Kyparissiotes: Decade 2.3
February 18, 2011
From John Kyparissiotes, Decades, PG 152, 762 A – 764 A.
Chapter Three. That, through every kind of theology, reason progresses by way of “mirrors” and “enigmas.”
The great, divinely-speaking Apostle Paul says:
“We walk now in mirrors and enigmas.”
[2.3.1] 1 Cor 13:12.*
“We know in part, and we prophesy in part; but when that which is perfect is come, then also that which is in part shall be done away with.”
[2.3.2] 1 Cor 13:9-10.
“We walk by faith, and not by sight.”
[2.3.3] 2 Cor 5:7.
The brilliant Basil, who had thoroughly considered these things, says:
“As for the ‘face to face’ [vision] and the perfect knowledge, it is promised that they shall be given in the age to come to those who are worthy; but, for the present, even if someone is a Paul or a Peter, he truly sees those things which he sees, and does not err; nevertheless, he sees through a mirror and in an enigma. But he who now receives with thankfulness that which is in part awaits with brilliant expectation what is perfect in the future.”
[2.3.4] Not yet found.**
And with him also Gregory the Theologian says:
“Wherefore he estimates all knowledge here below as no more than mirrors and enigmas, as based upon little images of the truth.”
[2.3.5] Gregory of Nazianzus, or. 28.20; PG 36, 52 C.
And again, the same author, in his oration Concerning the appointment of bishops:
“But what person is he who can be so lifted up as to attain to the measure of Paul? But, nevertheless, he sees ‘through an enigma,’ and [he says] a time will come when he shall see ‘face to face.'”
[2.3.6] Gregory of Nazianzus, or. 20.12; PG 35, 1080 B.
And again, in the same oration:
“How is it that sense perception, while remaining in the same subject, is drawn to that which is outside it? How does mind remain within itself and beget a word in another mind? How, by a word, is a thought conveyed? … If you do not understand any of these things, O man — but perhaps you shall understand them one day, when you have attained what is perfect; for he says, ‘I shall behold the heavens, the works of thy fingers’ (Ps 8:3 LXX), as though conjecturing that those things that are now seen are not the truth, but truth’s images … — how then can you suppose that you have an exact knowledge of God, both of what and of how great he is?”
[2.3.7] Gregory of Nazianzus, or. 20.11; PG 35, 1077 C - 1080 A.
And, besides these things, Dionysius the Great says:
“And indeed, in the celebrations of the most holy mysteries, neither our own hierophants, nor those of the tradition of the law, abstain from God-befitting symbols. Indeed, we see even the all-hallowed angels mystically advancing divine things through enigmas; and we see Jesus himself theologizing in parables, and transmitting the divinizing mysteries through the type of a table being spread. For it was fitting, not only that the holy of holies should be preserved undefiled by the multitude, but also that human life, which is at once indivisible and divisible, should be illuminated by divine knowledge in a manner suitable to itself; and that the passionless part of the soul should be devoted to simple and most inward visions of the godlike images, but that its impassioned part should serve, and at the same time strive upwards toward, things most divine, by the pre-arranged representations of symbolic types, since such coverings are, by nature, akin to it.”
[2.3.8] Ps.-Dionysius, Ep. ad Titum, 1; PG 3, 1105 D - 1108 B.
And the divine Maximus in his theological writings:
“The Lord sometimes is absent, and sometimes is present. He is absent with respect to the face-to-face vision; he is present with respect to the vision ‘in a mirror and enigmas.'”
[2.3.9] Maximus the Confessor, Capitum theol. et oecon. centuria II, 57; PG 90, 1149 B.
And again, the same father in his Third Century on Love says:
“We walk by faith, not by sight, and we possess knowledge in mirrors and enigmas. And, for this reason, we need to make these things our urgent business; so that, by our longstanding care for them and our familiar conversation with them, we may make it difficult for anything to deprive us of our habitual possession of the things we are contemplating.”
[2.3.10] Maximus the Confessor, Capitum de charitate centuria III, 69; PG 90, 1037 B-C.
From these things it becomes clear that our soul deals with all of theology in a way that is thoroughly natural to it, deriving impressions of types and concepts from things kindred to itself, things divisible. Whether these impressions are drawn from material formations or, instead, are derived from things which lie, without any [material] covering, solely where these present beauties are visible, they are not the truth itself, but truth’s images. Thus it is fitting, on account of both of these things, that all knowledge that characterizes [the soul] does not go beyond mirrors and enigmas — that is to say, it does not get beyond the soul’s own divisible and imperfect [nature]. But when in fact what is perfect shall come to it, then that thing in it which is in part, and its own divisibility, will be done away with, and it will see face to face; that is, it will see things immaterial immaterially, and things indivisible indivisibly.
* * *
*[On 2.3.1] Kyparissiotes may be citing from memory; his text (in Ottoboniensis gr. 99, fol. 120v) has ἄρτι ἐν ἐσόπτροις καὶ ἐν αἰνίγμασι περιπατοῦμεν. The reader may be more familiar with the translation, “For now we see through a glass, darkly.” The word “enigma” comes from a Greek verb which means to hint, to speak in riddles; those connotations should be kept in mind when one reads the current Decade, which largely is concerned with the meaning of the vision of God “through a mirror, in an enigma.”
**[On 2.3.4] Torres states that the citation is from Basil’s oratio de confessione fidei; this title does not correspond exactly to any work of Basil’s that I know of; I checked the sermon De fide (PG 31, 464-472), and did not find the text there.