The Father of Christian Mysticism
by Jeanne M. House
When studying the Christian framework and its ideology, it becomes apparent that Dionysius played a major role in not only providing a structure for the Spiritual Universe, but also providing a way for us to inter-relate with that universe, with the ultimate aim of merging with it.
Dionysius played a very important role of preserving the Platonic tradition through ten letters and three long treatise. Dionysius was a student of Origen in Alexandria and later died there in 265 AD. There is confusion over two individuals with the name Dionysius. A different Dionysius lived far earlier, was a disciple of Paul and was present at Jesus’ crucifixion. The later one is known as the Father of Mysticism. He was responsible for articulating the authentic Christian mystical tradition.
Before, Dionysius, Philo of Alexandria, had developed an extensive Middle Platonic interpretation of the Jewish Scriptures by using scriptural symbology, logos theology, moral philosophy, etc. With this solid framework provided by Philo, Alexandria became the home of the first Christian Platonists.
Pseudo-Dionysius adopted the initiation language of the mystery religions. He discovered a way to interpret the Christian doctrine by using symbolism and myth and taking these symbols and mythology out of the context of its original writing. Thereby revealing the esoteric meaning and unveiling a deeper mystical knowledge. He also correlated these symbols as messages for initiates who were raising their level of consciousness in order to be able to interpret these underlying meanings.
Here is an example of a passage from Theosophy, which reveals the deeper, mystical, knowledge of the “Mystery Schools or Platonic Underground”- (Here Jesus is not only a man, but our inner, immortal individuality that rescues our fallen soul.)
“The Soul was the one subject, and the knowledge of the Soul, the one object of all the ancient Mysteries. In the ‘Fall’ of Pistis Sophia, and her rescue by her Syzgy, JESUS, we see the ever-enacted drama of the suffering and ignorant personality, which can only be saved by the immortal individuality or rather by its own yearning towards IT. (H.P. Blavatsky. Collective Writings, vol VIII, Theo Pub House, Wheaten 1982, pg. 40).
What is interesting is how Dionysius formulates a creative philosophical synthesis that incorporates concepts such as the One, the Good, Beauty, Divine Providence, Justice, Goodness, etc.
Here is a list of chapters from his treaty called the Divine Names and some of the Neoplatonic ideas that were developed:
NEOPLATONIC NOTIONS in Divine Names: goal of discourses-
Chapter 1-God is considered Omniscient beyond all human understanding and description and therefore can only be expressed through symbols, names which are found in scriptures. One can approach the truth of god through contemplation of the Divine Symbols. The conception of God is akin to the One, or the Good.
Chapter 2- The concept of emanation finds its counterpart in the “divine procession.”
Chapter 4- Concerning God, Light, Beautiful, Love, Ecstasy, and Zeal and that evil is neither a being, nor from a being, nor in beings, (see Proclus) The mystical concept of “yearning” for union with the Good and the Beautiful.
Chapter 5- Metaphysical causes of BEING.
Chapter 6- “Life” The transcendent absolute, eternal nature of life.
Chapter 7- Concerning Power, Wisdom, Mind, Truth, Faith, the basis of a divine, transcendent wisdom where humans derive their intelligence and understanding through participation with the Divine Mind is discussed.
Chapter 8- Concerning Power, Righteousness, Salvation, Redemption-Deals with the ordering of the universe according to divine laws by which a transcendent order maintains the dynamic harmony of all things.
Chapter 9- How the fundamental unity of God can be seen in the multiplicity of the universe at the microcosmic and macrocosmic levels.
Chapter 10- Concerning the “Ancient of Days” “Eternity” and “Time”
Chapter 11- Concerning the Intelligent Harmony, which brings things together in communion of concord.
Chapter 12- Deals with stability through possession of the Good and Beautiful, God, Providence, which sees everything.
Chapter 13- Concerning “Perfect” and “One”
Dionysius’ system is a complex and sophisticated integration of Neoplatonic motifs into a Christian framework. From this system three streams emerge:
1. an outlook concerning the nature of reality
2. a proposed method to interpret and understand this reality
3. a means by which reality Itself is transcended into union with the divine
THE GREAT CHAIN OF BEING
According to historian Arthur Lovejoy, there resulted a “conception of the plan and structure of the world which, through the Middle Ages and down to the late eighteenth century…most educated men were to accept without question-the conception of the universe as a “Great Chain of Being,” composed of immense or… infinite, number of links ranging in hierarchical order from the meagerest kind of existence…through every possible grade up to the ends perfectissumum.”
With one thought of the Creator, all existence was emanated. The upper worlds in conjunction with the lower worlds, including the evolutionary processes, which creation will constantly go until all functions reach their final completion.
The structure of the Spiritual Universe as an emanation of procession and return from God, through various hierarchies which comprise its fabric. These hierarchies are sub-divided into various orders. Each order has no power in itself, rather it is an agent of the power of God and as such, participates in that power.
It is the both the how the universe exists in itself and it speaks to how we come to the knowledge of this universe-the procession and the return. In the procession, God is involved in self-revelation, while in the return, humans are involved in both knowing this revelation and eventually unknowing it in union with the divine.
Each of the levels of Reality could be termed a World-a self-contained realm or universe of existence. The relationship between each of these levels is LIKE body and soul or spirit and matter, in that each higher level is the soul, spirit and creator of each level below it and the body and matter of the being above it. Each therefore stands in the position of God or Creator to the level or realm below it.
Each of the levels or stages in this spectrum or GREAT CHAIN OF BEING, has its own specific characteristics. For example, we could speak of the psychic world, (astral plane), the Angelic world, the Archangelic world, the Dyani Chohan world, The Buddhic plane, all looking downwards to matter and also contemplating upwards.
First, the Absolute creates the Spiritual Reality in turn produces the Psychic Reality and it produces the Physical Reality; the material world. Each reality constitutes a stage of manifestation. The more subtle and spiritual realities precede and generate the more grosser and more material ones.
SYMBOLS/ CONTEMPLATIVE ASCENT
Symbols demonstrate the divine, acting as bridges between the experience of the senses and that which lies beyond. Elevation of the mind to higher things as the invisible comes through the visible.
The “mystical ascent” view of salvation involves becoming free of the world of appearances (“un-knowing”). In the dis-oriented state that results, we may encounter divine illumination or Luminosity. It is an intimate union of the soul with God.
Through participation in the emanation of the self-revelation, God is encoded or demonstrated in the hierarchies making them symbolic in nature. As symbols, the hierarchies have significant content which when interpreted points beyond itself, causing an anagogic or uplifting ascent to the next hierarchy. Furthermore, by the virtue of its participation with the divine, the symbol is also referred to as a theophany. Or divine manifestation of every created thing.
Knowledge is then gained through interpretation of the symbolic hierarchies. “We must lift up the immaterial and steady our eyes of our minds to that outpouring of Light which is so primal indeed much more so, and which comes from that source of divinity, I mean the Father. This is the Light, which, by way of representative symbols, makes known to us the most blessed hierarchies among the angels. But we need to rise from this outpouring of illumination so as to come to the simple ray of Light itself. (CH 1; complete works 145-146)
The interpretation of symbols corresponds to three stages of ascent of the SOUL:
1. the purgation of the materiality of symbols
2. illumination of the significance of the symbols
3. perfection by an abandonment of the significance in ascent to the next hierarchy.
IGNORANCE AND UNKNOWING
Each stage is related to the epistemological structure so that purgation is the removal of ignorance, illumination is the reception of new knowledge and perfection is the abandonment of present knowledge for something higher. Ch 3; EH 5,6; complete works 153-155, 233-49)
The final stage is the abandonment of all interpretive concepts through their “unknowing” The last stage of the ascent moves beyond the interpretive positive/negative dialectic by negation of all that has been negated. This puts one in the state of “unknowing” where the experience of the silent union with the divine occurs…we shall find ourselves speechless and unknowing.
The positive/negative dialectic is a method for interpreting the symbols of the hierarchy enabling the return or anagogic ascent. IT IS ACTUALLY THROUGH THE INTERPRETATIVE PROCESS THAT ONE ASCENDS THROUGH THE HEIRARCHY. This process begins in the positive, what can be affirmed about God, in the symbols and moves then to the negative to where what has been affirmed now must be denied. Each symbol has a dissimilar similarity. This dialectec continues until the last stage of the process.
This pattern of descending affirmations and ascending negations can be interpreted in terms of “procession from the “ONE” down into plurality and the “return” of all back to the ONE.
“…the idea of a pregnant vibration of consciousness…is an initial coming out, in creative self-knowledge, of that which lay concentrated in uncreated self-awareness.” Always self-realizing by the knowledge ingrained in its very impulsion…this is the truth of all creation, of all evolution. The Divine Life pg. 130
In each name and form, it would realize itself as the stable Conscious-Selfthe same everywhere in soul essence, but varying in soul-form. The soul-form is the individual divine. But this is all One, not the many; there is no individualization…All is developed in Unity and as one… all is held by this divine consciousness as forms of existence, not as in any degree separate existences.
There appears a two-fold Reality at this stage of divine manifestationon one hand there is the universal absolute, the Universal Selfon the other hand, the Absolute expresses itself for the first time in the beginning of individuality of uniqueness-yet individuality and uniqueness are still in complete harmony with the divine.
There is thus a DIALECTIC between the Universal and the individual, the Universal expressing itself in and up-holding the individual, the individual realizing the identity with the Universal. The dialectic would express itself in the perfect qualities given by the Divine Names. All these qualities come into being when when there is an individuality against which the Universal can “bounce off” its own Essence. Were there only to be the Universal, there would be no manifestation but only the qualities of Supreme Un-manifest Consciousness.
FROM THE DIALECTIC BETWEEN THE TWO ARISES UNITY INTO MULTIPLICITY.
Plato’s Idea of Good is suggestive of a divine model or archetype from which all springs and toward which all that has become must again return.
THE MYSTICAL ASCENT
IE. Richard of St. Victor, (d.1173) moves beyond the dialectic of negative/positive into a coincidencia oppossitorum or coincodence of opposites (Chase 37-38). Building on the relationship of dissimilar similarity, Richard uses this dialectic of opposites to express certain distinctions in the contemplative quest. One example is the two Cherubim, which represent the final two stages. They symbolize various opposites, which are to be held in tension. Under the protection of their wings, we express the desire to be led above ourselves.
That for awhile our mind might know nothing of itself while it is astounded as it is suspended. (Zinn Richard, 272) The ultimate goal here is “alienation of mind” which leads to contemplative ecstacy of mind by means of anagogic endeavors.
“Unity is the form of being for individual things”
“All things are beings through the One.”
The eternal LOGOS is the key to hierarchy and to Reality. This LOGOS or REASON is the power behind all physical manifestation. Man is a unit of hierarchy bearing the imprint of the Divine Mind, (a potential of Being). The Christ-Conscious One, is one who has attained the hierarchical office of the Christ or Intelligible.
The levels of hierarchy are emanations of light and through the law of attraction, we too can raise our own consciousness to match the light of the emanation above us, so that we can rise on the ladder of evolution in the GREAT CHAIN OF BEING. Thereby raising those levels below us on this spiritual hierarchy.
The idea of a succession of hierarchies of Divine Beings is an old and widespread idea. In fact, even Origen, an Alexandrian theologian taught the Neoplatonic vision of Being as emanation from and return to the One. His view of the trinity was that God the Father is the One and that the Son is eternally generated or emanated from the One somewhat like Mind is. Thus the son has lesser being than the Father, but when the Spirit is worked into the Trinity, an intimate UNITY occurs.
This is similar to the Theosophical view of evolution of man seen primarily as a god spark cycling down the arc of matter through a series of gradations until the lowest point is reached, and then, rounding the curve it begins the renascent, now with the light of the awakened mind and free will urging it up the arc of spirit, to regain the wings of its immortality and become a knowing god among gods. According to Theosophy, we have turned past the axial point and are moving up towards the Ascent phase where we will eventually etherealize.
In fact, the most detailed and comprehensive account of the Angelic or creative Demiurges available is from Rudolph Steiner’s teachings. He differed though in his evolutionary or ascending emphasis. He considered the spiritual hierarchies were stages of evolution from the physical, rather the stages of emanation to descent. But the description of the spiritual hierarchies themselves is pretty much in keeping with the consensus.
It is so that from the relatively singular realm of the angels split realm arises. One part tends upwards into the heavens, the other down to earth. August 3, 1924, detail drawing from the Realm of the Angels.
Steiner adopted the notion of “Spiritual Hierarchies” notion from Christian Neo-Platonism. He described these spiritual beings as the creative beings who shaped the world and human consciousness.
LAW OF CORRESPONDENCE
The triad and the mean analogy put forth by Proclus applies to “the law of correspondence.” The life that beats your heart is a triad of motion, consisting of tripartite energies. The Holy Trinity of the Father, Son and Holy Spiritof body, mind and soul; of thesis, antithesis and synthesis; of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva, of love, wisdom and power. Yet the ONE FLAME OF LIFE IS THE SAME FOR ALL.
Huston Smith’s Cosmology adds one more level to his analogy or ana-logoi:
· Spirit/InfiniteGod unmanifest: Godhead or the Infinite
· Soul/CelestialGod manifest: the celestial plane
· Mind/IntermediateThe world in all the visible aspects: mind and the vital principle; the intermediate plane.
· Body/Terrestialthe world as visible: space, time and matter; the terrestrial plane
Here we have a basic cosmology consisting of physical reality; intermediate or psychic reality; spiritual and Divine reality; Absolute Reality or Godhead or source.
THE FALLEN SOUL
The Christian doctrine incorporates the concept of the “original sin” and Salvation. The Neoplatonists believed that evil was a misplaced desire for Good. This is a state where the soul becomes enslaved to that which it must rule, (matter), and has lost its memory of its’ divine nature, all the while the divine nature of each soul is guiding it from above. The souls suffers while its’ higher part is unaffected and is without flaw and desires the souls eventual return with the Creator.
The song “Lost Chord” and “Amazing Grace” rings in my ears as I visualize the soul being redeemed by its saviour. In exoteric Christianity, it is our belief in Jesus, which gives us the grace and opportunity of the return to our pristine nature before the fall.
For Origen, the drama of salvation is played out not in human history, but in the Upper reaches in the realm of the Soul, and merely enacted in the realm of matter; only in this way can the salvation secured for humansthe possibility of overcoming sin so as too enjoy the mystical ascent to God through union of the soul with Christ’s Soulbe made efficacious. To him nothing so spectacular could be made in the realm of matter.
It is through Holy Contemplation that we are able to receive the return energy of the One interpreted through the Intelligible and received from the rational portion of our soul.
‘In turning towards Itself the One sees.” Through prayer and or invocation to the deity, the soul lifts itself up into its higher, rational faculty.
The drama of existence occurs when the soul forgets its original unity with the One. The original task of the soul is to be a shepherd of the Logoi. Its goal is to take differentiated Ideas into matter and then return these Ideas to the Divine. (These ideas can be seen as virtues such as-selflessness, sacrifice and service, which are all qualities emulated by Good Christians. Also, FAITH, HOPE and CHARITY, can be equated to Will, Wisdom and Love or Temperance. In fact, by practicing DIVINE VIRTUES, we are able to bring Heaven or the One closer to us here on Earth.
Here Dionysius afforded those early church fathers a way and means to come to terms with spiritual realities through Platonic terms such as using the term Virtue in place of Forms, etc.
THE ONE AND THE MANY
The SOUL is both the One and the Many. It is both Contemplation and Action. Its first task is to contemplate the Intelligible which is its prior in the chain of existents, and also extend itself through acting upon or actualizing its own thoughts. The action part of the soul is where we can govern and directly craft the cosmos.
There is an empowerment given to the object of vision to the one who views it-therefore through the act of contemplation,.the soul knows the prior source of power and imparts life to that which falls beneath the soul. This is both a Creative and Vivifying Act.
The unfallen level of the soul is in constant transcendent contemplation of the Nous. And the Intelligence or the Nous, contemplates the One and its own thoughts in the realm of Ideas or forms. It also is two-fold-1) It contemplates the power of the One, 2) it meditates upon the thoughts that are eternally present to it.
The Intelligence and Being are identical, or it is a storehouse of potential Being. To think is to Be. This is the Demiurge or god for the Christians, this would be the mediator as Jesus the Christ.
LOST DIVINITY IN HUMANITY
The soul is the lowest radiation of the Divine and it retains a trace of spiritual Beingness of the Higher Being. Below the soul is non-matter or non-being. The lower portion of the soul is limited to bodily passions, desires and appetites reside.
Matter is merely an unconscious receptive container and therefore impressionable. According to the Neoplatonists, it is impossible to be in matter and not be affected by it.
Our souls had fallen into a material existence in order to distill the heart of that experience; then, purified, it would return to the primal source in the spiritual and divine realms of Being. But to remain immersed in material involvements was held to be a debasement of the soul, from which it must free itself.
There is a need of the soul for matter and matter for the soul, both helping each other in accordance with the law of necessity, souls following their own bent, magnetically attracted to material existence, while matter aspires or yearns towards spirit.
HOW THE DIALECTIC CAN SAVE THE SOUL
For the Christians, SALVATION was seen as a path of purification and GRACE. For the Neoplatonis, the souls salvation consists of bringing its mind back into line with the reasoning power or Logos of its source, which also is the soul. All order of the physical cosmos proceeds from the power of the Soul, and the existence of inividual souls is simply the manner in which the Soul exercises its governing power over the realm of the passive nature. When the individual soul forgets the primal reality or truththat it is the principle of order and reason in the cosmosit will look to the products od sense-perception for its knowledge, and will ultimately allow itself to be shaped by its experiences, instead of using its experiences as tools for shaping the cosmos.
The DIALECTIC is a tool for the individual soul for divine ordering. It accomplishes this order as it seeks to attain the unifying knowledge of the Divinity. This process is a gradual extraction or a form of purification, which alternates between synthesis and analysis, arriving at principle. First it dissolves tensions and then it fully realizes itself as essential UNITY.
The act of contemplation and the knowledge of itself as the OTHER, is the ordering principle of the cosmos. The single thread of unity is the knowledge of itself as both subordinate and prior. This power unifies both the One and the soul. This is a MYSTICAL ASCENT.
The Platonian notion of personal integrity and being “true to yourself” carries over into the notion of “not thy will, but Gods’ be done.” For truly Knowing Yourself, is knowing yourself as the ONE. And if you act in accordance with your own conscience or inner-principles you will be happy. As JESUS says, “What would man gain by winning the whole world at the cost to his True Self.”
When the soul is devoid of any referential or any orientational source, any claim to rulership over matter- it becomes a slave to that over which it should rule, by divine right. Since matter is impassive, when the soul comes under the sway of matter, through its tragic forgetting of its source, it is affected by any and every emotion or event that comes its way, and all but loses its divinity.
Since the soul is capable of both contemplation and action, it is capable of falling into entrapment or confusion amidst the chaos, which in its worst form is evil. Evil is only experienced by the soul. (For the One all is Good.) This is the notion of Hell or Satan.
Love , (Eros), is the remedy of evil or an enslaved soul. Platonic Love is a longing for union with its Source, its true condition. Love is the Child of Poverty and Possession. The soul is experiencing a certain “poverty of being” and longs to possess that which it has ‘lost’ This amounts to a spiritual desire. This type of love is gained through Contemplation.
The soul will find true happiness when it discovers a vison of Beauty and true source of the knowledge of that Beauty. It will discover itself as identical with the Highest Soul and realize that its embodiment and contact with matter was a necessary expression of the Being
This experience is not only an inner revelation but contributes directly to the maintenance of the cosmos. It is the souls duty to shape and provide an image of eternity for matter .
The process of the Soul’s fragmentation into individual souls, its experience of evil and love and its eventual attainment of happiness, is a necessary and eternal movement taking place at the point of emanation of the power that is ONE, manifested in the Intelligence and activated at the level of the Soul.
The Christians main doctrine is to “Love thy neighbor as thyself.” This is the same as saying love the many as the One.
Plotinus envisaged us to be miniature universes, a replica of the large universe, that which we seek is to rejoin divinity by making ourselves one out of our manyness. This is enacted out anytime we yearn for Oneness with the Divine and through this yearning for Absolute Beauty. By our impoverished notions of incompleteness and our wanting something Good in order to make us Complete or whole, we than birth Eros or Love, which is the means of our own soul salvation. Thus Soul, even in its lowest form, returns to the One in a kind of mystical ascent up through the hierarchy of Being.
Our goal is to be selfconscious masters of life. There are always new worlds of experience in which to become selfconscious masters of life. We are on an evolutionary journey from an unselfconscious god-spark to a selfconscious God.
Due to the Neoplatonists and Dionysius in particular, we have this knowledge of our inner Being:
THE GOAL OF THE PHILOSOPHER IS TO “STRIVE TO BRING BACK THE GOD IN YOURSELVES TO THE GOD IN ALL.”
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