Bishop Gregory (hgr) wrote,
Bishop Gregory

Дионисий Ареопагит современным языком (2)

1.      Dionysius on the “Divine Names”: a Theory of “Divine Reference”


The world which is distinct from God but inwhich God is present becomes a world of signs. In Areopagite’s terminology, it is a world of divine names. Everything is a name of God. Indeed, such a worldview is fitting with the Neoplatonic line of thought. As it is rightly observed, “[f]or Dionysius… as for Plotinus and Proclus, the whole of reality, all that is, is theophany, the manifestation or appearance of God.”[1] However, in Dionysius, such a theophany becomes the ontological background of his doctrine of naming.


1.1. “Harmonization”: Dionysian Term for “to Refer”

[1] Perl, Eric D. Theophany. The Neoplatonic Philosophy of Dionysius the Areopagite. SUNY series in ancient Greek philosophy. N.Y.: SUNY Press, 2007, p. 32.

God is anonymous because he is above any name, but, nevertheless, he has many names. Dionysius introduces the very notion of divine name with explanation of this apparent paradox. His key notion here is “harmonization” (ἐφαρμονία, ἐναρμονία and other derivates of the same root). It is defined in the introductory chapter of his treatise on the divine names.[1]

Οὕτως οὖν τῇ πάντων αἰτίᾳ καὶ ὑπὲρ πάντα οὔσῃ καὶ τὸ ἀνώνυμον ἐφαρμόσει καὶ πάντα τὰ τῶν ὄντων ὀνόματα <…> Οὐ γὰρ συνοχῆς ἢ ζωῆς ἢ τελειώσεως αἰτία μόνον ἐστίν, ἵνα ἀπὸ μόνης ταύτης ἢ τῆς ἑτέρας προνοίας ἡ ὑπερώνυμος ἀγαθότης ὀνομασθείη. Πάντα δὲ ἁπλῶς καὶ ἀπεριορίστως ἐν ἑαυτῇ τὰ ὄντα προείληφε ταῖς παντελέσι τῆς μιᾶς αὐτῆς καὶ παναιτίου προνοίας ἀγαθότησι καὶ ἐκ τῶν ὄντων ἁπάντων ἐναρμονίως ὑμνεῖται καὶ ὀνομάζεται (DN 1:7, 596C-597A).[2]

Thus, all the names of created beings are “harmonized” with the Above-Any-Name (ὑπερώνυμος) Cause of everything by the “Nameless Goodness” of the Providence—by whom, as we know from Dionysius—the whole created world was created, is preserved in existence, and, eventually, is to be leaded to the completeness of deification. This is why God is simultaneously without any name and anonymous, and to be hymned with many names (πολυώνυμως, DN 1:6, 596AB) and even with any name:

<…>  οἱ θεολόγοι καὶ ὡς ἀνώνυμον αὐτὴν ὑμνοῦσι καὶ ἐκ παντὸς ὀνόματος (DN 1:6, 596A).[3]

Thus, the names of God are not exclusively the names known from the Bible and dealt with in the subsequent chapters of the De divinis nominibus, but the names of everything are the divine names, too. Dionysius specifies that even the name of the inexistence, μὴ ὄν, is also a name of God:

Τολμήσει δὲ καὶ τοῦτο εἰπεῖν ὁ λόγος, ὅτι καὶ τὸ μὴ ὂν μετέχει τοῦ καλοῦ καὶ ἀγαθοῦ, τότε γὰρ καὶ αὐτὸ καλὸν καὶ ἀγαθόν, ὅταν ἐν θεῷ κατὰ τὴν πάντων ἀφαίρεσιν ὑπερουσίως ὑμνεῖται. (DN 4:7, 704B).[4]

It is necessary here to specify what means μὴ ὂν in this context. Obviously, it is not the Divine Nothing, that is, God himself considered as the absolute inexistence. And this is not the kind of inexistence that Dionysius ascribes to the evil (s. below): the evil is impossibility to exist for a thing or an event which is necessary (that is, conform to the divine Providence). But here we are dealing with a simple μὴ ὂν: the absence of a created object A, regardless of its necessity or possibility.

There is no need to describe here how these different kinds of the names of God form the base of the two main theological methods, cataphatic and apophatic. Our only interest here is how the “harmonization” works behind both cataphatics and apophatics:

Καὶ ἔστιν αὖθις ἡ θειοτάτη θεοῦ γνῶσις ἡ δι' ἀγνωσίας γινωσκομένη κατὰ τὴν ὑπὲρ νοῦν ἕνωσιν, ὅταν ὁ νοῦς τῶν ὄντων πάντων ἀποστάς, ἔπειτα καὶ ἑαυτὸν ἀφεὶς ἑνωθῇ ταῖς ὑπερφαέσιν ἀκτῖσιν ἐκεῖθεν καὶ ἐκεῖ τῷ ἀνεξερευνήτῳ βάθει τῆς σοφίας καταλαμπόμενος. Καίτοι καὶ ἐκ πάντων, ὅπερ ἔφην, αὐτὴν γνωστέον· αὕτη γάρ ἐστι κατὰ τὸ λόγιον ἡ πάντων ποιητικὴ καὶ ἀεὶ πάντα ἁρμόζουσα καὶ τῆς ἀλύτου τῶν πάντων ἐφαρμογῆς καὶ τάξεως αἰτία καὶ ἀεὶ τὰ τέλη τῶν προτέρων συνάπτουσα ταῖς ἀρχαῖς τῶν δευτέρων καὶ τὴν μίαν τοῦ παντὸς σύμπνοιαν[5] καὶ ἁρμονίαν καλλιεργοῦσα. (DN  7:3, 872AB).[6]

The continuous act of reference, called by Dionysius “harmonization,” makes every created thing and even no-thing a sign, which is, regardless of its denotation, a sign of God. Why? What is the corresponding referential mechanism?

[1] The texts of the Corpus Areopagiticum will be quoted according to the critical editions: Suchla, Beate Regina. Corpus Dionysiacum I. PTS 33. Berlin: W. de Gruyter, 1990 (for De divinis nominibus = DN) and Heil, Günter, and Ritter, Adolf Martin, Corpus Dionysiacum II. PTS 36. Berlin: W. de Gruyter, 1991 (for De mystica theologia = MT), but the references will be given within the text as following: abbreviated title (DN, MT), chapter, paragraph, column and part of column (from A to D) in PG 3. English translation according to Rolt, Clarens Edwin. Dionysius the Areopagite: On the Divine Names and the Mystical Theology. London: SPCK, 1920; electronic edition at This translation is not literalistic enough for scholarly purposes, and so, will be quoted below only for facilitating the reading of the Greek text. The translations given without reference to Rolt are my own.

[2] Rolt’s translation is here somewhat vague: “Thus, then, the Universal and Transcendent Cause must both be nameless and also possess the names of all things <...>. For the Nameless Goodness is not only the cause of cohesion or life or perfection in such wise as to derive Its Name from this or that providential activity alone; nay, rather does It contain all things beforehand within Itself, after a simple and uncircumscribed manner through the perfect excellence of Its one and all-creative Providence, and thus we draw from the whole creation Its appropriate praises and Its Names.”

[3] Rolt’s tr.: “…the Sacred Writers [lit. Theologians. — B. L.] celebrate It by every Name while yet they call It Nameless.”

[4] Rolt’s tr.: “Moreover our Discourse will dare  to aver that even the Non-Existent shares in the Beautiful and Good, for Non-Existence is itself beautiful and good when, by the Negation of all Attributes, it is ascribed Super-Essentially to God.”

[5] A term from the Stoic natural philosophy, literally “common breathing,” which means here the internal harmony of the whole creation.

[6] Rolt’s translation: “And yet on the other hand, the Divinest Knowledge of God, the which is received through Unknowing, is obtained in that communion which transcends the mind, when the mind, turning away from all things and then leaving even itself behind, is united to the Dazzling Rays, being from them and in them, illumined by the unsearchable depth of Wisdom. Nevertheless, as I said, we must draw this knowledge of Wisdom from all things; for wisdom it is (as saith the Scripture) [cf. Wis 8:1] that hath made all things and ever ordereth them all, and is the Cause of the indissoluble harmony and order of all things, perpetually fitting the end of one part unto the beginning of the second, and thus producing the one fair agreement and concord of the whole.”


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