In the linked video below (which I highly recommend – especially as an introduction to Hans Urs von Balthasar) D.C. Schindler makes a stunning statement that arrested my attention:
“[The passage from Dionysius the Areopagite, cited by Von Balthasar] I have always taken to be the very pinnacle of human thought, Book 4, chapters 1 through 17 of the divine names. I think the human mind has never gone further on this earth than in those passages…”
Below you will find that very passage – along with my own occasional, bracketed comments and questions for further exploration….
Concerning ”Good,” ”Light,” ”Beautiful,” “Desire,” ”Ecstasy,” “Jealousy.” Also that Evil is neither existent nor Sprung from anything existent nor inherent in existent things.
Chapter 1. NOW let us consider the name of “Good” which the Sacred Writers apply to the Supra-Divine Godhead in a transcendent manner, calling the Supreme Divine Existence Itself “Goodness” (as it seems to me) in a sense that separates It from the whole creation, and meaning, by this term, to indicate that the Good, under the form of Good-Being, extends Its goodness by the very fact of Its existence unto all things. For as our sun, through no choice or deliberation, but by the very fact of its existence, gives light to all those things which have any inherent power of sharing its illumination, even so the Good (which is above the sun, as the transcendent archetype by the very mode of its existence is above its faded image) sends forth upon all things according to their receptive powers, the rays of Its undivided Goodness. Through these all Spiritual Beings and faculties and activities (whether perceived or percipient) began; through these they exist and possess a life incapable of failure or diminution, and are untainted by any corruption or death or materiality or birth, being separate above all instability and flux and restlessness of change. And whereas they are bodiless and immaterial they are perceived by our minds, and whereas they are minds themselves, they possess a supernatural perception and receive an illumination (after their own manner) concerning the hidden nature of things, from whence they pass on their own knowledge to other kindred spirits. Their rest is in the Divine Goodness, wherein they are grounded, and This Goodness maintains them and protects them and feasts them with Its good things. Through desiring this they possess their being and their blessedness, and, being conformed thereto (according to their powers), they are goodly, and, as the Divine Law commands, pass on to those that are below them, of the gifts which have come unto them from the Good.
Chapter 2. Hence have they their celestial orders, their self-unities, their mutual indwellings, their distinct Differences, the faculties which raise the lower unto the higher ranks, the providences of the higher for those beneath them; their preservation of the properties belonging to each faculty, their unchanging introversions, their constancy and elevation in their search for the Good, and all the other qualities which we have described in our book concerning the Properties and Orders of the Angels. Moreover all things appertaining to the Celestial Hierarchy, the angelic Purifications, the Illuminations and the attainments which perfect them in all angelic perfection and come from the all-creative and originating Goodness, from whence it was given to them to possess their created goodness, and to manifest the Secret Goodness in themselves, and so to be (as it were) the angelic Evangelists of the Divine Silence and to stand forth as shining lights revealing Him that is within the shrine. And next those sacred and holy Minds, men’s souls and all the excellences that belong to souls derive their being from the Super-Excellent Goodness. So do they possess intelligence; so do they preserve their living being immortal; so is it they exist at all, and can, by straining towards the living angelic powers, through their good guidance mount towards the Bounteous Origin of all things; so can they (according to their measure) participate in the illuminations which stream from above and share the bounteous gift (as far as their power extends) and attain all the other privileges which we leave recounted in our book, Concerning the Soul. Yea, and the same is true, if it must needs be said, concerning even the irrational souls, or living creatures, which cleave the air, or tread the earth, or crawl upon the ground, and those which live among the waters or possess an amphibious life, and all that live buried and covered in the earth—in a word all that possess a sensitive soul or life. All these are endowed with soul and life because the Good exists. And all plants derive from the Good that life which gives them nourishment and motion, and even whatsoever has no life or soul exists through the Good, and thus came into the estate of being.
Chapter 3. Now if the Good is above all things (as indeed It is) Its Formless Nature produces all form; and in It alone Not-Being is an excess of Being, and Lifelessness an excess of Life and Its Mindless state is an excess of Wisdom, and all the Attributes of the Good we express in a transcendent manner by negative images. And if it is reverent so to say, even that which is not desires the all-transcendent Good and struggles itself, by its denial of all things, to find its rest in the Good which verily transcends all being.
Chapter 4. Nay, even the foundation and the boundaries of the heavens (as we forgot to say while thinking of other matters) owe their origin to the Good. Such is this universe, which lessens not nor grows, and such the noiseless movements (if noiseless they be)254 of the vast heavenly revolution, and such the starry orders whose light is fixed as an ornament of heaven, and such the various wanderings of certain stars—especially the repeated and returning orbits of those two luminaries to which the Scripture giveth the name of “Great,”255 whereby we reckon our days and nights and months and years; which define the round of time and temporal events and give them measurement, sequence, and cohesion. And what shall I say concerning the sun’s rays considered in themselves? From the Good comes the light which is an image of Goodness; wherefore the Good is described by the name of “Light,” being the archetype thereof which is revealed in that image. For as the Goodness of the all-transcendent Godhead reaches from the highest and most perfect forms of being unto the lowest, and still is beyond them all, remaining superior to those above and retaining those below in its embrace, and so gives light to all things that can receive It, and creates and vitalizes and maintains and perfects them, and is the Measure256 of the Universe and its Eternity,257 its 92 Numerical Principle,258 its Order, its Embracing Power, its Cause and its End:259 even so this great, all-bright and ever-shining sun, which is the visible image of the Divine Goodness, faintly reechoing the activity of the Good, illumines all things that can receive its light while retaining the utter simplicity of light, and expands above and below throughout the visible world the beams of its own radiance. And if there is aught that does not share them, this is not due to any weakness or deficiency in its distribution of the light, but is due to he unreceptiveness of those creatures which do not attain sufficient singleness to participate therein. For verily the light passeth over many such substances and enlightens those which are beyond them, and there is no visible thing unto which the light reacheth not in the exceeding greatness of its proper radiance.260 Yea, and it contributes to the birth of material bodies and brings them unto life, and nourishes them that they may grow, and perfects and purifies and renews them. And the light is the measure and the numerical principle of seasons and of days and of all our earthly Time; for ‘tis the selfsame light (though then without a form) which, Moses the Divine declares, marked even that first period of three days which was at the beginning of time. And like as Goodness draweth all things to Itself, and is the great Attractive Power which unite things that are sundered261 (being as It is: the Godhead and 93 the Supreme Fount and Producer of Unity); and like as all things desire It as their beginning, their cohesive power and end; and like as ‘tis the Good (as saith the Scripture) from which all things were made and are (having been brought into existence thence as from a Perfect Cause); and like as in the Good all things subsist, being kept and controlled in an almighty Receptacle;262 and like as unto the Good all things are turned (as unto the proper End of each) ; and like as after the Good all things do yearn—those that have mind and reason seeking It by knowledge, those that have perception seeking It by perception, those that have no perception seeking It by the natural movement of their vital instinct, and those that are without life and have mere existence seeking It by their aptitude for that bare participation whence this mere existence is theirs 263—even so doth the light being as it were Its visible image) draw together all things and attract them unto Itself: those that can see, those that have motion, those that receive Its light and warmth, those that are merely held in being by Its rays;264 whence the sun is so called because it summeth265 all things and uniteth the scattered elements of the world. All material things desire the sun, for they desire either to see or to move and to receive light and warmth and to be maintained in existence by the light. I say not (as was feigned by the ancient myth) that the sun is the God and Creator of this Universe, and therefore takes the visible world under his special care; but I say that the “invisible things of God from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead.”
Chapter 5. But these things are dealt with in the “Symbolic Divinity.” Here I desire to declare what is the spiritual meaning of the name “Light” as belonging to the Good. The Good God is called Spiritual Light because He fills every heavenly mind with spiritual light, and drives all ignorance and error from all souls where they have gained a lodgment, and giveth them all a share of holy light and purges their spiritual eyes from the mist of ignorance that surrounds them, and stirs and opens the eyes which are fast shut and weighed down with darkness, and gives them first a moderate illumination, then (when they taste the Light and desire It more) He giveth Himself in greater measure and shineth in more abundance on them “because they have loved much,” and ever He constraineth them according to their powers of looking upwards
Chapter 6. And so that Good which is above all light is called a Spiritual Light because It is an Originating Beam and an Overflowing Radiance, illuminating with its fullness every Mind above the world, around it, or within it, and renewing all their spiritual powers, embracing them all by Its transcendent compass and exceeding them all by Its transcendent elevation. And It contains within Itself, in a simple form, the entire ultimate principle of light; and is the Transcendent Archetype of Light; and, while bearing the light in its womb, It exceeds it in quality and precedes it in time; and so conjoins together all spiritual and rational beings, uniting them in one. For as ignorance leads wanderers astray from one another, so doth the presence of Spiritual Light join and unite together those that are being illuminated, and perfects them and converts them toward that which truly Is—yea, converts them from their manifold false opinions and unites their different perceptions, or rather fancies, into one true, pure and coherent knowledge, and fills them with one unifying light.
Chapter 7. This Good is described by the Sacred Writers as Beautiful and as Beauty, as Love or Beloved, and by all other Divine titles which befit Its beautifying and gracious fairness. Now there is a distinction between the titles “Beautiful” and “Beauty” applied to the all-embracing Cause. For we universally distinguish these two titles as meaning respectively the qualities shared and the objects which share therein. We give the name of “Beautiful” to that which shares in the quality of beauty, and we give the name of “Beauty” to that common quality by which all beautiful things are beautiful. But the Super-Essential Beautiful is called “Beauty” because of that quality which It imparts to all things severally according to their nature,271 and because It is the Cause of the harmony and splendor in all things, flashing forth upon them all, like light, the beautifying communications of Its originating ray; and because It summons all things to fare unto Itself (from whence It hath the name of “Fairness”272), and 96 because It draws all things together in a state of mutual inter penetration. And it is called “Beautiful” because It is All-Beautiful and more than Beautiful, and is eternally, unvaryingly, unchangeably Beautiful; in capable of birth or death or growth or decay; and not beautiful in one part and foul in another; nor yet at one time and not at another; nor yet beautiful in
relation to one thing but not to another; nor yet beautiful in one place and not in another (as if It were beautiful for some but were not beautiful for others); nay, on the contrary, It is, in Itself and by Itself, uniquely and eternally beautiful, and from beforehand It contains in a transcendent manner the originating beauty of everything that is beautiful. For in the simple and supernatural nature belonging to the world of beautiful things,273 all beauty and all that is beautiful hath its unique and pre-existent Cause. From this Beautiful all things possess their existence, each kind being beautiful in its own manner, and the Beautiful causes the harmonies and sympathies and communities of all things. And by the Beautiful all things are united together and the Beautiful is the beginning of all things, as being the Creative Cause which moves the world and holds all things in existence by their yearning for their own Beauty. And It is the Goal of all things, and their Beloved, as being their Final Cause (for ‘tis the desire of the Beautiful that brings them all into existence), and It is their Exemplar274 from which they derive their definite limits; and hence the Beautiful is the same as the Good, inasmuch as all things, in all causation, desire the Beautiful and Good; nor is there anything in the world but hath a share in the Beautiful and Good. Moreover our Discourse will dare to aver that even the Non-Existent275 shares in the Beautiful and Good, for Non-Existence276 is itself beautiful and good when, by the Negation of all Attributes, it is ascribed Super-Essentially to God. This One Good and Beautiful is in Its oneness the Cause of all the many beautiful and good things. Hence comes the bare existence of all things, and hence
their unions,277 their differentiations, their identities, their differences,278 their similarities, their dissimilarities, their communions of opposite things,279 the unconfused distinctions of their interpenetrating elements;280 the providences of the Superiors,281 the interdependence of the Co-ordinates, the responses of the Inferiors,282 the states of permanence wherein all keep their own identity. And hence again the intercommunion of all things according to the power of each; their harmonies and sympathies (which do not merge them) and the 98 co-ordinations of the whole universe;283 the mixture of elements therein and the indestructible ligaments of things; the ceaseless succession of the recreative process in Minds and Souls and in Bodies; for all have rest and movement in That Which, above all rest and all movement, grounds each one in its own natural laws and moves each one to its own proper movement.
Chapter 8. And the Heavenly Minds are spoken of as moving (1) in a circular manner, when they are united to the beginningless and endless illuminations of the Beautiful and Good;285 (2) straight forward, when they advance to the providential guidance of those beneath them and unerringly accomplish their designs;286 and (3) with spiral motion, because, even while providentially guiding their inferiors, they remain immutably in their self-identity, turning unceasingly around the Beautiful and Good whence all identity is sprung.
Chapter 9. And the soul hath (1) a circular movement—viz. an introversion288 from things without and the unified concentration289 of its spiritual powers—which gives it a kind of fixed revolution, and, turning it from the multiplicity without, draws it together first into itself,290 and then (after it has reached this unified condition) unites it to those powers which 99 are a perfect Unity,291 and thus leads it on unto the Beautiful and Good Which is beyond all things, and is One and is the Same, without beginning or end. (2) And the soul moves with a spiral motion whensoever (according to its capacity) it is enlightened with truths of Divine Knowledge, not in the special unity of its being292 but by the process of its discursive reason and by mingled and alternative activities.293 (3) And it moves straight forward when it does not enter into itself to feel the stirrings of its spiritual unity (for this, as I said, is the
circular motion), but goes forth unto the things around it and feels an influence coming even from the outward world, as from a rich abundance of cunning tokens, drawing it unto the simple unity of contemplative acts.
Chapter 10. These three motions, and also the similar motions we perceive in this material world 100 and (far anterior to these) the individual permanence, rest and grounding of each Kind295 have their Efficient, Formal, and Final Cause in the Beautiful and Good; Which is above all rest and motion; through Which all rest and motion come; and from Which, and in Which, and unto Which, and for the sake of Which they are. For from It and through It are all Being and life of spirit and of soul; and hence in the realm of nature magnitudes both small, coequal and great; hence all the measured order and the proportions of things, which, by their different harmonies, commingle into wholes made up of co-existent parts; hence this universe, which is both One and Many; the conjunctions of parts together; the unities underlying all multiplicity, and the perfections of the individual wholes; hence Quality, Quantity, Magnitude and Infinitude; hence fusions296and differentiations, hence all infinity and all limitation; all boundaries, ranks, transcendences,297 elements and forms, hence all Being, all Power, all Activity, all Condition,298 all Perception, all Reason, all Intuition, all Apprehension, all Understanding, All Communion299—in a word, all, that is comes from the Beautiful and Good, hath its very existence in the Beautiful and Good, and turns towards the Beautiful and Good. Yea, all that exists and that comes into being, exists and comes into being because of the Beautiful and Good; and unto this Object all things gaze and by It are moved and are conserved, and for the sake of It, because of It and in It, existeth every originating Principle—be this Exemplar,300 or be it Final or Efficient or Formal or Material Cause—in a word, all Beginning, all Conservation, and all Ending, or (to sum it up) all things that have being are derived from the Beautiful and Good. Yea, and all things that have no substantial being301 super-essentially exist in the Beautiful and Good: this is the transcendent Beginning and the transcendent Goal of the universe. For, as Holy Scripture saith: “Of Him, and through
Him, and to Him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen.”302 And hence all things must desire and yearn for and must love the Beautiful and the Good. Yea, and because of It and for Its sake the inferior things yearn for the superior under the mode of attraction, and those of the same rank have a yearning towards their peers under the mode of mutual communion; and the superior have a yearning towards their inferiors under the mode of providential kindness; and each hath a yearning towards itself under the mode of cohesion,303 and all things are moved by a longing for the Beautiful and Good, to accomplish every outward work and form every act of will. And true reasoning will also dare to affirm that even the Creator of all things Himself yearneth after all things, createth all things, perfecteth all 102
things, conserveth all things, attracteth all things, through nothing but excess of Goodness. Yea, and the Divine Yearning is naught else than a Good Yearning towards the Good for the mere sake of the Good. For the Yearning which createth all the goodness of the world, being pre-existent abundantly in the Good Creator, allowed Him not to remain unfruitful in Himself, but moved Him to exert the abundance of His powers in the production of the universe.304 most of all those aids from its perceptions which have the plainest form, the clearest words, the things most distinctly seen, because, when the objects of sense are in confusion, then the senses themselves cannot present their message truly to the mind. But that we may not seem, in saying this, to be setting aside Holy Scripture, let those who blame the title of “Yearning” hear what the Scripture saith: “Yearn for her and she shall keep thee; exalt her and she shall promote thee; she shall bring thee to 104
honour when thou dost embrace her.”308 And there are many other such Scriptural passages which speak of this yearning
Chapter 11. And let no man think we are contradicting the Scripture when we solemnly proclaim the title of “Yearning.” For ‘tis, methinks, unreasonable and foolish to consider the phrases rather than the meaning; and such is not the way of them that wish for insight into things Divine, but rather of them that receive the empty sounds without letting them pass beyond their ears, and shut them out, not wishing to know what such and such a phrase intends, nor how they ought to explain it in other terms expressing the same sense more clearly. Such men are under the dominion of senseless elements and lines, and of uncomprehended syllables and phrases which penetrate not into the perception of their souls, but make a dumb noise outside about their lips and hearing 103holding it unlawful to explain the number “four” by calling it “twice two,” or a straight line by calling it a “direct line ” or the “Motherland” by calling it the “Fatherland,” or so to interchange any other of those terms which under varieties of language possess all the same signification. Need is there to understand that in proper truth we do but use the elements and syllables and phrases and written terms and words as an aid to our senses; inasmuch as when our soul is moved by spiritual energies unto spiritual things, our senses, together with the thing which they perceive, are all superfluous; even as the spiritual faculties are also such when the soul, becoming Godlike,305 meets in the blind embraces of an incomprehensible union the Rays of the unapproachable Light.306 Now when the mind, through the things of sense, feels an eager stirring to mount towards spiritual contemplations,307 it values most of all those aids from its perceptions which have the plainest form, the clearest words, the things most distinctly seen, because, when the objects of sense are in confusion, then the senses themselves cannot present their message truly to the mind. But that we may not seem, in saying this, to be setting aside Holy Scripture, let those who blame the title of “Yearning” hear what the Scripture saith: “Yearn for her and she shall keep thee; exalt her and she shall promote thee; she shall bring thee to honour when thou dost embrace her.”308 And there are many 104other such Scriptural passages which speak of this yearning.
Chapter 12. Nay, some of our writers about holy things have thought the title of “Yearning” diviner than that of “Love.” Ignatius the Divine writes: “He whom I yearn for is crucified.”309 And in the “Introductions’ of Scripture310 thou wilt find some one saying concerning the Divine Wisdom: “I yearned for her beauty.” Let us not, therefore, shrink from this title of “Yearning,” nor be perturbed and affrighted by aught that any man may say about it. For methinks the Sacred Writers regard the titles “Love” and “Yearning” as of one meaning; but preferred, when speaking of Yearning in a heavenly sense, to qualify it with the world “real”311 because of the inconvenient pre-notion of such men. For whereas the title of “Real Yearning” is employed not merely by ourselves but even by the Scriptures, mankind (not grasping the unity intended when Yearning is ascribed to God) fell by their own propensity into, the notion 105of a partial, physical and divided quality, which is not true Yearning but a vain image of Real Yearning, or rather a lapse therefrom.312 For mankind at large cannot grasp the simplicity of the one Divine Yearning, and hence, because of the offence it gives to most men, it is used concerning the Divine Wisdom to lead and raise them up to the knowledge of the Real Yearning until they are set free froth all offence thereat; and often on the other hand when it was possible that base minds should suppose that which is not convenient, the word that is held in greater reverence is used concerning ourselves.313 “Thy love,” says some one, “came upon me like as the love of women.”314 To those who listen aright to Holy Scripture, the word “Love” is used by the Sacred Writers in Divine Revelation with the same meaning as the word “Yearning.” It means a faculty of unifying and conjoining and of producing a special commingling together315 in the Beautiful and Good: a faculty which pre-exists for the sake of the Beautiful and Good, and is diffused from this Origin and to this End, and holds together things of the same order by a mutual connection, and moves the highest to take thought for those below and fixes the inferior in a state which seeks the higher.
Chapter 13. And the Divine Yearning brings ecstasy, not allowing them that are touched thereby to belong unto themselves but only to the objects of their affection. This principle is shown by superior things 106through their providential care for their inferiors, and by those which are co-ordinate through the mutual bond uniting them, and by the inferior through their diviner tendency towards the highest. And hence the great Paul, constrained by the Divine Yearning, and having received a share in its ecstatic power, says, with inspired utterance, “I live, and yet not I but Christ liveth in me”: true Sweetheart that he was and (as he says himself) being beside himself unto God, and not possessing his own life but possessing and loving the life of Him for Whom he yearned. And we must dare to affirm (for ‘tis the truth) that the Creator of the Universe Himself, in His Beautiful and Good Yearning towards the Universe, is through the excessive yearning of His Goodness, transported outside of Himself in His providential activities towards all things that have being, and is touched by the sweet spell of Goodness, Love and Yearning, and so is drawn from His transcendent throne above all things, to dwell within the heart of all things, through a super-essential and ecstatic power whereby He yet stays within Himself316 Hence Doctors call Him “jealous,” because He is vehement in His Good Yearning towards the world, and because He stirs men up to a zealous search of yearning desire for Him, and thus shows Himself zealous inasmuch as zeal is always felt concerning things which are desired, and inasmuch as He hath a zeal concerning the creatures for which He careth. In short, both the Yearning and its Object belong to the Beautiful and the Good, and have therein their pre-existent roots and because of it exist and come into being.
Chapter 14. But why speak the Sacred Writers of God sometimes as Yearning and Love, sometimes as the 107Object of these emotions? In the one case He is the Cause and Producer and Begetter of the thing signified, in the other He is the Thing signified Itself. Now the reason why He is Himself on the one hand moved by the quality signified, and on the other causes motion by it,317 is that He moves and leads onward Himself unto Himself.318 Therefore on the one hand they call Him the Object of Love and Yearning as being Beautiful and Good, and on the other they call Him Yearning and Love as being a Motive-Power leading all things to Himself, Who is the only ultimate Beautiful and Good—yea, as being His own Self-Revelation and the Bounteous Emanation of His own Transcendent Unity, a Motion of Yearning simple, self-moved, self-acting, pre-existent in the Good, and overflowing from the Good into creation, and once again returning to the Good. And herein the Divine Yearning showeth especially its beginningless and endless nature, revolving in a perpetual circle for the Good, from the Good, in the Good, and to the Good, with unerring revolution, never varying its centre or direction, perpetually advancing and remaining and returning to Itself. This by Divine inspiration our renowned Initiator hath declared in his Hymns of Yearning, which it will not be amiss to quote and thus to bring unto a holy consummation our Discourse concerning this matter.
.A link to the full online book: https://ccel.org/ccel/rolt/dionysius/dionysius.iv.v.html)