Gregory of Nyssa: Moses entered into the darkness and there he saw God Thursday, Mar 3 2016 

Gregory_of_NyssaMoses entered into the darkness and there he saw God.

What does this signify? This present account seems in a way to con­tradict that of the first theophany.

Then God appeared in light, but now he appears in darkness.

Yet we must not imagine this to be at variance with our normal experience of spiritual contemplation.

By this statement the text teaches us that religious knowledge is first experienced as light.

All that is seen to be opposed to religion is darkness, and darkness vanishes when we receive the light.

But the more the mind advances and by ever increasing and more perfect application attains an intellec­tual comprehension of realities and approaches contemplation, the more clearly it sees that the divine nature is invisible.

Having left behind all appearances, not only those perceived by the senses but also those the intellect seems to see, it plunges ever deeper within itself, until by spiritual effort it penetrates to the invisible and the unknowable, and there it sees God.

This is the true knowledge of what is sought; this is the seeing that consists in not seeing, because that which is sought transcends all knowledge, being separated on all sides by incomprehensibility as by a kind of darkness.

This is why John the contemplative, who had penetrated this luminous darkness, said that no one had ever seen God, declaring by this negation that the divine essence is beyond the reach not only of men but of every rational nature as well.

And so, when Moses had advanced in knowledge he declared that he saw God in the darkness, or in other words that he recog­nized that the Divinity is essentially that which transcends all knowledge and which no mind can apprehend.

The text says: Moses entered into the darkness where God was.

What God? He who has made the darkness his covering, as David declared, who had himself been initiated into the divine mysteries in that same sanctuary.

When Moses arrived there, he was taught by word what he had formerly learned from darkness, so that, I think, the doctrine on this matter may be made more firm for us by the witness of the divine voice.

The divine word at the beginning forbade that the Divine be likened to any of the things known by men, since every concept which comes from some comprehensible image constitutes an idol of God and does not proclaim God.

Gregory of Nyssa (c 335 – after 394): The Life of Moses, 2.162-66 (SC 1, 80-82); from the Monastic Office of Vigils, Friday of the Second Week in Lent, Year 2.

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Denys the Areopagite: Sovereign Lord and Ancient of Days Thursday, Jan 23 2014 

DionysiosThe time is come to sing the God of many Names, as “Sovereign Lord,” and as “Ancient of days.”

For He is called the formerby reason that He is an all-controlling basis,

binding and embracing the whole, and establishing and supporting, and tightening, and completing the whole,

continuous in itself, and from itself, producing the whole, as it were from a Sovereign root, and turning to itself the whole, as to a sovereign parent stock,

and holding them together as an all-embracing basis of all, securing all the things embraced, within one grasp superior to all,

and not permitting them, when fallen from itself to be destroyed, as moved from an all-perfect sanctuary.

But the Godhead is called Sovereign, both as controlling and governing the members of His household, purely, and as being desired and beloved by all,

and as placing upon all the voluntary yokes, and the sweet pangs of the Divine and Sovereign, and in dissolvable love of the Goodness itself.

But Almighty God is celebrated as “Ancient of days” because He is of all things both Age and Time, and before Days, and before Age and Time.

And yet we must affirm that He is Time and Day, and appointed Time, and Age, in a sense befitting God, as being throughout every movement unchangeable and unmoved, and in His ever moving remaining in Himself, and as being Author of Age and Time and Days.

Wherefore, in the sacred Divine manifestations of the mystic visions, He is represented as both old and young;

the former indeed signifying the “Ancient” and being from the beginning, and the latter His never growing old; or both teaching that He advances through all things from beginning to end.

[…] The Oracles…do not always merely call all the things absolutely unoriginated and really everlasting, eternal, but also things imperishable and immortal and unchangeable.

[…] The Word of God says that even we, who are bounded here by time, shall partake of Eternity, when we have reached the Eternity which is imperishable and ever the same.

But sometimes eternity is celebrated in the Oracles, even as temporal, and time as eternal. … It is necessary then to suppose that things called eternal are not absolutely co-eternal with God, Who is before Eternity.

[…] But Almighty God we ought to celebrate, both as eternity and time, as Author of every time and eternity, and “Ancient of days,” as before time, and above time, and as changing appointed seasons and times;

and again as being before ages, in so far as He is both before eternity and above eternity and His kingdom, a kingdom of all the Ages. Amen.

Denys the Areopagite (late 5th-early 6th century?): On the Divine Names 10, 1-3.

Georges Florovsky: Gregory of Nyssa on the Appearance of God to Moses on Mount Sinai Friday, Jan 10 2014 

FlorovskyJanuary 10th is the feast of St Gregory of Nyssa (OrthooxWiki here; Pope Benedixt XVI here and here; Georges Florovsky here).

Gregory sees an example of the mystical ascent to God in the figure of Moses the Lawgiver and in the appearance of God on Mount Sinai.

The people were ordered to purify themselves, and the mountain was covered with a cloud and illuminated by fire.

“By the power of God alone and without any other implement the air formed itself into individual words. These words were not only distinct, but they proclaimed the divine commandments.”

The people were afraid to ascend the mountain to listen, and only Moses entered the cloud.

He himself became invisible when he penetrated the ineffable mystery of the Divinity and was in communion with the Invisible One.”

The appearance of God begins with light, and Moses had once seen God in His radiance in the Burning Bush. Now, having become closer to perfection, he saw God in a cloud and, sheltered by a cloud, he participated in eternal life.

In Gregory’s interpretation the first steps away from the path of error are light. A closer examination of that which is hidden leads into a cloud, which replaces visible things.

Finally the soul enters the innermost sanctuary of the knowledge of God “which is enveloped on all sides by the divine cloud. Everything that can be seen and comprehended remains outside, and all that is left for the vision of the soul is that which is invisible and incomprehensible. In this cloud is God.”

The Divinity is “beyond the reach of the understanding.” As man ascends, the “inaccessible nature of Divinity” gradually becomes revealed to him and reason sees God in “the invisible and incomprehensible,” in “a radiant cloud.”

Even when it reaches this cloud the soul realizes that it is as far from perfection as if it had never set out. According to Gregory, it is exactly this that is the highest truth of all.

Our true knowledge is that we do not and cannot know because that which we seek is beyond our cognition. By its very nature the Divinity is higher than knowledge and comprehension.

The first principle of theology must be that God is inaccessible. That which can be contemplated cannot be conceptually expressed.

Whoever claims that God can be known merely shows that he has abandoned the One Who truly exists in favor of something which exists only in the imagination and which does not contain true life, for this life cannot be expressed by concepts.

Georges Florovsky (1893-1979; Eastern Orthodox): “St Gregory of Nyssa” in The Eastern Fathers of the Fourth Century.

Gregory Palamas: The Pre-Eternal and Uncircumscribed and Almighty Word is Now Born according to the Flesh Thursday, Dec 26 2013 

Gregory_PalamasThis is the Festival of the virgin birth!

[…] Today I see equality of honour between heaven and earth, and a way up for all those below to things above, matching the condescension of those on high.

However great the heaven of heavens may be, or the upper waters which form a roof over the celestial regions, or any heavenly place, state or order, they are no more marvellous or honourable than the cave, the manger, the water sprinkled on the infant and His swaddling clothes.

For nothing done by God from the beginning of time was more beneficial to all or more divine than Christ’s nativity, which we celebrate today.

The pre-eternal and uncircumscribed and almighty Word is now born according to the flesh, without home, without shelter, without dwelling, and placed as a babe in the manger, seen by men’s eyes, touched by their hands, and wrapped in layers of swaddling bands.

He is not a spiritual creature coming into being after previously not existing; nor flesh which is brought to birth but will soon perish; nor flesh and mind united to form a rational creature, but God and flesh mingled unconfusedly by the divine Mind to form the existence of one theandric hypostasis, who entered the Virgin’s womb for a time.

By the good pleasure of the Father and the co-operation of the Spirit, the Word who transcends being came into being in this womb and by means of it, and now He is delivered from it and born as an infant, not loosing but preserving the signs of virginity.

He is born without suffering, as He was conceived without passion, for as His mother was shown to be above the pleasure of passion when she conceived, so she is above grievous pains when she gives birth.

“Before the pain of travail came upon her, she escaped it” as Isaiah says (Isaiah 66.7 LXX), and she brought forth in the flesh the pre-eternal Word.

Not only is His divinity inscrutable, but the manner in which He was united with the flesh is past understanding, His condescension unsurpassable, and the human nature He assumed divinely, ineffably sublime, and so far above all thought and speech, that it does not admit of any comparison with creation.

Even though you see in the flesh the child born to the Maid who knew no husband, He is still beyond compare. It says, “He is fair in beauty beside the sons of men” (Psalm 45.2 LXX). It does not say “fairer” but simply “fair”, so as not to compare incomparable things: the nature of God Himself to that of mere men.

Gregory Palamas (1296-1359): Homily 58, on the Holy Nativity of the Lord. From Saint Gregory Palamas: The Homilies (Mount Thabor Publishing, 2009) @ Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Ascension, Oakland, California.

Basil the Great: Swimming Upwards to the Light Saturday, Nov 30 2013 

St-Basil-the-GreatIf you would speak of God, or hear of Him, go out from your body, put aside your bodily senses, leave this earth behind you, leave the sea behind you, set the skies beneath you, pass beyond the measuring of time, the procession of the seasons, the ordered perfection of the universe;

rise above the heavens, pass beyond the stars, and the wonders that relate to them, their ordered movement, their magnitude, their service to all the universe, their harmony, their shining splendour, their ordered station, their motion, their rotation one in respect of another.

Passing in mind beyond all these things, raised above them all, gaze in thought upon all the beauty there, upon the heavenly hosts, the Angelic Choirs, the Dignities of the Archangels, the Glory of the Dominations, the Seats of the Thrones, the Virtues, the Principalities, the Powers.

Passing beyond all these, reaching upwards in thought beyond every created thing, uplifting the mind beyond them, now contemplate the Divine Nature: stable, immovable, unchangeable, impassable, simple, indivisible, dwelling in light inaccessible (1 Tim. 6:10), surpassing glory, goodness the most desired, beauty inconceivable; which fastens fiercely upon the soul, wounding it, yet cannot fittingly be spoken of in words.

There are the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit: Nature Uncreated, Sovereign Majesty, Goodness Itself. The Father the beginning of all things, the Source of existence of all that is, the Root of all that lives. From Him comes forth the Fount of Life, Wisdom, Power, the perfect Image of the invisible God (Col. 1:15), the Son Begotten of the Father, the Living Word, Who is God, Who is with God (Jn. 1:2).

[…] The mind then that has been able to purify itself of all earthly affections, and to leave behind it every known creature, and, like some fish from the deep, swim upwards to the light, now attaining to the purity of the beginning, with the Father and Son, there shall look upon the Holy Spirit, Who by reason of His essential Unity of Nature with Them shares also in their Goodness, Their Justice, Their Holiness, Their Life.

For Thy Spirit, it is written, is good (Ps. 142:10). And again, He is a right Spirit (Ps. 1:12). And again, He is Thy holy Spirit (5:13). And the Apostle also speaks of: The law of the Spirit of life (Rom. 8:2). Of these things none has been received by Him, none afterwards added to Him; but as heat is inseparable from fire and radiance from light, so Sanctification cannot be separated from the Holy Spirit, nor the Giving of Life, nor Goodness, nor Justice.

Basil the Great (330-379): Homily 15,1-3, Translated by M.F. Toale, D.D. (PG 31) @ Lectionary Central.

Jerome: A Soul which Cherishes an Ardent Love of Wisdom is Freely Infilled by the Spirit of God Monday, Oct 7 2013 

St.-Jerome-of-StridoniumOn Daniel 2:19-22

Verse 19. “And Daniel blessed the God of heaven, and spoke, saying….

In contrast to those who occupy themselves with this world and delude the earthly minded with demonic arts and illusions, Daniel blessed the God of heaven. For the gods who did not create heaven and earth will pass away.

Verse 21. […] “He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who acquire learning.” 

This accords with the scripture: “The wise man will hear and increase his wisdom” (Prov. 1:5). “For he who has, to him it shall be given” (Matt. 25:29).

A soul which cherishes an ardent love of wisdom is freely infilled by the Spirit of God. But wisdom will never penetrate a perverse soul (Wisdom 3).

Verse 22. “It is He who reveals deep and hidden things, and He knows what is placed in the darkness, and with Him is the light.” 

A man to whom God makes profound revelations and who can say, “O the depth of the riches of the knowledge and wisdom of God!” (Rom. 11:33), is one who, by the indwelling Spirit, probes even into the deep things of God, and digs the deepest of wells in the depths of his soul.

He is a man who has stirred up the whole earth, which is wont to conceal the deep waters, and he observes the command of God, saying: “Drink water from thy vessels and from the spring of thy wells” (Prov. 5:15).

As for the words which follow, “He knows what is placed in the darkness, and with Him is the light,” the darkness signifies ignorance, and the light signifies knowledge and learning. Therefore as wrong cannot hide God away, so right encompasses and surrounds Him.

Or else we should interpret the words to  mean all the dark mysteries and deep things concerning God, according to what we read in Proverbs: “He understands also the parable and the dark saying.”

This in turn is equivalent to what we read in the Psalms: “Dark waters in the clouds of the sky” (Ps. 17:12).

For one who ascends to the heights and forsakes the things of earth, and like the birds themselves seeks after the most rarified atmosphere and everything ethereal, becomes like a cloud to which the truth of God penetrates and which habitually showers rain upon the saints.

Replete with a plenitude of knowledge, he contains in his breast many dark waters enveloped with deep darkness, a darkness which only Moses can penetrate (Ex. 23) and speak with God face to face, of Whom the Scripture says: “He hath made darkness His hiding-place” (Ps. 17:12).

Jerome (347-420): Commentary on Daniel 2:19-22.

Henry Suso: This Can No Tongue Express, Nor Any Mind Conceive Sunday, Sep 30 2012 

Eternal Wisdom: Answer Me now a question. What is that of all lovely things which is most agreeable to a loving heart?

The Servant: Lord, to my understanding nothing is so agreeable to a loving heart as the beloved Himself and His sweet presence.

Eternal Wisdom: Even so. On this account, that nothing which belongs to true love might be wanting to those who love Me, did My unfathomable love, as soon as I had resolved to depart by death out of this world to My Father, compel Me to give Myself and My loving presence at the table of the last supper to My dear disciples, and in all future times to My elect, because I knew beforehand the misery which many a languishing heart would suffer for My sake.

The Servant: Oh, dearest Lord, and art Thou Thyself, Thy very Self, really here?

Eternal Wisdom: Thou hast Me in the sacrament, before thee and with thee, as truly and really God and Man, according to soul and body, with flesh and blood, as truly as My pure Mother carried Me in her arms, and as truly as I am in heaven in My perfect glory.

The Servant: […] Tender Lord, it is a marvel to me (if I may venture to say so) how the beautiful, the delightful and glorified body of my Lord in all its greatness, in all its divinity, can thus essentially conceal itself under the little shape of the bread which, relatively considered, is so out of all relation. […]

Eternal Wisdom: In what manner My glorified body and My soul, according to the whole truth, are in the Sacrament, this can no tongue express, nor any mind conceive, for it is a work of My omnipotence. Therefore oughtest thou to believe it in all simplicity, and not pry much into it.

[…] Why shouldst thou wish…to understand what surpasses all the earth, all the heavens, and all the senses? Or why wilt thou needs inquire into it?

Behold, all such wondering and prying thoughts proceed alone from grossness of sense, which takes divine and supernatural things after the likeness of things earthly and natural, and such is not the case.

If a woman were to give birth to a child in a dark tower, and it were to be brought up there, and its mother were to tell it of the sun and the stars, the child would marvel greatly, and would think it all against reason and incredible, which its mother, nevertheless, knows so well to be true.

Henry Suso (c. 1296 – 1366):The Little Book of Divine Wisdom, 2,23.

Basil the Great: The Continual Remembrance of God is a Holy Thing Thursday, Aug 23 2012 

St-Basil-the-GreatThe continual remembrance of God is a holy thing, and of this pious remembrance there can never be enough for the soul that loves God.

But to put into words the things of God is a bold undertaking.

For our mind falls far below what is needed for this; while at the same time, words but feebly convey the thoughts of the mind.

If therefore our understanding is left so far behind by the greatness of the things of God, and if our words are weaker than our understanding, how should we not be silent, for fear that the wonders of the things of God should be in danger through the feebleness of our words?

Though the desire to give glory to God is implanted by nature in every rational creature, nevertheless we all alike are unable to praise Him fittingly.

But though we differ one from another in our desire to praise and serve God, yet there is no one so blinds himself, so deceives himself, as to think that he has attained to the summit of human understanding.

Rather, the further we advance in knowledge, the more clearly we perceive our own insignificance.

So it was with Abraham. So it was with Moses. For when it was given to them to see God, as far as man can see God, then especially did they humble themselves:

Abraham spoke of himself as dust and ashes (Gen. xviii. 27), and Moses said he was a stammerer and slow of tongue (Exod. iv. 10).

For he knew the poverty of his tongue, and that it was unable to serve the greatness of the things he had grasped with his mind.

But since every ear is now open to hear me speak of the things of God, and since there is never enough in the Church of hearing of these things…, we must therefore speak as best we can.

But we shall speak, not of God as He is, but of God as far as it is possible for us to know Him.

For though we cannot with mortal eyes see all that lies between heaven and earth, yet there is no reason why we should not look upon what we can see.

So with our few words we shall now endeavour to fulfil what is required of us in the service of God.

But in every word of ours we humbly bow before the majesty of His Divine Nature.

For not even the tongue of Angels, whatever they may be, nor the tongues of Archangels, joined to those of every reasoning creature, would be able to describe its least part, much less attain to speak of the Whole.

Basil the Great (330-379): Homily 15,1, Translated by M.F. Toale, D.D. (PG 31) @ Lectionary Central.