October 3, 2020

Corpus Areopagiticum (Fr. George Florovsky)

By Fr. George Florovsky

The Nature of the Corpus

The body of works collected under the name of Dionysius the Areopagite is one of the most enigmatic literary efforts of Christian antiquity. There is no reason to doubt its pseudo-epigraphic character, and there is no way one should see as its author "Dionysius the Areopagite" who was converted by the apostle Paul's sermon in Acts 17:34, and who, according to ancient tradition, became the first bishop of Athens (see Eusebius, IV, 23, 4). Testifying against this is not only the total lack of any mention of Dionysius' works before the sixth century, but also the very nature of the text or corpus, which is too far removed from the artless simplicity of the earliest Christian epoch both in terms of language and way of thinking. This was self-evident even before the Areopagiticum's dependence — both ideologically and literary — on the Neo-Platonic teacher Proclus (410-485) had been unquestionably established. Moreover, the unknown author evidently wanted to create the impression of a man of the apostolic epoch — a disciple of St. Paul, a witness to the eclipse which occurred on the day of the Savior's death, a witness to the Holy Virgin's Assumption, and an associate of the holy apostles. The claim to authentic antiquity is perfectly obvious, and the question of a premeditated "forgery" arises.

However, right up to the Renaissance, no doubts as to the antiquity of the Areopagiticum arose either in the East or in the West, with the exception of Hypatius of Ephesus and later that of Patriarch Photius. "The works of the great Dionysius" enjoyed undisputed authority and rendered a strong influence on the development of theological thought in the late Patristic epoch, in the Byzantine epoch, and in the West throughout the Middle Ages. It hardly seems possible to suppose that the patent anachronisms of the document could have remained unnoticed for all that time. It is not very likely that people in the sixth century unhesitatingly ascribed the whole developed liturgical rite, including the taking of monastic vows, to the apostolic era — historical memory at that time had not grown that weak. In any case, one must not try to explain the fact that the corpus was held in such high regard in antiquity merely by claiming that people were convinced it belonged to an authoritative writer of the apostolic era. Its great merits would sooner have led them to conclude it was ancient than the other way around.  
Perhaps it is possible to compare the Corpus Areopagiticum with the collection of the so-called Apostolic Canons and the so-called Apostolic Constitutions. In their final form they date back to a fairly late time. But this circumstance was noted at that time, and its authority repudiated because of extremely late unorthodox interpolations. People had no such reservations about the Areopagiticum. Questions about the Areopagiticum were first raised only with the beginning of the new philological criticism in the sixteenth century! The first to raise such questions were Gregory of Trebizond and Theodore of Gaza in the East, and, in the West, Lorenzo Valla and Erasmus. After them came Sirmond, Petavius, and Tillemont. These men showed the late origin of the Corpus Areopagiticum with perfect clarity. However, not everyone immediately agreed with this conclusion by any means, and one encounters belated defenders of the authenticity and apostolic antiquity of the Areopagiticum — even recently. In any case, the collection's origins remain mysterious and unclear to this very day, and to this very day no one has succeeded in saying anything of substance about its real author, where it was written, or the goals of this "forgery." Attempts to identify the imaginary Dionysius with some Dionysius known to us from among the statesmen and writers of the fourth and fifth centuries, or with some other historical figure, particularly with the famous monophysite patriarch Severus of Antioch, must be regarded as resolutely unsuccessful and arbitrary.

The significance of the Areopagiticum is primarily determined by its historical influence. These works were already in circulation in the early sixth century. The famous Severus of Antioch refers to them at the Council of Tyre in 513, and St. Andrew of Caesarea mentions them in his exegesis on the Book of Revelation, a book he wrote between 515 and 520.

Sergius of Resaina, who died about 536, translated the Areopagiticum into Syriac. This translation received a wide circulation, especially in Monophysite circles, even though Sergius himself — originally a Monophysite presbyter and at the same time a physician — occupied a rather ambiguous position in the dogmatic disputes, and was even close to the Nestorians. He studied in Alexandria and was Aristotelian in his philosophical sympathies. In any case he translated Porphyry's Introduction to the Categories of Aristotle — Εισαγωγή — and, in addition, wrote a number of his own books on logic. His translation of the pseudo-Aristotelian On the World is especially characteristic — here he managed to attain great precision and strictness. What is more, Sergius was a mystic, which is evident from the preface to his translation of the Areopagiticwn. Sergius' name is very characteristic as an indirect indication of the milieu in which the corpus primarily circulated.

At the famous talks between the orthodox and the Severians which took place in Constantinople in either 531 or 533, the question of the merits of these works came up. The Severians refer to them but the leader of the orthodox, Hypatius of Ephesus, rejected this reference and declared the Areopagiticum to be apocryphal — something which not one of the ancients knew.

But very soon the orthodox began to utilize the corpus also. The first interpreter of the Areopagiticum was John of Scythopolis (ca. 530-540). Apparently it is his Scholia which are known under the name of St. Maximus the Confessor. Later copyists brought together the Scholia of different interpreters but the diacritics disappeared with the passage of time. The corpus of Scholia known under the name of St. Maximus presents us with a rather homogeneous whole. Not many Scholia at all display a style reminiscent of the venerable Maximus. The Scholia of John of Scythopolis were translated into Syriac in the eighth century by Bar-Sergius of Edessa. Even earlier in the seventh century Joseph of Hadzaia, "the Contemplator," who is better known under the name of Ebed-Jesus, undertook the interpretation of the Areopagiticum. An Arabic translation of the Areopagiticum, which also received Church approval, was made from the official Syriac text. An Armenian translation was made in the seventh century. The remnants of a Coptic translation should also be mentioned. All of this bears witness to the wide circulation and authority of corpus. Leontius of Byzantium, and later Anastasius of Sinai and Sophronius of Jerusalem are some of the orthodox theologians who make use of the Areopagiticum. These documents rendered a strong influence on the venerable Maximus the Confessor, who worked on an explanation of the "difficult passages" in the Areopagiticum and in the works of St. Gregory of Nazianzus. For St. John of Damascus, the "great Dionysius" is an undisputed authority. Also relying upon the Areopagiticum, as upon a reliable foundation, are the defenders of the veneration of icons, the iconodules, particularly St. Theodore the Studite (759-826), who come forth at the Seventh Ecumenical Council in 787 and following the Seventh Ecumenical Council when the controversy over icons still raged. With St. Theodore the Studite, all the metaphysics of icons are tied up with Dionysius1 thought and he sings the praises of the profundity of Dionysius1 theology. St. Cyril, the Apostle to the Slavs and a disciple of St. Photius, speaks of the corpus with respect. According to Anastasius the Librarian, St. Cyril would quote "the great Dionysius" by heart. Later countless persons in Byzantium were engaged in interpretation of the Corpus Areopagiticum and the work became a sort of reference book for Byzantine theologians. These interpretations have not yet been collected and remain unstudied to this day. We must make special note of the interpretations of the famous Michael Psellus (1018-1079) and George Pachymeres (1242-1310). The paraphrases of the latter, like the Scholia ascribed to St. Maximus, have adhered to the text itself in the manuscripts. Further evidence of the Areopagiticum's popularity in the fourteenth century, in the era of a new mystical renaissance in Byzantium in the age of St. Gregory Palamas, is the Slavic — Bulgarian — translation which was commissioned by Theodosius, the Metropolitan of Serres in southern Macedonia and done by the Athos monk Isaiah in 1371. From the Euthymian group in Bulgaria it was transported to Rus, probably by the metropolitan Cyprian — a manuscript copy in his hand has been preserved, along with other texts of ascetic and mystical literature.

The Areopagiticum was taken to the West very early. The first to refer to them in the West is Pope Gregory the Great (c. 540-604), who popularized the mystical doctrines in the corpus, especially the angelology. Pope Martin I appealed to the writings as authentic at the First Lateran Council in 649. Pope Agatho (c. 577-681) refers to the Areopagiticum in a letter which was read at the Sixth Ecumenical Council (680/681) in Constantinople. Anastasius the Librarian translated the Scholia of John of Scythopolis and St. Maximus the Confessor.

The Areopagiticum became particularly well-respected in France, thanks to the erroneous identification of the pseudo-Dionysius with Dionysius of Paris. In 757 a copy of Dionysius1 works was sent by Pope Paul I (pontificate from 757-767), along with some other books, to Pepin the Short, the Prankish king. In 827 the Byzantine emperor Michael II (820-829) gave an excellent copy to king Louis [Ludwig] the Pious. Not many people among the Franks knew Greek at this time. In the monastery of St. Denis the abbot Gilduin (d. 840) translated the Areopagiticum into Latin but his translation did not receive a wide circulation. It was forced into the background by the translation by the famous John Scotus Eriugena about 858, at the request of Charles the Bald. By his own admission John Scotus Eriugena used for his translation the works of St. Maximus the Confessor which he also translated. John Scotus Eriugena's knowledge of Greek was not above reproach and there are quite a few gross misunderstandings in his translations. But the influence of Dionysius and St. Maximus the Confessor on Eriugena's own system of thought — he was one of the most remarkable thinkers of the early Middle Ages — was exceptionally strong.

The Areopagiticum was very influential in the West throughout the Medieval period. This is already evident in Anselm (1033-1109). Hugh of St. Victor (d. 1141) occupies himself with an interpretation of the Celestial Hierarchy (using Eriugena's translation). In general, Hugh of St. Victor's mystical theories are very closely connected with the mysticism of the pseudo-Dionysius. Peter Lombard (c.l 100-1160) regarded the Areopagiticum as an unquestionable authority. John the Saracene in the twelfth century, and Thomas of Vercelli and Robert Grosseteste in the thirteenth century translated the Areopagiticum and added commentaries. Albert the Great (d. 1280) comments on all the works of pseudo-Dionysius.

Thomas Aquinas also regards these works with great respect. In Thomas Aquinas' Summa there are 1,700 quotations from the Areopagiticum — this corpus and the works of St. John of Damascus were his main sources from eastern patristic thought. To Aquinas also belongs a special commentary on the book On the Divine Names.

Bonaventura, too, was greatly influenced by the Areopagiticum. He wrote a special interpretation of the book On the Ecclesiastical Hierarchy. In general, in the Middle Ages pseudo-Dionysius was the most powerful and most respected authority for representatives of all schools of thought in all centuries. People also go back to pseudo-Dionysius in debates about the objective reality and properties of God; in teaching about cognition and contemplation of God; in questions of ascetics; and in interpretation of the liturgy. The influence of the Areopagiticum is felt throughout liturgical literature and in the monuments of medieval art. The famous Dionysius the Carthusian (1402-1471), Doctor Ecstaticus, sums up the medieval literature on this topic in his extensive commentaries.

The influence of the Areopagiticum is very strongly felt among the German and Flemish mystics of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, especially on Meister Eckhart (c. 1260-1327) and Jan van Ruysbroeck (1293-1381), and on the unknown author of the famous book On the Imitation of Christ, often ascribed to Thomas a Kempis (c. 1380-1471). In the new mystical and speculative experience, the traditions of the mysterious contemplation of ancient times are once again reviving. In his philosophical constructions Nicholas of Cusa (1401-1464) is connected to the Areopagiticum. The famous Florentine Platonic philosopher Marsilius Ficinus (1433-1499) was working on a translation of the corpus.

Martin Luther (1483-1546) raised sharp questions about pseudo-Dionysius — he considered the Areopagiticum apocryphal and saw in its author a dangerous dreamer. About the same time Erasmus (c. 1469-1536), following Lorenzo Valla, came out with proof of the late origin of the corpus. But the Areopagiticum's influence did not abate. Roman Catholic theologians of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries continued to argue that the text was authentic — see, for example, Leonhard Lessius (1554-1623); Cardinal Cesare Baronius (1538-1607); and the famous publisher of the Areopagiticum, Corderius.

Mystics such as Angelus Silesius (1624-1677) and to some extent the Quietists continued to take their inspiration from it. It would not be an exaggeration to say that without the influence of the Areopagiticum the entire history of medieval mysticism and philosophy would be incomprehensible. The Areopagiticum was a lively and important source, though not the only one, of Platonism; that is, Neo-Platonism, in the Middle Ages.

In Quest of the Author

One is forced to form a judgment about the author of the Areopagiticum through his works alone. The Corpus Areopagiticum consists of the following: (1) On the Celestial Hierarchy — Περι της ουρανιας ιεραρχιας — which is a description of the celestial world; (2) On the Ecclesiastical Hierarchy — Πεςρι της εκκλησιαστικής ιεραρχίας — which is a description and interpretation of the Church liturgy; (3) On the Divine Names — Περί θείων ονομάτων — which is a work about God's properties; (4) The Mystical Theology — Περί μυστικής θεολογίας — which is a discussion about the ineffability and unknowableness of God's essence; and (5) a set of ten letters to various persons, primarily on dogmatic themes. In addition, the text contains references to a whole series of other works by the same author; however, this is most probably a simple literary fiction. Letters signed by the Areopagite which have been preserved only in Latin translation and letters which were discovered in Syriac and Armenian translations, belong to other authors.

The Areopagiticum bears the stamp of late Neo-Platonism, especially in its language. The author uses an especially original and very refined theological terminology. However, the Neo-Platonic influence does not swallow it up entirely and does not overwhelm it. The author is not so much a thinker as he is a contemplator, and speculative audacity is curbed in him from within by the pathos of ineffability and a keen liturgical sense. Speculation is there only in a preliminary stage. There are some grounds for viewing the author as a monk — in any case he is a very enthusiastic supporter of monastic intellectual activity, and a defender of hierarchic authority. One should seek his homeland in the East, and in Syria rather than Egypt. The author lives in an era of intense Christological disputes but does not dwell on Christological topics in any detail — it is as if he is avoiding these themes. This explains why the Areopagiticum was so popular among the Severians.

The author of the Areopagiticum is not so much a theologian as a contemplative observer and liturgist. He transfers the center of gravity in Christian life to the liturgy and the sacraments. The influence of the Areopagiticum was felt strongest of all in the mystical and symbolical explanation of the liturgy and liturgical actions, both in Byzantine and Latin medieval liturgical literature. However, this interpretation does not begin with Dionysius — he is continuing and systematizing a tradition which had already taken shape. One cannot but agree that his terminology recalls the usage of the Greek mysteries. However, this language was openly and consciously mastered and transformed in the Church at the very beginning — in any case, second century Alexandrians spoke this language, as did fourth century theologians.

The author of the Areopagiticum is very well read — both in Hellenistic philosophy and Church literature. He apparently knew the works of the Cappadocians well; he also knew well the works of Clement of Alexandria, not just Proclus. These patristic connections of the pseudo-Dionysius deserve special attention. In his Neo-Platonism he is by no means an innovator — he attaches himself to the already developed Christian tradition, and he primarily summarizes it with a genuine systematic scope and great dialectic vigor and poignancy.

The Theological Vision

The Ways to Knowledge of God

In his doctrine on the knowledge of God the author of the Areopagiticum follows the Cappadocians — primarily St. Gregory of Nyssa. In His transsubstantial existence, "through his own principle or property," God is unknowable and inscrutable. He is above any idea and any name, above all definitions, "above mind, essence and knowledge." It is impossible to feel, imagine, comprehend, or name him. The inner Divine Life is entirely concealed from created scrutiny and exceeds any measure which is accessible to or can be accommodated by created reason. But this does not mean that God is far removed from the world or that he conceals himself from reasoning spirits. God is revealed and acts and is present in creatures — a creature exists and abides and lives by virtue of this Divine omnipresence. God is present in the world not in hiss own essence, which always remains unattainable, unknowable, and ineffable, but in his "works" and his goodness, which come from the incommunicable God as an abundant current and which gives communion to that which exists. He abides in the world in his "creative emanations" and "beneficial providences," in his powers and energies. In his self-revelation to the world, God is cognizable and comprehensible. This means that God is comprehensible only through revelation. "In general," warns Dionysius, "one should not think, or say, anything about the transsubstantial and hidden Godhead except that It is revealed to us in the Logos of God." There is, however, another revelation. This is the world itself, for in a certain sense the entire world is a certain image of God and is entirely permeated with Divine energies. And in God there is a "creative prototype" of the world, through participation in which the world has objective reality. God is cognizable and comprehensible in that visage which is open to the world. In other words, God is cognized and comprehended in his relationship with the world or with all creation — precisely in this relationship, and only in this relationship. Cognition never penetrates to the hidden and ineffable depths of Divine life. God can be comprehended and described in two ways: either by contrasting him sharply and resolutely with the world; that is, by denying all phrases and definitions referring to him which are proper and fitting for creation — which means each and every one; or by elevating all definitions applied to creation — and again, each and every one. Thus there are two ways open to cognition of God and to theology: the way of positive or cataphatic theology, and the way of negative or apophatic theology. The apophatic way is higher — only it can lead into that Divine darkness which is how the Light unapproachable appears to creation.

The way of contrasting God with the world demands negation. It is impossible to say anything affirmative about God, for any affirmation is partial, thereby giving rise to limitations. In any affirmation something else is silently excluded and a certain limit is supposed. In this sense it is possible and necessary to say that He is Nothing, αυτό δε μη ον — for he is not something particular or limited. He is above everything definite and every individual thing. He is above every limitation, above every definition and affirmation, and therefore above every negation as well. The apophatic "not" should not be misinterpreted and consolidated cataphatically — it is synonymous with "above" (or "beyond" and "besides"); it signifies neither limitation or exception but elevation and superiority. "Not" is not in the system of created names but is opposed to this whole system, and even to the very categories of cosmic cognition. This is a completely original "not," a symbolic "not" — a "not" of incommensurability, not of limitation. The Godhead is not subject to perceptible and spatial definitions; it does not have an outline, or form, or quality, or quantity, or volume. The Godhead is above all speculative names and definitions. God is not soul, nor reason, nor imagination, nor opinion, nor thought, nor life. He is neither word nor idea — and therefore he is not perceived by either word or idea. In this sense God is not a "subject" of cognition. He is above cognition. He is not a number, nor order, nor magnitude, nor a trifle, nor equality or similarity, or inequality or dissimilarity. He is not power, nor color, nor life, nor time, nor an era, nor knowledge, nor truth, nor a kingdom, nor wisdom, nor unity. God in this sense is God the Nameless, Θεος ανωνυμος. He is above everything — “nothing which exists and nothing which does not exist,” “everything in everything, and nothing in nothing.” Therefore the way to cognition is the way of abstraction and negation, the way of simplification and falling silent, so as to cognize God “as something removed from that which exists.” This is the way of the ascetic. He begins with a “purification,” καθαροίς. Pseudo-Dionysius describes catharsis ontologically, not psychologically. This is a liberation from any kind of admixture — that is, a "simplification" of the soul or, to put it differently, a "gathering of the soul" a "uniform gathering" or concentration, an "entry into one's self," an abstraction from any cognition, from all images, perceptible and intellectual. This is also a certain soothing of the soul — we cognize God only when the spirit is at rest, the repose of ignorance.

This apophatic ignorance is rather supra-knowledge — not the absence of knowledge but perfect knowledge and therefore incommensurate with any partial cognition. This ignorance is a contemplation, and it is something greater than merely contemplation. God is cognized not from afar, not through meditating about him but through an incomprehensible union with him, ενωσις. This is possible only through ecstasy, through stepping beyond all limits, through a kind of spiritual frenzy. This means entering a certain sacred darkness, the "darkness of ignorance," the "darkness of silence." This "stepping out" is true cognition, but it is cognition without words and ideas and therefore an incommunicable cognition, which is accessible only to him who has attainted it — and not even entirely accessible to him, for no one can even describe it to himself. Higher cognition is revealed "in the darkness of ignorance," which the soul enters at high levels: "the highest cognition of God is that which is attained through ignorance, by means of a union which transcends reason, when reason, having separated from everything which exists and then abandoning itself, combines with rays which beam on high, whence and where it is enlightened in the incomprehensible abyss of wisdom." It is not the mind, a word, or wisdom because it is the cause of the mind, words, and wisdom. This is the region of mysterious silence and speechlessness. The region in which thought is inactive and the soul touches God, feels the Godhead. It is drawn to him in love and prays and sings — υμνει. One has to climb higher and higher, pass all the sacred summits, abandon all heavenly sounds, lights, and words — and enter into "the mysterious darkness of ignorance" where truly that One resides Who is above and beyond everything. Such was the path of the holy Moses.

Pseudo-Dionysius cites the same exemplary model of ecstasy as St. Gregory of Nyssa (following Philo). In such mystical contemplation Dionysius sees the source and goal of any genuine cognition of God. On the heights the mind has to fall silent, and it will never have the power to relate the ineffable words it has heard there. This does not mean that logical attempts at reflective cognition are impossible or iniquitous. It is not the final cognition — and for it a higher measure lies in revealing and acknowledging its dynamic approximateness. All human notions or definitions of the Godhead are rather an attempt to reason. However, they are not empty and not unfounded. God is comprehended through ecstasy, through leaving and going beyond the world. But this "beyond" does not have a spatial meaning.

Therefore, cognition of God beyond the world does not exclude cognition within the world and through the world. The Divine mystery and inaccessibility of the Godhead do not signify concealment. On the contrary, God is revealed. Mystical and apophatic theology ("mystical theology") does not exclude revelation. This is "ascension" because it is possible that God I "descends," is revealed, appears. One can define the basic theme of the theology of the Areopagiticum as a theme about God and Revelation, a theme about "appearances of God," about theophanies. Hence the shift to cataphatic theology.

According to Dionysius cataphatic theology is possible because the whole world, everything that exists, is a kind of image or depiction of God. "We cognize God not from his nature, which is unknowable and transcends any thought and reason, but from the order of all things which he has established, which contains certain images and similarities to Divine prototypes — ascending to him who is found far above everything by a special way and order, through abstraction from everything and elevation over everything." This is not inferring the cause of the effect; nor is it judging about God through the world, but rather contemplation of the prototype in the images: contemplation of God in the world. For everything which creation has, it has through its "communion" with Divine acts and energies which descend and pour out into the world. Everything which exists, exists only to the extent that this communion exists. In cataphatic cognition or knowledge of God we ascend to God as to the Cause of everything. But for pseudo-Dionysius the Cause is revealed or appears in that which has been created. God's creative or causal act is the Divine appearancethe theophany. Any Divine revelation is a theophany, a presence, an appearance. Therefore, there is something direct and intuitive in cataphatic cognition or knowledge of God.

Cataphatic definitions and judgments never reach the very transsubstantial essence of God. They speak of God in the world, about the relationship of God to the world, about God in revelation. This does not weaken their cognitive realism. The basic concept of cataphatic theology is providence — πρόνοια. As Dionysius understands it, “providence” is a kind of movement or “stepping out” of God into the world — πρόοδος — a descent into the world, and returning to himself — the Divine επιστροφή — a kind of rotation or movement of Divine love. Providence is a certain completely real Divine omnipresence — with his providence, God is present in everything and, as it were, becomes everything for the sake of universal salvation and good. God, as it were, steps out of himself — immutably and continually he steps into the world, although in this constant action of his, he remains motionless and immutable. He remains in the perfect identity and simplicity of his own reality — the same and different.

In Divine providence abiding and mobility, motionlessness and motion — στάοις και κίνησις — mysteriously coincide. This is expressed by the Neoplatonic symbol of the circle, in the center of which all rays come together — the “image of the mind,” according to Proclus. God eternally steps down, abides, and returns. For Dionysius, God's abiding and motion do not signify any mixture or dissolution. It does not signify, Dionysius explains, any "change" or "transformation" but only that God created everything, brought it into being, and contains it, mysteriously enveloping and embracing everything with his multifarious providence.

In its descent to its communicants God's goodness does not leave its essential immutability. The Godhead is supra-essentially separated, "withdrawn" from the world — this is the final and definitive boundary, the last gap — hiatus or trans, uncrossable — υπέρ

The Divine powers and energies are many and varied, and Dionysius simply calls them distinguishing marks — διακρίσεις. But the great number of Divine gifts and acts do not violate the unity and identity of Divine existence. In his acts God has many names, but in the immutable and inalterable simplicity of his objective reality, he is above every word and name, and the closer one gets to God himself, the more the human tongue pales and words become scarce.

Among the Divine names Dionysius places goodness — τo αγαθόν — in the first rank. Because of his goodness God creates, establishes, gives life, and accomplishes everything. Doing good is a property of the good. Just as a light's life-giving rays extend in all directions from its source, so does the Supreme Good illumine everything that exists with its unchanging radiance, and gives off its supra-essential and life-giving rays — the "rays of complete goodness" in all directions. The sun is only the visible and remote image of the Divine and Spiritual Light. The Light is the image of Good. Everything that exists strives for this resplendent light and gravitates towards it. Everything exists and lives only through communion with this resplendent illumination, and to the extent that it accommodates it — that is, insofar as it is permeated by the rays of the spiritual and intelligent light. Moreover, these light-bearing rays can be called "the rays of Divine Darkness," for they blind with the force of their uncontainable light — the "inaccessible light" of the Godhead is a darkness which is rendered impenetrable by the excessiveness of the imparted illumination.

Here Dionysius is even literally close to Proclus and is reproducing the Neoplatonic metaphysics of light. However, these metaphysics and the language connected with the metaphysics were assimilated by Church theology much earlier. After all, it was St. Gregory of Nazianzus who said that "God in the intellectual world is like the sun in the perceptible one." All Christian symbolism is permeated with these metaphysics of light — the roots and beginnings of which are much deeper than Neoplatonism.

Good, as an intelligent and all-penetrating light, is the beginning of unity. Ignorance is the beginning of division. The spiritual light, which dispels the darkness of foolishness, gathers everything together, and brings fragmenting doubts to unified knowledge which is true, pure, and simple. The light is unity and begets unity. The rays create unity. God is unity, or better, supra-unity — a unity which brings everything together into one, which unites and reunites everything. Divine unity first of all signifies the perfect simplicity and indivisibility of Divine existence. God is called "simple" or "single" because in his indivisible simplicity he abides above any multitudinousness, even though he is the Creator of all things. He is above not only multitudinousness, but also singleness, as well as any number in general. Moreover, he is the beginning, and the cause, and the measure of any numeration, for any numeration presupposes unity and multitudinousness can exist only within the bounds of a higher unity. The world exists through the perfect unity of Divine providence. All objective reality gravitates towards a single focus, from which radiate the Divine powers which contain it — and here lies the basis of it stability. This is not external dependence or forced attraction but the attraction of love. Everything heads for God as for its cause and goal, for everything proceeds from him, everything returns to him, and exists through him and in him. Everything rushes towards him, for everything proceeds from his love, for he is Blessing and Beauty — and it is fitting that Blessing and Beauty be the object of attraction and love. Divine love envelops the lovers like a kind of ecstasy — εστί δε και εκστατικός ό θειος ερως. This love is kindled by God himself — with the tender breath of his goodness. Blessing is given off in love. Blessing attracts and is revealed as the object of love. This love is also the beginning of order and harmony — a simple and self-propelled force which draws everything towards unity, towards "a certain unity-creating dissolution." As Blessing, God is Love, and therefore he is also Beauty, for Blessing and Beauty coincide in the single cause of all existence. The stamp of Divine Beauty is on all of creation. Flowing forth to us from the Father of lights is a unity-creating force which elevates us to simplicity and union with God. The Divine Light never loses its unity in its fragmentation "in order to dissolve with mortals in a dissolution which raises them on high and unites them with God." Being simple and single in his motionless and lonely identity, God also creates unity for the illumined, although he shines forth under multifarious sacred and mysterious covers.

God is perfect Beauty, Supra-Beauty, Omni-Beauty, without beginning and end, without any defect or flaw — the source and prototype of every beauty and all beauties. As Blessing, God is the beginning of everything. As Beauty, God is the end of everything, for everything exists for his sake and receives from him its beauty; that is, its proportion and measure. Following Plato (and Proclus), Dionysius produces κάλλος from καλουν, “to call, summon,” and repeats the Platonic idea of beauty as the object of attraction. It is precisely beauty which kindles love. Dionysius describes self-existing beauty with the same words that Plato puts into Socrates' mouth in The Symposium. This is beauty which exists in and of itself, and has existed eternally, "something which has always existed, which is not born and does not perish, does not grow larger or smaller, is not here sublime and there ugly," something which "as existing in and of itself, has always had the same appearance and is eternal."

The beginning of every existence and order lies in this supreme beauty, for a single beauty attracts, unifies, and coordinates everything. Hence, all connections, all similarity, and all agreement in objective reality. Hence, measure and movement, heterogeneity and simplicity. Being above any division or multitude, God brings everything to himself as a higher, longed-for beauty and blessing.

In Dionysius' thought such a tight connection between beauty and love is another Platonic and Neoplatonic motif which has been assimilated by all of Christian asceticism, particularly in the later period. In addition, the metaphysical "sensuality" of Hellenism fuses with the Biblical — as it is expressed in The Song of Songs — in this symbolic epitome of religious love. Here Dionysius is a successor of St. Gregory of Nyssa, who in turn is repeating Origen. This is a long-standing idea which had already become traditional. In Dionysius, it was reinforced by another typically Hellenistic doctrine — the doctrine of the cosmic force of love and the cosmic significance of beauty.

Love is the force of connection and unity and, as love and beauty, God is the Provider, Creator, and Prototype of the world.

God is everything, since he is not any particular thing, for everything is contained in God within its "created foundations" and "prototypes." God is the highest Beginning of everything real, the implementing Cause, the supporting Force, and the final Goal of everything" — αρχή και τελος, Α και Ω. The creative and determining bases of everything — υποθετικοί λόγοι — preexist indivisibly in God, concordant with which the Supra-Real predetermines and produces everything. These “predeterminations” are “prototypes” — παραδείγματα — which, moreover, are Divine and All-Good predeterminations. According to the interpretations of the scholiasts, these are the “perfect and eternal thoughts of the eternal God.” According to St. John of Damascus' explanation, this is "everlasting Divine advice." This is an image of the world in God, as well as God's volition about the world. This is a certain world of ideas, although it is not a self-existing, self-sufficient world. Rather, it exists within God and reveals him to the world. It is the face of God, as it were, which is turned towards the world. And it shines brightly, and these "rays" or "energies" enter the very world, penetrate it, create and preserve it, and give it life. These "prototypes" are the living and life-giving providence of God, the "creative energies" of God.

This is not an intellectual world dreamily contemplated in the inaccessible distance, but a world of forces, a living, Almighty force. Here lies the essential difference between Dionysius and Plato. On the other hand, these "prototypes" are not things themselves but precisely the prototypes of things or paradigms. In some sense the things are connected with and similar to them, but only as to something higher and different — μέθεξις, μίμησις. In this lies the difference between Dionysius and Neoplatonic emanation. What is more, in a certain sense the Divine "definitions" of things are tasks — not only "prototypes" but also "goals." Therefore, movement in the world, attraction, and striving are both possible and necessary. The world does not only reflect or represent the Divine "prototype," it has to reflect it. The prototype is not only a "paradigm” but also a “tebs” — an “end” or “completion” — ώς τελικόν αίτιον. Implementation or “fulfillment” — τελείωσις — presupposes co-participation, “imitation” — Θεου συνεργόν γενέσθαι. The beginning does not fully coincide with the end — between them is a dynamic interval. "Reflection" and "imitation" do not coincide.

For Dionysius the main thing is that all definitions and qualities of that which exists go back to God — otherwise, how could they exist? In his relation to them, God is not only the external cause but also a kind of prototype, so that to a certain extent ("analogically") everything is his "image." Therefore, one can and must shift the ontological definition of that which exists to the Supra-Real, as to the end, the purpose, the goal, the limit. The world exists and is because God is objective reality — in it the objective reality of the world is a Divine image. The world lives because God is Life, and the world's life is a kind of communion with Divine Life. Existence is a Divine gift from God, and the first of his gifts. All qualities are also Divine gifts. They all reflect God to a certain extent "for otherwise it would not exist if it were not connected with the essence and beginning of everything that exists." "The objective reality of everything lies in the objective reality of the Godhead." To a certain extent, everything is connected with the Godhead. Therefore it is possible to affirm everything about God, for he is the beginning and the end, the purpose and endless foundation of everything.

Nothing, however — neither the temporary nor the invariable — reflects God entirely. God is above everything. Therefore all names taken from his "providence" are only metaphorically fitting for him. God is essence and the Real — rather, the Supra-Real. God is life, for he is the source of life. But he is Supra-Life, for he is Life itself, and all life flows from him. God is Wisdom, Reason, Intellect, Truth. God is the Energy or Power and Source of all power and energy — the Power which maintains everything, and affirms, and therefore saves everything. By virtue of his providential presence in everything, God is the salvation of everything. Along with that God is Truth, the Truth of everything and about everything because all order and structure go back to him, and God relates to everything in conformity with its worth.

Everything is connected to the Godhead, but to a different extent and in different ways. Inanimate things are connected insofar as they are — to the extent of their objective reality. Living things are connected to the extent of their life. Reasoning beings are connected to God's All-Perfect Wisdom.

All these multitudinous names taken from Divine providence are inadequate by virtue of their very multitudinousness, for God is essentially One. All things speak of God, and not one says enough. All bear witness to him, and not one reveals him. All cataphatic names speak of his "energies" and "providence" but not of his essence. In the multitudinousness of his theophanies and his "going out of himself," God remains invariable. The multitudinousness of the Divine names signifies the multitudinousness of his deeds, without violating the essential simplicity and supra-multitudinousness of his Existence.

Here cataphatic theology shifts back to the apophatic. One can and must deny everything that can be said about God because nothing is commensurate with him, and he is above everything. But he is above not only affirmations but negations as well, for he is the fullness of everything. Being all-named, God is nameless as well. Being everything in everything, he is also nothing in nothing.

Dionysius makes a distinction between general Divine names, which he applies to the entire Holy Trinity, and hypostatic names. All the definitions of apophatic and cataphatic theology are general names. All providential names designate the indivisible activity of the Supra-Essential Trinity. All these names speak of the Unity of the Godhead. Dionysius draws a distinction between these general names and (1) the names of the Trinitarian Hypostases, which designate special properties of the Divine Persons; (2) all names connected with the Incarnation. Dionysius speaks briefly and fleetingly of the Trinitarian dogma. It is not difficult to see, however, that the sharp emphasis on the generality of all Divine names is a concealed profession of complete consubstantiality. The Persons of the Holy Trinity are distinguished from one another, and the Father alone is the essential source of Divinity. The personal names of the Divine Hypostases are apophatic because Divine Fatherhood and Sonship are incommensurately higher than that birth which we know and understand. The Holy Spirit, the source of any deification of spiritual existence, is higher than any created spirit. The Son and the Spirit are like two miraculous fruits of the Father's fecundity — but all of this is above speech and thought. It should be added that Dionysius emphasizes that the Trinitarian nature and unity of God are of a supra-numerical nature, for God is beyond measure and number.

Cataphatic theology, as a doctrine about Divine Providence, is at the same time a cosmology. Dionysius defines the image of the world, first of all, as an idea of order and harmony, or ευταξία, as an idea of Divine peace. The basis for this peace is to be found in the ineffable tranquillity of Divine Life, which is revealed in world harmony and order. God is the God of peace. Everything in the world is well-structured and harmonious, and everything is made and coordinated; and for all of that, nothing loses its originality but is composed in living harmony. This peace is the Divine stamp on the world. It is proclaimed first of all in "hierarchy," in the hierarchical structure of the world. A hierarchy, according to Dionysius' definition, is "a holy rite, a knowledge and an activity, which as far as possible becomes like Divine beauty and which, when illumined from on high, leads to possible "imitation of God." The aim of the hierarchy is "possible comparison with God and union with him." "It imprints the image of God within itself and makes its communicants Divine likenesses, the clearest and the purest mirrors, so that they begin to reflect and impart to those below them the Divine radiance they have received." This is what the Divine hierarchy consists of.

Divine Beauty is highest of all — it is higher than everything sacred and is the cause of any sacred rite. Everything strives for this as much as possible so as to become assistants of God, and "as much as possible to reveal in themselves Divine activity," through imitation of God. The rite of the hierarchy demands that some enlighten and perfect, and others be enlightened and perfected. The higher must impart their illumination and purity to the lower. The Beginning of the hierarchy is the Holy Trinity, the source of life and unity. The hierarchy is the graded order of the world. There are levels in the world, gradations which are defined by the degree of proximity to God. God is everything in everything, but not equally in everything. According to its nature, not everything is equally close to God. But among these entities, which seem to be constantly receding, there is a living, unbroken connection, and everyone exists for others, so that only the fullness of everything realizes the goal of the world.

Everything strives for God but strives through an intermediary, through a means of narrower entities. The lower entities can not ascend to God except with the assistance of the higher ones. Dionysius is quite strict about maintaining this stairway principle. Thus order is rendered by a path and action. The goal of the hierarchy is to love God and commune with him.

God created everything for himself; that is, for blessing and bliss, for peace and beauty, so that everything would strive for him and, in joining with him, communicate with him, unite together inwardly. One can observe this reciprocity, this attraction, roused and moved by love and beauty, all throughout the world, right up to non-existence. It is proclaimed both in the external world and in the inner life of the soul. Everything gravitates to a single focal point; all lines converge in a single center like opposite radiants.

However, does not a false harmony arise in this process? Have not we overlooked the existence of evil? Perhaps Dionysius has too brief an answer to this question. God cannot be the cause of evil. Good always begets good. Therefore, evil "is not any sort of objective reality." It has a completely deprivative significance. Evil exists not in and of itself, but in another; evil is something incidental for objective reality, something extra which does not enter into its essential definitions. Evil only destroys and therefore presupposes objective reality and good. Evil does not create anything and is not the authentic beginning of origins.

Therefore there can be no pure, unadulterated evil; there can be no "self-evil." Evil always presupposes good as its foundation and support. As creations of God, the demons themselves are not evil by nature; there is something positive in them — reality, movement, life. Evil cannot be an independent principle, for then it would have to be invariable. However, invariability and self-identity are properties only of good. Evil is a wasting disease and similar to darkening, but light always remains light and also shines in the dark without turning into darkness.

Nothing which exists is evil as such — neither is matter evil. Evil is disharmony, disorder, αταξια. But pure disharmony is impossible and a total absence of form and order is tantamount to non-existence. Matter is not total chaos — it is connected with order and forms. It has the power of birth and preservation.

Not matter as such, but an attraction for what is lower, is the reason for evil in the soul. By itself, matter cannot hinder souls from striving for good. The beginning and end of evil things lies in good. In other words, evil does not so much exist as "be present"; it exists in and upon something else. Evil is parasitical; its cause is impotence — ασθένεια. In all evil deeds and phenomena we see primarily feebleness. Evil is a certain stepping out of the measures of nature and objective reality, a "defection from true goodness," an unjust and improper action, a certain "blending of the dissimilar."

In his discussion of the existence and causes of evil, pseudo-Dionysius follows Proclus almost literally. Proclus' book on evil has come down to us only in the Latin translation by William of Moerbeke, the Latin archbishop of Corinth in the thirteenth century — De malorum subsistentia. However, one should not forget that the Neoplatonic point of view about evil was already customary for theological thought — it is enough to recall St. Gregory of Nyssa. Pseudo-Dionysius' definitions, which he took from Proclus, coincide with St. Gregory's at least in terms of meaning.

In the thought of Dionysius the final fate of evil remains unclear. Will the impotence of evil improve at some time? Will the harmonic fullness of existence, which is violated by evil as if by deprivation, be fulfilled? Or is evil paradoxically entering into harmony and order, even though it is a false face and a semi-illusory accident which exists by virtue of good and for the sake of good? Dionysius does not argue here to the end. But it is very characteristic that he speaks of evil only in passing, in, as it were, parentheses.

Above the ladder of creatures stand the celestial ranks of angels — "the innumerable blessed host of supra-terrestrial minds." Their perfection is determined by a high and preferential degree of communion with God, which is accessible to them and characteristic of them. Through the pure spirituality of their nature, they are closest of all to God and are therefore the intermediaries of his revelation to the world, the heralds of his will and his mysteries.

The name "angels," which is applied to the whole celestial world, expresses this service. In the strict sense of the word it is only the name of one of the heavenly ranks, the lowest one. By their very nature, not only because of their perfection, angels are higher than men. It is for this reason that God's revelation is accomplished through them, and only through them. "The work of any hierarchy is divided into sacredly receiving true purification, the Divine light, and perfecting knowledge themselves and then imparting it to others." The angels were the leaders of the righteous men of the Old Testament; the law was given to Moses through the angels; the archangel Gabriel brought the mysterious news to Zechariah and Mary; the angels gave the news to Joseph and the shepherds of Bethlehem.

The celestial world itself has a hierarchical structure, and not all the angelic ranks possess Divine enlightenment to an equal extent. Here the lower ranks receive from the higher. As Dionysius sees it, the angelic world is a united whole and also a stairway. He mentions that knowledge and perfection "gradually weaken as they pass to the lower ranks." To a certain extent, all angels are privy to the Godhead and the Light imparted therefrom. Even so, however, the higher ones are intermediaries and leaders of the lower; they constantly take part in the providential power, and they themselves have the light and powers of the lower ones. But the lower ranks do not have what belongs to the higher ones. The mysteries of the supra-celestial minds are not accessible to them — only to the extent that "God is revealed to us through these angels themselves as those who know themselves" — that is, to the same extent as the angelic appearances "which were made before the holy theologians."

We recognize angels in certain prototypical symbols from which we must ascend to what is meant — from perceptible images to spiritual simplicity. The images are not similar to what is meant — they are coarse, and this sets off the high level of what is meant.

The images precisely conceal the holy object from carnal minds as if with a sort of sacred curtain.

Our life is not constrained by necessity, and the Divine rays of heavenly enlightenment are not obscured by the free will of the beings governed by Providence; but the non-identity of the spiritual glance leads to the fact that there are different degrees of enlightenment, and that communion with the abundant enlightenment can even cease entirely. However, "the source-ray is alone and simple, always the same, and always abundant."

Dionysius brings into this system the already developed Church doctrine of the nine ranks of angels, redistributing them into three triple groups. The first and highest triad is the Cherubim, Seraphim, and Thrones who stand "as if on the thresholds of the Godhead," at the very sanctuary of the Trinity, "around God," in the closest direct proximity to him. They have access to direct knowledge of the Divine mysteries. They live and are permeated with the ineffable light, and contemplate God in the brightness of that light.

These are the blazing or burning seraphim and cherubim who are rich in knowledge and wisdom — these names are the names of their God-like properties. The blaze of fire of the seraphim signifies the ardor of their love; they are governed by God himself. They transmit Divine knowledge to the lower ranks and "are the rivers of wisdom."

This first hierarchy, which is united, which is the most Godlike, which is closest of all to the first illumination from the Original Divine light, transcends any created force, visible or invisible. This is "the hierarchy which is God's own and which is similar to him in every way." Their love for God is completely invariable, and they "keep the foundation of their God-like nature always unshakeable and immobile." They possess "perfectly simple knowledge of the highest light" and "have the closest communion with the Divine and human properties of Christ."

They are blessed directly by God, are "illumined by simple and direct illuminations," and learn the wise reasons for his Divine acts from Good Itself. And the lower ranks learn from them. They participate in original knowledge of the "radiant mysteries" and are purified, illumined, and perfected through this. This is the "Godlike hierarchy," "God's Divine places of tranquillity." They have "a more concealed and clearer illumination," which is simple, unitary, the first given and the first to appear, and the most complete.

The second hierarchy consists of Dominions, Virtues, and Powers. They have access only to secondary illumination, which comes to them through the ranks of the first hierarchy. "Even lower is the third hierarchy — Principalities, Archangels, and Angels. The rank of angels concludes a ladder of celestial minds. They are the closest to the earth — they are the "angels of the world," as it were. Angels are appointed to look after all peoples of the earth, and they are the leaders of the terrestrial hierarchy. The celestial and terrestrial worlds close ranks here, as it were, and a descending ladder of illuminations and revelations obtains. God decreases his illuminations and makes something of his mysteries unknowable according to the decreasing capacity of the beings.

As Dionysius understands it, this is an immutable order. "Every rank is the interpreter and herald of the ranks above it, and the highest are interpreters of God." In essence, the angelic world shields God for man. A direct path is not realized, and this reveals a certain vagueness in Dionysius' Christological ideas. He speaks of Christ comparatively rarely. True, in the Incarnation of the Logos he recognizes the completeness and fulfillment of a theophany — but he overemphasizes the ineffability and mysteriousness of this manifestation. The Godhead stays hidden after this manifestation and even in the manifestation itself. The image of the God-Man is not the focal point of Dionysius' spiritual experience.

Dionysius continues the old Alexandrian tradition, clearly expressed in Clement of Alexandria and especially in Origen, which is harshly colored by the late Judaic and Hellenistic motive of mediation. Perhaps there is even a certain echo of Gnostic "genealogies." In any case, the hierarchical idea receives features from Dionysius which are too sharp. He even corrects Holy Scripture in the name of principle — thus he does not agree to see a real seraphim in the seraphim which appeared to the prophet Isaiah. Either this was an angel, who is called seraphim because of his fiery service, or else a seraphim was acting through the angel who is granting him his activity as the most qualified performer of Divine mysteries.

Dionysius concludes his sketch of the "celestial hierarchy" with a rather detailed critique of the symbolic images under which angels are described and appear in the Scriptures. He stresses the mysteriousness of the angelic world and its inaccessibility for human understanding.

The goal of life lies in communion with God, in deification. The hierarchy is established for this goal. Deification is comparison to and union with God. Comparison, but not a blending or a mixture — the immutable boundary of Divine inaccessibility always remains inviolate. This comparison extends to the whole world, not only to reasoning and speaking beings — it is for every type of being to an appropriate degree. "The first and pre-eminent deification" is accessible only to the higher celestial ranks.

The concept of deification in Dionysius at times almost dissolves in the concept of peace, harmony and unity, and almost merges with the concept of the natural God-like quality of everything which exists.

The Liturgy

Dionysius1 mysticism is liturgical or sacramental mysticism. The path to God leads through the Church and through the sacraments. The liturgy is the path of deification and consecration. For Dionysius, the Church is primarily a world of sacraments; it is in the sacraments and through the sacraments that communion with God is realized.

Jesus, the Supra-Essential Mind, which begins in God, calls us to the perfect unity of Divine Life and elevates us to holiness. Jesus is the beginning of any hierarchy — celestial, terrestrial, and ecclesiastical. One could say that the Church hierarchy or priesthood is the highest step in the perceptible world and is directly contiguous with the celestial world of pure spirits. In this sense, the terrestrial Church is an "image" of the celestial; this comparison had been made already by Clement of Alexandria.

The essence of the terrestrial hierarchy lies in revelation, in the "words handed down by God." These do not consist exclusively of the Scriptures, but also include the oral, clandestine legacy of the apostles — here Dionysius is reminiscent of the Alexandrians. The hierarchy preserves and transmits this legacy in perceptible symbols, as if to conceal Divine mysteries from the unsanctified. Dionysius emphasizes the motive of the mystery. It is demanded not only by the mystery of the Godhead itself, and not only by veneration of the object of worship — "the holy things for the holy" — but also for the benefit of the unsanctified, unprepared, and the novice. What is more, the hierarchy's principle demands that knowledge be revealed at varying degrees and at different levels. Even the most external symbols — the disciplina arcani — must be inaccessible to outsiders. After that, knowledge and enlightenment increase by stages.

In the Church Dionysius distinguishes two triple circles. The first consists of the sacred ranks, the hierarchs or ordained. The second consists of the "ranks of those being completed." Knowledge is transmitted from top to bottom. The highest rank is that of the bishops. Dionysius calls it simply the "rank of hierarchs." This is die crowning rank, the summit of the hierarchy, the source of power and religious rites. The act of enlightenment is the responsibility of the priests. Deacons officiate at "purification." It is they who commune with the still unenlightened. They prepare them for baptism and guide those being baptized, developing them for a new life. They stand on the boundary between the priestly and secular ranks.

Presbyters — priests — have greater leadership. They explain the symbols and rites to the enlightened. The bishop alone has the right of the religious rite, in which the bishop is assisted by the presbyters.

In the worldly circle Dionysius again distinguishes three ranks, which correspond to the three degrees of the priesthood. The lowest rank are those still needing purification: the proclaimed, the penitent, the possessed. The second rank is the “contemplative” rank, the “sacred people,” ιερος λαος. They contemplate “the sacred symbols and their hidden meaning.”

The highest category is reserved for the monks. They are guided by the bishop himself, but are ordained by the presbyters. According to Dionysius1 interpretation, the name of a monk shows that integral and indivisible "unitary" or monadic life which he has to lead. Monks must direct their spirit to a "God-like monad," must overcome any dissipation, and gather up and unite their spirit so that the Divine monad be imprinted there.

Dionysius calls the ordination or "completion" of monks a sacrament, and consequently the taking of monastic vows in Byzantium was usually considered a sacrament. However, Dionysius stridently emphasizes that monasticism is not a degree of the priesthood and that monks are ordained for personal perfection, not the guidance of others. They have to obey the priestly ranks, the presbyters in particular. Therefore, monks are not ordained through the laying on of hands, and without genuflection before the altar of faith. The priest reads a prayer (the "epiklisis"), and the person becoming a monk renounces vice and "imagination" ("fantasy"). The priest makes the sign of the cross over him, calling on the name of the Holy Trinity, tonsures him, robes him in new garments, and kisses him. Such was the ancient rite. The most important place in it is taken up by the vow.

Dionysius speaks of three sacraments — Baptism, the Eucharist, and Anointing. Baptism opens one's way into the Church. Dionysius calls it "enlightenment"; "Divine birth"; or "rebirth." Baptism is performed by the bishop, but along with all the presbyters and among the sacred people, who ratify the sacrament of Baptism with their assent of "amen." To begin with, Baptismal enlightenment gives self-knowledge. Everyone who is baptized, as a person entering into communion with God, needs an integral and gathered life and a striving for immutability. Baptism is completed by Anointing, which is also performed by the bishop. Dionysius connects the "sacrament of Chrism" with the idea of Divine Beauty, which is symbolized by the Chrism's fragrance.

Dionysius gives a detailed interpretation of the symbolic actions of the sacraments, and his interpretations frequently call St. Cyril of Jerusalem to mind. It is possible to think that he is giving the generally accepted interpretation, but at the same time he is striving for symmetry and parallelism — hence the sometimes violent comparisons. One's attention is drawn to his constant use of expressions taken from the usage of the mysteries, often instead of names and words sanctified by Church custom. This could hardly have been accidental — there was probably the intention to juxtapose the true "mysteries" of the Church to the false pagan "mysteries."

The focus of sacramental life is the Eucharist — "the sacrament of participation or communion," as Dionysius calls it. This is for the most part a sacrament of union with the One, the completion or fulfillment of any perfection, the "completion of union." The outward sign of unity is receiving communion from a single cup and a single loaf of bread — those who receive the same food have to be united. Dionysius sees precisely this motive in the symbolism of the communion service and tries to emphasize it.

The last chapter of the book On the Ecclesiastical Hierarchy is devoted to a description and symbolic explanation of the funeral rite. Dionysius first speaks of the fate of the faithful beyond the grave — the "life without night," the eternal youth, full of light, radiance, and bliss. This joy is recompense for one's struggle and faithfulness, and for this reason bliss is not in store for everyone equally. The path of death is the path of a holy rebirth, the path of "palingenesis," for resurrection is prepared for everyone. In fulfilling the faith, even the body will be called to a blissful life. This hope determines the joyful nature of the burial rite. It is curious that the proclaimed, as people who are still outside the Church, are not allowed to be present during the concluding prayers of the funeral service, during the reading of the prayer of absolution. The reason is that the burial is an intra-Church prayer, a fraternal prayer and activity. A prayer for the deceased, particularly the prayer of absolution, is an impulse of sacramental love, and it is offered by the bishop, the supreme hierarch of the community, the "herald of Divine vindications." The final kiss is a symbol of fraternal ties and love. Finally, the deceased is anointed with unction, as he was anointed at the beginning of his Christian journey, at his baptism.

From The Byzantine and Ascetic Spiritual Fathers