Extrato de Aspects of Christian mysticism
DIONYSIUS THE AREOPAGITE
Dionysius has been called by Vaughan " the mythical hero of mysticism," for, although we know that the author of the treatises and letters which have come down to us under the name of Dionysius was not St. Paul’s Athenian convert, yet both the date and nationality of the monk or priest who wrote them are shrouded in mystery. Whoever he was, he effectually suppressed his own individuality by ascribing his writings to Dionysius the Areopagite. It is still convenient to allow him the name he assumed.
Unlike his master Hierotheus, Dionysius aims at a constructive philosophy of Christian truth , and in his system the Platonic elements are very marked. Influenced greatly by the teaching of Proclus , he sought to assimilate the finest spirit of Neo-Platonism to the current statements of Christianity. Christianity, he holds, rightly understood, is the one perfect and absolute philosophy.
Starting from a conception of God as the ground or being of all that is, Dionysius affirms that as all things have come from God, so the goal of the whole creation is return to God. " All things flow out from God, and all will ultimately return to God." His conception of creation is a modification of the Neo-Platonic theory of emanation , which " assumes the world to be an effluence or eradiation of God, in such manner that the remoter emanation possesses ever a lower degree of perfection than that which precedes it; and represents consequently the totality of existence as a descending series." Thus to Dionysius, everything that exists is in its degree "a symbolic manifestation of the super-existent," though God Himself is beyond all negation and affirmation. The whole world is a divine allegory , furnishing us with a true though partial idea of the nature of God.
The outer world Marks but the limit of the human soul’s Advance, developing her infinite. O blessed promise of the time to come! At each succeeding stage more lofty types — A wider world — significance more deep — Till, in the full possession of itself, The soul attains, from every type set free, The supra-conscious life of pure repose And unveil’d vision into God the All.
While Dionysius teaches that the whole universe is to be regarded as an allegory of God, he is careful to point out that God Himself is the Absolute, and beyond both essence and knowledge. We can, indeed, speak of Him by different analogies, though many mystics have persistently endeavoured to rise beyond these — leaving all symbols and metaphors behind. It is a supreme truth that " the One who is said to become multiform " in the world must embrace all that is good and true and beautiful, and hence we find Dionysius affirming that V the Non-Existent also must participate in the Good and Beautiful." But the Mystic cannot rest in these finite embodiments or manifestations of the Good and Beautiful, because " the Absolute Good and Beautiful is honoured by abstracting all qualities from it." It is the "supra-rational Unity " that the Mystic seeks — that " Unity which unifies every unity." Being and Life, Wisdom and Beauty are manifestations of God, but God Himself is none of these.
Accordingly, to Dionysius, advance in the knowledge of God is not made by any affirmation concerning Him, for no name can adequately convey a knowledge of God’s essential being; it is, therefore, only by a sequence of symbols and rites that the soul can rise to the reality of God. The nearer we draw to the Centre and Fount of Light, says Dionysius, the clearer and truer becomes our apprehension. The evolution or progression of the spiritual principle towards perfection can be effected only by the love of God, and it is only by the love of God that we can gain a true knowledge of Him. But when this is attained, there is no joy equal to the joy of the accompanying great enlightenment.
The return of the soul to God, which Dionysius calls " deification," is the consummation of the creature’s life — a consummation aspired to unceasingly. The soul waits and watches until the day break and the shadows flee away, and God be all in all.
To call Dionysius a pantheist, as has often been done, is a mistake. God alone has life in Himself; although the world is an outcome of that life, and indeed, a necessary expression of the Divine Being. It is only as God dwells in any being that such being possesses real existence, the life of the creature being determined by the relation which it sustains to the Centre and Fount of life. Divine immanence is in no sense the characteristic feature of the cosmology of Dionysius, who goes so far, indeed, in maintaining the transcendent character of God, that he is led to make the extravagant statement: " Being is in Him, He is not in being." God, he repeatedly says, is the unity which comprehends all differences — not abolishes them, and as He is before all things so He is the end of all things. But to predicate anything of God, is really to veil Him, because He is so far beyond anything that it is possible for man to affirm. We know more of God the more of Him we possess ; we possess more of God, the nearer we dwell to the Centre.
Concerning the mystical via negativa and the via affirmativa, Dionysius has much to say of interest and value. The former is the ascending process, or the return journey to God by means of abstraction and analysis . The latter is the descending process, or the outflow through finite existences. As Dr. Inge has pointed out, the conclusion of the former is " God is all," the conclusion of the latter is " all is not God." Thus, as we have already noted, anything we may assert concerning God only serves to veil Him, while anything we deny concerning Him results in a partial unveiling.
The highest as well as the truest knowledge of God is attained, according to Dionysius, in a mystic ignorance. The mystic, he says, " must leave behind all things both in the sensible and in the intelligible worlds, till he enters into the darkness of ignorance that is truly mystical." This is a divine state of darkness, it is dark only through excess of light, It has been described by the apostle Paul as "the light unapproachable." Perhaps in no respect has the influence of Dionysius been more marked than in his teaching and doctrine of " the divine dark." The mystic believes that clouds and darkness surround the great white throne, and that God dwelleth in thick darkness, beyond the light of setting suns. Thus it is imperative for the mystic to seek to ascend beyond the ignorance which veils itself in words to a true mystic ignorance in which " darkness " God dwells and may be found. As our knowledge of God is best expressed, according to Dionysius, by abstraction, by negations, so the mystic aim is to reach the Divine incomprehensible unity in the Divine obscurity. This is essentially a spiritual state, signifying to Dionysius as well as to the great mediaeval mystics who were profoundly influenced by him, the supreme and most exalted state possible to the soul — the intimate communion with the Universal — the union of the spirit of man with the Spirit of God. To be glorified in God and by God is the end for which man was created, and the mystic can rest in no lesser beatification than this.
This was the belief of Dionysius, and we are not surprised, therefore, to find that he urges the necessity of denuding the mind and stripping the soul of all sensuous images, which can only enmesh and ensnare. We must rigorously turn aside, not only from the fashions of this world, which are fleeting and cunning deceits, but emancipate ourselves from the allurements of the senses, and transcend even our intellectual knowledge of God. Dionysius calls for the cultivation of a passionless passivity by means of which the soul shall realise the divine. This is the one thing of vital import to the mystic.
To hear and to see and to know, and, immersed where the lights never fail,
Confess that at length we have truly transcended the world of the veil;
We have pass’d through the region of omen, and entered the land of sight;
Oh, thanks be to God for the pillar of smoke by day and the pillar of fire by night;
The voice in the cloud and the burning bush and the holy places trod;
For the soften’d grace of the shaded face and the back of the Lord our God;
For the shadow’d home and the light beyond, for the secret pulses stirr’d
By the parable dim and the mystic hymn and the first sense of the Word !
But O for the end and the vision, beyond the gate and the way,
The light which the eye cannot picture, repose in activity free !
The veils of the world are about me, sad dreams of the night and the day,
But I look to see! (A. E. Waite, A Book of Mystery and Vision.)
The soul, according to Dionysius, is bipartite, and possesses a higher and lower faculty. The higher faculty is able to apprehend the divine image immediately, the lower faculty only by means of symbols. Despite the necessity for rising above symbolic representations, we cannot dispense with symbols, for they are —
The ministries of deep
And many-sided emblems which exist
For man alone, developing for him
Resources in the measure of his need,
His insight , inquest, and experiment.
It has been already suggested that, as Dionysius states, material things are symbols of the Divine reality, and that the symbolism of Nature is a partial revelation of God. Symbols can only shadow forth figuratively and darkly; and it is only the fruits of the valley that we attain through them, but they prepare us for receiving the holy fruit of the Tree of Life. They give us true, albeit partial impressions of the Divine character; and it is by means of earthly things that we learn the first secrets of the heavenly. We rise from "white sacraments and parables," until we reach the One Eternal Truth amid the white radiance of Eternity. To the eye of the mystic, the whole creation is a Divine allegory; and in this sense, all that exists is a symbolic manifestation and revelation of the Fount and Source of Life.
Tradition and Scripture itself, Dionysius teaches, are to be read symbolically, for only in this way can their hidden truths be revealed. The same principle of interpretation Dionysius applies to the liturgy and offices of the Church, but here, it is to be noted, Christ — the Incarnate Son — is the One, True, and Divine Illuminator. From the dim shades of time the Divine Hiero-phant leads the soul on to the burning bliss of the Eternal Light.
Undoubtedly, the teaching of Dionysius under this head is open to misconstruction, and it has seemed inconsistent to not a few careful students. He writes of Christ as the Cause of all things, filling all things and sustaining all the separate parts of the universe, (in accordance with the perfect whole,) by His essential Deity which includes all the parts and the full whole in Itself. Being the prime Author of perfection, It is perfect in the imperfect, while in perfect things It is imperfect, because alike in dignity and origin It transcends their perfection. It is the Being which completely inhabits all beings perfectly, while at the same time It is wholly exalted above all beings. At once It determines all the principles of things and stands above all principles and ordinances. In a word, It is exalted over all things. Thus, as Dorner pointed out, the conception of Dionysius regarding the participation of Christ in the transcendence of God and the conception of a Divine, super-essential, formless essence, made it difficult for him to do justice to the Christian doctrine of Incarnation or to assign to Jesus a distinct and unique place in the universe. Hence, the Logos is violently identified in his system with Jesus, who is, however, the Revealer, the Illuminator, and the great High Priest. Upon this Dionysius is emphatic ; Christ is the Light-Bearer and the Light-Bringer to the soul. Dionysius regards the technical terms of the Greek mysteries — purification, illumination, and perfection — the three stages in the mystical ladder, as representing, or as being represented by the three sacraments of Baptism, the Eukharist, and Unction. They signify respectively the cleansing of the soul, the participation of the soul in divine knowledge, and the actual communion and union of the soul with God. The three embrace the science of the return of the spirit of man to its source.
Of the mystical union of the soul with God, of the absorption of the many into the One, Dionysius, while fervently believing it to be the ultimate end and consummation of mystic desire, as is obvious from what has been previously affirmed, does not always write explicitly. He emphatically believes, however, that walking the inner way, living in the presence and in the power of the Spirit, and constrained by a passionate love of God, the initiated soul may attain even in this body of humiliation a height surpassing far the region bounded by vision, and in the end become truly one with God. The love of the soul for God becomes, in the end, one with the Love of God, which, says Dionysius, is " an eternal circle from goodness, through goodness, and to goodness."