Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Pseudo-Dionysius and Theurgy


When Iamblichean theurgy is properly understood, the Christian theurgy of Dionysius may be seen as an example of the same kind of theurgy that Iamblichus defined in the De mysteriis.

Bradshaw "Aristotle East and West"

185 The theme of synergy with God appears repeatedly throughout these works. Because of its special closeness to God, the highest triad of angels "is especially worthy of communion and cooperation with God and of sharing the beauty of His condition and activities." CH VII.4 212A The activity of hierarchs is divinized by their leader, Christ, and the laying on of hands teaches clerics to perform their activities with God as their guide. (EH I.1 372B, V.3.3 512A) Such participation reaches even to the lowest rank, those being purified, for it is a general rule that every rank in a hierarchy is lifted up to synergy with God according to its proper degree. (CH III.3 168A see also the references to human synergy with th angels DN XI.5 953A and to that of the worshipping assembly with its hierarch EH II.2.4 393C) The most extended discussion of synergy is in Chapter 13 of the CH. There Dionysius asks why Scipture says that Isaiah was visited and puridied by a seraphim, whereas according to the order of the hierarchy the visitor ought to have been merely an angel. His answer is that the one who purified Isaiah actually was an angel, but that the angel properly and correctly attributed his work to "the highest rank of the hierarchy, since it is through the highest rank that the divine illumination is distributed to the lower. (CH XIII.3 301D-304B)" Dionysius goes on to point out that there is a similar causal dependence within the ecclesiastical hierarchy, in which priests and deacons correctly ascribe their own sacred activity to their hierarch. The seraphim is, as it were, the "primary hierarch" of the angel who purified Isaiah. (CH XIII.4 305C-D cf. EH V.1.7 508C)

103 the sacrament re-orders the soul disordered by embodiment and makes man a Christ.
(use with Pico on disordered soul/happiness)

110 With the sacramental system of Dionysius, we see a liturgy composed of the basic elements of the Eastern Church, described according to the phenomenology of theurgy. In the EH, Dionysius describes the progress from initiation to perfe tion most profoundly brough forth in the sacraments (teletai) of baptism and the eucharist. These particular sacraments each bring about a different level of participation, both of which are salvific, but only the perfecting sacrament of the eucharist completes man to make him a christ, or theorgos. As with theurgy according to Iamblichus and Proclus, Dionysian sacraments are efficacious only when they contain divine power - this power is harnessed by invoking the divine (in this case, the Holy Spirit), which comes down upon the matter of its own accord. The sacrament, moreover, works upon man once its materiality is re-ordered by divine power. This re-elementation, in turn, transfigures man when he had physically partaken of the material sacrament.

114 Sacraments work their power by re-arranging the soul's disorder and divinizing the human entity. This occurs because when the sacrament, which is truly God, is ingested or makes physical contact with man it intermingles with him. Dionysius explains that when the eucharist is consumed the disorder is ordered and the formless is enformed. With this, the soul is purufied and able to purify others, it is "formed of light', 'an initiate in God's works' (theourgikos). The divinized, perfect soul is a co-worker with God; it is a god itself. In 3seven2AB, Jesus uses theurgy to help us unify with the divine.

Theurgy, in the Dionysian sense as well as in the Neoplatonic, works by helping to assimilate those contemplating the divine with the divine. Here, the theurgy in question is Jesus' work as divinity, particularly his work in bestowing power appropriately so that we mimic the activity of the angels.

126 ...for even with this higher brand of theoria, ritual is still necessary for eliciting henosis. This is seen both in the angelic ranks, where primary contemplation is described as an 'initiation' by Jesus, and in the human realm, where the hierarch enters into mystical contemplation by the angels when he is fully initiated into the sacraments. Moral excellence is necessary for proper theoria--but this excellence is only part of the structure of initiation. The need to perform liturgies that are experienced is the mandate of henosis. This section will show that theoria as mystical contemplation is performative in function, very much as in the Neoplatonic theurgical tradition. Because the mystical contemplation of the hierarchs mimics angelic contemplation, this section will begin with an examination of angelic theoria. First and foremost, angelic ranks (the angelic hierachies) partake of a pure enlightenment because of their proximity to the One. Although all the angels are so called because they share a superior capacity to conform to the divine, ranks vary considerably in this power of divine conformity. This distinction in power means that those angels farther away from God rely on the first hierarchy of angelic beings for initiation into pure unification. We in the EH also receive light mediated through the connective angels. Our theoria, however, differs from that of lower angelic orders in that it begins with material symbols and has a limited performative function: primarily, theoria serves to purify us for higher unification which is hyper-noetic and non-discursive.

Based on the above-mentioned distinctions, angelic theoria is exhibited in nine different degrees according to the nine angelic orders. Although the ranks differ in degree of participation in the divine, generally the angelic orders are all characterized by a theomimetic thinking process (CH 180A). Just to expand on what was explained earlier, the three vertical ranks are divided again into three horizontal categories, equal in power. The ranks closer to God act as the initators of those less close and the last rank among the celestial beings are said to lack participation in the supreme powers.

Louth, Andrew. Denys the Areopagite
84 Denys' corrective to Neoplatonism

Denys, attracted by the subtlety of the Neoplatonic analysis of reality, must strive as a Christian to block off those aspects of the system that open the door to a doctrine of many gods. Denys does this in two ways... first, he qualifies the notion of emanation by insisting that being is derived from God alone; and secondly, he turns the doctrine of divine names into a doctrine of divine attributes (that is, attributes of God, the one God). Emanation, in a Neoplatonic sense, is a doctrine about the derivation of being; being derives from the One, but in the stream of emanated beings, each being receives from the one above it... creation is not restricted to the One, the whole realm of being that flows from the One is creative. Denys takes over the Neoplatonic idea of a scale of being, and also the idea that lower beings are dependent on higher beings, but he rejects any idea that being is passed down this scale of being: all beings are created immediately by God. The scale of being and the sense of dependence only has significance in the matter of illumination: light and knowledge flow from God down through the scale of being--each being becomes radiant with light and thus passes on light to beings lower down.

EH 429CD "[the theologians] teach that God himself thus gives substance and arrangement to everything that exists, including the legal hierarchy and society... they praise the divine works of Jesus the man ... and [they engage in] sacred writing about the divine songs, which have as an aim to praise all the divine words [theologiai] and divine works [theourgiai] and to celebrate the sacred words [hierologiai] and operations [hierourgiai] of sacred men, forms a universal song and exposition of divine things, granting to those chanting the sacred words sacredly the ability to receive and distribute the entire rite of the hierarchy."

Wear explains how this passage illuminates a difference between Iamblichan and Dionysian theurgy:
"This passage shows the difference between theourgia as the works of Jesus and hierourgia as the operations of sacred men, as well as the connection between the two: hierourgia is the ritual engagement and reproduction of theourgia. Iamblichus, in the De Mysteriis, on the other hand, presents theourgia as the work of men, albeit possibly only through the power of the gods, so that 'the theurgic priest, thorugh the power of ineffable emblems, commands the cosmic spirits, not as a human being (n.13) nor as one employing a human soul but existing above them in the order of the gods: but nonetheless, theurgic acts, according to Iamblichus, are performed by man, not God. Dionysian sacramental theology is thus fundamentally similar to Hellenic theourgia in that both use material symbola to harness divine energeia, but there is a subtle shift in terminology as between Dionysius and his Neoplatonic predecessors.

Naomi Janowitz
34 Dionysius the Areopagite, a fifth-century Christian theologian, offers a slightly modified theory of divine names; such names encode in themselves specific manifestations of the deity. He rejects the notion that divine names represent the deity iconically, which is familiar from Origen, but elaborates his own version of a special connection between a divine name and the deity. For him as well, divine names are far from arbitrary.

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