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Dionysius The Areopagite by Clarence Edwin Rolt


In the treatise |Concerning the Divine Names,| Dionysius seeks to reconcile his daring conceptions with Scripture. Nor can he be said to fail. His argument, briefly, is that in Scripture we have a Revealed Religion and that things which are Revealed belong necessarily to the plane of Manifestation. Thus Revealed Religion interprets to us in terms of human thought things which, being Incomprehensible, are ultimately beyond thought. This is merely what St. Augustine teaches when he says that, the Prologue of St. John's Gospel reveals the mysteries of Eternity not as they actually are but as human thought can grasp them. The neo-Platonism of Dionysius does not invalidate Scripture any more than that of Plotinus invalidates the writings of Plato. Dionysius merely says that there is an unplumbed Mystery behind the words of Scripture and streaming through them, just as Plotinus and other neo-Platonists hold that there is an unplumbed Mystery streaming through from behind Plato's categories of thought. And if it be urged that at least our Lord's teaching on the Fatherhood of God cannot be reconciled with the doctrine of a Supra-Personal Godhead, the answer is near at hand. For the Pagan Plotinus, whose doctrine is similar to that of Dionysius, gives this very name of |Father| to his Supra-Personal Absolute -- or rather to that Aspect of It which comes into touch with the human soul. Moreover in the most rigidly orthodox Christian theology God the Father is not a Personality. St. Augustine, for instance, teaches that the |Persons| of the Trinity are Elements whose true nature is unknown to us. They correspond however, he says, to certain elements in our individual personalities, and hence the human soul is created (he tells us) not in the image of one Person in the Godhead but in the image of the whole Trinity. Thus he by implication denies that God the Father is, in the ordinary sense of the word, a Personality. And the teaching of St. Thomas Aquinas is very similar. It may, perhaps, even be said that the germ of the most startling doctrines which Dionysius expounds may be actually found in Scripture. A state, for instance, which is not knowledge and yet is not ignorance, is described by St. Paul when he says that Christians |know God or rather are known of Him.| This is the mental attitude of Unknowing. For the mind is quiescent and emptied of its own powers and so receives a knowledge the scope and activity of which is outside itself in God. And in speaking of an ecstatic experience which he himself had once attained St. Paul seems to suggest that he was, on that occasion, outside of himself in such a manner as hardly, in the ordinary sense, to retain his own identity. Moreover he suggests that the redeemed and perfected creation is at last to be actually merged in God (hina e ho Theos ta panta en pasin ). And the doctrine of Deification is certainly, in the germ, Scriptural. For as Christ is the Son of God so are we to be Sons of God, and Christ is reported actually to have based His own claims to Deity on the potential Divinity of the human soul. Moreover we are to reign with Him and are, in a manner passing our present apprehension, to be made like Him when we see Him as He is.

Now all the boldest statements of Dionysius about the ultimate glory for which the human soul is destined are obviously true of Christ, and as applied to Him, they would be a mere commentary on the words |I and the Father are One.| Therefore if Christ came to impart His Life to us so that the things which are His by Nature should be ours by Grace, it follows that the teaching of Dionysius is in harmony with Scripture so long as it is made to rest on the Person and Work of Christ. And, though Dionysius does not emphasize the Cross as much as could be wished, yet he certainly holds that Christ is the Channel through which the power of attainment is communicated to us. It must not be forgotten that he is writing as a Christian to Christians, and so assumes the Work of Christ as a revealed and experienced Fact. And since he holds that every individual person and thing has its pre-existent limits ordained in the Super-Essence, therefore he holds that the Human Soul of Christ has Its preexistent place there as the Head of the whole creation. That is what he means by the phrase |Super-Essential Jesus,| and that is what is taught in the quotation from Hierotheus already alluded to. No doubt the lost works of Dionysius dealt more fully with this subject, as indeed he hints himself. And if, through this scanty sense of the incredible evil which darkens and pollutes the world, he does not in the present treatise lay much emphasis upon the Saviour's Cross, yet he gives us definite teaching on the kindred Mystery of the Incarnation.

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