Notes From a Retreat IIIA-let there “be” light?

In the thinking of Parmenides (and modern philosophers such as Berkeley), to be is the same thing as to be thought. To be thought is to be. Existing as a thought only (i.e., in the imagination of someone), is nevertheless a form of existence.

The inverse corollary of this is to try to think of something that you can’t think of. This is clearly impossible. If something is not knowable, then it can’t be said to exist, properly speaking.

But if we consider light, light is not something that we know directly. It is more something that is the conditional for seeing all other things in the world.

Light is, in a sense, a presence in the world that is not of the world. It is in everything as the ambient light of the world. And so, to Dionysius, there is a web of difference and distinctions, which is produced by the light of God.

Hierarchy is the recognition of things that are brought together, yet unique all the same. There is a structure of being among the things that are brought together. The presence within being of God is present, precisely that which enables us to distinguish things. God is, in a sense, the difference without being a different being. The light cannot be identical to the thing that the light is revealing. The things are revealed by the light. God, as light, is then, in a sense, above/hyper being.

A point is not defined, and yet a circle is made from a central point from which a circumference circumnavigates. Even by creation, we are brought into contact with God. The multiplicity itself points to the source as a source. As the center of the circle.

This means that, as Christian mystics, we are not writing off our sense experiences. This runs counter to criticisms that Neo-Platonism is Gnostic/anti-material.

Dionysius, in the Ecclesiastical Hierarchy (Chapter III.2), describes the material process of incensing as a divine movement from the earth to heaven, and then back from heaven to earth, as the faithful partake of the body of Christ. And mystically, those who receive this body of Christ, are transformed into the heavenly realm.

The Hierarch, having completed a reverent prayer, near the Divine Altar, starts with the incensing, and proceeds to every part of the enclosure of the sacred place; he then returns to the Divine Altar, and begins the sacred chanting of the Psalms, the whole ecclesiastical assembly chanting, with him, the sacred language of the Psalter. Next follows the reading of the Holy Scriptures by the Leitourgoi. After these readings the catechumens quit the sacred enclosure, as well as the “possessed,” and the penitents. But those who are deemed worthy of the sight and participation of the Divine Mysteries remain. Of the Leitourgoi, some stand near the closed gates of the sanctuary, whilst others perform some other duty of their own rank. But chosen members of the ministering Order with the Priests lay the holy Bread and the Cup of Blessing upon the Divine Altar, whilst the universal Song of Praise is being professed beforehand by the whole body of the Church. Added to these, the Divine Hierarch makes a sacred prayer, and proclaims the holy Peace to all. When all have kissed each other, the mystical proclamation of the holy tablets is performed. When the Hierarch and the Priests have washed their hands in water, the Hierarch stands in the midst of the Divine Altar, and the chosen Deacons alone, with the Priests, stand around. The Hierarch, when he has sung the sacred works of God, ministers things most divine, and brings to view the things sung, through the symbols reverently exposed, and when he has shewn the gifts of the works of God, he first proceeds to the sacred participation of the same, and turns and exhorts the others. When he has received and distributed the supremely Divine Communion, he terminates with a holy thanksgiving; whilst the multitude have merely glanced at the Divine symbols alone, he is ever conducted by the Divine Spirit, as becomes a Hierarch, in the purity of a Godlike condition, to the holy sources of the things performed, in blessed and intelligible visions.

This mystical vision comes through stepping outside of creation, in order to understand creation and the mystical vision itself. This idea of stepping outside is ex stasis in Greek, from where we receive the word ecstasy. This is not an encounter with some numinous realm. It is not even an encounter or an experience, proper.

As we proceed onward, we will consider what ecstasy means, and how it relates to the mystery of our life in Christ.

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