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Dionysius The Areopagite by Clarence Edwin Rolt

CHAPTER V Concerning |Existence| and also concerning |Exemplars.|

I. Now must we proceed to the Name of |Being| which is truly applied by the Divine Science to Him that truly Is. But this much we must say, that it is not the purpose of our discourse to reveal the Super-Essential Being in its Super-Essential Nature (for this is unutterable, nor can we know It, or in anywise express It, and It is beyond even the Unity ), but only to celebrate the Emanation of the Absolute Divine Essence into the universe of things. For the Name of |Good| revealing all the emanations of the universal Cause, extends both to the things which are, and to the things which are not, and is beyond both categories. And the title of |Existent| extends to all existent things and is beyond them. And the title |Life| extends to all living things and is beyond them. And the title of |Wisdom| extends to the whole realm of Intuition, Reason, and Sense-Perception, and is beyond them a11.

2. These Names which reveal the Providence of God our Discourse would now consider. For we make no promise to express the Absolute Super-Essential Goodness and Being and Life and Wisdom of the Absolute Super-Essential Godhead which (as saith the Scripture) hath Its foundation in a secret place beyond all Goodness, Godhead, Being, Wisdom, and Life; but we are considering the benignant Providence which is revealed to us and are celebrating It as Transcendent Goodness and Cause of all good things, and as Existent as Life and as Wisdom, and as productive Cause of. Existence and of Life and the Giver of Wisdom, in those creatures which partake of Existence, Life, Intelligence, and Perception. We do not regard the Good as one thing, the Existent as another, and Life or Wisdom as another; nor do we hold that there are many causes and different Godheads producing different effects and subordinate one to another; but we hold that one God is the universal Source of the emanations, and the Possessor of all the Divine Names we declare; and that the first Name expresses the perfect Providence of the one God, and the other names express certain more general or more particular modes of His Providence.

3. Now, some one may say: |How is it, since Existence transcends Life, and Life transcends Wisdom, that living things are higher than things which merely exist, and sentient things than those which merely live, and reasoning things than those which merely feel, and intelligences than those which have only reason? Why do the creatures rise in this order to the Presence of God and to a closer relationship with Him? You would have expected those which participate in God's greater gifts to be the higher, and to surpass the rest.| Now if intelligent beings were defined as having no Existence or Life, the argument would be sound; but since the divine Intelligences do exist in a manner surpassing other existences, and live in a manner surpassing other living things, and understand and know in a manner beyond perception and reason, and in a manner beyond all existent things participate in the Beautiful and Good, they have a nearer place to the Good in that they especially participate therein, and have from It received both more and greater gifts, even as creatures possessed of Reason are exalted, by the superiority of Reason, above those which have but Perception, and these are exalted through having Perception and others through having Life. And the truth, I think, is that the more anything participates in the One infinitely-bountiful God the more is it brought near to Him and made diviner than the rest.

4. Having now dealt with this matter, let us consider the Good as that which really Is and gives their being to all things that exist. The Existent God is, by the nature of His power, super-essentially above all existence; He is the substantial Cause and Creator of Being, Existence, Substance and Nature, the Beginning and the Measuring Principle of ages; the Reality underlying time and the Eternity underlying existences; the time in which created things pass, the Existence of those that have any kind of existence, the Life-Process of those which in any way pass through that process. From Him that Is come Eternity, Essence, Being, Time, Life-Process; and that which passes through such Process, the things which inhere in existent things and those which under any power whatever possess an independent subsistence. For God is not Existent in any ordinary sense, but in a simple and undefinable manner embracing and anticipating all existence in Himself. Hence He is called |King of the Ages,| because in Him and around Him all Being is and subsists, and He neither was, nor will be, nor hath entered the life-process, nor is doing so, nor ever will, or rather He doth not even exist, but is the Essence of existence in things that exist; and not only the things that exist but also their very existence comes from Him that Is before the ages. For He Himself is the Eternity of the ages and subsists before the ages.

5. Let us, then, repeat that all things and all ages derive their existence from the Pre-Existent. All Eternity and Time are from Him, and He who is Pre-Existent is the Beginning and the Cause of all Eternity and Time and of anything that hath any kind of being. All things participate in Him, nor doth He depart from anything that exists; He is before all things, and all things have their maintenance in Him; and, in short, if anything exists under any form whatever, tis in the Pre-Existent that it exists and is perceived and preserves its being. Antecedent to all Its other participated gifts is that of Being. Very Being is above Very Life, Very Wisdom, Very Divine Similarity and all the other universal Qualities, wherein all creatures that participate must participate first of all in Being Itself; or rather, all those mere Universals wherein the creatures participate do themselves participate in very Being Itself. And there is no existent thing whose essence and eternal nature is not very Being. Hence God receives His Name from the most primary of His gifts when, as is meet, He is called in a special manner above all things, |He which Is.| For, possessing in a transcendent manner Pre-Existence and Pre-Eminence, He caused beforehand all Existence (I mean Very Being) and in that Very Being caused all the particular modes of existence. For all the principles of existent things derive from their participation in Being the fact that they are existent and that they are principles and that the former quality precedes the latter. And if it like thee to say that Very Life is the Universal Principle of living things as such, and Very Similarity of similar things as such, and Very Unity of unified things as such, and Very Order of orderly things as such, and if it like thee to give the name of Universals to the Principles of all other things which (by participating in this quality or in that or in both or in many) are this, that, both or many thou wilt find that the first Quality in which they participate is Existence, and that their existence is the basis, (1) of their permanence, and (2) of their being the principles of this or that; and also that only through their participation in Existence do they exist and enable things to participate in them. And if these Universals exist by participating in Existence, far more is this true of the things which participate in them.

6. Thus the first gift which the Absolute and Transcendent Goodness bestows is that of mere Existence, and so It derives its first title from the chiefest of the participations in Its Being. From It and in It are very Being and the Principles of the world, and the world which springs from them and all things that in any way continue in existence. This attribute belongs to It in an incomprehensible and concentrated oneness. For all number pre-exists indivisibly in the number One, and this number contains all things in itself under the form of unity. All number exists as unity in number One, and only when it goes forth from this number is it differenced and multiplied. All the radii of a circle are concentrated into a single unity in the centre, and this point contains all the straight lines brought together within itself and unified to one another, and to the one starting-point from which they began. Even so are they a perfect unity in the centre itself, and, departing a little therefrom they are differenced a little, and departing further are differenced further, and, in fact, the nearer they are to the centre, so much the more are they united to it and to one another, and the more they are separated from it the more they are separated from one another.

7. Moreover, in the Universal Nature of the world all the individual Laws of Nature are united in one Unity without confusion; and in the soul the individual faculties which govern different parts of the body are united in one. And hence it is not strange that, when we mount from obscure images to the Universal Cause, we should with supernatural eyes behold all things (even those things which are mutually contrary) existing as a single Unity in the Universal Cause. For It is the beginning of all things, whence are derived Very Being, and all things that have any being, all Beginning and End, all Life, Immortality, Wisdom, Order, Harmony, Power, Preservation, Grounding, Distribution, Intelligence, Reason, Perception, Quality, Rest, Motion, Unity, Fusion, Attraction, Cohesion, Differentiation, Definition, and all other Attributes which, by their mere existence, qualify all existent things.

8. And from the same Universal Cause come those godlike and angelical Beings, which possess Intelligence and are apprehended by Intelligence; and from It come our souls and the natural laws of the whole universe, and all the qualities which we speak of as existing in other objects or as existing merely in our thoughts. Yea, from It come the all-holy and most reverent Powers, which possess a real existence and are grounded, as it were, in the fore-court of the Super-Essential Trinity, possessing from It and in It their existence and the godlike nature thereof; and, after them, those which are inferior to them, possessing their inferior existence from the same Source; and the lowest, possessing from It their lowest existence (i. e. lowest compared with the other angels, though compared with us it is above our world). And human souls and all other creatures possess by the same tenure their existence, and their blessedness, and exist and are blessed only because they possess their existence and their blessedness from the Pre-existent, and exist and are blessed in Him, and begin from Him and are maintained in Him and attain in Him their Final Goal. And the highest measure of existence He bestows upon the more exalted Beings, which the Scripture calls eternal; but also the mere existence of the world as a whole is perpetual; and its very existence comes from the Pre-existent. He is not an Attribute of Being, but Being is an Attribute of Him; He is not contained in Being, but Being is contained in Him; He doth not possess Being, but Being possesses Him; He is the Eternity, the Beginning, and the Measure of Existence, being anterior to Essence and essential Existence and Eternity, because He is the Creative Beginning, Middle, and End of all things. And hence the truly Pre-existent receives from the Holy Scripture manifold attributions drawn from every kind of existence; and states of being and processes (whether past, present, or future) are properly attributed to Him; for all these attributions, if their divine meaning be perceived, signify that He hath a Super-Essential Existence fulfilling all our categories, and is the Cause producing every mode of existence. For He is not This without being That; nor doth He possess this mode of being without that. On the contrary He is all things as being the Cause of them all, and as holding together and anticipating in Himself all the beginnings and all the fulfilments of all things; and He is above them all in that He, anterior to their existence, super-essentially transcends them all. Hence all attributes may be affirmed at once of Him, and yet He is No Thing. He possesses all shape and form, and yet is formless and shapeless, containing beforehand incomprehensibly and transcendently the beginning, middle, and end of all thins, and shedding upon them a pure radiance of that one and undifferenced causality whence all their fairness comes. For if our sun, while still remaining one luminary and shedding one unbroken light, acts on the essences and qualities of the things which we perceive, many and various though they be, renewing, nourishing, guarding, and perfecting them; differencing them, unifying them, warming them and making them fruitful, causing them to grow, to change, to take root and to burst forth; quickening them and giving them life, so that each one possesses in its own way a share in the same single sun -- if the single sun contains beforehand in itself under the form of an unity the causes of all the things that participate in it; much more doth this truth hold good with the Cause which produced the sun and all things; and all the Exemplars of existent things must pre-exist in It under the form of one Super-Essential Unity. For It produces Essences only by an outgoing from Essence. And we give the name of |Exemplars| to those laces which, preexistent in God as an Unity, produce the essences of things: laws which are called in Divine Science |Preordinations| or Divine and beneficent Volitions, laws which ordain things and create them, laws whereby the Super-Essential preordained and brought into being the whole universe.

9. And whereas the philosopher Clement maintains that the title |Exemplar| may, in a sense, be applied to the more important types in the visible world, he employs not the terms of his discourse in their proper, perfect and simple meaning. But even if we grant the truth of his contention, we must remember the Scripture which saith: |I did not show these things unto thee that thou mightest follow after them,| but that through such knowledge of these as is suited to our faculties we may be led up (so far as is possible) to the Universal Cause. We must then attribute unto It all things in one All-Transcendent Unity, inasmuch as, starting from Being, and setting in motion the creative Emanation and Goodness, and penetrating all things, and filling all things with Being from Itself, and rejoicing in all things, It anticipates all things in Itself, in one exceeding simplicity rejecting all reduplication; and It embraces all things alike in the Transcendent Unity of Its infinitude, and is indivisibly shared by all (even as a sound, while remaining one and the same, is shared as one by several pairs of ears).

10. Thus the Pre-existent is the Beginning and the End of all things: the Beginning as their Cause, the End as their Final Purpose. He bounds all things. and yet is their boundless Infinitude, in a manner that transcends all the opposition between the Finite and the Infinite. For, as hath been often said, He contains beforehand and did create all things in One Act, being present unto all and everywhere, both in the particular individual and in the Universal Whole, and going out unto all things while yet remaining in Himself. He is both at rest and in motion, and yet is in neither state, nor hath He beginning, middle, or end; He neither inheres in any individual thing, nor is He any individual thing. We cannot apply to Him any attribute of eternal things nor of temporal things. He transcends both Time and Eternity, and all things that are in either of them; inasmuch as Very Eternity and the world with its standard of measurement and the things which are measured by those standards have their being through Him and from Him. But concerning these matters let that suffice which hath been spoken more properly elsewhere.

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