I should begin my remarks with a caveat: I represent a minority in Dionysian scholarship. In fact, I stand at the very terminus of a series of progressively shrinking minorities. To shift to an arboreal image, the great trunk of Dionysian studies over the past century has been devoted to my subject’s undoubted debt to late Neoplatonism, in which tradition our topic in this conference, apophatic theology, plays a considerable role (1). A sturdy branch of the scholarly literature does seek to take into account Dionysius’ equally undoubted efforts –hence the first century pseudonym of a disciple of St. Paul — to supply at least the appearance of a Christian background (2). Narrower is the offshoot which tries to read him against the setting of specifically Eastern Christian thought, and perilously thin the branch from that branch which has sought to apply to this mysterious, late fifth or early sixth century writer insights from that Christian Syria which, everyone agrees, represents his at least geographical point of origin (3). Thinnest of all, really the merest twig at the end of all of these branchings, you have me here today, who venture to propose that the Eastern and especially Syrian ascetico-mystical tradition offers us a kind of royal path to the comprehension of the Areopagitica as a coherent and even emphatically Christian vision (4). The setting of Syrian monasticism in particular, with its roots extending back into those native traditions of Christian Syria which include the wandering ascetical visionaries known to us, for example, from the Gospel and the Acts of Judas Thomas and, more distantly still — though this is more speculative — into the vision tradition of apocalyptic literature deriving from Christianity’s original matrix in Second Temple Judaism, is, I submit, the Sitz im Leben of the Corpus Dionysiacum (5).
I admit that I am quite alone in this view. I am also alone in arguing , elsewhere at greater length than today, that Dionysius’ more specific context is the conflict or, at least, tension between the figures of the ascetic holy man and the bishop, or, more elaborately, between the personal authority of the monastic visionary, peculiarly beloved by the laity of the Syrian Church, and the ecclesiastical, sacramental thrust of Christian worship and polity. This tension, and sometimes conflict, was several generations old by the time our author set his quill to parchment. It had also elicited an equally venerable and distinctive set of replies from within the ascetic tradition itself, replies from which I believe Dionysius drew, especially in his treatises on, and invention of the word, hierarchy, to which I shall return below (6).
For now, though, any ecclesial or, indeed, obviously Christian element is not immediately obvious in the Mystical Theology, the little treatise which is perhaps the most famous and influential of the Dionysian corpus (7). True, it begins with a prayer offered to the Christian Trinity, and goes on to invoke the biblical account of Moses ascending into the cloud atop Mt. Sinai as an image of the mind’s ascent into the darkness, gnophos, and silence, sige, of divinity (8). The remaining four chapters, however, are devoted to a discusssion of negation, apophasis, which appears to be largely devoid of any ostensibly Christian elements. As God descends into the world, creating and sustaining it, Dionysius explains in Chapter 3, so He acquires many names, from Trinity and Unity at the highest stage to all the attributes of human emotions, bodily form, and even to the names of inanimate creation at the lowest end. This is the realm of positive, kataphatic, theology. “But now”, he continues:
As [our discourse] ascends from what is lower to what lies above, it contracts to
the extent that it ascends, and, once it has completed its ascent, it will be wholly
speechless and wholly united to the Unutterable (9).
In the concluding two chapters he supplies us with this ascent of negations. In MT 4, he begins with the denial of the attribution of corporeal and passible aspects to the divinity:
Therefore we say that the Cause of all…has neither body [soma] nor shape [schema] nor form [eidos]…neither is He is a place [topos] nor seen…nor perceived [by the senses]…nor is He troubled by material passions…nor is He in need of light…nor does He either have nor is He any one of the things which are perceived [by the senses]. (10)
We then proceed to the intelligible names in the fifth and concluding chapter:
Moving yet higher we say that He is…neither soul nor mind; neither has He
imagination nor opinion nor reason [logos] nor intuitive knowing [noesis];
neither is He reason nor intuition; neither can He be reasoned or intuited. He
is neither life nor does He live; neither is He being [ousia] nor eternity [aion] nor
time…He is neither oneness, nor deity, nor goodness. He is not spirit, as we
understand [the term], nor sonship nor fatherhood…He is no one of the things
which are not, nor any one of those which are…[thus] beyond affirmation…and
beyond negation is the transcendence of Him Who, simply, is beyond all things
and free. (11)
While I shall come back momentarily to a detail or two in my translation of these passages, I should like for now to finish up what we might call the case for the prosecution. In what we have just seen, there seems to be precious little support for declaring Dionysius a Christian thinker, and a very great deal for regarding him as a Neoplatonist metaphysician whose Christian trappings this treatise in particular exposes as, to borrow a phrase from Anders Nygren’s Agape and Eros, “an exceedingly thin veneer” (12). The increase of discourse as it expands through affirmation to cover the divine descent into multiplicity, and its corresponding contraction through negation in our ascent to the “cause of all” correspond, furthermore, precisely to the cycle of procession (or emanation) and return, proodos–epistrophe, which is the bedrock of Neoplatonist thought and, equally, of the Dionysian corpus (13). More disturbing still to any who would like to read this author as a Christian writer is the concluding section’s apparent denial of the same Trinity with which the MT began, together with the facts that neither love, nor indeed Christ Himself appear anywhere at all (14). There would thus seem to be nothing to counter the assertions made forty years ago by Fr. Jean Vanneste and by John Rist, who were both echoing earlier critics, that the Areopagite’s is a purely “natural mysticism” — if, indeed, even the term mysticism is at all applicable. Vanneste thought it was not (15). More recently, Paul Rorem at Princeton and Ysabel de Andia at the Sorbonne have published a number of weighty studies advancing similar views, though with some qualifications in the latter’s case (16). For Professor Rorem particularly, it is the MT which stands at the center of the Dionysian project, an enterprise which is grounded upon the timeless relation obtaining between cause and effect — the Neoplatonist bedrock, in other words — and for which there can in consequence be no real place either for Christian eschatology nor, indeed, for Christ Himself, whose frequent appearances elsewhere in the CD are therefore purely “cosmetic” (17).
In my case for the defense, and with it for the place of the MT and apophatic theology within the CD, let me begin with those details I promised just above. The first concerns the initial negation I cited from MT 4: God does not have either “body” or “form”. I daresay that this must sound to most of us like an unnecessary truism — of course, we think, deity, if it exists at all, is necessarily formless and bodiless. I suggest, however, that this axiom was not so obvious in Dionysius’ own time and place. Those ascetic visionaries whom I take to have been at once his targets and, at least in part, his readership may well have held very archaic yet still quite lively views about the divine form, and were likely to have understood it as the object of the vision which they sought (18). The divine form or body features prominently in the throne visions of apocalyptic literature, at the term of the seer’s ascent to heaven, and continue to play an important role in the hekhalot texts of Rabbinic Judaism which are more or less precisely contemporary with the Areopagitica (19). While I doubt myself that fifth and sixth century Christian monks were reading much rabbinic literature — though, who knows? oral crossover was certainly not impossible, especially in a commonly Aramaic-speaking milieu — I can point to the fact that Christian ascetics were copying and, presumably, reading the apocalypses not only of the biblical canon, but of the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, e.g., I and II Enoch, the Apocalypse of Abraham and Apocalypse of Zephanaiah, together with the second-century, Christian apocryphon, The Martyrdom and Ascension of Isaiah, to name a few. It is not accidental, I think, that we find Dionysius thus concluding his corpus with a letter addressed “To John at Patmos” (20).
This leads me to an initial remark about the first treatise on the hierarchies, The Celestial Hierarchy, which is traditionally — and I think correctly — held to begin the corpus. Dionysius himself tells us that he was moved to write it because he “had…been troubled by the…imagery used by scripture in reference to the angels” (21). He dedicates in consequence both the second and fifteenth chapters to an angelic iconography taken almost entirely from Ezekiel, especially from Ezekiel 1, which is to say, from the vision text par excellence — perhaps even the template for the later apocalyptic throne visions — with its zoomorphic cherubim, its wheeled throne (the divine chariot, or merkavah), and the human-like form (demut) of God’s Glory on the throne (22). Chapter thirteen of the CH is likewise devoted entirely to a second, nearly as important throne vision, that of Isaiah 6 (23). Here I think my supposition about monastic fondness for the Pseudepigrapha somewhat confirmed by the presence of an interesting detail. Dionysius’ Isaiah does not see the Glory of God within the earthly temple, as in the biblical text, but is “lifted up” by his angel guide to look upon the heavenly throne and liturgy, which the angel then explains to him. This is the same sequence, much compressed and shorne of the passage through seven heavens, that we find in the Ascension of Isaiah (24). Here something else of interest emerges. Dionysius is not at all interested in denying the theophanies of the Old Testament nor, by extension I think, the visionary experiences of his contemporaries. To the contrary, unlike an Augustine, he affirms them. What he does want to do, though, is define them in such a way as also to affirm divine transcendence as he understands it, i.e., as free of all forms and concepts.
It is God’s sovereign freedom, a second detail from the MT, which I sought to underline with a translator’s trick at the end of my rendering of chapter 5. The Greek text actually ends with “beyond all things”, epekeina panton. Trick or no, I think this device justified in that it highlights what I take to be one of Dionysius’ two fundamental concerns in stressing the use of negative theology: God is subject to absolutely none of our conceptions. Even the revealed names — Father, Son, Spirit — are finally icons, images, drawn from human experience. They are given us in order to point to a reality in the Godhead, indeed, to a community, but that community in and for itself escapes definition. Note as well a third detail in Dionysius’ careful qualification: “not spirit as we understand [it]. Here he echoes an earlier Christian writer, Gregory Nazianzus, called “the Theologian” because he was the preferred interpreter of the Trinity for the East after the fourth century, whose remarks concerning the divine names even of the Trinity carry a markedly similar thrust (25). Elsewhere, in Divine Names 2.8, Dionysius deals in a similar way with divine fatherhood and sonship. Here, very interestingly and quite in line with my premise of a monastic Sitz im Leben, it is the relationship between spiritual father and son at the heart of Eastern Christian ascetic literature from the time of monasticism’s fourth century emergence which he holds out as his preferred image of the first two Persons of the Trinity. Yet, he adds, the latter “supremely transcends” even this most exalted and refined instance of human relations (26). God cannot be known by our kind of knowing, but instead only by a special kind of “unknowing”, agnosia, which leaves us free for the experience of the divine presence. Here, then, is the second thrust of the negations: they open up a way to the cognitio dei experimentalis.
They do not do so, however, purely and simply as the result of our efforts. Pace Fr. Vanneste and Professor Rorem, Dionysius’ negations are not a kind of metaphysical-cum-mystical trampoline. Thus my fourth detail, which does not appear in the citations I quoted above but does elsewhere in the MT and throughout the CD: whenever Dionysius speaks of the human experience of God, his verbs are invariably in the passive voice (27). This points as well to a second aspect of the divine freedom which my hero is concerned to emphasize: not only is God free from circumscription by any of our notions, but He is also thus free to reveal Himself, to become present to us when we do open up ourselves to becoming present to Him. This reciprocity, which Dionysius occasionally refers to as synergia, cooperation, after the example of the Eastern Fathers before him, he elsewhere describes in terms of a symmetry of ecstasies (28). As God comes out of Himself, exestekos, in a “departure from His own being”, kat’ekbasin tes ousias, in His processions (proodoi) to create, sustain, and save the world, so we are called to an ecstasis, a departure from ourselves, as the act of our return (epistrophe) to Him (29). Yet the ecstasies are by no means perfectly reciprocal, since the power enabling our return to Him and firing our longing for Him is, according to DN 4.10-17, the very same divine love which moved Him to call us and our world into being. This “single moving power” governing the creation, the divine love of DN 4.17, is one and the same, I take it, with “the infinite and selfless sea of the divine light, ever ready to open itself for all to share”, quoting from CH 9.3, and I think is also allied — as we shall see presently — with the divine darkness, gnophos, into which Moses ascends in MT 1.3:
…the truly secret darkness of unknowing…He [Moses] closes [his eyes] to all
perceptions open to knowledge and enters into Him Who is altogether untouchable
and invisible…he is, in accordance with what is greater and by a cessation of his own
activity of knowing, united to Him Who is wholly unknowable. (30)
As Dionysius writes in DN 2.9 of his alleged mentor, Hierotheus, the final stage of our ascent is in fact to become vessels for God’s presence, to “suffer divine things” (pathon ta theia) (31).
I have obviously left a few questions hanging. If the Dionysian mystical ascent is not purely the work of the autonomous intellect, but rather requires and at the end surrenders to the power of divine love acting from within, there is still the matter — or rather, the absence — of Christ in the MT. Second, there is the nagging question for some scholars of a phrase from MT 1.3 just cited. What is the “according to what is greater”, kata to kreitton, by which Moses is finally joined to God? Third and last, if the MT is not, as in Professor Rorem’s view, the “methodological prologue” to the Dionysian hierarchies, and so intended to dissolve the latters’ traditional use of scriptures and liturgy, then what is its relation to the other half of Dionysius’ works (32)? All three of these questions are related. Let me begin my reply by taking up the last two together, and then move on to the first, in order to finish this essay with a consideration of the phrase which provides my title, “suddenly, Christ”, where I hope to show the various threads of Dionysius’ thought coming together in the single remarkable paragraph of his third epistle.
The “greater” according to which Moses is united to God has been identified by Fr. Vanneste and John Rist, together more recently with Professor de Andia, with a certain faculty within the human being and above the capacities of both soul and intellect which Dionysius elsewhere refers to as henosis, union, and which is thus also somewhat analogous to Proclus’ and other late Neoplatonists’ idea of the “bloom” or “blossom of the intellect”, to anthos tou nou (33). The latter expression does not occur in the CD, but I think it likely that it is in fact akin to Dionysius’ henosis. This appears to raise yet again, as it did for Vanneste and Rist, the question of a “natural mysticism”. The appearance is deceptive. First of all, in both Dionysius and the Neoplatonists the faculty is entirely a passive one, and in the case of the Christian writer I think that we can take it as, secondly, Dionysius’ particular expression of a widespread current in Eastern Christian thought, i.e., that the human being is created as somehow “capable of God”, homo capax dei, intended from Adam to be the receptacle and manifestation of the divine presence. This is, in short, the famous deification, theosis, which has long been recognized as a key to Eastern Christian understanding of the salvation offered in Christ and which also appears, stated expressly, at a number of points in the CD (34).
We do, however, touch here, thirdly, on what I take to be an important reason — perhaps even the reason — for Dionysius’ undoubted attraction to the late Neoplatonists. The latter did not believe in the autonomous intellect, either. Rather, and in contrast to Plotinus, they emphatically denied the soul’s capacity to ascend unaided to union with the One, and believed that it was only through “ineffable rites” handed down from antiquity that the inherent “weakness of the soul” could be assisted sufficiently to participate in the divine realm (35). One can even speak of a kind of notion of grace implicit in Iamblichus of Chalcis’ and Proclus’ insistence that the gods are not coerced, but are instead free to reply to human prayers by manifesting themselves. Dionysius likewise, perhaps especially in DN 3, insists on the necessity of prayer as the path to the experience of God (36). Now, to be sure, Neoplatonist theurgy was in practice worlds away from Christian liturgy, nor does Dionysius ever use the term, theurgy, for anything other than the work of Christ — the Incarnation, Death, and Resurrection (37). Neither does he display any interest whatever in late Neoplatonist devotion to sacred stones, crystals, unpronounceable names, seances, ectoplasm, and moving statues. He does, on the other hand, affirm a traditional worship, the Christian liturgy, whose antiquity came vastly better documented than Iamblichus’ and Proclus’ sad appeal to the spurious Chaldean Oracles, and which in turn could point to a still more ancient ancestry in the Second Temple, and, yet further back, to Solomon’s Temple, and finally to God’s own revelation to Moses on Sinai of the tabernacle, the very type of the heavenly liturgy — surely one of the several reasons for the choice of Moses in the MT as the exemplar of the mystical encounter (38).
We arrive thus at the opening chapter of the first treatise in the corpus, the CH, where Dionysius begins by stating that we gain access (prosagoge) to God through IC, “the light of the Father” (39). That which we have been given through Christ to make Him present to us is the liturgy, as is spelled out in perhaps the most important passage in the CD:
It would not be possible for the human intellect to be ordered with that immaterial
imitation of the heavenly minds [i.e., the angels] unless it were to use the material
guide that is proper to it, reckoning the visible beauties as reflections of the invisible
splendor, the perceptible fragrances as impressions of the intelligible distributions, the
material lights an icon of the immaterial gift of light, the sacred and extensive teaching
[of the scriptures] [an image] of the intellect’s intelligible fulfillment, the outward ranks
of the clergy [an image] of the harmonious condition [hexis] [of the intellect] set in order
for divine things, and [our partaking of] the most divine Eucharist [an icon] of our
participation in Jesus. (40)
The passage speaks of worship in the local church, with its candles, incense, scripture readings, orders of clergy, and sacraments. It claims, first, that this liturgy is an image and reflection of the angels. This is nothing new in either Christian or prior Jewish tradition (41). Second, however, it also specifies that the outward forms of our liturgy — or, perhaps better, of “our hierarchy”, since by the latter phrase Dionysius always means the Church at worship — reflect and, I will add, condition or form the inward shape of the soul or intellect. The visible service is therefore a symbol, bearing in mind that the latter term is always to be understood for Dionysius in a strong sense, uniting and co-ordinating three levels of being: the heavenly, the earthly, and what St. Paul refers to as the “inner man”. This co-ordination runs consistently throughout the treatises on the hierarchies. It is, indeed, a key to those passages where Dionysius does in fact speak of the form or likeness of God. For example, there is his definition two chapters later of hierarchy as “a sacred order (taxis), knowledge (episteme), and activity (energeia) assimilated [lit., made like to, aphomoiomene] so far as possible to the form of God [to theoeides]”, whose purpose, he continues, is to make its members “images [agalmata] of God…clear and spotless mirrors reflecting the primordial light” (42).
The shape or form of God is obviously not corporeal here, but it is just as clearly a meaningful idea for our author as it denotes for him both the shape of the worshipping communities of heaven and earth, together with the nature of the relationships obtaining between their members — ordered, harmonious, and governed by loving care, as Dionysius spells out elsewhere — and the inner shape of the soul “formed” in the same virtues (43). This emerges with particular force in the long Epistle 8 addressed to the erring monk, Demophilus. The latter’s name means “beloved by the mob”, and in him I think we find an example of the sort of ascetics, enormously popular and hence powerful in especially (though not uniquely) the Syrian Church of the era, whom it is Dionysius’ intent to counter and, perhaps, to convert (44). Demophilus has upset the God-given order, taxis, of the Church by presuming to break in on the confession of a notorious sinner, beat the latter up, chase the confessing priest out of the altar, and then stand guard over the “holy things”, presumably the reserved sacrament, in order to prevent a second “profanation”. The scenario allows Dionysius to expand on our theme. Demophilus, he says, has broken God’s ordinance by going in where none but the clergy are allowed, the sanctuary, and by claiming authority where he has none, i.e., over the sacraments. More importantly, and illustrative of my point above, the monk’s pride, anger, and consequent usurpation stand in precise contrast to the meekness (praotes), mercy (eleos) and love which characterized the great God-seers of the biblical revelation: Moses and David, the angels, and pre-eminently Christ Himself (45). The sacred order, taxis, of the Church has been upset, as Dionysius says in so many words, because Demophilus own, inner taxis was out of order (46). He had, in short, failed to allow the shape of the liturgy to shape or form his inner man. The epistle concludes with the story of certain holy bishop, Carpus, who had permitted anger to overcome his normally meek and loving pastoral care sufficiently to curse two sinners. The good bishop is then favored with a vision. Christ in light appears to him on the heavenly throne carried by the angels, but then pointedly leaves His throne in order to extend a hand to pull the two penitent malefactors out of the jaws of hell (47).
The focus on pride and, particularly, on anger is also, I should add, typical of the ascetical literature of the century and more which preceded the Areopagitica. So, too, is the emphasis Dionysius places on meekness and the latter’s link with Moses as the God-seer (cf. Nu 12), together with mercy and love. These are the virtues which the late fourth century monk, Evagrius of Pontus, emphasized as making us co-workers with the angels — a very Dionysian theme — and as the pre-condition for the visio dei (48). The discussion in Epistle 8 therefore dwells precisely on the formation of that receptacle or capacity within us which allows for God’s epiphany. Likewise, God Himself is something more for Dionysius than anonymous, impersonal divinity. He has a face and a name, and they are Christ. We shall find this brought out in what I take to be a parallel with Moses’ ascent of Sinai in the MT expressed in a passage at the center of the treatise devoted to the Church, the Ecclesiastical Hierarchy, and reinforced by the five epistles immediately following the MT,
Before I turn to these concluding sections, however, let me pause here to note another fourth century, monastic connection with the CD. If I spoke just above of Dionyius’ attraction to late Neoplatonism and the latter’s emphasis on ritual to make up for the soul’s weakness, than I must add that we should also look for his ancestry in this regard to three Syrian Christian, ascetic writers in the latter half of the fourth century. Ephrem Syrus (+373) and the anonymous author of the Liber Graduum wrote in Syriac, and the similarly unknown writer of the enormously influential Macarian Homilies in Greek. All three were concerned to emphasize the necessary connection between the life of the soul, and the public liturgy of the Church as a divinely given image of the transformed “inner man”. They were also, I think, anxious to bring those among their ascetical contemporaries who were questioning the necessity of clergy and sacraments — and we know that there were such ascetics, particularly in Syria — into conformity with the societas ecclesiae (49). In other words, they shared the same concerns as we find governing Dionysius over a hundred years later. The Areopagitica belong within this ascetico-mystical continuum. The effectively immediate reception of the CD is otherwise inexplicable, though some scholars have tried to explain it by appealing to the sub-apostolic pseudonym. This is inadequate and the Eastern monks have always known better: Dionysius was one of their own.
Regarding the specific contributions of my three Syrians, certain elements deserve quoting here. Ephrem, perhaps the earliest of the three, makes his argument through the series of parallels he weaves into his Hymns on Paradise. The Paradise Mountain, Sinai, the Jerusalem Temple, the Christian assembly at worship, and the individual Christian are all set in apposition to each other, such that, as we shall see with Dionysius, the entry into the sanctuary of the Church corresponds with Moses’ ascent up Sinai and the Christian’s discovery, within his or her own heart, of the radiance of the divine presence, the shekinto in Ephrem’s Syriac (equivalent to the rabbinic shekinah) which for him signifies the form of Christ in light (50). Moses’ ascensus montis dei is thus a type simultaneously of the ingressus ad altare dei of both the worshipping community and of the individual believer, i.e., the entry into what we might might call the double altar of the Eucharistic presence and of the sanctified heart. I believe that this is precisely the relationship of themes obtaining between Dionysius’ two treatises, the Mystical Theology (the ascensus) and the Ecclesiatical Hierarchy (the ingressus).
The Liber Graduum speaks of “three churches”: the heavenly church of the angels and saints, the earthly church of clergy and sacraments, and the “little church” of the heart. It is the middle term, this writer insists, the earthly church, which enables the believer “to find himself in the church of the heart, and [thence]”, even if only momentarily in this life, “in the church on high” (51). Perhaps the most most exact anticipation of Dionysius, especially of CH 1.3 cited above, comes in the Macarian Homilies, as in the following:
Because visible things are the type and shadow of hidden ones, and the visible
temple [a type] of the temple of the heart, and the priest [a type] of the true priest
of the grace of Christ, and all the rest of the sequence [akolouthia] of the visible
arrangement [oikonomia] [a type] of the rational and hidden matters of the inner
man, we receive the visible arrangement [oikonomia]…of the Church as a pattern
[hypodeigma] [of what is] at work in the soul by grace. (52)
By “arrangement”, oikonomia, the author means exactly the same thing as Dionysius’ taxis, the ordering of the Church at worship — bishops at the altar, priests around him, deacons ministering, laity in the nave, and penitents and catechumens in the Church porch (53). Like Dionysius, too, this image is not a mere illustration but, as the homilist puts it, a “pattern” to be internalized. Christ gave us, he says a little earlier, “the icon of the Church” in order “that faithful souls might be made again and, having received transformation [metabole, a play on traditional language for the miraculous change of the Eucharistic elements], be enabled to inherit everlasting life” (54). The liturgy is thus, as in the CD, not only a sign or projection of the soul, but a transfiguring force molding the soul from within.
Turning thus to the treatise on “our hierarchy”, the Church, I would underline, first, the architecture of the piece. It is balanced, a symmetry, with a deliberately central chapter toward which the action of the first three chapters as it were ascends, and from which the concluding chapters decline or descend. Chapter two on Baptism, and seven on Christian burial, contrive thus to embrace the whole of the believer’s life. Dionysius speaks in fact of two deaths and two births, sharing in Christ’s death through the figurative death of baptismal immersion and thus receiving “divine birth” through the sacrament, on the one hand, and at our literal, physical death being carried out of the church building in hope of the rebirth, paliggenesia, of the Resurrection in fulfillment of the baptismal promise (55). Chapter three, on the Eucharist, stands in counterbalance to chapters five and six, devoted respectively to the ordination of the clergy in front of the altar, and to monastic tonsure accomplished just outside the sanctuary area (56). The ingressus of chapters two and three and egressus of five through seven thus pivot on the center of treatise, chapter four’s meditation on the altar, the focal point of the Church’s and the Christian’s life on this side of the eschaton, and on the sacrament of the chrism, the scented oil used in the Eastern Church both to anoint newly baptized believers and to consecrate, precisely, church altars (57). It is also in this chapter, I think, that we arrive at a reference to the cognitio dei experimentalis which is meant to be taken in parallel with the apophatic ascent of the MT. It thus deserves a few words.
Dionysius begins his meditation on altar and chrism in EH 4.3.1 with, quite significantly, a lengthy consideration of the holy man. It is such people, he tells us, who “are the truly divine images of that infinitely divine fragrance” which has chosen to take up its abode “within their intellects”. The fragrance, as he makes clear a few paragraphs later, is the presence of Christ (58). After a lengthy meditation on the seraphim around Christ in heaven as typified by the clergy around the bishop at the altar, and following several references to the Incarnation, he moves to his summary statement:
The theurgy [i.e., the Incarnation] transcends the heavens and is superessential.
It is the origin, essence, and perfecting power of all our divinely-worked sanctification.
For if our most divine altar is Jesus, Who is [both] the divine consecration of the heavenly intelligences [ i.e., the angels] [and He] in Whom we, being at once consecrated and in mystery wholly consumed [lit., become whole burnt offerings, holokautomenoi], have according to the [scripture] saying “our access” [prosagoge] [to the Father], let us [then] gaze with supramundane
eyes on this most divine altar [Jesus], by Whom all who are in process of perfection are both perfected and made holy, that is, by Him Who is Himself [also] the most divine chrism. (59)
Four things deserve underlining here: first, the reference to the holy man whom Dionysius understands as typified by the sacrament; second, the co-ordination between heaven and earth; and, third, the identification of both altars, on high and here below, with Christ. My fourth point lies in what I take to be the relation, and even perhaps the functional identity, between the passage quoted here and Moses’ entrance into the divine darkness in the MT. The altar is the peak, to borrow from Ephrem’s imagery, of the “mountain of the Church”, the place of the divine presence. That presence is Christ, in whom “wholly consumed” we meet God Who, again, is Christ, the divine chrism. I submit that this “holocaust” is deliberately intended as a counterpart to the stripping away of the apophatic ascent in the MT. Likewise, I would therefore read the darkness, gnophos, into which Moses plunges in MT 1.3, the “dazzling darkness of divinity”, as in fact Christ, “the light of the Father” (CH 1.2), Who appears “suddenly” within the vessels, the “unspotted mirrors” (to recall CH 3.2), who have been prepared for Him (60).
The stripping in preparation for this encounter has already begun with the cultivation of the virtues we saw stressed in Ep. 8 — meekness, mercy, and love — and with the struggle against the passions which Dionysius sketches in his discussion of the catechumenate in EH 3.3.7. There is also, and relatedly, the implicit apophaticism of his emphasis in EH 6.3.2 on the monks as called to live a life without “fantasy”, i.e., wholly focused on God (61). We find the very same emphasis in, again, the earlier monastic literature, particularly in Evagrius Ponticus’ remarkable little treatise, On Prayer, where the latter insists that the dawning of “the light of the Trinity” within the sanctified intellect requires the putting away of every image and concept, even the most exalted. “Prayer”, says Evagrius, “is the negation of concepts”; and elsewhere, “Happy is the spirit that attains to perfect formlessness at the time of prayer”. Indeed, for Evagrius prayer is in fact that state or condition of pure receptivity which answers in Dionysius to the notion of the “unspotted mirror”, the capax dei. It is the condition for God’s self-manifestation (62).
Darkness, light, and manifestation are very much the subjects of the five epistles which, and not accidentally, follow the MT. Perhaps I should emphasize here that the latter treatise is not the end of the discussion begun in the CH, especially of CH 1.3. Were that so, then the series of “nots” concluding the former treatise might indeed be taken as signaling, as in Professor Rorem’s account, a “loveless” and “Christless” mysticism. Instead, however, the apophatic ascent is embedded in a larger scheme whose outlines I have endeavored to sketch, and which carries on to the end of the CD in Ep. 10, addressed to “John at Patmos”. Dionysius thus ends with a recollection of the same apocalyptic, visionary literature with which we saw him begin in CH 2, on the throne vision of Ezekiel 1. The whole project of the CD may therefore be read as an effort to set this visionary tradition within an ecclesiological and, yes, christological context (63).
It is that same tradition which I think lies behind what appears at first glance as a harmlessly erudite scholion by Dionysius’ earliest commentator, the learned sixth-century bishop and polemicist, John of Scythopolis, on the darkness of MT 1.3. The word gnophos, which appears in the LXX of Exodus 20:21, is, John remarks, translating the Hebrew term, araphel. He goes on to add, “The Hebrews say that araphel is the name of the firmament into which Moses went, for [the Jews] speak of seven firmaments, which they also call heavens” (64). This rather striking evocation of the hekalot tradition, the mysticism of the heavenly “palaces” which we find in the rabbinic literature of the era, is not without relevance to Dionysius. The rabbinic-era adepts who hoped to make the aliyah bammerkavah, the ascent to the chariot [throne] of God, looked forward at the terminus of their experience to the vision of the divine Glory and its radiance (65). That it is the tradition of the visio dei gloriae which underlies Dionysius’ discussion in the MT and Epistles 1-5, and that he identifies this experience with the visio christi, emerges clearly in the epistles.
The first five epistles function as a kind of chiasm which serves to complete the thought of the MT. Epistle 1 is paralleled by 5, 2 by 4, with Ep. 3 typing them up and together. Ep. 1 carries on the notes of darkness and unknowing, agnosia, which preoccupy the MT. God’s darkness (here skotos) is “hidden by the light of knowledge” of existing things, Dionysius says, while “complete unknowing is the knowledge of Him Who transcends all things” (66). This statement is countered or, better, expanded upon in the opening line of Ep. 5, “The divine darkness [gnophos] is the unapproachable light in which God is said to dwell” (cf. I Tim.6.16). God’s dwelling place, katoiketerion, recalls — and again not accidentally — Scythopolis’ scholion on the araphel, the place of the divine throne, which is always characterized by the overwhelming light of the Presence, and of the stream of light which proceeds from it. Thus we find Dionysius continuing:
And if it [the phos aprositon] is invisible because of its superabundant clarity, and
unapproachable because of its superabundant outpouring of light, yet it is here that
everyone enters who has been made worthy of seeing and knowing God. (67)
He goes on to cite David and, especially, Paul as examples of this experience. Here, too, another scholion will help us to identify a key theophany to which which Dionysius will shortly be alluding in Ep. 3. On the “unapproachable light”, the Scholiast observes that the visio dei might be compared to looking at the sun’s disk at midday, mesembria (68).
The “transcendent outpouring” of the light stream from the Presence in Epistle 5 leads us to the matter of God’s self-communication., the subject of Epistles 2 and 4. In the former, Dionysius alludes back to a distinction he had underlined in DN 2 and 11 between God in se and ad extra. Deification is real, the Areopagite argues, because God truly gives Himself. yet, while He is Himself the “deifying gift”, theopoion doron, He still transcends the relations He enters into. His gifts are His powers, dynameis, or energies, energeiai, but not His essence, ousia (69). Epistle 4 then makes it clear that the source of the gift of deification is Christ. In Jesus, Dionysius tells us, transcendence (apophasis) and immanence (kataphasis) have been joined. Therefore, he continues:
[Christ] did not do what is divine as God, nor what is human as man, but instead, as God having become man, He has administered to [or, arranged for, pepoliteumenos ] us a certain, new, divine- human activity [theandrike energeia]. (70)
Christ’s divine-human activity, I will add in light of my discussion above of the ecclesial dimension of Dionysius’ thought, comes to us in the polity and way of life — the entheos politeia, as he puts it elsewhere (71) — of the Church. It is in the latter that we receive the “deifying gift” and are led to the encounter with the mystery of Christ’s divinity in a “transcendent outpouring of light”.
We have finally arrived at the word and document which inspired the title of this essay, the “suddenly” of Ep. 3, which I quote in full:
“Suddenly” means that which has come forth from the hitherto invisible and beyond hope into manifestation. And I think that here the Scripture [lit., the theology] is suggesting the
philanthropy of Christ. The super-essential has proceeded out hiddenness to become manifest to us by becoming a human being. Yet He is also hidden, both after the manifestation and, to speak more divinely, even within it. For this is the hidden of IC, and neither by rational discourse nor
by intuition can His mystery [mysterion] be explained, but instead even when spoken, it remains ineffable [arreton], and when conceived, unknowable [agnoston]. (72)
The first thing we might notice is the reprise of the themes of our conference: apophasis, divine unknowability and ineffability, together with the tension between hidden and revealed. Secondly, there is surely a sacramental echo in the reference to the mysterion of the Incarnation. Christ is the sacrament, at once the source and terminus of the divine processions to us, and both the vehicle and the goal of our return. Thus, thirdly, we can infer the themes of proodos-epistrophe, the transmutation of the that Neoplatonist bedrock we noted above.
The real force and key to the coalescence of Dionysius’ thought here lies in the word “suddenly”, exaiphnes, which opens the epistle. Modern scholarship has noted his admitted dependence here on the Platonic tradition. In Plato’s Parmenides the “sudden” indicates the timeless moment of intersection between eternity and time, the Forms and the phenomenal world. In the Symposium it appears again at the conclusion of the ascent of eros, the vision of Beauty. These are certainly all important Dionysian themes as well, and to them we might add the use to which Plotinus puts the “sudden” in Enneads V.3.17; 5.7; and VI.7.36 to signify the moment of the vision of the One in light (73). I cheerfully concede the undeniable Platonist impress here.
It is at this point, however, that modern scholars have always stopped. They remain thus entirely insensitive to the use of the “sudden” in the scriptures and in subsequent Christian literature. There are four appearances of the exaiphnes in the NT which I believe are of direct relevance: Acts 9.3 and 22.6; Lk 2.13, and Mk 13.36. The first two are functionally identical despcriptions of St. Paul’s conversion on the Damascus Road. I quote from the second: “As I was travelling…at around midday [mesembria] a great light from heaven suddenly [exaiphnes] flashed around me”. The light, of course, is Christ, Who sends Paul off on his mission to the Gentiles. I note the themes of light, the latter as identified with Christ, the “midday” we saw signaled by the Scholiast, and the misssion to the “Greeks”. Luke 2.13 links the “suddenly” to the gloria in excelsis, the manifestation of the angelic liturgy to the shepherds at the moment of Christ’s birth. The fourth instance, Mark 13.36, occurs at the end of the eschatological discourse where Christ warns His listeners to be watchful lest, returning “suddenly”, the Master find them asleep. The NT thus links the “sudden” to Christ, light, the angelic liturgy, and the eschaton (74).
My readings in the Christian literature prior to the CD have led me, quite accidentally and not all systematically, to a number of appearances of the “sudden” which are also in harmony with what I take to be Dionysius’ intentions. The earliest example comes from the Syriac work of the third century, the Acts of Judas Thomas, where, in the “Hymn of the Pearl”, the Apostle “suddenly” encounters the “robe of glory” woven for him in heaven. The context makes it clear that the “robe” is equivalent to the “luminous image” familiar from Jewish and Jewish-Christian literature, and that the speaker’s clothing with it represents a mystical experience. The experience is, moreover, one of heavenly ascent: clothed with the robe of light, the Apostle goes up “to the gate of greeting” where he worships “the Splendor [pheggos] of the Father”, i.e., Christ (75). In Athanasius’ Life of Anthony, the father of monks is rescued from demonic assault by the “sudden” beam of light from heaven which then comforts him with the voice of Christ (76). In Ephrem Syrus, the “sudden” occurs at least three times. In his Hymns on Nature (6.7), Christ is the “star of light Who shone forth suddenly” at the Incarnation, while in the Hymns on Paradise, the “sudden” is linked, first, with the trisagion of the Seraphim breaking the silence before the Presence in Eden and, second, with the recognition of the Risen Christ at the clearly eucharistic “breaking of the bread” in the Emmaus story of Luke 24: “Bread was the key”, says Ephrem, “whereby their eyes were opened…darknened eyes beheld a vision of joy and were suddenly [men shelya] filled with happiness” (77). Thus, again, we find the term linked with the mystical vision, Christ, light, and the liturgies of both heaven and earth.
If we were in addition to assume that Dionysius knew Syriac, then still another set of associations comes into play. The men of the Syriac translation of exaiphnes is merely the equivalent of the Greek ek, “from”, “out of”. Shelya, however, denotes “rest”, “silence”, and “stillness”, and in Christian Syriac is usually connected with eremetic ascetics, as is hesychia in Christian Greek (78). It may also be used, as does one contemporary of Dionysius, to signify the divine being or essence (79). As a bilingual pun playing off of these several resonances, the “sudden” fits quite well indeed into the several themes of the CD, and particularly of the MT, which I have been at pains to underline. It also reminds me of still another Syrian, Ignatius of Antioch (+115), who is the only Church Father whom Dionysius felt it safe to quote by name (occasioning one of his commentators some difficulties in defending the pseudonym) (80). Ignatius calls Christ “the Word Who proceeds from the Father’s silence [sige]”, and adds, “It is better to keep silence and to be, than to talk and not to be…He that truly possesses the word of IC is able to listen to His silence”. His concluding words point us directly to my own concluding remarks: “Let us therefore do all things as knowing that he dwells in us, that we may be his temples and he himself may be in us as our God” (81).
Specifically in Ignatius’ call to become Christ’s “temples”, I think that we arrive naturally at the biblical text which John of Scythopolis tells us Dionysius is quoting in Ep. 3, Malachi 3.1, “And suddenly the Lord Whom you seek will come into His temple, and the Angel of Great Counsel Whom you desire.” Another scholiast goes on to connect this passage with John 2.21, the temple of Christ’s body (82). The historical Incarnation certainly is part of the message here, as Werner Beierwaltes rightly observed (83), but I would also point to the co-ordination we have noted throughout this essay between both the “temple” of the liturgical assembly and the “temple” of the Christian’s body and soul, together with those passages in earlier Christian literature, going back to the New Testament itself, which link the “sudden” with mystical experience and, especially, with a theophany of light. Given these, we can surely say that Dionysius also intends to signify both the presence of Christ on the eucharistic altar and His visitation — “beyond hope”, “ineffable”, “unknowable” — within the temple of the soul. This sudden flash of the “unapproachable light” within is, I maintain, the purpose and goal of the MT 4-5, as well as the content both of the darkness into which Moses ascends in MT 1.3 and of the “consummation” and “access” of EH 4.3.12. Epistle 3 is the CD in a nutshell: mystical indeed, but also fundamentally liturgical and christological. In Christ the “sudden”, the several concerns of the corpus — angels and humans, sacraments and apophatic theology, objective and subjective, hierarchy and personal encounter, clergy and ascetic visionaries, Christian revelation and Platonist philosophy, the present world and the eschaton — all meet and are reconciled.
I do not know, frankly, if I have managed to answer all the questions I raised at the beginning of this essay in the “case for the prosecution”, but I hope that I have at the least begun to show why Dionysius was so rapidly received and cherished by the Christian East, and especially so by the monks. The apophaticism for which he is so famed was read by the latter as fully in concert with other, earlier writers in the Tradition, such as, notably, that Evagrius whom I cited earlier a couple of times. It was certainly not understood as a solvent burning away Christian accretions, but rather as the last opening up of the soul already formed and prepared, through ascesis and sacramental participation, to become the vessel of God’s presence in His Christ. My Dionysius at least, as opposed to the Areopagite of many other scholars, belonged and contributed to a continuum. Just as he is bracketed by the Tradition which at once inspired him and recognized him as its own, so, too, are the ascending negations and darkness of the MT bracketed by a larger thinking and background, the cognitio dei experimentalis, to which they are contributing factors, instruments and metaphors of a larger purpose. That purpose is the integration of the personal, ascetical, and mystical current of Christianity with the ecclesial, liturgical, and public nature of the faith. This is undeniably the way in which the CD was received and read in the Christian East. I for one cannot but believe that this reading also matches Dionysius’ own purposes more closely and certainly than that of the majority of his scholarly critics over the past century, and I cannot resist the observation, which I have made elsewhere (84), that those Eastern monks who received him have in fact always known better.
Hieromonk Alexander (Golitzin)
1. The most complete listing of parallels between Dionysius and late Platonism is still Hugo Koch’s Pseudo-Dionysius Areopagita in seinen Beziehungen zum Neuplatonismus und Mysterienwesen (Mainz:1900). See also H. F. Müller, Dionysios, Proklos, Plotinos. Ein historischer Beitrag zur neuplatonischen Philosophie (Münster-Westfalen: 2nd ed. 1926); E. Corsini, Il tratto DE DIVINIBUS NOMINIBUS dello Pseudo Dionigi e i commeti Neoplatonici al Parmenide (Torino:1962); J. Vanneste, Le mystère de Dieu (Brussels:1959); R. Hathaway, Hierarchy and the Definition of Order in the Letters of Pseudo-Dionysius (The Hague:1969); B. Brons, Untersuchungen zum Verhältnis von neuplatonischer Metaphysik und christliche Tradition bei Dionysius Areopagita (Göttingen:1976); S. Gersh, From Iamblichus to Erieugena: An Investigation of the Prehistory and Evolution of the Pseudo-Dionysian Tradition (Leiden:1976); P. E. Rorem, Biblical and Liturgical Symbols in the Pseudo-Dionysian Synthesis (Toronto:1986); idem, “The Place of the Mystical Theology in the Pseudo-Dionysian Corpus”, Dionysius 4 (1980) 87-98; idem, Pseudo-Dionysius: A Commentary on the Texts and an Introduction to their Influence (Oxford:1994); and Y. de Andia, Henôsis: l’union à Dieu chez Denys l’Aréopagite (Leiden-Köln:1996). On apophatic theology in particular, including Dionysius and the Platonists, see R. Mortley, From Word to Silence, Vol. II: The Way of Negation: Christian and Greek (Bonn:1986).
2. See, for example, R. Roques, L’univers dionysien (Paris:1954); the succession of articles by O. von Semmelroth in Scholastik, numbers 20-24 (1949), 25 (1950), 27 (1952), 28 (1953), and 29 (1954); E. von Ivanka, Plato Christianus (Einsiedeln:1964) 228-289; idem, Dionysius Areopagita. Von den Namen zum Unnennbaren (Einsiedeln:1981); and P. Scazzoso, Richerche sulla struttura del linguagio dello Pseudo-Dionigi Areopagita: Introduzione alla lettura delle opere pseudo-dionisiane (Milano:1967).
3. Perhaps the most important defender of Dionysius’ place in the Eastern Christian tradition earlier this century is V.N. Lossky. See esp. his “La notion des ‘analogies’ chez Denys le pseudo-aréopagite”, Archives d’histoire doctrinale et littéraire du moyen age V (1931) 279-309, as well as the opening chapters of his The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church, tr. Fellowship of SS Alban and Sergius (London:1957, rep. 1968). For a massive though not entirely successful attempt to place Dionysius within the current of Alexandrian and Cappadocian Christian thought, see W. Völker, Kontemplation und Ekstase bei Pseudo-Dionysius Areopagita (Wiesbaden:1958). H. von Balthasar, Herrlichkeit: eine theologische Aesthetik (Einsiedeln:1962) 2:147-214, supplies a most sensitive analysis of Dionysius’ place in Eastern Christian thought, though regrettably without an elaborate apparatus. J. Stiglmayr, “Das Aufkommen der Pseudo-Dionysischen Schriften und ihr Eindringen in die christliche Literatur bis zum Lateranconcil 649. Ein zweiter Beitrag zur Dionysius Frage”, in IV Jahresbericht des offentlichen Privatgymnasiums an der Stelle matutina zu Feldkirche (Feldkirche:1895), established the links between the Dionysian corpus and Syria, together with the a quo (486) and ad quem (532) of the corpus’ composition, which have never since been challenged, while W. Strothmann, Das Sakrament der Myron-Weihe in der Schrift De Ecclesiastica Hierarchia des Pseudo-Dionysius Areopagita in syrischen Übersetzung und Kommentaren (Wiesbaden:1978), placed Dionysius’ liturgy still more firmly in the Syrian Christian milieu, while more recently, A. Louth, Denys the Areopagite (Wilton, CT:1989) has also taken advantage of scholarship on Syriac-speaking Christianity at different points in the course of his very sympathetic account of the corpus and its place in Eastern Christian thought.
4. At greatest length in A. Golitzin, Et introibo ad altare dei: The Mystagogy of Dionysius Areopagita (Thessalonica:1994), esp. 349-392; elsewhere more briefly in idem, “The Mysticism of Dionysius Areopagita: Platonist or Christian?”, Mystics Quarterly 19.3 (1993) 98-114 and “Hierarchy versus Anarchy? Dionysius Areopagita, Symeon New Theologian, Nicetas Stethatos, and their Common Roots in Ascetic Tradition”, St. Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly 38.2 (1994) 131-179.
5. I have touched on Dionysius’ connection with these traditions briefly in “Revisiting the ‘Sudden’: Epistle III in the Corpus Dionysiacum“, Studia Patristica 37 (2001) 482-91. The distinctive qualities of Syrian Christian asceticism have been noted for some time in the scholarly literature, and more particularly its links with prior Jewish traditions. See in this regard, for example, G. Nedungatt, “The Covenanters of the Early Syriac-Speaking Church”, Orientalia Christiana Periodica 39 (1973) 191-215 and 419-444; R. Murray, “An Exhortation to Candidates for Ascetical Vows at Baptism in the Ancient Syrian Church”, New Testament Studies 21 (1974) 59-80; idem, “Disaffected Judaism and Early Christianity: Some Predisposing Factors”, in To See Us as Others See Us (Chico, CA:1985) 263-281; and S. Griffith, “Monks, ‘Singles’, ad ‘Sons of the Covenant’: Reflections on Syriac Ascetic Terminology”, in Eulogema: Studies in Honor of Robert Taft SJ (Rome:1993) 141-160.
On continuities in the ascetico-mystical, vision tradition between Jewish apocalyptic literature and Christian, esp. Syrian Christian ascetical works, see P. Nagel, Die Motivierung der Askese in der alten Kirche und der Ursprung des Mönchtums (Berlin:1966); G. Quispel, Makarios, das Thomasevangelium, und das Lied von der Perle (Leiden:1967); F. E. Morard, “Monachos, Moine: Histoire du terme jusqu’au IVe siècle”, Zeitschrift für Philosophie und Theologie 20 (1973) 332-411; A. Guillaumont, Aux origines du monachisme chrétien (Bellefontaine:1979); G. G. Stroumsa, “Ascèse et gnôse: Aux origines de la spiritualité monastique”, Revue thomiste 89 (1981) 557-573; S. Brock, “Prayer of the Heart in the Syrian Perspective”, Sobornost 4.2 (1982) 131-142; R. A. Kraft, “The Pseudepigrapha in Christianity”, in Tracing the Threads: Studies in the Vitality of the Jewish Pseudepigrapha, ed. J. C. Reeves (Atlanta:1995) 55-86; and most recently, A. DeConick, Seek to See Him: Ascent and Vision Mysticism in the Gospel of Thomas (Leiden:1996).
On themes from Jewish mystical literature in earliest Christian literature, see G. Quispel, “Ezekiel 1:26 in Jewish Mysticism”, Vigiliae christianae 34 (1980) 1-13; idem, “The Study of Encratism: A Historical Survey”, in La Tradizione dell’Enkrateia, ed. H. Bianci (Rome:1985) 35-81; C. R. Rowland, The Open Heaven: A Study of Apocalyptic in Judaism and Early Christianity (NY:1982); J. J. Collins, The Apocalyptic Imagination: An Introduction to the Jewish Matrix of Christianity (NY:1984); G. Anderson, “Celibacy or Consummation in the Garden? Reflections on Early Jewish and Christian Interpretations of the Garden of Eden”, Harvard Theological Review 82.2 (1989) 121-148; J. Fossum, The Image of the Invisible God: Essays on the Influence of Jewish Mysticism on Early Christology (Freiburg/Göttingen:1995); M. Himmelfarb, Ascent to Heaven in Jewish and Christian Apocalypses (Oxford/NY:1993); A. Segal, Paul the Convert: Apostolate and Apostasy of Saul the Pharisee (New Haven:1990); G. G. Stroumsa, “Form(s) of God: Some Notes on Metatron and Christ”, Harvard Theological Review 76.3 (1983) 269-288; and idem, Hidden Wisdom: Esoteric Traditions and the Roots of Christian Mysticism (Leiden:1996).
On relations and continuities between the Second Temple, apocalyptic literature, Qumran, and later Rabbinic mystical traditions, see G. Scholem, Jewish Gnosticism, Merkabah Mysticism, and Talmudic Tradition (NY:1960); I. Gruenwald, Apocalyptic and Merkabah Mysticism (Leiden:1980); J. Baumgarten, “The Qumran Sabbath Shirot and the Rabbinic Tradition”, Revue de Qumran 13 (1988) 199-213; S. D. Fraade, “Ascetical Aspects of Ancient Judaism”, in Jewish Spirituality I: From the Bible through the Middle Ages, ed. A. Green (NY:1988) 253-288; J. Levenson, “The Jerusalem Temple in Devotional and Visionary Experience”, Jewish Spirituality I:32-61; C. R. A. Morray-Jones, “Transformational Mysticism in the Apocalyptic-Merkabah Tradition”, Journal of Jewish Studies 43 (1992) 1-31; idem, “Paradise Revisited (2 Corinthians 12:1-12): The Jewish Mystical Background of Paul’s Apostolate”, Harvard Theological Review 86 (1993) 177-217 and 265-292; J. J. Collins and M. Fishbane, editors, Death, Ecstasy, and Otherworldly Journeys (Albany:1995); and W. F. Smelik, “On the Mystical Transformation of the Righteous into Light in Judaism”, Journal for the Study of Judaism 27.2 (1995) 122-144.
6. On Dionysius with regard to the ascetical origins of his invention and use of the word, “hierarchy”, see A. Golitzin, “Hierarchy versus Anarchy?” 152-170; idem, Et introibo 119-230 and 354-392; and idem, “Liturgy and Mysticism: The Experience of God in Orthodox Christianity”, Pro Ecclesia 8.2 (1999) 159-186, esp. 168-185.
7. The Mystical Theology is found, together Dionysius’ other works, in volume III of J. P. Migne’s Patrologia Graeca, here columns 997A-1048B. In subsequent references I shall cite both the initials of the several treatises — MT (Mystical Theology), DN (Divine Names), CH (Celestial Hierarchy, EH (Ecclesiastical Hierarcy), and Ep (Epistle) — and their chapter numbers, together with the Migne column number and letter. In parentheses, I shall include the page and line numbers of the critical text of the Corpus Dionysiacum (henceforth CD), published this decade in two volumes: Corpus Dionysiacum I: De Divinibus Nominibus, ed. B. R. Suchla (Berlin/NY:1990), and Corpus Dionysiacum II: De Coelesti Hierarchia, De Ecclesiastica Hierarchia, De Mystica Theologia, Epistulae, ed. G. Heil and A. M. Ritter (Berlin/NY:1991). The most recent translation of the CD into English is that of C. Liubheid and P. E. Rorem, Pseudo-Dionysius: The Complete Works (NY:1987). Unless otherwise specified, however, the translations of Dionysius cited below will be my own.
8. MT 1.1, 997AB (141:1-142:4) for the prayer to the Trinity, and 1.3, 1000C-1001A (143:8-144:15) for Moses’ ascent into the darkness and silence of Sinai.
9. MT 3, 1033C (147:12-14). Rorem, Pseudo-Dionysius: An Introduction 194-205, argues for this chapter as “perhaps the most crucial and significant of the entire corpus”, here citing 195. For reasons I hope to make clear below, I would instead suggest CH 1.3 as enjoying that distinction.
10. MT 4, 1040D (148). See also n. 18 below.
11. MT 5, 1045D-48B (149-150).
12. A. Nygren, Agape and Eros, tr. P. S. Watson (rev. ed., Philadelphia:1953) 576-593 on Dionysius, here citing 576.
13. On proodos/epistrophe in Dionysius, see Rorem, Biblical and Liturgical Symbols 58-65, and in Neoplatonism as embracing at once an objective account of the cosmos and a theory of mind, Gersh, From Iamblichus to Erieugena 27-120.
14. Thus see Rorem, Pseudo-Dionysius: An Introduction 216.
15. Vanneste, Mystère de Dieu 216-224, and J. M. Rist, “Mysticism and Transcendence in Later Neoplatonism”, Hermes 92 (1964) 213-225; see 214 and 224 for Dionysius (though Rist, in subsequent writings and in conversation with me, has withdrawn his earlier assessment). Vanneste supplied a sketch of his argument against “mysticism” in Dionysius in the article, “Is the Mysticism of Pseudo-Dionysius Genuine?”, International Philosophical Quarterly 3 (1963) 286-306.
16. De Andia is, in general, much more sensitive than Rorem to Greek patristic literature in her Henôsis. See, e.g., her chapter on Moses’ ascent into the cloud, ibid. 303-373, with its impressive assembly and juxtaposition of texts from Philo, Gregory of Nyssa, Evagrius Ponticus, and Isaac of Syria — though the latter two, especially Evagrius, are unfortunately not accorded as much attention as I believe they should have received. Cf. thus in contrast, Golitzin, Et introibo 334-340.
17. Rorem, Pseudo-Dionysius: An Introduction 183-213 on the centrality of the MT, and cf. his essay, “The Uplifting Spirituality of Pseudo-Dionysius”, Christian Spirituality I: Origins to the Twelfth Century, ed. B. McGinn and J. Meyendorff (NY:1988) 132-151, esp. 144 on the purely “cosmetic” function of Dionysius’ Christ.
18. On Jewish visionary traditions of the divine body of glory, see, e.g., Scholem, Jewish Gnosticism 36-42, and Gruenwald, Apocalyptic and Merkabah Mysticism 213-217; on the continuation of these elements in the New Testament, Segal, Paul the Convert 58-64, Morray-Jones, “Paradise Revisted” and “Transformational Mysticism”, esp. 11-31, and M. Fishbane, “The ‘Measures’ of God’s Glory in Ancient Midrash”, in Messiah and Christos, ed. I. Gruenwald et alii (Tübingen:1992) 53-74, esp. 71-72 on Eph 4:13 and Phil 3:21; and in the second and third century, ascetic Christian literature of the Gospel of Thomas and Apocryphal Acts of the Apostles, A. DeConick, Seek to See Him, esp. 99-125, and J. Fossum, “Partes Posteriori Dei: The Transfiguration of Jesus in the Acts of John“, in Image of the Invisible God 95-108. I know of no articles which seek to trace these currents into later monastic literature other than the very preliminary efforts in A. Golitzin, “Temple and Throne of the Divine Glory: Purity of Heart in the Macarian Homilies”, in Purity of Heart in Early Ascetic and Monastic Literature, ed. H. Luckman and L. Kulzer (Collegeville, MN:1999) 107-129, esp. 117 ff., and idem, “‘The Demons Suggest an Illusion of God’s Glory in a Form’: Controversy over the Divine Body and Vision of Glory in Some Late Fourth-, Early Fifth-Century Monastic Literature”, Studia Monastica forthcoming. In any case, the terms “form” (eidos), “shape” (schema), and “body” (soma) which MT 4 addresses thus echo the materials in the articles and studies cited above. So, too, does a fourth term in MT 4: “place” (topos), which deliberately recalls both the Septuagint version of Ex 24:10, “the place [topos] where stood the God of Israel” (to which Dionysius has already alluded in MT 1.3, 1000D-1A; 144:5 and 9), and of Ezk 3:12, “blessed is the Glory of God from His place [Greek topos, Hebrew maqom]”. See thus E. E. Urbach, The Sages: Their Concepts and Beliefs, tr. I. Abrahams (Jerusalem:1975) I:37-79, on maqom as a name for God in Rabbinic literature and as overlapping with the term, shekinah, and cf. my discussion below of Dionysius’ Epistles I-V and of the visio Christi as light.
19. On the dating of, for example, the late merkabah text, 3 or Hebrew Enoch, see the “Introduction” by P. Alexander, in The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, Vol. I: Apocalyptic Literature and Testaments, ed. J. H. Charlesworth (NY:1983) 225-229. He places it in the fifth-sixth century. For an interesting and precisely contemporary (to both Dionysius and 3 Enoch) exposition of the markabto (Syriac “chariot”) of Ezekiel, see Jacob of Serug (+521), “On the Chariot that Ezekiel the Prophet Saw”, in Mar Jacobi Sarugensis: Homiliae selectae, ed. P. Bedjan (Paris:1908), vol. IV:543-610, and A. Golitzin, “The Image and Glory of God in Jacob of Serug’s Homily, ‘On the Chariot that Ezekiel the Prophet Saw'”, in preparation for St. Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly.
20. See Ep. X, 1117A-20A (208-210), and on monastic use of Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, see for example R. A. Kraft, “The Pseudepigrapha in Christianity” and M. Himmelfarb, Ascent to Heaven, together with Athanasius of Alexandria’s explicit mention — in a negative tone — of the apocryphal books of Enoch and Isaiah which were popular in the dissident ascetic circles whom he was, in part, addressing in his “Paschal Epistle” of 367, tr. from the Coptic in D. Brakke, Athanasius and the Politics of Asceticism (Oxford:1995) 330-332, and cf. the effectively contemporary letters of Anthony’s reputed disciple, Ammonas, esp. Epistle X (Syriac version), Patrologia Orientalis X:594, quoting approvingly from the ascent to heaven in one of the same apocryphal works that Athanasius is condemning, the second century, Christian apocalypse, The Ascension of Isaiah 8:21, and then adding himself: sunt homines super terram qui ad hanc mensuram pervenere! For the ET of the passage in the Ascension of Isaiah, see Charlesworth, OT Pseudepigrapha II:169.
21. CH 2.5, 145B (16:7-10).
22. CH 2.1-5, 136D-45A (10:2-15:18), and 15.2-9, 328C-40A (51:22-58:22).
23. CH 13.1-4, 300B-308B (43:20-49:20).
24. Ibid. 4, 304C (46:23-47:3): the prophet was “was shown this vision by one of the holy and blessed angels who watch over us and, through his illuminating guidance [cheragogia], was lifted up [anatachthenai] to that holy vision, according to which he saw the highest beings, so to speak symbolically, established beneath God and with God, and [he saw] that Summit [Himself], transcendent altogether ineffably above these [beings] and all things, enthroned amidst His subordinate powers”. Cf. Ascension of Isaiah 7-9, Charlesworth, OT Pseudepigrapha II:165-72.
25. See Gregory’s dismissal of all created analogies as well as of language itself as inadequate to the Trinity in “On the Holy Spirit” 31-33; ET: E. R. Hardy, The Christology of the Later Fathers (Philadelphia:1954) 213-214.
26. DN 2.8, 645C (132:6-13). On the idea and practice of “spiritual fatherhood” in Eastern Christianity generally, see K. T. Ware, “The Spiritual Father in Orthodox Christianity”, Cross Currents 24 (1974) 296-313; and, at greater length citing texts taken from the first millenium A.D., I. Hausherr, Spiritual Direction in the Early Christian East, tr. A. Gythiel (Kalamazoo:1990), together with Ware’s “Foreword” to the latter, pp. vii-xxxiii. On the phenomenon in three of monasticism’s earliest writers, see P. Rousseau, Pachomius: The Making of a Community in Fourth Century Egypt (Berkeley:1985) 77-148, and M. S. Burrows, “On the Visibility of God in the Holy Man: A Reconsideration of the Role of the Apa in the Pachomian Vitae“, Vigiliae christianae 41 (1987) 11-33; H. Dörries, Die Theologie des Makarios/Symeon (Göttingen:1978) 336-66; and, G. Bunge, Geistliche Vaterschaft: Christliche Gnosis bei Evagrios Pontikos (Regensburg:1988), esp. 33-36, 40-44, and 69-72.
27. Rorem makes this point in Biblical and Liturgical Symbols 103, and cf. Golitzin, Et introibo 67 nn. 171-2, 89 n. 89, and 110-114.
28. I borrow the idea of a reciprocity of ecstasies from R. Roques, “Symbolisme et théologie négative chez le Pseudo-Denys”, Bulletin de l’association Guillaume Budé 1(1957) 112. For Dionysius’ own use of the phrase, “become co-operator with God”, see CH 3.2, 165B (18:16).
29. On the divine ecstasy, see DN 4.12, 712B (159:13-14); V.8, 824C (188:6); and Ep. IX.5, 1112C (205:5), together with Golitzin, Et introibo 46-49, and 54-59 on God’s proodoi.
30. MT 1.3, 1001A (144:9-15); together with DN 4.10-17, 705B-13D (154:7-165:5) on divine love, and CH 9.3, 261A (38:10-11) on the “infinite sea of divine light”. For perhaps the best discussion of Dionysius on love, eros, against his Platonist and Christian background, see C. J. de Vogel, “Greek Cosmic Love and the Christian love of God: Boethius, Dionysius, and the Author of the Fourth Gospel”, Vigiliae christianae 35 (1981) 57-81.
31. DN 2.9, 648B (134:1-2); and cf. Hierotheus again in ecstasy, apparently on the occasion of the funeral of the Mother of God, in DN 3.2, 681D-4A (141:10-14).
32. For Rorem on the MT, see his “Place of the Mystical Theology” and, at greater length, Pseudo-Dionysius: An Introduction 183-213.
33. See Vanneste, Mystère 183-9; Rist, “Mysticism and Transcendence” 214 and 224; and at greatest length, de Andia, Henôsis 212-80 on henôsis and the anthos tou nou.
34. For Dionysius on theôsis, see CH 1.3, 124A (9:8); 7.2 , 208C (29:17); EH 1.2, 373A (65:4); 1.3, 376A (66:12-13); 1.4, 376B (66:20-21); 1.5, 376D (67:20); 2.2.1, 393A (70:7); 2.3.6, 404A (77:22); 3.1, 424C (79:10-11); 3.3.7, 433C (86:8-9); 436C (87:23-24); 6.3.5, 536C (119:6-7); DN 2.7, 645AB (131:11-12); 2.8, 645C (132:11); 2.11, 649C (136:13-14); and 8.5, 893A (202:22).
35. See J. M. Rist, “Pseudo-Dionysius, Neoplatonism, and the Weakness of the Soul”, in From Athens to Chartres, Neoplatonism and Medieval Thought, ed. H. J. Westra (Leiden/NY:1992) 135-161; and, on Iamblichus and theurgy in particular, G. Shaw, Theurgy and the Soul: The Neoplatonism of Iamblichus (Penn. State:1995), esp. the latter’s conclusions 237 ff.
36. DN 3.1-2, 680B-D (138:1-139:16), on prayer as making us “present” to the Trinity. Shaw, Theurgy and the Soul 240, underlines essentially the same point on grace in Iamblichus: “Iamblichus made the unconscious presence of the Nous and the One radically distinct [in opposition to Plotinus], ontologically other, and therefore inaccessible despite all the efforts of the soul. To reach the superior hypostases the soul needed the aid of the superior entities and these were received from without (exothen)”, i.e., precisely as gift.
37. On this point, see Rorem, Biblical and Liturgical Symbols 14-15.
38. Here see esp. EH 5.1.2, 501A-4A (104:15-106:3), and Dionysius’ discussion of the three hierarchies of the Law (i.e., of Old Testament Israel), of the Church, and of the angels. By the first, the Areopagite means precisely the worship of the Tabernacle (and Temple) revealed to Moses on Sinai in Ex 25:9 ff., “the type shown to him [Moses] on Mt. Sinai” (501C, 105:14-15). The term, “Law”, in the phrase “he kata nomon hierarchia“, can be deceptive to scholars working out of the traditional, Western Christian opposition of “Law” and “Gospel”. What Dionysius is assuming here is not the contrast between “works righteousness” and grace, but rather the distinction between the external manifestation of God in the Old Covenant liturgy and God’s more immediate presence made accessible now in both the Church’s liturgy and within the Christian soul. See thus my discussion below on CH 1.3. For a similar and contemporary comparison of the OT cult and priesthood, revealed on Sinai to Moses, with the Christian Eucharist, see Jacob of Serug, “On the Chariot that Ezekiel Saw”, Mar Jacobi Sarugensis: Homiliae IV:594:1-600:14, esp. 599:3 ff. That both Jacob and Dionysius were drawing here on much older currents, long established esp. in Christian Syria, see, for example, N. Séd, “Les Hymnes sur le paradis de saint Ephrem et les traditions juives”, Le Muséon (1968) 455-501, esp. 458-65 on Chuch-Paradise-Sinai, and 476-7 for the interdependence and mutual reflection of Paradise, Sinai, and the angelic liturgy in Jewish midrash.
39. CH 1.2, 121A (7:9-11); and on Christ and light, see the discussion below on Ep. I-V.
40. CH 1.3, 121C-4A (8:19-9:6).
41. For an overview of angels in early Christianity, see J. Daniélou, Les anges et leur mission d’après les pères de l’Église (Chevtogne:1951), together with E. Petersen, The Angels and the Liturgy, tr. R. Walls (London:1964); and for Judaism of the Second Temple era, C. R. Rowland, The Open Heaven 78-124; M. Himmelfarb, Ascent to Heaven 9-46; and specifically on Qumran, C. Newsom, Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice: A Critical Edition (Atlanta:1985) 39-72.
42. CH 3.1, 164D (17:3-4) and 3.2, 165A (18:2-4).
43. See esp. DN 11.1-4, 948D-52D (217:5-220:17) on “peace”, for a sketch of this harmony and mutual care, together with Golitzin, Et introibo 97-105 on divine love and providence in Dionysius’ thought as properly to be reflected in the reason-endowed creation.
44. Ep. VIII, 1084B-1100D (171:3-192:2). On the place of this work in the sequence of Dionysius’ epistles, see Hathaway, Hierarchy and the Definition of Order 86-102, who points rightly to it as deliberately out of place in the hierarchically ascending series of addressees: monks (Ep. I-IV), deacon (V), priest (VI), fellow bishop (VII), the monk Demophilus (VIII), bishop (IX), apostle (X). For Syrian monasticism and its popular, charismatic character, see Golitzin, Et introibo 354-9, and most recently P. Escolan, Monachisme et Église, le monachisme syrien du IVe au VIIe siècle: un monachisme charismatique (Paris:1999), esp. 71-123 on monastic heresies, notably the charismatic claims of the “messalians”, and 267-311 on the tensions between monks and clergy.
45. Ep. VIII.1, 1084B-88A, and 5, 1096C on Christ (171:3-175:13 and 186:8-187:2).
46. Thus, e.g., Ep. VIII.1, 1088C (176:3), Demophilus has overturned the “divinely-given order” (theoparadoton taxin), referring to the Church’s hierarchy, and is warned in VIII.3, 1093A (186:7-8), not to “wrong his own [inner] order” (ten heautou taxin). On taxis as a central term for Dionysius’ notion of hierarchy, see Roques, L’univers dionysien 36-66, and on the same word as a terminus technicus in monastic literature for the inner ordering of the soul, G. Gould, The Desert Fathers on Monastic Community (Oxford:1993) 151-152.
47. Ep. VIII.6, 1100A-D (190:5-192:2). Note the use of “suddenly”, aphno, to introduce the vision (190:5) and see my discussion below on the related term, exaiphnes, used in Ep. III. Note, too, that Bishop Carpus is favored with a throne vision of Christ, and again compare with the prior literature related to exaiphnes which I discuss below.
48. On the importance of meekness, praotes, in Evagrius and his school of monastic literature, see G. Bunge, Geistliche Vaterschaft 42-44; and idem, “Palladiana II: La version copte de l’Histoire Lausiaque“, Studia Monastica 33 (1991) 117-18. The latter recounts a vision Evagrius is said to have enjoyed, at least according to the Coptic version of the Lausiac History. Like Dionysius to Demophilus and the lesson of Bishop Carpus’ vision in the same Epistle VIII, Evagrius is enjoined by a divine voice especially to cultivate the virtues of mercy (eleos) and meekness as precondition for the visio dei. Dionysius is clearly writing out a tradition here.
49. For the texts in question, see Ephrem the Syrian, Hymns on Paradise, tr. and intro. S. P. Brock (Crestwood, NY:1990), Syriac ed. by E. Beck, Corpus scriptorum christianorum orientalium 174; the Liber Graduum, ed. M. Kmosko, Patriologia Syriaca III (Paris:1926), ET: of Mimro 12 (PS III:285-304) in S. P. Brock, The Syriac Fathers on Prayer and the Spiritual Life (Kalamazoo:1987) 45-63; and G. Berthold, ed., Makarios/Symeon. Die Sammlung I des Vaticanus Graecus 694 (B) (Berlin:1973), esp. Homily 52, vol. II:138-142; ET in A. Golitzin, “Hierarchy versus Anarchy” 176-9. For discussion at greater length than here on these texts as background and predecessors to Dionysius and the latter’s hierarchies, see again Golitzin, “Hierarchy versus Anarchy” 152-172, and idem, Et introibo 368-385. On the theme of the inner or “little church” of the soul as mirroring the liturgies of heaven and earth in Syrian monastic literature, see R. Murray, Symbols of Church and Kingdom: A Study in Early Syriac Tradition (Cambridge:1975) 262-76; H. Dörries, Theologie des Makarios/Symeon 367-409; S. P. Brock, “Prayer of the Heart”; idem, “Fire from Heaven: From Abel’s Sacrifice to the Eucharist. A Theme in Syriac Christianity”, Studia Patristica 25: 229-243; V. Desprez, “Le Baptême chez le Pseudo-Macaire”, Ecclesia Orans V (1988) 121-155, esp. 126-30; and C. Stewart, “Working the Earth of the Heart”: The Messalian Controversy in History, Texts, and Language to AD 431 (Oxford:1991) 218-222.
50. For a chart of the parallels between the Paradise Mountain, Sinai, Temple, and the Christian assembly, see Brock’s “Introduction”, Hymns on Paradise 53. For the appearance of the shekinto, see Hymns 2.12 (CSCO 174:7; ET:88; for the Sinai imagery: 10.12 (CSCO 8; ET:89); and for the Eden/Temple parallels, 3.5 and 14 (CSCO 9 and 11; ET:92 and 95). On Ephrem’s relationship to, or at least echo of Jewish merkabah traditions, and on Christ for him as Glory/Shekinah in the Church and in the believer, see N. Séd, “Les Hymnes sur paradis” 468 and 482, respectively. For instances of the term, shekinto, used in reference to Christ in Syriac-Christian literature, see also Aphraatis Sapientis Persae Demonstrationes, ed. I. Parisot, Patrologia Syriaca I (Paris:1894) 4.7, col. 152:1-2; 18.4, col. 828:8; and 19.4, col. 857:6-7; Jacob of Serug, Homiliae Selectae IV, 569:21; 570:13; and 602:25; together with the passages from Isaac of Nineveh (+ ca. 700) assembled by H. Alfeyev in the latter’s study, The Spiritual World of Isaac the Syrian (Kalamazoo:2000) 45, 165, 167-8, and 170-71. This represents a continuum of discourse, extending in Syrian Christian literature from over a century before Dionysius (Ephrem and Aphrahat), through the works of a contemporary (Jacob), to around two hundred years after him (Isaac). I therefore read the Areopagite as embedded in the same tradition.
51. Kmosko, PS III, 288:23-289:1 (ET:Brock, Syriac Fathers on Prayer 46.2), and 296:8-10 (ET:49).
52. Berthold, Die Sammlung I, 140:3-8 (ET: Golitzin, “Hierarchy versus Anarchy” 177-8).
53. Ibid., 141:11-142:17 (ET:178-9).
54. Ibid., 139:29-140:2 (ET:177). For more on Macarius’ play on such liturgical terms as metabole (change), synago/synaxis (to gather, assembly), etc., and parallelism he wishes thus to establish between the visible and inner churches, see Golitzin, Et introibo 379-85.
55. On Baptism as birth and death, see EH 2.1, 392B (69:7-12) and 2.3.1, 397A (73:12) on birth, and 2.3.5-6, 401A-4A (76:8-77:23) on dying to sin and sharing in Christ’s death. On death as looking forward to “rebirth”, paliggennesia, see VII.1, 553A (120:22-121:1) and 3, 556B (122:14-15). Note also his later recollection of Baptism in the anointing of the body in the funeral service: VII.3.8, 565A (129:14-22).
56. EH 3, 424C-45B (79-94), on the Eucharist, and 5-6, 501A-36B (104:3-120:12), on clerical ordination and monastic tonsure. On the location of ordination within the sanctuary, “in front of the altar”, see 5.2, 509A (110:11), and on tonsure and the priest “coming” to the candidate from “before the altar”, see 6.1, 533AB (117:2-7). I assume that the candidate is standing in front of the sanctuary gates, since Dionysius indicates that this is the place assigned to the monks (as opposed to the clergy within the sanctuary) in Ep. VIII.1, 1088D (176:11-12). Cf., relatedly, the canons of Bishop Rabbula of Edessa (+436) forbidding monks entry into the raised sanctuary area in A. Vööbus, History of Asceticism in the Syrian Orient, Vol.II: Early Monasticism in Mesopotamia and Syria (Louvain:1960) 334, citing canon 58 of Rabbula.
57. EH 4, 473B-84D (95:1-104:2). On the importance of the chrism in the Syrian tradition, see Strothmann, Die Myronweihe xxiii-lx.
58. EH 4.3.1, 473B-6A (95:19-97:3) on the holy man and chrism, esp. 476A (96:23-97:1), and 4.3.4, 477C-80A (98:26-99:14), on Jesus as the divine fragrance.
59. EH 4.3.12, 484C-5A (103:2-9). For a more extended discussion of this passage with regard to MT 1.3, see A. Golitzin, “Liturgy and Mysticism: The Experience of God in Eastern Orthodox Christianity”, Pro Ecclesia 8.2 (1999) 159-186, esp. 181-5.
60. See above, n. 42, and on the soul as mirror in Ephrem Syrus, see E. Beck, “Das Bild vom Spiegel bei Ephraem”, Orientalia Christiana Periodica 19 (1953) 5-24.
61. See EH 3.3.6-7, 432C-6A (84:22-88:9), on the “incubation” of the catechumens within the church, the Fall, and the struggle with the passions. See EH 6.1.3, 532-33A (116:8-19), on the monks as reflecting God through their “singleness” of life and concentration, and 6.3.2, 533D (117:23-5), on their freedom from all “fantasy”. R. Roques, “Éléments pour une théologie de l’état monastique selon Denys l’Aréopagite”, in Théologie de la vie monastique (Paris:1961) 283-314, rightly stresses these features of Dionysius’ portrait of the monk, but ascribes them chiefly to Neoplatonist influence. See, in contrast, J. Amstutz, Haplotes: Eine begriffsgeschichtliche Studie zum jüdisch-christlichen Griechisch (Bonn:1968) on the importance of “simplicity” and “singleness of heart” in Jewish and early Christian thought from the Second Temple era through the second century A.D., and relatedly, A. Guillaumont, Aux origines du monachisme 13-58, on the Jewish and Jewish-Christian origins of monasticism, and F.-E. Morard, “Monachos, moine”, esp.335-6 and 405-6 on Dionysius’ own debts to the earliest Christian sense — rooted in Jewish thought — of the word “monk”, and his more specific debt to the Syriac ascetic tradition and the term, ihidaya (“single one”), which Morard and others have argued is the likely origin for Christian use of the Greek monachos.
62. Evagrius, On Prayer, esp. 70 and 117, resp., Greek in Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain’s Philokalia tôn hierôn neptikôn (Venice:1782, rep. Athens:1957) vol I:182 and 187; ET: K.T. Ware et alii, Philokalia: The Complete Text (London:1979) Vol. I:61 and 68. On Evagrius’ use also of an interiorization of the Sinai theophany of Ex. 24:10-11 for the reception of the “light of the holy Trinity” within the soul, which I take to be Dionysius’ background as well in MT 1.3, see his “Epistles” in W. Frankenberg, Evagrios Pontikos (Berlin:1912) 561-633, esp. Ep. 39 (Frankenberg 593), together with the chapters supplementary to the Kephalaia Gnostica (Frankenberg 429-465), esp. numbers 2 (425), 4 (427), 21 (441), and 25 (449). For discussion, on the one hand, linking Evagrius (and, I would argue, by extension Dionysius) to exegetical traditions in the Aramaic targumim, see N. Séd “La shekinta et ses amis araméens”, Cahiers d’Orientalisme XX (Geneva:1988) 233-242, and, on the other, to Neoplatonism, including the use of the “sudden” in Plotinus’ Enneads (see my discussion below), A. Guillaumont, “La vision de l’intellect par lui-même dans la mystique évagrienne”, Mélanges de l’Université St. Joseph 50.1-2 (Beirut:1984) 255-62, together with A. Golitzin, Et introibo 334-40.
63. Thus my argument for accepting the order of the Corpus Dionysiacum as the latter has come down to us in all of the Greek MSS. On the latter point, see B. M. Suchla, “Eine Redaktion der griechischen Corpus Dionysiacum im Umkreis des Johannes von Scythopolis, des Verfassers von Prolog und Scholien. Ein dritter Beitrag zur Überlieferungsgeschichte des Corpus Dionysiacum”, Nachrichten der Akademie der Wissenschaft in Göttingen (1985) 1-18.
64. PG IV, 412C, commenting on the gnophos of MT 1.3, 1001A (144:10). I borrow, with slight alterations, the translation of P. Rorem and J. C. Lamoreaux in John of Scythopolis and the Dionysian Corpus: Annotating the Areopagite (Oxford:1998) 244-5. On the antiquity of Moses’ ascent to heaven, see W. A. Meeks, The Prophet King: Moses Traditions and Johannine Christology (Leiden:1967) 122-5 (in Philo), 140-2 (Josephus), 156-9 (OT Pseudepigrapha), 205-11 (Rabbinic midrash), and 241-6 (Samaritan tradition). For arabot, related to John’s araphel, as the name of the highest heaven and locus of the throne of God, see I. Chernus, Mysticism in Rabbinic Judaism: Studies in the History of Midrash (Berlin/NY:1982) 89 and 94-5. My discussion here of this passage in Scythopolis and of the Dionysian Epistles I-V can be found in slightly more extended form in: A. Golitzin, “Revisiting the ‘Sudden’: Epistle III in the Corpus Dionysiacum“, Studia Patristica forthcoming, and, without the range of supporting texts, in idem, Et introibo 222-7.
65. See the references to the scholarly literature in nn. 5 and 18 above. For the original language texts of the Rabbinic hekalot tradition, see P. Schäfer, Synopse zur Hekhalot Literatur (Tübingen:1988), and for German translation, idem, Übersetzung der Hekhalot Literatur, 4 volumes (Tübingen:1987, 1989, 1991, and 1994).
66. Ep. I, 1065A (156-7).
67. Ep. V, 1073A (162:3-4), and cf. also the identical equation between the “darkness” and “unapproachable light” in DN 7.2, 869A (196:11-12), and ibid. (162:4-6) for entry into the light.
68. PG IV, 536B. The scholiast is evidently not Scythopolis here. On the “midday”, mesembria, as possibly an expression widely in use for the experience of God, see the same expression in Evagrius, On Prayer 146 (Greek Philokalia I:189, ET: I:70), in phrasing reminiscent of the scholiast, and cf. also Evagrius’ Ep. 33: “May the Lord grant that the midday of your virtue be radiant and that your tabernacle may become the lodging of the holy angels and of our Savior, Jesus Christ” (Frankenberg 589). I am indebted for the first reference to G. Bunge, Geistliche Vaterschaft 53-4. The second, I think, expresses quite the same idea as we find in the discussion and associations of the “sudden” which I discuss below: it is the place of the angelic liturgy, of the presence of Christ, and so of the believer as “temple” or, here, “tabernacle”.
69. Ep. II, 1068A-9A (158:4-10). I take this point from John of Scythopolis, PG IV:529B (ET:Rorem/Lamoreaux, 251), who directs the reader back to his commentary on DN XI.6, 953C-6B (222:3-223:3), and Dionysius’ distinction between God’s secret being and his “powers”, dynameis, at work in creation. For discussion of the latter in the CD, see Golitzin, Et introibo 54-74 and, on Dionysius’ patristic background for this distinction, ibid. 289-97 (Cappadocians) and 359-62 (Ephrem Syrus).
70. Ep. IV, 1072BC (161:4-10).
71. See EH 2.2.4, 396B (71:15); 3.3.11, 441C (91:23); and Ep. IX.5, 1113A (206:2).
72. Ep. III, 1069B (159:3-10).
73. On the Platonist background to Dionysius’ use of the “sudden”, see esp. W. Beierwaltes, “Exaiphnes oder die Paradoxie des Augenblicks”, Philosophisches Jahrbuch 74 (1966/67) 272-82; and R. Mortley, The Way of Negation 236-40. Mortley’s discussion includes the references to Plotinus which Beierwaltes does not. All the Platonist echoes (though none of the Christian) can now be found in Heil and Ritter’s appartus to the critical text, Corpus Dionysiacum II:159.
74. I have looked into a number of New Testament commentaries, including Kittel’s Theological Dictionary of the New Testament and several devoted to Luke-Acts, and have nowhere found any specific notice taken of exaiphes, which I think odd, particularly given the word’s presence in the LXX — thus see E. Hatch and H. A. Redpath, A Concordance to the Septuagint (Oxford:1897, rep. Athens:1983), vol. I:486 — and esp. in the LXX version of Mal. 3:1, discussed below. Luke’s use of it in particular seems to me to be a deliberate allusion to theophanic language already extant in the literature of both the Jewish scriptures and of the Hellenistic world (which would certainly include Plato), but no one appears as yet to have thought this worth pointing out in the third Evangelist. With regard to ancient Jewish literature, however, see M.N.A. Bockmuehl, Revelation and Mystery in Ancient Judaism and Pauline Christianity (Tübingen:1990) 66: “…the theme of heavenly revelation out of silence is common in ancient Jewish thought”, citing in particular the Wisdom of Solomon 18:14-15 (and see below, n. 81).
75. Acta Thomae 112, ed. M. Bonnet, Acta Apostolorum Apocrypha II.1 (1903, rep. Hildesheim:1959) 223:7-13. Cf. also the use of the exaiphnes in an identical context (ascent to a throne vision) in a late third century Manichaean text, The Cologne Mani Codex (P.Colon.inv.ab 4780): Concerning the Origin of His Body, ed. R. Cameron and J. Dewey, SBL Texts and Translations 15 (Missoula, MT:1979) 55:12-57:16, pp. 42 (English) and 44 (Greek); and, again, on the occasion of an epiphany of Christ as light in the mid to late fourth-century Acta Phillipi, ed. Bonnet, AAA II.2, 10:26-11:5. On the Thomas tradition, including both the Gospel of Thomas and the Acts, as embodying a light mysticism of the divine form, see G. Quispel, “Sein und Gestalt”, in Studies in Religion and Mysticism Presented to Gershom Scholem (Jerusalem:1967) 190-5; idem, Makarios, das Thomasevangelium 39-64; and A. DeConick, Seek to See Him 99-125, and 163 on the Acts. On Manicheanism as an offshoot of the same traditions, see I. Gruenwald, “Manicheism and Judaism in Light of the Cologne Mani Codex”, Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphie 50 (1983) 29-45; J. M. Baumgarten, “The Book of Elchesai and Merkabah Mysticism”, Journal for the Study of Judaism 17.2 (1986) 212-223; and at length in J. C. Reeves, Heralds of that Good Realm: Syro-Mesopotamian Gnosis and Jewish Traditions (Leiden:1996), esp. 5-30. It is thus perhaps of note that Dionysius’ scholiasts, both John of Scythopolis and others unnamed, present him as refuting Mani (though usually in the sense of affirming the goodness of creation) on several occasions. See PG IV:149A, 176A, 181C, 272D, 285B, 288C, 349A, 397C, 545C, and 557B.
76. Athanasius of Alexandria, Vita Antonii, PG XXVI:860A.
77. Ephrem Syrus, de nat. 6.7, CSCO 186:52; ET: K. McVey, translator, Ephrem the Syrian: Hymns (NY:1989) 112; de paradiso 5.11 and 15.4; Syriac in CSCO 174, 18:6-11 (men shelya on l.7) and 63:3-8 (men shelya on l.8); ET: Brock, Hymns on Paradise 106 and 183.
78. On shelya, see J. Payne Smith, A Compendius Syriac Dictionary (Oxford:1903, rep. 1990) 580.
79. See R. Chestnus, Three Monophysite Christologies (Oxford:1976) 63, n.2, and 105 for shelya in Philoxenus of Mabbug (+519) as denoting, resp., both the simplicity of the divine nature and that inner condition of the soul necessary for encounter with the divine presence.
80. Dionysius cites Ignatius’ Epistle to the Romans 7, “My eros is crucified”, in the discussion on eros in DN 4.12, 709D (157:10-11). How the Areopagite, supposedly a disciple of St. Paul, could have cited Ignatius who died ca. 115, taxes one scholiast’s ingenuity in PG IV:264BC. He settles on the improbable dating of Ignatius’ death to the reign of Domitian in the 90’s A.D.
81. To the Magnesians 8 and Ephesians 15, resp. Critical text by P. Camelot, Sources chrétiennes 10, pp. 86 and 70-72 resp. Thus, to recall Bockmuehl’s citation of Wisdom 18:14-15 (above, n.74), the text of that late (first-century?) text is perhaps worth citing. In the NRSV translation from the Greek, it reads: “For while gentle silence [h_sychou sig_s] enveloped all things…your all-powerful word [logos] leaped from heaven, from the royal throne, into the midst of the land”. Note the movement of the divine word from the heavenly throne, and especially from silence, into the world. In the Syriac OT, the Peshitta, the divine word moves thus men (from)…shelya (silence).
82. PG IV:532AB.
83. Beierwaltes, “Exaiphnes” 278-9, and cf. Mortley, Way of Negation 237-8.
84. See Et introibo 401-13, esp. 412-13.