St. Dionysius

15 05 2008


The Holy Father’s catechetical discourse yesterday was on the role of St. Dionysius the Areopagite in Catholic theology. I think it was a much needed reflection on Dionysius’ thinking as a helpful remedy to the spiritual malaise of the Christian West.

I found that some people have said that the Holy Father was beginning to sound “Orthodox”. Many think that speaking of hierarchies, Divine Light, and apophaticism is something that has become foreign and exotic to the Western Christian mind, more suited to Easterners. That has not always been the case as many things I have posted on this blog suggest. The divines of fifteenth century Florence were perfectly at home in the texts of Dionysius, as was Meister Eckhart and various Rhine mystics. Fray Luis de Leon also was very Dionysian, as were all the other Spanish mystics as the Holy Father points out. It is arguable from my perspective that the glories of Christendom are due to the élan that Dionyisian Neoplatonism bestowed on Christian consciousness, and our decline is due to the belittling of the figure of Dionysius the Areopagite. (It was Martin Luther himself who dismissed Dionysius as being “more Platonic than Christian”).

Two thoughts that I had:

1. A quote that the Holy Father cites from Dionysius’ Seventh Epistle: “I would not like to cause polemics; I simply speak of the truth; I seek the truth”. That best reflects the ethos of the late Neoplatonic approach to philosophy: since the truth is beyond all human thought and words, there is very little point in arguing or quibbling over its details. Many Neoplatonists were profound reconcilers: both Proclus and Pico della Mirandola, for example, sought to unite the thought of Aristotle and Plato, saying that both were true when applied to their legitimate realms. The role of human discourse is to silence the mind so that it can adequately approach Divine Truth. It does this in a sense of surrender and awe, not of polemic and control.

2. In this way, I have always wondered how people could argue so much about the meaning of Patristic texts in particular. I guess when I read them, I didn’t read them to prove a point or win an arguement. I read them in a seminary or monastery in order to help me pray and meditate. So I could really care less about the gnomic will in St. Maximus Confessor unless it leads me to peace and contemplation. That doesn’t make me holier than anyone else. I guess I just feel that maybe people who argue these things are missing the point of these texts. They are means to a higher end. Heck, I even read St. Thomas Aquinas this way. I prefer a cultic rather than a dogmatic reading.

Maybe that is what the Holy Father is saying the world needs.

On the Oneness of Truth

15 05 2008

But this single truth, embodied in many different virtues, cannot be the first truth of all, since it is distributed among many virtues, it is in something else. And whatever lies in another certainly derives from another. However, a single truth is not derived from a multitude of concepts. For what is one must derive from one. Therefore, above the soul of man there must be a single wisdom which is not divided among various concepts, but is a single wisdom, from whose single truth the manifold truth of men derives.

-Marsilio Ficino, Commentary on Plato’s Symposium on Love