Kyparissiotes: Decade 2.5
April 27, 2011
From John Kyparissiotes, Decades, PG 152, 765 B – 767 A.
Chapter Five. That neither can we attain, or theologize with, a complete mental picture of God in this present age, nor can we do so with any other of those things which take shape in us by way of abstraction from images.
Gregory the Theologian, in his Second Theological Oration, says:
“Abraham, great patriarch though he was, was justified by faith, and offered a strange victim, the type of the great sacrifice. Yet he saw not God as God, but gave him food as a man. He was approved because he worshiped as far as he comprehended.”
[2.5.1] Gregory of Nazianzus, or. 28.18; PG 36, 49 A-B.
And, in the same place, when speaking about Jacob, he says:
“And he wrestled with God as though with a man — whatever this wrestling of God with man may mean: possibly it refers to a comparison of human with divine virtue.”
[2.5.2] Gregory of Nazianzus, or. 28.18; PG 36, 49 B.
Again, in the same place:
“And are you not amazed at Manoah the judge of yore, and at Peter the disciple in later days? Of these, the one was unable to endure the sight even of one in whom was a representation of God; and, for this reason, he said: ‘We are undone, O wife: we have seen God!’ — as though a divine apparition should not be visible to human beings, lest the nature should be [visible] as well. And the other [thought that] Christ, in his boat, should not be approached, and therefore bade him depart.”
[2.5.3] Gregory of Nazianzus, or. 28.19; PG 36, 49 D (Kyparissiotes' text differs slightly from the text in Migne).
“Nor is there an accurate comprehension even of the creation. For even of this I would have you to know that you possess only a shadow when you hear the words, ‘I will consider the heavens, the works of thy fingers, the moon and the stars’ (Ps 8:3), and the rationality therein; as for this rationality, one sees it not now, but there will be [a time] when one will see it; and, even so, it is sketched out in shadows to the mind alone, and this in a very murky and qualified way.”
[2.5.4] Gregory of Nazianzus, or. 28.5; PG 36, 32 B.
And Gregory of Nyssa says:
“How may that be discovered which is indicated by not one of the things that are known, not shape, not quantity, not quality, not place, not conjecture, not comparison, not analogy, but which is always found to lie outside every avenue leading to comprehension?”
[2.5.5] Gregory of Nyssa, In Canticum canticorum, sermo xii; GNO vol. 6, p. 357, lines 10 ff.; PG 44, 1028 B.
And again, the same author:
“For this is its most specific identifying mark, that its nature is above any identifying mark that might characterize it.”
[2.5.6] Gregory of Nyssa, Contra Eunomium, book 1, ch. 1, sec. 373, lines 6 ff.; PG 45 368 B.
And the most theological Dionysius:
“Therefore, it is not permitted to any of those who are lovers of the Truth above all Truth to hymn the primordially divine superessentiality (whatever may be the subsisting reality of its supergoodness) as word or power, or, again, as mind or essence or life; it is preeminently separated from every condition, movement, life, imagination, opinion, name, word, thought, conception, essence, position, stability, union, boundary, infinitude, all things whatever.”
[2.5.7] Ps.-Dionysius, De divinis nominibus, cap. 1, §5; PG 3, 593 C.
From these things it becomes clear that God is not comprehended or theologized by us according to a complete mental picture or by any abstraction from images [ἐπίνοια], but that he stands outside all such things. For every mental image is made use of in one or another of three ways. One way is as a depicter of perceptions: the image reproduces in the memory whatsoever things have been taken in by the senses; it, so to speak, articulates such percepts according to their several kinds in an orderly way; and they say that this mental image is also a “healthy offspring of a great nature.” In another way, a mental image serves to express certain vague resonances of things [αἰπηχημάτων], and in no way allows any abiding stability of the things that are imagined; but there is a mingling and a confusion of images, and, one after another, shifting images are put forth and, before they hardly appear before the mind, they fall away from the imagined objects, and are of no benefit towards imagining them; of this kind is the imagination that characterizes nightmares in one’s sleep, and aimless, irrational wanderings of daydream phantasies. A third kind of image is the imagined approbation that occurs in practical matters, which issues forth without a correct process of reasoning, and which, by phantasy, phantasizes that what is not actually is, and is pleased by things that are not pleasant, and, again, is grieved where it ought to be pleased. And, if it is convinced, it is convinced by what ought never to convince it, but it loves and accepts things conjured up by the imagination as though they were some sort of divinely inscribed laws. And it argues contentiously, turning others towards its own error, as though this error were something most plain and obvious, something before one’s very eyes; those who have fallen into this state suffer an incurable condition. And, if they belong to those in power, matters are set for the destruction of states; if they are among the less powerful, they will not desist until they have destroyed it so far as they are able. These two kinds of images, therefore, should not even be brought to mind among ideas about God that are acceptable; but even the praiseworthy kind of image lies incomparably behind those things that ought to be considered about God.