωνίαν πάσχων)” from DN 3 684A (CD I 141.12) echo the Eucharistic language of EH 3 425D (CD II 81.2–9), 440B (CD II 90.1–10), and 444A (CD I 92.15–93.1). See Rorem and Luibheid, Pseudo‐Dionysius, 70n131.
(28) λήπτος from λαμβάνω, meaning to “take” or “grasp.”
(29) DN 2.11 649D; CD I 136.18–137.1.
(30) DN 7.1 865B; CD I 193.10–11.
(31) DN 4.1 693B; CD I 143.9–10: “Let us come to the appellation ‘Good’ (ἀγαθωνυμίαν), already mentioned in our discourse, which the Theologians ascribe pre‐eminently and exclusively to the super‐Divine Deity.”
(32) DN 4.7 701C–D; CD I 151.9–10.
(33) Cratylus 416c; see Rorem and Luibheid, Pseudo‐Dionysius, 76n145.
(34) DN 4.7 704A; CD I 152.2–6.
(35) DN 4.10 708A–B; CD I 155.8–20.
(36) 1 John 4:16: ὁ θεὸς ἀγάπη ἐστίν.
(37) DN 4.11 708C; CD I 156.1–7.
(38) DN 4.11 708D; CD I 156.13–19.
(39) DN 4.11 708C–D; CD I 156.10–13.
(40) DN 4.12 709B; CD I 157.15.
(41) DN 4.11–12 709A–B; CD I 157.4–8. The scriptural passages he cites are the LXX version of Proverbs 4:6 and 8 [“Yearn (ἐράσθητι) for her and she shall keep you; exalt for her and she will extol you; honor her and she will embrace you”]; Wisdom of Solomon 8:2 [“I yearned (ἐραστὴς ἐγενόμην) for her beauty”]; 2 Samuel 1:26 [“Love for you (ἡ ἀγάπησίς σου) came on me like love for women (ἡ ἀγάπησις τω̑ν γυναικω̑ν)”], although this is not exactly the wording of the LXX.
(42) DN 4.12 709C; CD I 157.10–17.
(43) DN 4.13 712A; CD I 158.19–159.1.
(44) DN 4.13 712A; CD I 159.1–3. Cf. DN 4.15 713A–B (CD I 161.1–5); Rorem and Luibheid, Pseudo‐Dionysius, 83n160.
(45) DN 4.13 712A; CD I 159.3–8: Διὸ καὶ Παυ̑λος ὁ μέγας ἐν κατοχῃ̑ του̑ θείου γεγονὼς ἔρωτος καὶ τη̑ς ἐκστατικη̑ς αὐτου̑ δυνάμεως μετειληϕὼς ἐνθέῳ στόματι. “Ζω̑ ἐγώ,” ϕησίν, “οὐκ ἔτι, ζῃ̑ δὲ ἐν ἐμοὶ Χριστός.” Ὡς ἀληθὴς ἐραστὴς καὶ ἐξεστηκώς, ὡς αὐτός ϕησι, τῳ̑ θεῳ̑ καὶ οὐ τὴν ἑαυτου̑ ζω̑ν, ἀλλὰ τὴν του̑ ἐραστου̑ ζωὴν ὡς σϕόδρα ἀγαπητήν.
(46) DN 4.13 712A; CD I 159.5–6.
(47) The adjective ἔνθεος is also used to describe the state of the Pythian oracle: “The Pythia became entheos, plena deo: the god entered into her and used her vocal organs as if they were his own…that is why Apollo's Delphic utterances are always couched in the first person, never the third” (Dodds, The Greeks and the Irrational, 70–1). Plutarch remarks on this commonplace first person utterance in Q. Conv. 1.5.2, 623B: μάλιστα δὲ ὁ ἐνθουσιασμὸς ἐξίστησι καὶ παρατρέπει τό τε σω̑μα καὶ τὴν ϕωνὴν του̑ συνήθους καὶ καθεστηκότος (Dodds, 73). It is interesting to compare this with the remark Chrysostom makes in Jud. 2.1 [48.858]: “it is not Paul who spoke, but Christ, who moved Paul's soul. So when you hear him shout and say: ‘Behold, I, Paul, tell you’ (Gal 5:2), consider that only the shout is Paul's; the thought and the teaching are Christ's, who is speaking to Paul from within his heart” (Mitchell, The Heavenly Trumpet, 77).
(48) DN 4.13 712A–B; CD I 159.9–14.
(49) DN 4.10 708B; CD I 155.19.
(50) DN 4.13 712B; CD I 159.14–18.
(51) Ep. 9.5 1112C; CD II 204.11–205.7.
(52) DN 13.3 981B; CD I 230.1–5.
(53) DN 7.1 865B; CD I 193.6.
(54) DN 7.1 865B; CD I 193.10–11.
(55) 1 Cor 1:18–25: “For the wisdom of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the cleverness of the clever I will thwart.’ Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men”; 2:6–8: “Yet among the mature we do impart wisdom, although it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to pass away. But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glorification. None of the rulers of the age understood this; for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory”; 3:18–20: “Let no one deceive himself. If any one among you thinks that he is wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is folly with God. For it is written, ‘He catches the wise in their craftiness,’ and again, ‘The Lord knows that the thoughts of the wise are futile’ ”; 4:10: “We are fools for Christ's sake, but you are wise in Christ.”
(56) DN 7.1 865B–C; CD I 193.13–194.4.
(57) “Invisible”: Col 1:15; 1 Tim 1:17; Heb 11:27; “inscrutable”: Rom 11:33.
(58) DN 7.1 865C; CD I 194.5–6.
(59) CH 2.3 141B; CD II 13.17–21.
(60) DN 7.1 865C–D; CD I 194.10–13.
(61) DN 7.1 865D–868A; CD I 194.13–15.
(62) DN 7.4 872D–873A; CD I 199.13–18. Parker translates ἐξεστηκότα and ἐξεστηκώς as “wandering,” which fails to convey the ecstatic quality of madness. The passage continues, “Thus then the early leaders of our Divine Theosophy are dying every day, on behalf of truth, testifying as is natural, both by every word and deed, to the knowledge of the truth of the Christians.” This passage is interesting for three reasons: first, it is the only mention of martyrs in the CD; second, such mention of martyrs presumably bolsters the pseudonymous identity, for the first century saw many Christian martyrs; third, Rorem and Luibheid see the influence of Paul in this passage, specifically Rom 8:36 (Paul quoting Ps 44:22): “As it is written, ‘For thy sake we are being killed all the day long.’ ”
(63) Phaedrus 244A; Dodds, The Greeks and the Irrational, 64.
(64) On Plato's taxonomy of madness, see Nasrallah, An Ecstasy of Folly, 32–6.
(65) The distinction between natural and supernatural madness goes back at least as far as Herodotus and Empedocles. See Dodds, The Greeks and the Irrational, 65.
(68) 245A; See Dodds, The Greeks and the Irrational, 64.
(73) The Platonic terms εἴδος and ἰδέα are usually translated “form.” Here Plato refrains from using the technical terms, but the object of the gods' contemplation is obviously the eternal intelligibles.
(81) Philo, Who is the Heir of Divine Things [Quis rerum divinarum heres, hereafter Quis rerum]. See also Nasrallah, An Ecstasy of Folly, 36–44. For a general treatment of Philo's mysticism, see Louth, The Origins of the Christian Mystical Tradition, 18–35. For a general treatment of the influence of Philo on the CD, see Golitzin, Et introibo ad altare dei, 255–61.
(82) Quis rerum 64.
(83) Quis rerum 68.
(84) Quis rerum 69. The English translation here is that of Nasrallah, not of Colson and Whitaker. See Nasrallah, An Ecstasy of Folly, 38.
(85) LXX: Ἔξελθε ἐκ τη̑ς γη̑ς σου και ἐκ τη̑ς συγγενείας σου καὶ ἐκ του̑ οἴκου του̑ πατρὸς σου εἰς τὴν γη̑ν ἣν ἄν σοι δείξω.
(86) LXX: περὶ δὲ ἡλίου δυσμὰς ἔκστασις ἐπέπεσεν τῳ̑ Αβραμ, καὶ ἰδοὺ ϕόβος σκοτεινὸς μέγας ἐπιπίπτει αὐτῳ̑.
(87) Quis rerum 249.
(88) Quis rerum 263–5: ὅπερ γὰρ ἐν ἡμι̑ν λογισμός, του̑το ἐν κόσμῳ ἥλιος, ἐπειδὴ ϕωσϕορει̑ ἑκάτερος, ὁ μὲν τῳ̑ παντὶ ϕέγγος αἰσθητὸν ἐκπέμπων, ὁ δὲ ἡμι̑ν αὐτοι̑ς τὰς νοητὰς διὰ τω̑ν καταλήψεων αὐγάς. ἕως μὲν οὐ̑ν ἔτι περιλάμπει καὶ περιπολει̑ ἡμω̑ν ὁ νου̑ς μεσημβρινὸν οἱ̑α ϕέγγος εἰς πα̑σαν τὴν ψυχὴν ἀναχέων, ἐν ἑαυτοι̑ς ὄντες οὐ κατεχόμεθα. ἐπειδὰν δὲ πρὸς δυσμὰς γένηται, κατὰ τὸ εἰκὸς ἔκστασις καὶ ἡ ἔνθεος ἐπιπίπτει κατοκωχή τε καὶ μανία. ὅταν μὲν γὰρ ϕω̑ς τὸ θει̑ον ἐπιλάμψῃ, δύεται τὸ ἀνθρώπινον, ὅταν δ᾽ἐκει̑νο δύηται, του̑τ᾽ ἀνίσχει καὶ ἀνατέλλει. τῳ̑ δὲ προϕητικῳ̑ γένει ϕιλει̑ του̑το συμβαίνειν. ἐξοικίζεται μὲν γὰρ ἐν ἡμι̑ν ὁ νου̑ς κατὰ τη̑ν του̑ θείου πνεύματος ἄϕιξιν, κατὰ δὲ τη̑ν μετανάστασιν αὐτου̑ πάλιν εἰσοικίζεται. θέμις γὰρ οὐκ ἔστι θνητὸν ἀθανάτῳ συνοικη̑σαι. διὰ του̑το ἡ δύσις του̑ λογισμου̑ καὶ τὸ περὶ αὐτὸν σκότος ἔκστασιν καὶ θεοϕορητον μανίαν ἐγέννησε. Again, this translation is Nasrallah's (An Ecstasy of Folly, 41).
(89) Louth goes to great lengths to argue that this and other mentions of ecstasy have nothing to do with “mystical union.” This fourth type of ecstasy, he argues, is “purely concerned with the ecstasy that produces prophecy” (The Origins of the Christian Mystical Tradition, 33). Louth may be right that Philo associates this sort of ecstasy with prophecy, but Philo also seems to think that prophecy derives precisely from some sort of ecstatic union with the divine. Philo does say of the ecstasy that falls on Abraham in Gen 15:12 that it describes his “inspired and God‐possessed experience” (ἐνθουσιω̑ντος καὶ θεοϕορήτου τὸ πάθος) (Quis rerum 258).
Louth also discourages us from interpreting Philo's other mentions of ecstasy as having anything to do with mystical union. Elsewhere Philo distinguishes between a soul that is “permeated by fire in giving thanks to God, and is drunk with a sober drunkenness” and one that is “still laboring…in exercise and training” (Leg. All 84). Louth argues that, “if we look closely,” we can see that Philo is drawing on the Stoic distinction between the sage and the seeker, the sage being in full possession of the good: “[The Stoics’] language about the sage was pretty ecstatic, but there was no suggestion that the sage was an ecstatic. Far from having gone out of himself, the sage had become wholly himself, at one with himself and the whole cosmos. It is this that Philo is thinking of when he speaks of the one who is drunk with sober drunkenness, not of ecstatic union with God” (The Origins of the Christian Mystical Tradition, 34–5). Louth's argument suffers from two problems. First, it argues that although Philo describes the soul with ecstatic language, the soul isn't really ecstatic—well, then, why all the ecstatic language? Second, it ignores the fact that in Philo (and Plato before him and Dionysius after him) the self that goes outside of itself is, paradoxically, the self that is most wholly itself.
(90) On the Migration of Abraham [De migratione Abrahami; hereafter De migratione].
(91) De migratione 35. English translation is from David Winston, trans., Philo of Alexandria, 76; cited in Nasrallah, An Ecstasy of Folly, 43.
(92) For a summary of the biblical and philosophical use of the term ἐξαίϕνης, see Golitzin, “‘Suddenly, Christ’: The Place of Negative Theology in the Mystagogy of Dionysius Areopagites,” 22–3.
(93) Winston, trans., Philo of Alexandria, 76; cited in Nasrallah, An Ecstasy of Folly, 43.
(94) καὶ πάντα ἀγνοει̑ν, τὸν τόπον, τοὺς παρόντας, ἐμαυτόν, τὰ λεγόμενα, τὰ γραϕόμενα.
(95) In De migratione Abrahami, Philo discusses three stages on the way toward knowledge of God: (1) conversion from idolatry to acknowledgment of one God; (2) self‐knowledge; (3) knowledge of God. But on the transition from the second to the third stage, Philo differs from Plato (and from Plotinus after him). Whereas for Plato the soul properly belongs to the realm of intelligibility such that our knowledge of the forms is a process of recovery or remembering, for Philo the soul is a creature, separated from its creator by a chasm. For Philo, God is the “Truly Existent” (τὸ ὄν), in the face of whom the soul is nothing: “This means that self‐knowledge is not identified with knowledge of God…in self‐knowledge the soul comes to realize its own nothingness and is thrown back on God, Him who is…This recognition that the soul is a creature also leads to an emphasis on the fact that the soul's capacity to know God is not a natural capacity, but rather something given by God” (Louth, The Origins of the Christian Mystical Tradition, 25). And so it is in the transition from the second to the third stages, from self‐knowledge to knowledge of God, that we can most clearly see the negative or apophatic anthropology implicit in Philo's framework. And this transition is best described in Som. i.60: “Abraham who gained much progress and improvement towards the acquisition of the highest knowledge: for when most he knew himself, then most did he despair of himself, in order that he might attain to an exact knowledge of Him who in reality is. And this is nature's law: he who has thoroughly comprehended himself, thoroughly despairs of himself, having as a step to this ascertained the nothingness in all respects of created being. And the man who has despaired of himself is beginning to know Him that is” (ibid., 25).
(96) Quis rerum 265.
(97) Ep. 7 1081A; CD II 169.1–2.
(98) MT 1.1 997A–B; CD II 141.4–142.3.
(99) DN 11.2 952A; CD I 219.20–2.
(100) DN 11.2 952B; CD I 219.23–4.
(101) DN 11.3 952B–C; CD I 220.5–11: Πάντα γὰρ ἀγαπᾳ̑ πρὸς ἑαυτὰ εἰρηνεύνειν τε καὶ ἡνω̑σθαι καὶ ἑαυτω̑ν καὶ τω̑ν ἑαυτω̑ν ἀκίνητα καὶ ἄπτωτα εἰ̑ναι. Καὶ ἔστι καὶ τη̑ς καθ᾽ ἓκαστον ἀμιγου̑ς ἰδιότητος ἡ παντελὴς εἰρήνη ϕυλακτικὴ ται̑ς εἰρηνοδώροις αὑτη̑ς προνοίαις τὰ πάντα ἀστασίαστα καὶ ἀσύμϕυρτα πρός τε ἑαυτὰ καὶ πρὸς ἄλληλα διασώζουσα καὶ πάντα ἐν σταθερᾳ̑ καὶ ἀκλίτῳ δυνάμει πρὸς τὴν ἑαυτω̑ν εἰρήνην καὶ ἀκινησίαν ἱστω̑σα.
(102) Schäfer, The Philosophy of Dionysius the Areopagite, 89–121.
(104) On his penchant for translating μονή as the “halt,” see my review of Schäfer, The Philosophy of Dionysius the Areopagite, in Journal of Early Christian Studies.
(105) Schäfer, The Philosophy of Dionysius the Areopagite, 99–100; see also, ibid., 91: “For [Dionysius'] explanation of this dynamic ontological ‘steadying,’ Dionysius employs two concepts that dominated Ancient metaphysics: First, the proper ‘shape’ (the corresponding inner ἔργον or form to be accomplished) of every being ‘constrains’ it (ἀναγκάζει) to its own essential parameters and confines it to a well‐defined steadiness corresponding to its essence…Second, this steadiness in its proper being—and this is an aspect of the Aristotelian tradition which Neoplatonism absorbed—is not lifeless or static in itself but rather something which is continuously at work intrinsically (an ἐνέργεια).”
(107) DN 11.2 952B (CD I 219.23–4); DN 11.3 952C (CD I 220.8–9).
(108) See Koch, “Der pseudo‐epigraphische Character der dionysischen Schriften”; Stiglmayr, “Der Neuplatoniker Proklos als Vorlage des sogen. Dionysius Areopagita in der Lehre von Übel.”
(109) See Republic 379A ff., 391E, 617E; Schäfer highlights Rep. 379A–B: “Is not God of course good in reality and always to be spoken of as such?—Certainly.—But further, no good thing is harmful, is it?—I think not.—Can what is not harmful harm?—By no means.—Can that which does no harm do any evil?—Not that either.—But that which does no evil would not be the cause of any evil either?—How could it?—Once more, is the good beneficent?—Yes.—It is the cause, then, of welfare?—Yes.—Then the good is not the cause of all things, but of things that are well it is the cause: of things that are ill it is blameless.—Entirely so.” (Schäfer, The Philosophy of Dionysius the Areopagite, 133n1).
(110) Schäfer, The Philosophy of Dionysius the Areopagite, 135. For a broader, comparative treatment of this “trilemma,” see Schäfer, Unde Malum.
(111) Schäfer, The Philosophy of Dionysius the Areopagite, 134.
(112) DN 4.30 732A (CD I 175.16–18); cf. DN I 4.32 732C–D (CD I 177.7–15). See also Schäfer, The Philosophy of Dionysius the Areopagite, 139.
(113) DN 4.19 716C–D; CD I 163.20–164.3: Καὶ εἰ τὰ ὄντα πάντα ἐκ τἀγαθου̑ καὶ τἀγαθὸν ἐπέκεινα τω̑ν ὄντων, ἔστι μὲν ἐν ἀγαθῳ̑ καὶ τὸ μὴ ὂν ὄν, τὸ δὲ κακὸν οὔτε ὄν ἐστιν, εἰ δὲ μὴ οὐ πάντη κακόν, οὔτε μὴ ὄν, οὐδὲν γὰρ ἔσται τὸ καθόλου μὴ ὄν, εἰ μὴ ἐν τἀγαθῳ̑ κατὰ τὸ ὑπερούσιον λέγοιτο. Τὸ μὲν οὐ̑ν ἀγαθὸν ἔσται καὶ του̑ ἁπλω̑ς ὄντος καὶ του̑ μὴ ὄντος πολλῳ̑ πρότερον ὑπεριδρυμένον. Τὸ δὲ κακὸν οὔτε ἐν τοι̑ς οὐ̑σιν οὔτε ἐν τοι̑ς μὴ οὐ̑σιν, ἀλλὰ καὶ αὐτου̑ του̑ μὴ ὄντος μα̑λλον ἀλλότριον ἀπέχον τἀγαθου̑ καὶ ἀνουσιώτερον.
(114) Schäfer, The Philosophy of Dionysius the Areopagite, 142–6.
(118) DN 8.6 893B; CD I 203.12–13 (translation my own).
(119) 2 Tim 2:13: ἀρνήσασθαι γὰρ ἑαυτὸν οὐ δύναται.
(120) See Matt 10:33; Luke 12:9; John 13:38; 2 Tim 2:12–13; Titus 1:16; 2 Pet 2:1; 1 John 2:22–3; Jude 1:4.
(121) Εἴ τις θέλει ὀπίσω μου ἔρχεσθαι, ἀρνησάσθω ἑαυτὸν.
(122) Schäfer, The Philosophy of Dionysius the Areopagite, 148.
(123) CH 3.2 165A; CD II 17.10–11: Σκοπὸς οὐ̑ν 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 (CD II 63.7–64.14), 1.3 373D–376B (CD II 66.8–67.7), 2.1 392A (CD II 68.16–69.4).
(124) See Louth, Denys the Areopagite, 38, although I do not want to use the distinction between apotheōsis and theopoiēsis as a means to draw a distinction between “pagan” and “Christian” understandings of deification, as he does.
(125) Boisacq, Dictionnaire étymologique de la langue grecque, 268: “le sens premier fut ‘se placer dans l'attitude requise pour’…ags. forstanden (angl. to understand), ‘comprendre.’” Even the “under” in the English “understanding,” it seems, refers not to a standing “beneath,” but to a standing “among” or “between”: “O.E. understandan ‘comprehend, grasp the idea of,’ probably lit. ‘stand in the midst of,’ from under + standan ‘to stand’ (see stand). If this is the meaning, the under is not the usual word meaning ‘beneath,’ but from O.E. under, from PIE *nter‐ ‘between, among’ (cf. Skt. antar ‘among, between,’ L. inter ‘between, among,’ Gk. entera ‘intestines;’ see inter‐). But the exact notion is unclear. Perhaps the ult. sense is ‘be close to,’ cf. Gk. epistamai ‘I know how, I know,’ lit. ‘I stand upon.’ Similar formations are found in O.Fris. (understonda), M.Dan. (understande), while other Gmc. languages use compounds meaning ‘stand before’ (cf. Ger. verstehen, represented in O.E. by forstanden ). For this concept, most I.E. languages use fig. extensions of compounds that lit. mean ‘put together,’ or ‘separate,’ or ‘take, grasp.’” (understand. Dictionary.com. Online Etymology Dictionary. Douglas Harper, Historian). http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/understand (accessed: July 18, 2011).
(126) Roques, “Symbolisme et théologie negative chez le Pseudo‐Denys,” 112; cited in Golitzin, “‘Suddenly, Christ’: The Place of Negative Theology in the Mystagogy of Dionysius Areopagites,” 13, 30n28.