Mystical Theology of Dionysius: Transcendental God-Talk. Chapter Four. Part Three

Mystical Theology of Dionysius: Transcendental God-Talk. Chapter Four. Part Three June 18, 2018

Having stated that God is without a material body, and therefore incapable of being perceived by the senses because the senses grasp after and perceive material objects, Dionysius explored the implications of God’s immateriality by stating:  nor has [the divine nature] disorder and confusion, as being vexed by earthly passions,—-nor is powerless, as being subject to casualties of sense,—-nor is in need of light;—-neither is It, nor has It, change, or decay, or division, or deprivation, or flux,—-or any other of the objects of sense.

God, the Cause which transcends all, is uncaused in himself.  Without any cause, there is nothing which can affect him. He is completely outside of any external influence. For if he were caused, then what relates to that cause could influence him, but without cause, he is not contingent, relying upon any cause for his own being. This is why God can be said to be necessary being. Whatever is caused can be made not to be by overriding the cause, but God, without cause, has nothing which can make him not be. There is no condition for God, and only that which has a condition can be changed by the lack of that condition.  Nothing, therefore, can disrupt God, causing God disorder and confusion because such disorder and confusion represent the effects of negative changes influencing some conditioned being.

Without any material being, likewise, God cannot be vexed by earthly or material passions.  For material beings find entropy slowly taking away their very being. They become vexed as they find their very mode of being is hindered. Everything changes in material being, making their form impermanent. Those with some sort of life, some sort of consciousness of that change will find themselves confused as their inner being is slowly taken away from them as entropy leads to their own dissolution. They might desire to establish stability, and their passions will spring forth, trying to hold on to and remain attached to what they are like, but as entropy will win out in the end, they will find their resistance futile.  God, because he is not a material being, is not faced with entropy, and so does not face the consequences of entropy in the material universe. God is not vexed, and suffers no passion, no confusion, as regards himself as the result of entropy. There is no disorder and confusion in God, for there is nothing which will be able to create such order and confusion in a subject which is without material, temporal being (let alone one which is necessary and without cause).

Likewise, then, God is not powerless, as being subjected to casualties of senses, because God is not a material being formed with the limitations implicit with material being. With a given mass, a given material form, there is always something which can be greater and therefore more powerful which serves as a limit to all those which are not as great and powerful as it. God is, however, is not just great, but, transcendently great. Nothing can be said to circumscribe him; he has no material form in which some other material from can overtake him and impose a limit upon him and his power.

Moreover, God, without a body, has no material senses, and so does not perceive the way others with material bodies perceives. Material senses are limited in their ability to perceive, and indeed, their perception can be hindered if not outright blocked. For example, we can look forward with our eyes, the means for our sense of sight, and see what is in the world. When we do so, we note our eyes are limited as to what they can see: there is distance after which we cannot see anything. Likewise, we need adequate light to see, and if we do not have it, we will see nothing. And if something gets in our way of what we are trying to perceive, such as a wall, we will find our sight hindered and our perception limited to what is not blocked. This is not true for God. For being immaterial, God is not bound in the same way, and no material condition can block his perception and knowledge of the world. Without material senses, God is not subjected to casualties of the senses, that is, God does not find his perception limited in the way those of us relying upon material senses find their senses to be limited. God can perceive and “see” the world in his own fashion without need of light, indeed, although we talk about it as a kind of sight, by way of analogy, he sees in the world without anything capable of interfering with his perfect perception, so that all things are said to be in his sight at all times.

Since time and space are linked together, that which is without space, without material form, likewise is outside of material time. With time being the measure of change, such as found in motion, without time there is going to be no such change. The transcendental immateriality of God therefore shows us that God is outside of time, and so without change and all that flows from change, confirming Dionysius when he wrote about the divine nature: nor has It, change, or decay, or division, or deprivation, or flux. Decay occurs with change, it is a decline in power or form or life, that is, deterioration which occurs over time, so that from one instant of time to another, there is a decrease in some power or ability or aspect of being. Without change, there can be no decay in God (likewise, as a corollary, there can be no increase in God either). Being deprived indicates the lack of some sort of necessity but as God is uncaused, there is no necessity which God can lack, let alone be denied him. Likewise, he can be said to be without parts for if something has parts, then something can cause those parts to be divided, causing that being to change and become deprived of something which they had as a part of themselves; God, however, is not a union with parts, so there is nothing which can be divided in himself allowing himself to change and suffer the degeneration which happens when a part is removed from a whole. Having no parts, there is no division, which is how and why God is often called “One,” indicating his simplicity which knows no duality within himself.

As a way to summarize this chapter, Dionysius reaffirmed that God is not related to any other of the objects of sense. Throughout the chapter, Dionysius provided examples of what this meant for the readers, so that those who are accustomed to consider and ponder material being will be led away from such thoughts as they contemplate the truth of God. The reader is expected to continue to think and ponder on these things themselves, to think about what it means for God if he is not a mere material object capable of being perceived by the senses. Dionysius helped those unaccustomed to such contemplations by providing important implications of this truth, for he understood that most of us start our contemplation on God based upon what we understand of being through materiality. So long as we are attracted to and focus ourselves on material forms, we need to contemplate how and why God transcends those forms, of how and why we look for and perceive him in a sense beyond the material senses if we want to know him and find ourselves united with him. Theologically, then, questions which are asked about God which imply material considerations for God can then be answered with due respect to God, knowing he is not bound by material form though he can be discussed in and through material analogies for those who need them. Analogies are useful, but we must always follow them to their proper end, to realize the distinction and difference between the analogues, lest we end up confusing God to be like another material form and find ourselves confused when we discuss God because we contemplate him with wrong premises.



[IMG=Ezekiel and the Hand of God by Dura Europos (Dura Europos synagogue) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons]


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