Denys the Areopagite: Before Everything, and Especially Theology, We Must Begin with Prayer Sunday, Feb 16 2014 

DionysiosLet us examine the all-perfect Name of Goodness, which is indicative of the whole progressions of Almighty God.

But first let us invoke the supremely good, and super-good Triad – the Name which indicates Its whole best Providences.

For, we must first be raised up to It, as Source of good, by our prayers; and by a nearer approach to It, be initiated as to the all good gifts which are established around It.

For It is indeed present to all, but all are not present to It.

But then, when we have invoked It, by all pure prayers and unpolluted mind, and by our aptitude towards Divine Union, we also are present to It.

For, It is not in a place, so that It should be absent from a particular place, or should pass from one to another.

But even the statement that It is in all existing beings, falls short of Its infinitude (which is) above all, and embracing all.

Let us then elevate our very selves by our prayers to the higher ascent of the Divine and good rays.

For it is as if a luminous chain were suspended from the celestial heights, reaching down hither, and we, by ever clutching this upwards, first with one hand, and then with the other, seem indeed to draw it down.

But, in reality we do not draw it down, it being both above and below, but ourselves are carried upwards to the higher splendours of the luminous rays.

Or it is as if, after we have embarked on a ship, and are holding on to the cables reaching from some rock, such as are given out, as it were, for us to seize, we do not draw the rock to us, but ourselves, in fact, and the ship, to the rock.

Or to take another example, if any one standing on the ship pushes away the rock by the sea shore, he will do nothing to the stationary and unmoved rock, but he separates himself from it, and in proportion as he pushes that away, he is so far hurled from it.

Wherefore, before everything, and especially theology, we must begin with prayer, not as though we ourselves were drawing the power, which is everywhere and nowhere present, but as, by our godly reminiscences and invocations, conducting ourselves to, and making ourselves one with, it.

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

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.

Bede the Venerable: Theodore of Canterbury – Never were there Happier Times since the English Came into Britain Thursday, Sep 19 2013 

icon_bede-September 19th is the feast of St Theodore of Canterbury, also known as Theodore of Tarsus (602-690).

There was…in the monastery of Niridanum, which is not far from Naples in Campania, an abbot called Hadrian, by nation an African, well versed in Holy Scripture, trained in monastic and ecclesiastical teaching, and excellently skilled both in the Greek and Latin tongues.

[…] There was at that time in Rome, a monk, called Theodore, known to Hadrian, born at Tarsus in Cilicia, a man instructed in secular and Divine writings, as also in Greek and Latin; of high character and venerable age, being sixty-six years old.

[…] Theodore, being ordained subdeacon, waited four months for his hair to grow, that it might be shorn into the shape of a crown; for he had before the tonsure of St. Paul, the Apostle, after the manner of the eastern people.

He was ordained by Pope Vitalian, in the year of our Lord 668, on Sunday, the 26th of March, and on the 27th of May was sent with Hadrian to Britain.

[…] Theodore came to his Church in the second year after his consecration, on Sunday, the 27th of May, and spent in it twenty-one years, three months, and twenty-six days.

Soon after, he visited all the island, wherever the tribes of the English dwelt, for he was gladly received and heard by all persons; and everywhere attended and assisted by Hadrian, he taught the right rule of life, and the canonical custom of celebrating Easter.

This was the first archbishop whom all the English Church consented to obey. And forasmuch as both of them were, as has been said before, fully instructed both in sacred and in secular letters, they gathered a crowd of disciples, and rivers of wholesome knowledge daily flowed from them to water the hearts of their hearers; and, together with the books of Holy Scripture, they also taught them the metrical art, astronomy, and ecclesiastical arithmetic.

A testimony whereof is, that there are still living at this day some of their scholars, who are as well versed in the Greek and Latin tongues as in their own, in which they were born.

Nor were there ever happier times since the English came into Britain; for having brave Christian kings, they were a terror to all barbarous nations, and the minds of all men were bent upon the joys of the heavenly kingdom of which they had but lately heard; and all who desired to be instructed in sacred studies had masters at hand to teach them.

From that time also they began in all the churches of the English to learn Church music, which till then had been only known in Kent.

The Venerable Bede (672/4-735): Ecclesiastical History of England, 4, 1-2.

John Climacus: When the Whole Man is Commingled with the Love of God… Wednesday, May 22 2013 

ClimacusIf the face of a loved one clearly and completely changes us, and makes us cheerful, happy and carefree, what will the Face of the Lord not do when He makes His Presence felt invisibly in a pure soul?

Fear when it is an inner conviction of the soul destroys and devours impurity, for it is said: Nail down my flesh with the fear of Thee (Psalm 118:120).

And holy love consumes some, according to him who said: Thou hast ravished our heart, Thou hast ravished our heart (Song of Songs 4:9).

But sometimes it makes others bright and joyful, for it is said: My heart trusted in Him and I have been helped; even my flesh has revived (Psalm 27:7); and: When the heart is happy the face is cheerful (Proverbs 15:13).

So when the whole man is in a manner commingled with the love of God, then even his outward appearance in the body, as in a kind of mirror, shows the splendour of his soul.

That is how Moses who had looked upon God was glorified (cf. Exodus 34; 2 Corinthians 3:14).

Those who have reached such an angelic state often forget about bodily food. I think that often they do not even feel any desire for it. And no wonder, for frequently a contrary desire knocks out the thought of food.

I think that the body of those incorruptible men is not even subject to sickness any longer, because it has been rendered incorruptible; for they have purified the inflammable flesh in the flame of purity.

I think that even the food that is set before them they accept without any pleasure. For there is an underground stream that nourishes the root of a plant, and their souls too are sustained by a celestial fire.

The growth of fear is the beginning of love, but a complete state of purity is the foundation of theology.

He who has perfectly united his feeling to God is mystically led by Him to an understanding of His words. But without this union it is difficult to speak about God.

The engrafted Word (cf. James 1:21) perfects purity, and slays death by His presence; and after the slaying of death, the disciple of divine knowledge is illumined.

The Word of the Lord which is from God the Father is pure, and remains so eternally. But he who has not come to know God merely speculates.

Purity makes its disciple a theologian, who of himself grasps the dogmas of the Trinity.

John Climacus (c.575-c.650): The Ladder of Divine Ascent, step 30, 16-24, translated by Archimandrite Lazarus Moore (Harper & Brothers, 1959) @ Prudence True.

Gregory of Sinai: The Kingdom of Heaven as the Liturgy of the Deified Thursday, Dec 20 2012 

Gregory of SinaiThe kingdom of heaven is like the tabernacle which was built by God, and which He disclosed to Moses as a pattern (cf. Exodus 25:40); for it too has an outer and an inner sanctuary.

Into the first will enter all who are priests of grace. But into the second – which is noetic [of the illuminated intellect] – will enter only those who in this life have attained the divine darkness of theological wisdom and there as true hierarchs have celebrated the triadic liturgy, entering into the tabernacle that Jesus Himself has set up, where He acts as their consecrator and chief Hierarch before the Trinity, and illumines them ever more richly with His own splendour.

By “many dwelling-places” (John 14:2) the Saviour meant the differing stages of spiritual ascent and states of development in the other world; for although the kingdom of heaven is one, there are many different levels within it.

That is to say, there is place for both heavenly and earthy men (cf. 1 Cor. 15:48) according to their virtue, their knowledge and the degree of deification that they have attained. “For there is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars, for one star differs from another star in glory” (1 Cor. 15:41); and yet all of them shine in a single divine firmament.

You partake of angelic life and attain an incorruptible and hence almost bodiless state when you have cleansed your intellect through tears, have through the power of the Spirit resurrected your soul even in this life, and with the help of the Logos [i.e. Christ the Word] have made your flesh – your natural human form of clay – a resplendent and fiery image of divine beauty.

[…] The land of the gentle (Ps. 37: 11) is the kingdom of heaven. Or else it is the theandric [fully divine and fully human] state of the Son, which we have attained or are in the process of attaining, having through grace been reborn as sons of God into the new life of the resurrection.

Or again, the holy land is our human nature when it has been divinized or…the land granted as an inheritance (cf. Numbers 34:13) to those who are truly saints, the untroubled and divine serenity and the peace that transcends the intellect (cf. Phil. 4:7) – the land wherein the righteous dwell quietly and unmolested.

The promised land is dispassion, from which spiritual joy flows like milk and honey (cf. Exod. 13:5). The saints in heaven hold inner converse together, communicating mystically through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Gregory of Sinai (1260s–1346): On Commandments and Doctrines, chs 43-45, 47-49, Text from G.E.H. Palmer, Philip Sherrard, and Kallistos Ware (trans. and eds.) The Philokalia: The Complete Text, vol. 4 (Faber & Faber, London & Boston: 1979ff), pp. 220-221.

Evagrius the Solitary: If You Long to Pray, Do None of the Things that Oppose Prayer Friday, Oct 19 2012 

If you wish to pray, you need God who gives prayer to the one who prays (1Sam 2:9).

Therefore call upon him saying, Hallowed be your name, your kingdom come (Matt. 6:9-10), that is to say, your Holy Spirit and your only-begotten Son.

For He taught you this by saying, the Father is worshipped in spirit and truth (Jn 4:23-4).

The one praying in spirit and truth (Jn 4:23-4) no longer honors the Creator because of His creatures, but instead praises Him for His own sake.

If you are a theologian, you pray truly; and if you pray truly, you are a theologian.

When your nous (mind) in great yearning for God gradually withdraws, so to speak, from the flesh, and when it deflects all thoughts (noemata) that come from sensation, or memory or temperament, having become full of reverence and joy, then you may believe it has drawn near the borders of prayer.

The Holy Spirit, sympathizing with our weakness (Rom. 8:26), repeatedly visits us even when we are unclean.

And, if he only finds the nous loving truth and praying to him, he lights upon and disposes it, dispersing the whole battle-array of tempting-thoughts (logismoi) and concepts (noemata) circling around it, encouraging it on to the rapturous love (eros) of spiritual prayer.

The others implant thoughts (logismoi), ideas (noemata), or contemplations in the nous by affecting the body.

God, however, does the opposite: he himself lights upon and disposes the nous and places within it knowledge as he wishes; and through the nous he soothes the body’s disharmony.

No one yearning (erô) for true prayer who also becomes angry or remembers injuries can be anything but insane: it is like wishing for good eyesight while tearing at your own eyes.

If you long to pray, do none of the things that oppose prayer, so that God will draw near and travel with you on your way (Lk 24:15).

Stand on your guard, protecting your nous from thoughts (noemata) at the time of prayer: and take your stand on your own inner quiet, so that He who suffers with the ignorant will manifest Himself to you too; then you will receive a most glorious gift of prayer.

You are not able to pray purely if you are enmeshed in material affairs and shaken about by constant cares, because prayer is the putting aside of thoughts (noemata).

It is not possible for one who is chained to run; nor is it possible for the nous to see the place of spiritual prayer while enslaved to passions, for it is carried to and fro by  impassioned thought (noemata) and can have no firm standing place.

Evagrius Ponticus (345-399): On Prayer, 59-67; 70-72, translated by Luke Dysinger OSB.

Diadochus of Photiké: Theology Embraces Our Intellect with the Light of a Transforming Fire Saturday, Aug 25 2012 

diadochus-of-photikeAll God’s gifts of grace are flawless and the source of everything good.

But the gift which inflames our heart and moves it to the love of His goodness more than any other is theology.

It is the early offspring of God’s grace and bestows on the soul the greatest gifts.

First of all, it leads us gladly to disregard all love of this life, since in the place of perishable desires we possess inexpressible riches, the oracles of God.

Then it embraces our intellect with the light of a transforming fire, and so makes it a partner of the angels in their liturgy.

Therefore, when we have been made ready, we begin to long sincerely for this gift of contemplative vision, for it is full of beauty, frees us from every worldly care, and nourishes the intellect with divine truth in the radiance of inexpressible light.

In brief, it is the gift which, through the help of the holy prophets, unites the deiform soul with God in unbreakable communion.

So, among men as among angels, divine theology – like one who conducts the wedding feast – brings into harmony the voices of those who praise God’s majesty.

Our intellect often finds it hard to endure praying because of the straightness and concentration which this involves. But it joyfully turns to theology because of the broad and unhampered scope of divine speculation.

Therefore, so as to keep the intellect from expressing itself too much in words or exalting itself unduly in its joy, we should spend most of our time in prayer, in singing psalms and reading the Holy Scriptures, yet without neglecting the speculations of wise men whose faith has been revealed in their writings.

In this way we shall prevent the intellect from confusing its own utterances with the utterances of grace, and stop it from being led astray by self-esteem and dispersed through over-elation and loquacity.

In the time of contemplation we must keep the intellect free of all fantasy and image, and so ensure that with almost all our thoughts we shed tears.

When it is at peace in times of stillness, and above all when it is gladdened by the sweetness of prayer, not only does it escape the faults we have mentioned, but it is more and more renewed in its swift and effortless understanding of divine truth, and with great humility it advances in its knowledge of discrimination.

There is, moreover, a prayer which is above even the broadest scope of speculation: but this prayer is granted only to those who fully and consciously perceive the plenitude of God’s grace within them.

Diadochus of Photiké (c.400-before 486): On Spiritual Perfection chs 67-68, Text from G.E.H. Palmer, Philip Sherrard, and Kallistos Ware (trans. and eds.) The Philokalia: The Complete Text, vol. I (Faber & Faber, London & Boston: 1979).

Gregory Nazianzen: Running to Lay Hold on God, I Drew Aside the Curtain of the Cloud Sunday, Oct 17 2010 

St.-Gregory-NazianzenWhen I go up eagerly into the Mount (Exodus 24:1)…to enter within the Cloud, and hold converse with God, for so God commands.

If any be an Aaron, let him go up with me, and let him stand near, being ready, if it must be so, to remain outside the Cloud.

[…] But if any be of the multitude, who are unworthy of this height of contemplation, if he be altogether impure let him not approach at all (Exodus 29:14), for it would be dangerous to him.

But if he be at least temporarily purified, let him remain below and listen to the Voice alone, and the trumpet (Exodus 9:16-18) – the bare words of piety – and let him see the Mountain smoking and lightening, a terror at once and a marvel to those who cannot get up.

[…] I was running to lay hold on God, and thus I went up into the Mount, and drew aside the curtain of the Cloud, and entered away from matter and material things, and as far as I could I withdrew within myself.

And then when I looked up, I scarce saw the back parts of God (Exodus 33:23), although I was sheltered by the Rock, the Word that was made flesh for us.

And when I looked a little closer, I saw, not the First and unmingled Nature, known to Itself – to the Trinity, I mean; not That which abideth within the first veil (cf. Exodus 26:31), and is hidden by the Cherubim; but only that Nature, which at last even reaches to us.

And that is, as far as I can learn, the Majesty, or as holy David calls it, the Glory (Psalm 8:1) which is manifested among the creatures, which It has produced and governs.

For these are the “back parts of God”, which He leaves behind Him, as tokens of Himself   like the shadows and reflection of the sun in the water, which shew the sun to our weak eyes, because we cannot look at the sun himself, for by his unmixed light he is too strong for our power of perception.

In this way then shalt thou discourse of God; even wert thou a Moses and a god to Pharaoh (Exodus 4:2); even wert thou caught up like Paul to the Third Heaven (2 Corinthians 12:2),  and hadst heard unspeakable words; even wert thou raised above them both, and exalted to Angelic or Archangelic place and dignity.

For though a thing be all heavenly, or above heaven, and far higher in nature and nearer to God than we, yet it is farther distant from God, and from the complete comprehension of His Nature, than it is lifted above our complex and lowly and earthward sinking composition.

Gregory Nazianzen (c.330-390): Oration 28, 2-3.

R. Garrigou-Lagrange: Gifts of the Holy Spirit (7) – Wisdom Sunday, Aug 15 2010 

The gift of wisdom is finally, according to the enumeration of Isaias, the highest of all, as charity, to which it corresponds, is the loftiest of the virtues. Wisdom appears eminently in St. John, St. Paul, St. Augustine, St. Thomas.

It leads them to judge all things by relation to God, the first Cause and last End, and to judge them thus, not as acquired theology does, but by that connaturalness or sympathy with divine things which comes from charity.

By His inspiration, the Holy Ghost makes use of this connaturalness to show us the beauty, the sanctity, and the radiating plenitude of the mysteries of salvation, which correspond so well to our deepest and highest aspirations.(22)

[…] The gift of wisdom, the principle of a living contemplation that directs action, enables the soul to taste the goodness of God, to see it manifested in all events, even in the most painful, since God permits evil only for a higher good, which we shall see later and which it is sometimes given us to glimpse on earth.

The gift of wisdom thus makes us judge everything in relation to God; it shows the subordination of causes and ends or, as they say today, the scale of values.

It reminds us that all that glitters is not gold and that, on the contrary, marvels of grace are to be found under the humblest exteriors, as in the person of St. Benedict Joseph Labre or Blessed Anna Maria Taigi.

This gift enables the saints to embrace the plan of Providence with a gaze entirely penetrated with love; darkness does not disconcert them for they discover in it the hidden God.

As the bee knows how to find honey in flowers, the gift of wisdom draws lessons of divine goodness from everything.

Wisdom reminds us, as Cardinal Newman says, that: “A thousand difficulties do not make a doubt” so long as they do not impair the very basis of certitude.

Thus many difficulties which subsist in the interpretation of several books of the Old Testament or of the Apocalypse do not make a doubt as to the divine origin of the religion of Israel or of Christianity.

The gift of wisdom thus gives the supernaturalized soul great peace, that is the tranquillity of the order of things considered from God’s point of view.

Thereby this gift, says St. Augustine, corresponds to the beatitude of the peacemakers, that is to say, of those who remain in peace when many are troubled and who are capable of bringing peace to the discouraged. This is one of the signs of the unitive life.

R. Garrigou-Lagrange OP (1877-1964): The Three Ages of the Interior Life.

Benedict XVI: Love Goes Beyond Reason Monday, Mar 22 2010 

Whereas for St. Augustine the intellectus, the seeing with reason and with the heart, is the ultimate category of knowledge, Pseudo-Dionysius takes still another step: in the ascent to God one can come to a point when reason no longer sees.

But in the night of the intellect, love still sees – it sees what remains inaccessible to reason. Love goes beyond reason, sees more, enters more profoundly into the mystery of God.

St. Bonaventure was fascinated by this vision, which met with his Franciscan spirituality. Precisely in the dark night of the cross appears all the grandeur of divine love; where reason no longer sees, love sees.

The conclusive words of his Journey of the Mind to God in a superficial reading, might seem an exaggerated expression of a devotion devoid of content; read, instead, in the light of the theology of the cross of St. Bonaventure, they are a clear and realistic expression of Franciscan spirituality:

“If now you yearn to know how that happens (that is, the ascent to God), ask grace, not doctrine; desire, not the intellect; the groan of prayer, not the study of the letter; … not light, but the fire that inflames everything and transports to God” (VII, 6).

All this is not anti-intellectual and anti-rational: it implies the way of reason but transcends it in the love of the crucified Christ.

With this transformation of the mysticism of Pseudo-Dionysius, St. Bonaventure is placed at the beginning of a great mystical current, which greatly raised and purified the human mind: it is a summit in the history of the human spirit.

Hence, for St. Bonaventure, all our life is a “journey”, a pilgrimage – an ascent to God.

But with our own strength we cannot ascend to the loftiness of God. God himself must help us, must “pull” us on high.

That is why prayer is necessary. Prayer – so says the saint – is the mother and origin of the ascent – sursum actio, action that takes us on high, Bonaventure says.

Because of this, I conclude with the prayer, with which he begins his Journey: “Let us pray, therefore and say to our Lord God: ‘Lead me, Lord, on your way and I will walk in your truth. My heart rejoices in fearing your name’” (I,1).

Benedict XVI (b. 1927): On Theology According To Thomas And Bonaventure (translation by Zenit).

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