Kyparissiotes: Decade 2.4
March 1, 2011
From John Kyparissiotes, Decades, PG 152, 764 A – 765 B.
Chapter Four. That it is impossible for those in the body to theologize apart from bodily things.
Gregory the Theologian, in his Second Theological Oration, says:
“Just as it is impossible for a man to step over his own shadow, however fast he may move (for the shadow will always move on as fast as it is being overtaken) or … for a fish to glide about outside of the waters; so it is quite impracticable for those who are in the body to be conversant with objects of pure thought apart altogether from bodily objects. For something in our own environment is ever creeping in, even when the mind has most fully detached itself from the visible, and collected itself, and is attempting to apply itself to those invisible things which are akin to itself.”
[2.4.1] Gregory of Nazianzus, or. 28.12; PG 36, 41 B.
Again, the same father, in the same oration, says:
“Shall we pause here, after discussing nothing further than matter and visible things? Or, since the Word knows the tabernacle of Moses to be a figure of the whole creation — I mean the entire system of things visible and invisible — shall we pass the first veil, and stepping beyond the realm of sense, shall we look into the holy place, the intellectual and celestial creation? But not even this can we see in an incorporeal way, though it is incorporeal, since it is called — or is — fire and spirit.”
[2.4.2] Gregory of Nazianzus, or. 28.31; PG 36, 69 D - 72 A.
And a little before this:
“Are not spirit, and fire, and light names of the divine nature? What then? Can you conceive of spirit apart from motion and diffusion; or of fire without its fuel and its upward motion, and its proper color and form? Or of light unmingled with air, and loosed from that which is as it were its father and source?”
[2.4.3] Gregory of Nazianzus, or. 28.13; PG 36, 41 C.
And again, a little further on, he says:
“Or are we rather to leave all these things, and to look at the deity absolutely, as best we can, collecting a fragmentary perception of it from its images?”
[2.4.4] Gregory of Nazianzus, or. 28.13; PG 36, 44 A.
“All knowledge belonging to this world, even that which is exceedingly high and lofty, when compared to that knowledge which belongs to the world to come, is fragmentary (στοιχειώδης) and as it were an image of a living character, something which will no longer be when the true life and knowledge shall appear. For, he says, ‘knowledges shall cease, and prophecies shall be done away with’ (1 Cor 13:8).”
[2.4.5] Maximus the Confessor, Capitum quinquies centenorum centuria II, 47; PG 90, 1237 B. (The wording of Kyparissiotes' text differs towards the end from the text in Migne.)
Rightly, therefore, also Basil the Great has theologized:
“Even if you know something of those things that are beyond [the ages], they come below the Spirit.”
[2.4.6] Paraphrase of Basil, De Spiritu Sancto 19.49; PG 32, 156 D - 157 A. Thanks to Will Huysman for supplying this reference.
And the most theological Dionysius says:
“Since it is impossible for our mind to be drawn up to that immaterial imitation and contemplation of the celestial hierarchies unless it makes use of the material form of guidance which is proper to its own nature.”
[2.4.7] Ps.-Dionysius, De caelesti hierarchia 1.3; PG 3, 121 C-D.
And again, the same author:
“So long as we are in the body, it is not possible for the divine, primordial ray to shine upon us in any other way than anagogically [that is, by our engaging in a process of spiritual ascent], shrouded about by the variety of the sacred coverings — this ray which, by the Father’s providence, has been natively and properly adapted to those things that befit our nature.”
[2.4.8] Ps.-Dionysius, De caelesti hierarchia 1.2; PG 3, 121 B-C.
In commenting on this, the divine Maximus says:
“While we are in the body, it is impossible for us to gaze upon bodiless and immaterial things apart from types and symbols.”
[2.4.9] Maximus the Confessor, in librum De caelesti hierarchia, PG 4, 32 C.
From these things, then, it becomes clear that, given that our mind is unable, on its own, to feel its way forward and stretch towards the imitation and contemplation of angels, unless it makes use of the material and perceptible guidance which is adapted to its own nature — how then shall it encounter a contemplation of God that is free from matter and body? For this reason, moreover, it is impossible for those who are in the body to ascend to the contemplation of God apart from bodily things. And if, walking upon emptiness towards realities, whatever one supposes they are, that are above this temporal world (τὰ ὑπὲρ αἰῶνα), we should inquire what existed even before these things, neither in this case would we be standing apart from bodily things and from those things that are of the same order as the soul and which, as though by an utterly infinite measure, fall short of the supersubstantial Spirit.