Ecstatic speech of Pseudo-Dionysius, 5th century Christian mystic

sun & clouds

“In our reverent awe of what is divine, let us be drawn together toward the divine splendor.” exhorts a 5th century Christian mystic.  Photo is (cc) Mike Webkist.

One of my friends complained this week about how dreadful he felt that Christianity, Islam and Judaism are, because of the war and intolerance he claimed they inspire.

Elsewhere, a different friend was using his youtube account to defend Christianity and was lamenting the modern world’s descent into darkness, confusion, collapse of the family & community, fixation on self, and utter self- and other-destructiveness.

Elsewhere still, some of my Buddhist friends were exchanging wry smiles about what they felt was the simple-mindedness and ignorance of Christians.

But let us go, you and I, and read what a 5th century Christian mystic had to say, one who was a significant influence on Saint John of the Cross and Meister Eckhart:

Since the unknowing of what is beyond being is something above and beyond speech, mind, or being itself, one should ascribe to it an understanding beyond being.

Let us therefore look as far upward as the light of sacred scripture will allow, and, in our reverent awe of what is divine, let us be drawn together toward the divine splendor. For, if we may trust the superlative wisdom and truth of scripture, the things of God are revealed to each mind in proportion to its capacities; and the divine goodness is such that, out of concern for our salvation, it deals out the immeasurable and infinite in limited measures.

Just as the senses can neither grasp nor perceive the things of the mind, just as representation and shape cannot take in the simple and the shapeless, just as corporeal form cannot lay hold of the intangible and incorporeal, by the same standard of truth beings are surpassed by the infinity beyond being, intelligences by that oneness which is beyond intelligence. Indeed the inscrutable One is out of the reach of every rational process.

sun behind clouds

Sun radiating from just behind a cloud. (Photo by indi.ca; some rights reserved.)

Nor can any words come up to the inexpressible Good, this One, this Source of all unity, this supra-existent Being. Mind beyond mind, word beyond speech, it is gathered up by no discourse, by no intuition, by no name. It is, and it is as no other being is. Cause of all existence, and therefore itself transcending existence, it alone could give an authoritative account of what it really is.
– Pseudo-Dionysius, 5th century mystic1

Questions:

  • Does this passage we just read remind you of when the Chinese Sage Laozi said that the Tao which can be described in words is not really the Tao?
  • Part of the conflict between Buddhism and Christianity (as well as the conflict between different schools within Buddhism, and for that matter, the conflict between all sorts of other groups) stems from a difference in point of view, it seems to me, as beautifully described by Adi Da in his seven stages of life framework. Does this framework, or tool, help you get in touch with a capacity to appreciate and have tolerance for people from different religious traditions?
  • The quote we just read suggests that Pseudo-Dionysius was interested in contemplating an infinite light above. Is this bad? If you are a Buddhist, or are otherwise not a Christian, is there something about this you can feel tolerance for?
  • If your family comes from a Christian background, doesn’t it feel good and fresh and wholesome to develop an appreciation for the Christian tradition, which is part of your own roots?

Regards,
BoT Student

  1. Excerpted from Pseudo-Dionysius: The Complete Works.Translation by Colm Luibheid. As included in The Basket of Tolerance, section on the fourth stage of life, by Adi Da Samraj.
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