Kyparissiotes: Decade 1.2

January 3, 2011

From John Kyparissiotes, Decades, PG 152, 747 B – 750 A.

Chapter 2: That there are two kinds of symbolic theology as well.

In the same letter to Titus, the great Dionysius says:

We deemed it therefore incumbent upon us, both for Timothy’s sake and for others, that, to the extent of our ability, we should unfold the multitudinous forms that characterize symbolic hieroplastia (that is, representation of holy things) concerning God. For, if one views this only externally, with what incredible, contrived abnormalities is it filled? For instance, as to the superessential divine begetting, it represents this as a womb of God bodily giving birth to God; and it describes [this as] a word flowing out into the air from a man’s heart, which belches it, and a breath, breathed forth from a mouth; and it hymns God-bearing bosoms embracing God’s Son, in a bodily way; or it represents these things botanically, and puts forth certain trees, and branches, and flowers, and roots; or it gushes forth with fountains of waters; or with advancing light productions of reflected splendors; or with various other affirmative, sacred depictions concerning matters of superessential theology. But with regard to Almighty God’s intelligible acts of providence, whether they be gifts, or manifestations, or powers, or properties, or repose, or abidings, or progressions, or distinctions, or unions, it clothes Almighty God in human form, and in the varied shape of wild beasts and of other living creatures, and of plants, and of stones; and it attributes to him ornaments of women, or weapons of savages; and it assigns to him working in clay, and in a furnace, as it were to a sort of artisan; and it places under him horses and chariots and thrones; and spreads before him certain dainty meats delicately cooked; and represents him as drinking, and drunken, and sleeping, and suffering from crapulence. What would anyone say concerning the angers, the griefs, the various oaths, the repentances, the curses, the revenges, the manifold and dubious excuses for the failure of promises, the battle of giants in Genesis, during which God is said to scheme against those powerful and great men (and this when they were contriving the building, not with a view to injustice towards other people, but on behalf of their own safety)? And that counsel devised in heaven to deceive and mislead Ahab; and those mundane and meritricious passions in the Song of Songs; and all the other sacred compositions which appear in the description of God, which stick at nothing, as projections, and multiplications of hidden things, and divisions of things one and undivided, and formative and manifold forms of the shapeless and unformed. But if anyone were able to see the inner hidden beauty of these things, he would find every one of them mystical and godlike, and filled with abundant theological light.

[1.2.1] Dionysius, Letter 9, PG 3, 1104 C - 1105 C; tr. John Parker (London 1897); much revised.

And there is also the saying: They shall walk in the light of thy countenance (Ps 89:15), and In thy light shall we see light (Ps 36:9).

From these things, it is clear that symbolic theology is a hieroplastia (ἱεροπλαστία), that is, a representation of holy things, which, by means of divine signs and indications given through things outlined in a bodily way, sketches and depicts those bodiless and formless realities which are hidden in God. Moreover, it is to be noted that symbolic theology itself has various divisions. For either it is formed of words, such as “to sleep,” “to awaken,” “to be drunk,” “to repent,” and whatever else is asserted by words like these in scripture in a simple way; or else it is formed out of bodily forms, such as that fire that appeared at the bush, the vision of God seated upon a throne, the dove at the Jordan, the tongues of fire, and suchlike.

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