Kyparissiotes: Decade 1.4

January 10, 2011

From John Kyparissiotes, Decades, PG 152, 751 B – 752 C.

Chapter 4: That the symbolic theology that is manifested in a perceptible form has the property of being shaped out of certain divine and sacred apparitions.

The great Dionysius, in his first chapter On the Divine Names, says:

Further also, theologians do not honor only those divine names which arise from God’s universal or particular providences, or from the objects of his forethought; but also, from certain divine apparitions (θείων φασμάτων) that occurred from time to time in the sacred temples or elsewhere, which enlightened initiates or prophets, they name the surpassing bright Goodness which transcends all name after this or that cause or power, and clothe it in forms and shapes, whether of man, or of fire, or amber, and celebrate its eyes and ears, and locks of hair, and countenance, and hands, and back, and wings, and arms, and hind parts, and feet. Also they assign to it crowns, and seats, and drinking vessels and bowls, and certain other mystical things, concerning which, in our Symbolic Theology, we will speak as best we can.

[1.4.1] Dionysius, De divinis nominibus I.8; PG 3, 597 A-B.

And in the second chapter of his Celestial Hierarchy he says:

For someone might say that the cause why forms are naturally attributed to the Formless, and shapes to the Shapeless, is not alone our analogical faculty, which cannot elevate itself immediately to intelligible contemplations, but needs appropriate, cognate anagogies (that is, upward-leading comparisons), presenting images, suitable to us, of the formless and supernatural objects of contemplation; but further, that it is most agreeable to the mystical texts to conceal things through hidden and sacred enigmas, and to keep the holy and secret truth respecting the supermundane minds inaccessible to the multitude.

[1.4.2] Dionysius, Caelestis hierarchia 2.2, PG 3, 140 A-B.

Here therefore it is clear that all symbolic theology involves some kind of portrayal, whether it be in words, or in names, or, again, in forms subject to the senses; and, moreover, that it is especially proper to symbolic theology that it deal with those things that are perceived by the senses, with forms discerned from animals, or depicting and clothing things with their parts, and not only clothing them with things of this kind, but with all kinds of colors. As for all such things, that true theologian Dionysius calls them, in one word, “divine apparitions,” distinguishing them from profane and accidental apparitions.

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