Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
- 1 Peter 1:3-9
When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness. What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death! But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
- Romans 6:20-23
“I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them. I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified.
- John 17:13-19
“ ‘l counsel that, in the earnest exercise of mystic contemplation, you leave the senses and the activities of the intellect and all that the senses or the intellect can perceive, and all in this world of nothingness or in that world of being. Having laid your understanding to rest, strain as far as you can towards a union with Him whom neither being nor understanding can contain. For, by the ceaseless and absolute renunciation of yourself and all things, you shall in purity cast all things aside and be released from them all. So you shall be led upwards to the Ray of that divine Darkness which surpasses all existence.’ (Mystical Theology 1)”
- Tony Lane, A Concise History of Christian Thought
Before we get into this discussion, the first split in the church is between the Eastern Orthodox and the Roman Catholic churches. This is the first in the Eastern theology. We will exhaust these theologians from the 6th Century to possibly the 20th Century. We will then drift back in time to look at the Medieval West, starting near the year 500.
Dionysius the Areopagite was a judge in Athens and converted to Christianity when the Apostle Paul spoke at the Areopagus, possibly in the year 51AD. At the beginning of the sixth century there were four major literary works written and published by Dionysius the Areopagite and a series of letters. The major works were: 1) Divine Names, a book on the names given to God and the attributes of God; 2) Mystical Theology, a book about the mystical union of our soul with God (quoted above); 3) Heavenly Hierarchy, a book on angels and the different types of angels; and 4) Ecclesiastical Hierarchy, a book on church structure and some beliefs, such as three sacraments and three ‘ways’ of a spiritual life.
Now before you start thinking of resurrection of the dead or something non-biblical like reincarnation, the second Dionysius the Areopagite is sometimes called Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite. Some think he was a Syrian monk. Others think he was a Greek author. We might combine the two and say he was a Syrian, educated in Greek philosophy, especially in Neoplatonism, and he published his works in Greek. Whatever his origin, his works came at a good time. The Ecclesiastical Hierarchy could establish a number of things for a church that is trying to organize. It gives them structure, some basic beliefs, and some sacramental procedures. The other three books are more philosophical.
In the quote above, the whole concept of Mysticism might scare people off as being heresy, but what he is trying to say here is that all who believe have the Holy Spirit working within them and God does not like a messy house. As C.S. Lewis described it (sorry I cannot remember the exact quote or which book), when Jesus enters your heart, He starts to clean the floors and dust the shelves. You don’t mind that, but when He starts breaking down walls and expanding the living space, it might start to be troubling. It might even hurt a bit. But you should not be surprised by the reconstruction. Jesus is preparing a mansion, you know.
And it is that reconstruction process that Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite is trying to describe in philosophical terms.
What I find troubling, and probably is well-defined in Divine Names, is the “Ray of that Divine Darkness.”
I hope what Pseudo-Dionysius is saying is that God is Light and our world is that Divine Darkness in which we live. Thus, God pierces, like a ray of light, through that Divine Darkness to touch our hearts and illumine us. That may just be a poetic attempt to explain some bad philosophy, but it seems to fit.
There seems to be two camps regarding sanctification. One camp thinks that we a completely sanctified when we are saved, accepting Jesus. But the other camp knows that we will still sin, and the fine tuning of our lives will get closer and closer to that sinless state. It will just never get there until our death. I think the reason for these two camps is two-fold. For those that are truly saved, among God’s elect, God does not see the sin. But the other bit of confusion is with such other words as salvation and justification. We have a lot of polysyllabic words that need to be carefully defined, to see what some ancient philosopher, or a modern theologian, meant by those words.
I think we will be a work in progress, and even Pseudo-Dionysius defines an ideal state while accepting that we want to be as close as possible to that ideal. So, it seems Pseudo-Dionysius is in the camp of us being saved, but we are still under construction, with construction complete when we get to be with Jesus.
If you like these Tuesday morning essays about philosophy and other “heavy topics,” but you think you missed a few, you can use this LINK. I have set up a page off the home page for links to these Tuesday morning posts. I will continue to modify the page as I add more.
Soli Deo Gloria. Only to God be the Glory.
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