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Pseudo-Dionysius: The Complete Works (Classics of Western Spirituality (Paperback)) (English and Ancient Greek Edition) Paperback – January 1, 1988
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Text: English, Greek (translation) --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Argument of book: whatever transcends being must transcend knowledge (593A).
The whole is reflected in the part: “Within its total unity it contains part and whole, and it transcends these too and is antecedent to them” (648C). Every part of the universe reflects God’s oneness. He is replicated and differentiated in the energies (is this the same as saying the Logos is replicated in the logoi?).
The Good shows forth the processions of God (680B). If we say the processions “go out” from God, we are speaking analogically, for the Trinity isn’t in a place, per se. The Good isn’t a being but excess of being. The Good returns (reditus) all things to itself (700A). All things desire it.
The source of every duality is a monad (721D). Every number preexists in the monad (821A). Every number is differentiated as it goes forth from the Monad. Every being derives from the Pre-existent. Being precedes the entities which participate in it. God is not a facet of being, but being is a facet of him (824A). The exemplars of everything pre-exist as a transcendent unity within God.
A negation is not simply the opposite of an affirmation, but that which is prior to affirmation (1000B).
Hierarchy = sacred order, activity or understanding (164D). Because the divine realities are invisible, they must be communicated and mediated through symbols.
As is usually the case with Platonic and Neo-Platonic literature, it is often soaring in terms of beauty. Ps. Dionysius’s discussion of the priest-as-hierarch needs to be seen as hyperbole. Few people are at that level of Being.
I recommend skipping the introductory material in the beginning of this edition and simply reading Pseudo Dionysius's books and letters first. Then you can go back to the introductory material. I say this only because I like to skip any and all introductory material in any book I read because these essays were never included in original versions.
I am grateful for this series (Classics of Western Spirituality) and while the 'Ecclesiastical Hierarchy' book within this collection has more to do with those seeking the vocation, there are observations and such that will open the lay person's mind to new ideas.
The sense of The Divine Names is that while God is called by many names (Life, Light, Love, Power, Wisdom, Ancient of Days, the One, the Beautiful, the Good, etc) He is beyond all that these names signify because these are merely His attributes that flow from His overabundance. Indeed, He is a Creator beyond even Being and Non-Being: "he cannot be understood, words cannot contain him, and no name can lay hold of him" (p. 109). (God - though Light - is a darkness, then, if you will.)
The Mystical Theology is a very short essay summarizing this Zen-like theology of The Divine Names.
The Celestial Hierarchy addresses the function of symbolism - to put us in accord with celestial beings beyond the range of mere human reason: "For it is quite impossible that we humans should, in any immaterial way, rise up to imitate and contemplate the heavenly hierarchies without the aid of those material means capable of guiding us as our nature requires (p.146). This section also describes, albeit in very general terms, the natures and functions of the celestial choirs of Seraphim, Cherubim, Thrones, Dominions, Powers, Virtues/Authorities, Principalities, Archangels, and Angels.
Similarly, the Ecclesiastical Hierarchy explains the deep significance of religious symbolism, arguing that the function of religious symbolism is to attune all levels of our being to that aspect of the Divine which we seek to bring into our lives, that "every sacred operation forges a divine unity out of the divisions within us, granting us communion with the One" (p. 209).
The Letters (at the book's close) are fascinating models of wise advice on religion generally.
Integral to this wide-ranging work is the Pythagorean sketch of God as "the One" from which all numbers and all multiplicity arise. But, here again, God is beyond even the One, which too is merely a gnomon like all the others that merely points toward the moon.
What I really enjoyed about this work is the repeated insistence that, because of the transcendence of the Divine, to engage in heated hair-splitting and doctrinal disputes is an error to which human thinking is all too prone; St. Paul affirms the same: "But avoid foolish questions, and genealogies, and contentions, and strivings about the law, for they are unprofitable and vain" (Titus 3:9). If you are coming to this book having just read The Dialogue of St. Catherine of Siena, you will find this work uninspiring if not unilluminating. The spiritual fire of St. Catherine is wholly lacking, one might say sorely missed, here (as are the subtle mystery and earthy practicality of John Climacus).
Like the Neoplatonism of Philo Judaeus, this work has an amphibian, hybrid quality to it in its fusion of philosophical Neoplatonic dialectic with historical Judaeo-Christian revealed religion. Still, this fusion successfully delivers the central message of this work - that people dedicated to a spiritual path need to stay really mindful that their religious symbols are just that: SYMBOLS evocative of a Divine reality that is beyond all human reasoning, comprehension, and symbolism itself.
Certainly recommended as an edifying work of Western Spirituality. See also The Ways of Mental Prayer and Meditations of Guigo, Prior of the Charterhouse (Mediaeval Philosophical Texts in Translation).