Ordinarily we don’t think about what caused what is. Ordinarily we might never encounter a venerable fifth century Greek theologian/philosopher. But today I introduce both because they align with each other and have floated wisdom through 15 centuries. And because as author of Voice and Vision, I get to share what I find inspiring. Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite is such a find.
Who precisely this man was is unclear to historians, though he associates himself with the Dionysius mentioned in the Bible (Acts 17:34). But does it matter when his words and ideas have influenced thinking for centuries? Thomas Aquinas, that hugely influential Christian Father and Doctor of reason, quoted him 1,700 times.
I will quote him only a few times here, but hopefully sufficiently to entice you to appreciate his ideas and pursue his writing.
First, I’d like to mention why I like him. Why he, a Greek whose date of birth is not even certain, (though, apparently, he lived in the 5th/6th centuries) speaks to me here in the twenty-first century. I’ve always sought God. I care to know God as fully as possible, to understand the Creator of all that is. Pseudo-Dionysius, amongst others, has been one important source for my spiritual study.
In seminary we were assigned to read the complete works of Pseudo-Dionysius. Much of what I read resonated with me. He speaks of God as the “divine Mind” and “the Cause of all things” with “a foreknowledge of all things.” In his chapter on Celestial Hierarchy he writes: “The goal of a hierarchy, then, is to enable beings to be as like as possible to God and to be at one with him. A hierarchy has God as its leader of all understanding and action. It is forever looking directly at the comeliness of God . . . bears in itself the mark of God . . . causes its members to be images of God in all respects, to be clear and spotless mirrors reflecting the glow of primordial light and indeed of God himself.” Pseudo-Dionysius identifies God, Logos or Word, as “simple total truth . . . pure and unwavering knowledge of all . . . the one sure foundation” building the truth in us “as something unshakably firm.”
What then is evil? Pseudo-Dionysius says “evil has no substance,” it is an “accident,” a “deficiency of the Good” without power, “evil has no being nor does it inhere in the things that have being. There is no place for evil as such and its origin is due to a defect rather than to a capacity.” He explains: “evil is contrary to progress, purpose, nature, cause, source, goal, definition, will, and substance. It is a defect, a deficiency, a weakness, a disproportion, a sin. It is purposeless, ugly, lifeless, mindless, unreasonable, imperfect, unfounded, uncaused, indeterminate, unborn, inert, powerless, disordered. It is errant, indefinite, dark, insubstantial, never in itself possessed of any existence.” And he adds, “Whatever is totally lacking in a share of the Good has no being and no power, and if the Good has being, will, power, and action, how can that which is its opposite–that which lacks being, will, power, and activity–have any power against it?”
You can see why I like this thinker. You might, too.
Artwork: Nova Scotian Beach, framed watercolor, approximately 22″ x 12″, on loan. A beach has always been a place of transcendence for me. Be it Lake Michigan shores where I spent a quarter of my life or Pemaquid Beach where I now wander, living in Maine, or visiting shores such as in Normandy, France, or Kauai, Hawaii, or this one in Nova Scotia. Every beach speaks of spiritual solitude–a place where thoughts can run deep and Mind communicates.