Kyparissiotes: Decade 1.5
January 10, 2011
From John Kyparissiotes, Decades, PG 152, 752 C – 754 A.
Chapter Five. That all sacred depiction of angels as well is to be referred to this branch of symbolic theology.
Dionysius the Great, in chapter 2 of his Celestial Hierarchy:
Then it will be necessary to say in what sacred forms the sacred writings of the learned depict the celestial orders, and to what sort of simplicity we must be brought on account of these representations; in order that we also may not, like the vulgar, irreverently think that the heavenly and godlike minds are many-footed and many-faced creatures, or molded to the brutishness of oxen, or to the savage form of lions, and fashioned like the hooked beaks of eagles, or the feathery down of birds, and should imagine that there are wheels of fire above the heaven, or material thrones upon which the Godhead reclines, or many-colored horses, and spear-bearing leaders of the host, and whatever else was transmitted by the scriptures to us under multifarious symbols of sacred imagery.
[1.5.1] Dionysius, Caelestis hierarchia 2.1; PG 3, 136 D - 137 A.
The same author, in the same chapter:
And I do not suppose that any sensible man will deny that the incongruous [ones] elevate our mind more than do those that are more similar; for, in the case of the more sublime representations of heavenly things, we are more apt to be led astray, so as to think that heavenly beings are certain creatures who have an appearance of gold, or certain men with the appearance of light, glittering like lightning, handsome, clothed in bright shining raiment, shedding forth innocuous flame, and so with regard to all the other shapes and appropriate forms with which the Word of God has depicted the heavenly minds. To prevent people from suffering from this error, by thinking these things to be nothing more exalted than their beautiful appearance, the elevating wisdom of the pious theologians reverently guides us to the incongruous dissimilarities, not permitting our earthly part to rest fixed in the base images, but urging the upward tendency of the soul, and goading it by the inappropriateness of the phrases (to see) that it belongs neither to lawful nor seeming truth, even for those who are most addicted to matter, that the most heavenly and divine visions should actually be like things so base.
[1.5.2] Dionysius, Caelestis hierarchia 2.3; PG 3, 141 A-C.
Here therefore it is clear that the divine knowledge of sacred scripture has made use of sacred forms of portrayal, not only in the case of divine apparitions concerning the nature of God, who is above nature, but also in the case of the angels, who cannot be represented; so that, even to this extent, we are entitled to take into account the nature of symbols.