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The Mystical Theology


Mike
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Hi everybody,

 

The mystic known as Pseudo-Dionysius is usually placed around the 6th century, and his works, to my understanding, have been influential in the Eastern Church. I was just reading some of his stuff, and instantly remembered why I took interest in him a couple of years ago.

 

He is known for his apophatic theology, theology via negation (which appeals to me greatly). He is described as Neo-Platonist in his philosophy, though Orthodox scholar Vladimir Lossky is somewhat critical of that designation in his Mystical Theology of the Orthodox Church. I'm only superficially knowledgeable of Neo-Platonism so it doesn't make much difference in my reading of him.

 

As for the writings as such, I'm not very knowledgeable of those either, but what I do read I find enlightening, and was wondering if anyone would be interested in discussing/musing over his short work 'Mystical Theology', one translation of which can be found here. It's somewhat dense, but maybe we can unpack it as we go along?

 

From the webpage cited in the link above,

 

THE MYSTICAL THEOLOGY

 

CHAPTER I

 

What is the Divine Darkness?

 

Supernal Triad, Deity above all essence, knowledge and goodness; Guide of Christians to Divine Wisdom; direct our path to the ultimate summit of your mystical knowledge, most incomprehensible, most luminous and most exalted, where the pure, absolute and immutable mysteries of theology are veiled in the dazzling obscurity of the secret Silence, outshining all brilliance with the intensity of their Darkness, and surcharging our blinded intellects with the utterly impalpable and invisible fairness of glories surpassing all beauty.

 

Guess I'll get the ball rolling.

 

What is first notable to me is the big difference five centuries and dramatic cultural transitions make, from early New Testament Christianity to Pseudo-Dionysius. Obviously. :)

 

Though Dionysius cites the New Testament extensively in his writings, his theology is undoubtedly coming from experiential and ontological insights. Yet I don't consider this unwelcome - the early Christians based their theology on their experiences of the living Christ, working within the framework of their own metaphysical concerns/suppositions. Dionysius does the same, and I think we should all be encouraged to do so as well.

 

"Guide of Christians to Divine Wisdom; direct our path to the ultimate summit of your mystical knowledge"

 

The goal of the Christian path is seen here as an ontological realization, a vision of reality gained through Christian practice. It is none other than the Divine - Reality itself - which inevitably must guide us to itself.

 

"and surcharging our blinded intellects with the utterly impalpable and invisible"

 

I am reminded of Buddhist terminology which states that all phenomena are utterly beyond conceptual elaboration, beyond both self and other, one and many. Dionysius uses very lofty language, but I think even the most mundane realities that we, through years of conditionedness, have taken for granted, are all ineffable, wondrous mysteries manifesting the "Deity above all essence, knowledge and goodness."

 

Peace,

Mike

Edited by Mike
grammar
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While i have much trouble with the words chosen here and extremely long sentences used, i find an element in agreement here with my own subjective experience.

 

From chapter 1

 

"that you may arise by unknowing towards the union, "

 

It seems to me that Christian renewing of mind, which is transforming in my experience, is not by religious programming or reading of books as many might practice or think. While it is intellectual study and thinking, whose limitations, might bring us to this point, to me, renewing is more of an erasing to an original condition. In my experience i have found that by surrendering or unlearning of many of my preconceived beliefs, conditioned thinking, opinions, positions and such that Truth has a tendency to surface of itself. I find this analogous to the Sun. The Sun is always giving off light but it is often obscured by clouds or the earth itself. However, when this limited point of view is set aside/surrendered and we are open to a different view of the subject, where human boundaries are abandoned, the Sun/Truth exposes itself as ever-present and unhidden from view. Words can then arise but it is the unknowing that invites that union where even words fail to do justice.

 

Just a view for thought,

Joseph

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Mike, if you want to do a communal read through, I'm game. As I've mentioned other places, I'm currently drenching myself in Reformed/Calvinist thought, and while many adjectives can be applied to it, "mystical" is rarely applied to it. The historical and theological reasons for this, and how the situation can be changed is another thread entirely.

 

Reading that first chapter I am struck by how much transformation and ontological revelation are pushed to the side by an emphasis on salvation and and a rote acceptance of the "five solas" (by scripture alone, faith alone, grace alone, Christ alone, and glory to God alone).

 

I also love how he quite intentionally blends metaphors. "dazzling obscurity of the secret Silence" isn't (IMO) great poetry, but using language related to both sight and sound reinforces the limits of human language.

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Mike, if you want to do a communal read through, I'm game. As I've mentioned other places, I'm currently drenching myself in Reformed/Calvinist thought, and while many adjectives can be applied to it, "mystical" is rarely applied to it. The historical and theological reasons for this, and how the situation can be changed is another thread entirely.

 

Reading that first chapter I am struck by how much transformation and ontological revelation are pushed to the side by an emphasis on salvation and and a rote acceptance of the "five solas" (by scripture alone, faith alone, grace alone, Christ alone, and glory to God alone).

 

I also love how he quite intentionally blends metaphors. "dazzling obscurity of the secret Silence" isn't (IMO) great poetry, but using language related to both sight and sound reinforces the limits of human language.

 

What I've come to sense present in such as Calvinistic thought, as well as in a lot of today's fundamentaslist thinking, is a need to take hold on something that feels solid, concrete, that attempts to escape as much as possible anything ambiguous, and most of all, what could be called mystical experience. In so much of today's fundamentalism, that attempt actually seems very desperate, even fearful.

 

This of course, quite opposite the kind of mystical, symbolic approach in the given Dyonesian sample. So it ought to be an interesting experience for you to be reading and considering upon both at once. I posit they are not so opposing and incompatable as first appears.

 

Elsewhere, in my comments to a thread on the resurrection, in giving an overview of the book "Ego and Archetype" I reference a stage of development in which the religious may find illusions being stripped away for traditional religious symbols, leaving broken and empty vessels that once held something precious to the believer. I've come to see the desperate search for something concrete, dogmatic, to hold onto, as a result of an emerging consciousness of the emptiness of cherished symbols, and a desperate attempt to patch them back together, try to make them sound and whole again, for not yet having comprehended what is precious is what they once contained, not the vessels themselves.

 

In those comments there, I mention how this occurance, the breaking down of symbols, leaving them empty of precious content they once held, is the impetus that gives rise to the spirit/archetype of the seeker, driven to search for the loost precious content, requiring of course discarding and leaving behind the broken and empty vessels.

 

But this is not as easy a process as simply explaining it makes it seem. Having myself recognized and made that transition, i must admit to having felt some degree of arrogance, of superiority, over those still trying to cling to the broken and empty vessels, which only resulted in stymying my own development until I resolved it, and resulted all too often in getting into mutually abusive conflicts with "those people" caused by my arrogant thought it was my job to enlighten them, explain to them the truth so they, too could move on...to them of course, I was an evil attacker of their faith!

 

What helped enlghten me and break my own arrogant view was realizing how much it has been my mother's own fanatical clinging to that kind of religion proved the mechanism by which I would at such a young age make that break away myself, launching into my seeker's journey. She had sacrificed something of her own potential for further development to kick-start my own. I have also now come to think more gently toward those caught there in that desperate effort to patch back together and hold onto their broken, empty symbols, struggling for something concrete and dogmatic to hold onto, for having realized the depths of their fear. It isn't up to me to shove them through and past that stage, their hostile response in their natural defense against being pushed off a cliff they are not yet ready for. I've come to trust that it is God that will 1) get them through it or not, and 2) they as a whole, just as my mother did for me, are serving a positive purpose, in their own effect on so many others in our society, that becasue of them, are being, as we here as PC's, pushed away from the old religious tradtions and being kick-started into our own journeys.

 

jenell

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While i have much trouble with the words chosen here and extremely long sentences used, i find an element in agreement here with my own subjective experience.

 

From chapter 1

 

"that you may arise by unknowing towards the union, "

 

It seems to me that Christian renewing of mind, which is transforming in my experience, is not by religious programming or reading of books as many might practice or think. While it is intellectual study and thinking, whose limitations, might bring us to this point, to me, renewing is more of an erasing to an original condition. In my experience i have found that by surrendering or unlearning of many of my preconceived beliefs, conditioned thinking, opinions, positions and such that Truth has a tendency to surface of itself. I find this analogous to the Sun. The Sun is always giving off light but it is often obscured by clouds or the earth itself. However, when this limited point of view is set aside/surrendered and we are open to a different view of the subject, where human boundaries are abandoned, the Sun/Truth exposes itself as ever-present and unhidden from view. Words can then arise but it is the unknowing that invites that union where even words fail to do justice.

 

Just a view for thought,

Joseph

 

 

...yet another way of describing this concept as presented in the mystical work, "The Cloud of Unknowing."

 

Jenell

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Deleted redundant self quoted post..... JM

 

It has occurred to me that "kick-started" in this sense might not be thhe best term for describing how it feels....I think having been "drop-kicked" might be closer... ;)

 

Jenell

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Heh, I appreciate drop kick. Barth's commentary on the Romans is arguably a very angry work of apophatic theology. It really, truly nuked my brain. Arguing that God is wholly other to humanity, Barth grabs blends Calvin, Nietzsche, Kierkegaard and a few others together with the explicit goal of destroying your certainty about Christianity.

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Hi Joseph,

 

While i have much trouble with the words chosen here and extremely long sentences used, i find an element in agreement here with my own subjective experience.

 

I apologize if the text is a little dense. I guess Greek is great for run-on sentences.

 

I found another translation that seems to be a bit easier at points, and if nothing else, would be good to compare with the other translation.

 

http://www.tertullian.org/fathers/areopagite_06_mystic_theology.htm

 

The first section I quoted would then read,

TRIAD supernal, both super-God and super-good, Guardian of the Theosophy of Christian men, direct us aright to the super-unknown and super-brilliant and highest summit of the mystic Oracles, where the simple and absolute a!nd changeless mysteries of theology lie hidden within the super-luminous gloom of the silence, revealing hidden things, which in its deepest darkness shines above the most super-brilliant, and in the altogether impalpable and invisible, fills to overflowing the eyeless minds with glories of surpassing beauty.

 

In either case, perhaps Dionysius would be disappointed if we comprehended his words too easily. :) The ambiguity of his language makes it all the more possible for people to glean very different insights. Therefore, I would say finding elements that resonate with our subjective experience is an excellent way to procede, as indeed you have done.

 

You write,

 

the Sun/Truth exposes itself as ever-present and unhidden from view. Words can then arise but it is the unknowing that invites that union where even words fail to do justice.

 

The image of the Sun is indeed a very powerful one. Its presence is so intense that it is blinding. As we approach reality more directly, the more it can lead to a blindness, a holy ignorance.

 

Thanks,

Mike

 

 

 

PS

(I'll want to respond to more posts in this thread, I'll be doing so later. Thank you for all your insights and thoughts everyone!)

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Maslow said that all people are capable of having peak experiences, he then went on to say that the people who do not have spiritual experiences either repress or deny them. I feel the personal story of Adam and Eve is explaining the tendency within the universe to disperse. A centrifugal motion radiating from the nucleus (the first cause) as Dionysius puts it is what causes the worldly consciousness to appear to separate from God. The world in itself has no reality at all because it is in perpetual change without much meaning or consistency. The objects and things existing in it are separated in time and space and are changing from one moment to the next. Therefore, the microcosm apart from the macrocosm is nothing but when it knows the macrocosm, it is reality itself, constant and full of being. I feel that is why it must be experienced and can’t be described. I feel we can hint at it like Dionysius, St. John of The Cross and Jesus have done, but we can’t describe it.

 

“But these things are not to be disclosed to the uninitiated, by whom I mean those attached to the object of human thought, and who believe there is no superessential Reality beyond, and who imagine that by their own understanding they know it that has made Darkness Its secret place.”

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The feeling that we fell from pure consciousness and loss bliss is due to the separation from our internal existence. This has caused the present, physical and mental era of confusion where everything is divided, not centered, and separated from the whole or pure consciousness. This I relate to the story of Adam and Eve leaving the Garden of Eden or the unit consciousness separating from the collective pure consciousness or Cloud of Unknowing.

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