Pseudo-Dionysius, Divine Names, Book I

Here is a parallel of all of the English translations I’ve found of Book One (or “Chapter One”, if the reader prefers) of Pseudo-Dionysius’ On the Divine Names. 

The formatting here is eccentric — there are several hymns throughout Book One, and I have homogenized the formatting across translations, in part to make all translations somewhat sensitive to their hymnic character. Although the formatting here began by being authentic to the original formatting of each English text, it has entirely strayed from that in the interests of facilitating easier comparison.

I may add Suchla’s Greek text for Book One in footnotes, eventually. (I’ve tried to add a column for Suchla, but it throws the formatting off completely in WordPress.) 

Pseudo-Dionysius, or simply “Denys” is an interesting figure in many ways. His exact dates are unknown. He was most likely a Syrian who lived and wrote before ca. A.D. 532. Although the matter has been intelligently questioned, he was almost certainly a Christian, and either an actual or virtual student of the pagan Neoplatonist Proclus (d. 485). Denys may have been clergy. His writings claim to be those of the first-century follower of the Apostle Paul, but he is not, as can be seen from the way that he copies entire stretches of Proclus’ work On the Existence of Evils, to say nothing of the locatable specifics of the liturgical life that he itemizes in other works. I have listed a parallel translation of another one of his works before, and in the introduction to that parallel translation I linked to a number of other helpful translations and secondary sources.

In many ways, Book One of Denys’ work, the Divine Names (Περι Θεων Ονοματων) contains, in a germ, the entirety of his theology and philosophy. It is dense. Among English readers, it is also often encountered through less-than-ideal translations. Also included here are excerpts from the English translation of Denys’ first commentator, bishop John of Scythopolis (Without checking the secondary scholarship, Wikipedia has his dates from A.D. 536-560, presumably the years he spent in the episcopal office before his death). Phrases in the third column that are boldface type are those passages which the excerpts from bishop John relate to.

His influence on East Roman (Byzantine) Christianity through the writings of Maximus the Confessor and others is impossible to undervalue; in the West, he was translated in the Carolingian court by John Scotus Eriugena, and would later on form a main part of the theological diet of major Scholastic figures such as Thomas Aquinas. Denys’ theo-cosmological vision was also marshalled by apologists for the heightened sense of the secular authority of the papacy during the late middle ages.

I leave it all here without further explanation, for further comment at some future date.

I hope it displays properly, as so far it does in Chrome on my PC.


1. Now then, O Blessed One, after the Theological Outlines, I will pass to the interpretation of the Divine Names, as best I can. But, let the rule of the Oracles be here also prescribed for us, viz., that we shall establish the truth of the things spoken concerning God, not in the persuasive words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit-moved power of the Theologians, by aid of which we are brought into contact with things unutterable and unknown, in a manner unutterable and unknown, in proportion to the superior union of the reasoning and intuitive faculty and operation within us.


By no means then is it permitted to speak, or even to think, anything, concerning the superessential and hidden Deity, beyond those things divinely revealed to us in the sacred Oracles. For Agnosia, (supra-knowledge) of its superessentiality above reason and mind and essence – to it must we attribute the superessential science, so far aspiring to the Highest, as the ray of the supremely Divine Oracles imparts itself, whilst we restrain ourselves in our approach to the higher glories by prudence and piety as regards things Divine. For, if we must place any confidence in the All Wise and most trustworthy Theology, things Divine are revealed and contemplated in proportion to the capacity of each of the minds, since the supremely Divine Goodness distributes Divinely its immeasurableness (as that which cannot be contained) with a justice which preserves those whose capacity is limited.



For, as things intelligible cannot be comprehended and contemplated by things of sense, and things uncompounded and unformed by things compounded and formed; and the intangible and unshaped formlessness of things without body, by those formed according to the shapes of bodies; in accordance with the self-same analogy of the truth,





the superessential Illimitability is placed above things essential,

and the Unity above mind above the Minds; and

the One above conception is inconceivable to all conceptions;

and the Good above word is unutterable by word

–Unit making one every unit,


and superessential essence and mind inconceivable, and

Word unutterable, speechlessness

and inconception,


and namelessness–


being after the manner of no existing being,

and Cause of being to all, but Itself not being,

as beyond every essence,


and as It may manifest Itself properly and scientifically concerning Itself.


2. Concerning this then, as has been said, the superessential and hidden Deity, it is not permitted to speak or even to think beyond the things divinely revealed to us in the sacred Oracles. For even as Itself has taught (as becomes Its goodness) in the Oracles, the science and contemplation of Itself in Its essential Nature is beyond the reach of all created things, as towering superessentially above all. And you will find many of the Theologians, who have celebrated It, not only as invisible and incomprehensible, but also as inscrutable and untraceable, since there is no trace of those who have penetrated to Its hidden infinitude.


The Good indeed is not entirely uncommunicated to any single created being, but benignly sheds forth its superessential ray, persistently fixed in Itself, by illuminations analogous to each several being, and elevates to Its permitted contemplation and communion and likeness, those holy minds, who, as far as is lawful and reverent, strive after It, and who are neither impotently boastful towards that which is higher than the harmoniously imparted Divine manifestation, nor, in regard to a lower level, lapse downward through their inclining to the worse, but who elevate themselves determinately and unwaveringly to the ray shining upon them; and, by their proportioned love of permitted illuminations, are elevated with a holy reverence, prudently and piously, as on new wings.




3. Following then, these, the supremely Divine standards, which also govern the whole holy ranks of the supercelestial orders, whilst honouring the unrevealed of the Godhead which is beyond mind and matter, with inscrutable and holy reverence of mind, and things unutterable, with a prudent silence, we elevate ourselves to the glories which illuminate us in the sacred Oracles,


and are led by their light to the supremely Divine Hymns, by which we are supermundanely enlightened and moulded to the sacred Songs of Praise, so as both to see the supremely Divine illuminations given to us by them, according to our capacities,



and to praise the good-giving Source of every holy manifestation of light, as Itself has taught concerning Itself in the sacred Oracles.

For instance, that It is cause and origin and essence and life of all things;

and even of those who fall away from It, both recalling and resurrection;

and of those who have lapsed to the perversion of the Divine likeness, renewal and reformation;

of those who are tossed about in a sort of irreligious unsteadiness, a religious stability;

of those who have continued to stand, steadfastness;

of those who are being conducted to It, a protecting Conductor;



of those being illuminated, illumination;

of those being perfected, source of perfection;

of those being deified, source of deification;

of those being simplified, simplification;


of those being unified, unity;

of every origin superessentially super-original origin;


and of the Hidden, as far as is right, beneficent communication;


and, in one word,

the life of the living,

and essence of things that be;

of all life and essence, origin and cause;

because Its goodness produces and sustains things that be,

in their being.


4. These things we have learned from the Divine Oracles, and you will find all the sacred Hymnology, so to speak, of the Theologians arranging the Names, of God with a view to make known and praise the beneficent progressions of the Godhead. Hence, we see in almost every theological treatise the Godhead religiously celebrated, both as


Monad and unity, on account of the simplicity and oneness of Its supernatural indivisibility from which, as an unifying power, we are unified, and when our divided diversities have been folded together, in a manner supermundane, we are collected into a godlike unit and divinely-imitated union; but, also as


Triad, on account of the tri-personal manifestation of the superessential productiveness, from which all paternity in heaven and on earth is, and is named; also, as

cause of things existing, since all things were brought into being on account of Its creative goodness, both

wise and good, because all things, whilst preserving the properties of their own nature unimpaired, are filled with every inspired harmony and holy comeliness,

but pre-eminently, as loving towards man, because It truly and wholly shared, in one of Its Persons (subsistencies), in things belonging to us, recalling to Itself and replacing the human extremity, out of which, in a manner unutterable, the simplex Jesus was composed, and the Everlasting took a temporal duration, and He, Who is superessentially exalted above every rank throughout all nature, became within our nature, whilst retaining the unchangeable and unconfused steadfastness of His own properties.

And whatever other divinely-wrought illuminations, conformable to the Oracles, the secret tradition of our inspired leaders bequeathed to us for our enlightenment, in these also we have been initiated;

now indeed, according to our capacity, through the sacred veils of the loving-kindness towards man, made known in the Oracles and hierarchical traditions, which envelop things intellectual in things sensible, and things superessential in things that are; and place forms and shapes around the formless and shapeless, and multiply and fashion the supernatural and formless simplicity in the variedness of the divided symbols;


but, then, when we have become incorruptible and immortal, and have reached the Christlike and most blessed repose, according to the Divine saying, we shall be “ever with the Lord,” fulfilled, through all-pure contemplations, with the visible manifestation of God covering us with glory, in most brilliant splendours, as the disciples in the most Divine Transfiguration, and participating in His gift of spiritual light, with unimpassioned and immaterial mind; and, even in the union beyond conception, through the agnostic and most blessed efforts after rays of surpassing brilliancy, in a more Divine imitation of the supercelestial minds. For we shall be equal to the angels, as the truth of the Oracles affirms, and sons of God, being sons of the resurrection.


But now, to the best of our ability, we use symbols appropriate to things Divine, and from these again we elevate ourselves, according to our degree, to the simple and unified truth of the spiritual visions; and after our every conception of things godlike, laying aside our mental energies, we cast ourselves, to the best of our ability, towards


the superessential ray, in which all the terms of every kind of knowledge pre-existed in a manner beyond expression, which it is neither possible to conceive nor express, nor entirely in any way to contemplate, on account of Its being pre-eminently above all things, and super-unknown, and Its having previously contained within Itself, superessentially, the whole perfections of all kinds of essential knowledge and power, and Its being firmly fixed by Its absolute power, above all, even the supercelestial minds.


For, if all kinds of knowledge are of things existing, and are limited to things existing, that, beyond all essence, is also elevated above all knowledge.



5. And yet, if It is superior to every expression and every knowledge, and is altogether placed above mind and essence –being such as embraces and unites and comprehends and anticipates all things, but Itself is altogether incomprehensible to all, and of It, there is neither perception nor imagination, nor surmise, nor name, nor expression, nor contact, nor science– in what way can our treatise thoroughly investigate the meaning of the Divine Names, when the superessential Deity is shewn to be without Name, and above Name?



But, as we said when we put forth the Theological Outlines, it is not possible either to express or to conceive what the One, the Unknown, the Superessential self-existing Good is – I mean the threefold Unity, the alike God, and the alike Good. But even the unions, such as befit angels, of the holy Powers, whether we must call them efforts after, or receptions from, the super-Unknown and surpassing Goodness, are both unutterable and unknown, and exist in those angels alone who, above angelic knowledge, are deemed worthy of them.



The godlike minds (men) made one by these unions, through imitation of angels as far as attainable (since it is during cessation of every mental energy that such an union as this of the deified minds towards the super-divine light takes place) celebrate It most appropriately through the abstraction of all created things –


enlightened in this matter, truly and super-naturally from the most blessed union towards It– that


It is Cause Indeed of all things existing,

but Itself none of them,

as being superessentially elevated above all.


To none, indeed, who are lovers of the Truth above all Truth, is it permitted to celebrate the supremely-Divine Essentiality –that which is the super-subsistence of the super-goodness– neither as word or power, neither as mind or life or essence, but as pre-eminently separated from every condition, movement, life, imagination, surmise, name, word, thought, conception, essence, position, stability, union, boundary, infinitude, all things whatever.



But since, as sustaining source of goodness, by the very fact of Its being, It is cause of all things that be, from all created things must we celebrate the benevolent Providence of the Godhead;


for all things are both around It and for It,

and It is before all things,

and all things in It consist,

and by Its being is the production and sustenance of the whole,

and all things aspire to It –


the intellectual and rational, by means of knowledge;

things inferior to these, through the senses;

and other things by living movement,

or substantial and habitual aptitude.




6. The theologians, having knowledge of this, celebrate It, both without Name and from every Name.

Without name, as when they say that the Godhead Itself, in one of those mystical apparitions of the symbolical Divine manifestation, rebuked him who said, “What is thy name?” and as leading him away from all knowledge of the Divine Name, said this, “and why dost thou ask my Name? “and this (Name) “is wonderful,” And is not this in reality the wonderful Name, that which is above every Name –the Nameless– that fixed above every name which is named, whether in this age or in that which is to come?


Also, as “many named,” as when they again introduce It as saying, “I am He, Who is­–the Life–the Light–the God–the Truth.” And when the wise of God themselves celebrate Him, as Author of all things, under many Names, from all created things–as Good–as Beautiful–as Wise–as Beloved–as God of gods–as Lord of lords–as Holy of Holies–as Eternal–as Being–as Author of Ages–as Provider of Life–as Wisdom–as Mind–as Word–as Knowing–as preeminently possessing all the treasures of all knowledge–as Power–as Powerful–as King of kings–as Ancient of days–as never growing old–and Unchangeable–as Preservation–as Righteousness–as Sanctification–as Redemption–as surpassing all things in greatness–and as in a gentle breeze. –



Yea, they also say that He is in minds, and in souls, and in bodies, and in heaven and in earth, and at once, the same in the same–in the world–around the world–above the world–supercelestial, superessential, sun, star–fire–water–spirit–dew–cloud–self-hewn stone and rock –all things existing– and not one of things existing.




7. Thus, then, the “Nameless “befits the cause of all, which is also above all, as do all the names of things existing, in order that there may be strictly a kingly rule over the whole; and that all things may be around It and dependent upon It, as cause, as beginning, as end. And Itself, according to the Divine saying, may be the “all in all,”

and truly sung as of all, producing, directing and perfecting and sustaining guard, and shrine, and turning towards Itself, and that uniformly, irresistibly and pre-eminently.

For It is not only cause of sustenance, or life, or perfection –so that from this or that forethought alone the Goodness above Name should be named– but It previously embraced in Itself all things existing, absolutely and without limit, by the complete benefactions of His one and all-creating forethought, and by all created things in joint accord It is celebrated and named.



8. Further also, the Theologians do not honour alone the Names of God which are given from universal or particular Providences, or objects of His forethought; but also from certain occasional Divine Visions, in the sacred temples or elsewhere, which enlightened the initiated or the Prophets, they name the surpassing bright Goodness which is above Name, after one or other causes and powers, and clothe It in forms and shapes of man, or fire, or electron, and celebrate Its eyes and ears, and locks of hair, and countenance, and hands, and back, and wings, and arms, and hinder parts and feet. Also they assign to It crowns and seats, and drinking vessels and bowls, and certain other things mystical, concerning which, in our Symbolic Theology, we will speak as best we can.



But now, collecting from the Oracles so much as serves the purpose of our present treatise, and using the things aforesaid, as a kind of Canon, and keeping our eyes upon them, let us advance to the unfolding of the Names of God, which fall within the range of our understanding, and, what the hierarchical rule always teaches us throughout every phase of theology, let us become initiated (to speak authoritatively) in the godlike contemplations with a god-enlightened conception. And let us bring religious ears to the unfoldings of the Holy Names of God, implanting the Holy in the Holy, according to the Divine tradition, and removing it from the laughter and jeers of the uninitiated; yea, rather, if certain men really are such, purifying them from their fighting against God in this matter.


Be it thine, then, to guard these things, O excellent Timothy, according to the most holy leading, and to make the things Divine neither spoken nor known to the uninitiated.


For myself, may Almighty God give me to celebrate, in a manner worthy of God, the numerous beneficent Names of the uncalled and unnamed Deity; and may He not take away a word of truth from my mouth.



1. Now, Blessed Timothy, the Outlines of Divinity being ended, I will proceed, so far as in me lies, to an Exposition of the Divine Names. And here also let us set before our minds the scriptural rule that in speaking about God we should declare the Truth, not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the power which the Spirit stirred up in the Sacred Writers, whereby, in a manner surpassing speech and knowledge, we embrace those truths which, in like manner, surpass them, in that Union which exceeds our faculty, and exercise of discursive, and of intuitive reason.


We must not then dare to speak, or indeed to form any conception, of the hidden super-essential Godhead, except those things that are revealed to us from the Holy Scriptures. For a super-essential understanding of It is proper to Unknowing, which lieth in the Super-Essence Thereof surpassing Discourse, Intuition and Being; acknowledging which truth let us lift up our eyes towards the steep height, so far as the effluent light of the Divine Scriptures grants its aid, and, as we strive to ascend unto those Supernal Rays, let us gird ourselves for the task with holiness and the reverent fear of God. For, if we may safely trust the wise and infallible Scriptures, Divine things are revealed unto each created spirit in proportion to its powers, and in this measure is perception granted through the workings of the Divine goodness, the which in just care for our preservation divinely tempereth unto finite measure the infinitude of things which pass man’s understanding.

For even as things which are intellectually discerned cannot be comprehended or perceived by means of those things which belong to the senses, nor simple and imageless things by means of types and images, nor the formless and intangible essence of unembodied things by means of those which have bodily form, by the same law of truth





the boundless Super-Essence surpasses Essences,

the Super-Intellectual Unity surpasses Intelligences,

the One which is beyond thought surpasses the apprehension of thought, and

the Good which is beyond utterance surpasses the reach of words.

Yea, it is an Unity which is the unifying Source of all unity and


a Super-Essential Essence,

a Mind beyond the reach of mind and a Word beyond utterance,

eluding Discourse,




and every kind of being.

It is the Universal Cause of existence while Itself existing not,

for It is beyond all Being and


such that It alone could give, with proper understanding thereof, a revelation of Itself.


2. Now concerning this hidden Super-Essential Godhead we must not dare, as I have said, to speak, or even to form any conception Thereof, except those things which are divinely revealed to us from the Holy Scriptures. For as It hath lovingly taught us in the Scriptures concerning Itself the understanding and contemplation of Its actual nature is not accessible to any being; for such knowledge is superessentially exalted above them all. And many of the Sacred Writers thou wilt find who have declared that It is not only invisible and incomprehensible, but also unsearchable and past finding out, since there is no trace of any that have penetrated the hidden depths of Its infinitude.

Not that the Good is wholly incommunicable to anything; nay, rather, while dwelling alone by Itself, and having there firmly fixed Its super-essential Ray, It lovingly reveals Itself by illuminations corresponding to each separate creature’s powers, and thus draws upwards holy minds into such contemplation, participation and resemblance of Itself as they can attain–even them that holily and duly strive thereafter and do not seek with impotent presumption the Mystery beyond that heavenly revelation which is so granted as to fit their powers, nor yet through their lower propensity slip down the steep descent, but with unwavering constancy press onwards toward the ray that casts its light upon them and, through the love responsive to these gracious illuminations, speed their temperate and holy flight on the wings of a godly reverence.


3. In obedience to these divine behests which guide all the holy dispositions of the heavenly hosts, we worship with reverent silence the unutterable Truths and, with the unfathomable and holy veneration of our mind, approach that Mystery of Godhead which exceeds all Mind and Being. And we press upwards to those beams which in the Holy Scripture shine upon us;


wherefrom we gain the light which leads us unto the Divine praises being supernaturally enlightened by them and conformed unto that sacred hymnody, even so as to behold the Divine enlightenments the which through them are given in such wise as fits our powers,


and so as to praise the bounteous Origin of all holy illumination in accordance with that Doctrine, as concerning Itself, wherewith It hath instructed us in the Holy Scriptures.

Thus do we learn that It is the Cause and Origin and Being and Life of all creation.

And It is unto them that fall away from It a Voice that doth recall them and a Power by which they rise;

and to them that have stumbled into a corruption of the Divine image within them, It is a Power of Renewal and Reform;

and It is a sacred Grounding to them that feel the shock of unholy assault,

and a Security to them that stand:

an upward Guidance to them that are being drawn unto It,



and a Principle of Illumination to them that are being enlightened:

a Principle of Perfection to them that are being perfected;

a principle of Deity to them that are being deified;

and of Simplicity to them that are being brought unto simplicity;

and of Unity to them that are being brought unto unity.

Yea, in a super-essential manner, above the category of origin, It is the Origin of all origin,

and the good and bounteous Communication (so far as such may be) of hidden mysteries;


and, in a word,

It is the life of all things that live and

the Being of all that are,

the Origin and Cause of all life and being

through Its bounty which both brings them into existence

and maintains them.


4. These mysteries we learn from the Divine Scriptures, and thou wilt find that in well-nigh all the utterances of the Sacred Writers the Divine Names refer in a Symbolical Revelation to Its beneficent Emanations Wherefore, in almost all consideration of Divine things we see the Supreme Godhead celebrated with holy praises as


One and an Unity, through the simplicity and unity of Its supernatural indivisibility, from whence (as from an unifying power) we attain to unity, and through the supernal conjunction of our diverse and separate qualities are knit together each into a Godlike Oneness, and all together into a mutual Godly union.

And It is called the Trinity because Its supernatural fecundity is revealed in a Threefold Personality, wherefrom all Fatherhood in heaven and on earth exists and draws Its name.

And It is called the Universal Cause since all things came into being through Its bounty, whence all being springs;

and It is called Wise and Fair because all things which keep their own nature uncorrupted are full of all Divine harmony and holy Beauty;

and especially It is called Benevolent because, in one of Its Persons, It verily and wholly shared in our human lot, calling unto Itself and uplifting the low estate of man, wherefrom, in an ineffable manner, the simple Being of Jesus assumed a compound state, and the Eternal hath taken a temporal existence, and He who supernaturally transcends all the order of all the natural world was born in our Human Nature without any change or confusion of His ultimate properties.

And in all the other Divine enlighten-ments which the occult Tradition of our inspired teachers hath, by mystic Interpretation, accordant with the Scriptures, bestowed upon us, we also have been initiated:

apprehend-ing these things in the present life (according to our powers), through the sacred veils of that loving kind-ness which in the Scriptures and the Hierarchical Traditions,  enwrappeth spiritual truths in terms drawn from the world of sense, and super-essential truths in terms drawn from Being, clothing with shapes and forms things which are shapeless and form-less, and by a variety of separable symbols, fashioning manifold attributes of the imageless and supernatural Simplicity.

But hereafter, when we are corrupt-ible and immortal and attain the blessed lot of being like unto Christ, then (as the Scripture saith), we shall be for ever with the Lord, fulfilled with His visible Theophany in holy contemplations, the which shall shine about us with radiant beams of glory (even as once of old it shone around the Disciples at the Divine Trans-figuration); and so shall we, with our mind made passionless and spiritual, participate in a spiritual illumination from Him, and in an union tran-scending our mental faculties, and there, amidst the blinding blissful impulsions of His dazzling rays, we shall, in a diviner manner than at present, be like unto the heavenly Intelligences. For, as the infallible Scripture saith, we shall be equal to the angels and shall be the Sons of God, being Sons of the Resurrection.

But at present we employ (so far as in us lies), appropriate symbols for things Divine; and then from these we press on upwards according to our powers to behold in simple unity the Truth perceived by spiritual con-templations, and leaving behind us all human notions of godlike things, we still the activities of our minds, and reach (so far as this may be) into


the Super-Essential Ray, wherein all kinds of knowledge so have their pre-existent limits (in a transcendently  inexpressible manner), that we cannot conceive nor utter It, nor in any wise contemplate the same, seeing that It surpasseth all things, and wholly exceeds our knowledge, and super-essentially contains beforehand (all conjoined within Itself) the bounds of all natural sciences and forces (while yet Its force is not circumscribed by any), and so possesses, beyond the celestial Intelligences, Its firmly fixed abode.

For if all the branches of knowledge belong to things that have being, and if their limits have reference to the existing world, then that which is beyond all Being must also be transcendent above all knowledge.


5. But if It is greater than all Reason and all knowledge, and hath Its firm abode altogether beyond Mind and Being, and circumscribes, compacts, embraces and anticipates all things while Itself is altogether beyond the grasp of them all, and cannot be reached by any perception, imagination, conjecture, name, discourse, apprehension, or under-standing, how then is our Discourse concerning the Divine Names to be accomplished, since we see that the Super-Essential Godhead is unutter-able and nameless?


Now, as we said when setting forth our Outlines of Divinity, the One, the Unknowable, the Super-Essential, the Absolute Good (I mean the Trinal Unity of Persons possessing the same Deity and Goodness), tis impossible to describe or to conceive in Its ultimate Nature; nay, even the angelical communions of the heavenly Powers Therewith which we describe as either Impulsions or Derivations from the Unknowable and blinding Goodness are themselves beyond utterance and knowledge, and belong to none but those angels who, in a manner beyond angelic knowledge, have been counted worthy thereof.


And godlike Minds, angelically entering (according to their powers) unto such states of union and being deified and united, through the ceasing of their natural activities, unto the Light Which surpasseth Deity, can find no more fitting method to celebrate its praises than to deny It every manner of Attribute.



For by a true and supernatural illumination from their blessed union Therewith, they learn that


It is the Cause of all things

and yet Itself is nothing,

because It super-essentially transcends them all.


Thus, as for the Super-Essence of the Supreme Godhead (if we would define the Transcendence of its Transcendent Goodness) it is not lawful to any lover of that Truth which is above all truth to celebrate It as Reason or Power or Mind or Life or Being, but rather as most utterly surpassing all condition, movement, life, imagination, conjecture, name, discourse, thought, conception, being, rest, dwelling, union, limit, infinity, everything that exists.


And yet since, as the Subsistence of goodness, It, by the very fact of Its existence, is the Cause of all things, in celebrating the bountiful Providence of the Supreme Godhead we must draw upon the whole creation.


For It is both the central Force of all things, and also their final Purpose,

and is Itself before them all,

and they all subsist in It;

and through the fact of Its existence the world is brought into being and maintained;

and It is that which all things desire—

those which have intuitive or discursive Reason seeking It through knowledge,

the next rank of beings through perception,

and the rest through vital movement,

or the property of mere existence belonging to their state.



Conscious of this, the Sacred Writers celebrate It by every Name while yet they call It Nameless.

6. For instance, they call It Nameless when they say that the Supreme Godhead Itself, in one of the mystical visions whereby It was symbolically manifested, rebuked him who said: “What is thy name?” and, as though bidding him not seek by any means of any Name to acquire a knowledge of God, made the answer: “Why askest thou thus after My Name seeing it is secret?” Now is not the secret Name precisely that which is above all names and nameless, and is fixed beyond every name that is named, not only in this world but also in that which is to come?


On the other hand, they attribute many names to It when, for instance, they speak of It as declaring: “I am that I am,” or “I am the Life,” or “the Light,” or “God,” or “the Truth,” and when the Inspired Writers themselves celebrate the Universal Cause with many titles drawn from the whole created universe, such as “Good,” and “Fair,” and “Wise,” as “Beloved,” as “God of Gods” and “Lord of Lords”, and “Holy of Holies,” as “Eternal,” as “Existent” and as “Creator of Ages,” as “Giver of Life,” as “Wisdom,” as “Mind,” as “Word,” as “Knower,” as “possessing beforehand all the treasures of knowledge,” as “Power,” as “Ruler,” as “King of kings,” as “Ancient of Days;” and as “Him that is the same and whose years shall not fail,” as “Salvation,” as “Righteousness,” as “Sanctification,” as “Redemption,” as “Surpassing all things in greatness,” and yet as being in “the still small breeze.”

Moreover, they say that He dwells within our minds, and in our souls and bodies, and in heaven and in earth, and that, while remaining Himself, He is at one and the same time within the world around it and above it (yea, above the sky and above existence); and they call Him a Sun, a Star, and a Fire, and Water, a Wind or Spirit, a Dew, a Cloud,  an Archetypal Stone, and a Rock, and All Creation, Who yet (they declare) is no created thing.


7. Thus, then, the Universal and Transcendent Cause must both be nameless and also possess the names of all things in order that It may truly be an universal Dominion, the Centre of creation on which all things depend, as on their Cause and Origin and Goal; and that, according to the Scriptures, It may be all in all,

and may be truly called the Creator of the world, originating and perfecting and  maintaining all things; their Defence and Dwelling, and the Attractive Force that draws them: and all this in one single, ceaseless, and transcendent act.

For the Nameless Goodness is not only the cause of cohesion or life or perfection in such wise as to derive Its Name from this or that providential activity alone; nay, rather does It contain all things beforehand within Itself, after a simple and uncircumscribed manner through the perfect excellence of Its one and all-creative Providence, and thus we draw from the whole creation Its appropriate praises and Its Names.


8. Moreover, the sacred writers proclaim not only such titles as these (titles drawn from universal or from particular providences or providential activities), but sometimes they have gained their images from certain heavenly visions (which in the holy precincts or elsewhere have illuminated the Initiates or the Prophets), and, ascribing to the super-luminous nameless Goodness titles drawn from all manner of acts and functions, have clothed It in human (fiery or amber) shapes or forms, and have spoken of Its Eyes, and Ears, and Hair, and Face, and Hands, and Wings, and Feathers, and Arms, and Back Parts, and Feet; and fashioned such mystical conceptions as its Crown, and Throne, and Cup, and Mixing Bowl, etc., concerning which things we will attempt to speak when we treat of Symbolical Divinity.


At present, collecting from the Scriptures what concerns the matter in hand, and employing as our canon the rule we have described, and guiding our search thereby, let us proceed to an exposition of God’s Intelligible Names; and as the Hierarchical Law directs us in all study of Divinity, let us approach these godlike contemplations (for such indeed they are) with our hearts predisposed unto the vision of God, and let us bring holy ears to the exposition of God’s holy Names, implanting holy Truths in holy instruments according to the Divine command, and withholding these things from the mockery and laughter of the uninitiate, or, rather, seeking to redeem those wicked men (if any such there be) from their enmity towards God.


Thou, therefore, O good Timothy, must guard these truths according to the holy Ordinance, nor must thou utter or divulge the heavenly mysteries unto the uninitiate.


And for myself I pray God grant me worthily to declare the beneficent and manifold Names of the Unutterable and Nameless Godhead, and that He do not take away the word of Truth out of my mouth.


1. And Now, O blessed one, after having considered the Outlines of Theology, I shall proceed as far as I am able to the unfolding of the divine names. Let the divine law of the writings now determine us from the beginning of our inquiry: we are to make known the truth of what is said about God “not by trusting the persuasive logoi of human wisdom but by bringing forth the power”[1] of the Spirit which moves the theologians. Hereby, will you be ineffably and unknowingly joined to what is ineffable and unknowable in a far greater union than we can attain through our rational and intellectual powers and activities.

In general, then, one must neither dare to say –nor clearly, to conceive– anything about the hidden divinity beyond being[2] contrary to what has been divinely manifested to us in the sacred writings. For one must attribute to the unknowing of the beyond beingness itself –beyond logos, intellect, and being– a knowledge beyond being. Once we refuse such [logos, intellect and being] in our ascent, to the extent that the ray of the godhead freely gives of itself, we are drawn inward toward greater splendors by a temperance and piety for what is divine. For if it is necessary to have trust in the all-wise and most true theology, then what is divine uncovers itself and is inspected according to the analogy of each intellect.[3] For, in a saving justice[4] the thearchic goodness appropriately separates its non-measuredness, as uncontained, from what is measured.



In the same way as what is intelligible is incomprehensible and unseen to the senses,[5] and just as what is simple and formless is incomprehensible and unseen to what has shape and form, and just as the invisible and unstructured formlessness of what is bodiless is incomprehensible and unstructured to those who attend to what has been formed according to the structure of bodies, then according to the same logos of truth:



The indefiniteness beyond being / lies beyond beings.

The unity beyond intellect / lies beyond intellect.

The one beyond thought / is unintelligible to all thinking.

The good beyond logos: / ineffable to all logos


unity unifying every unity[6]


being beyond being

non-intelligible intellect / ineffable logos





be-ing according to no being


cause of being to all; but itself: non-be-ing,

as it is beyond every being, and


So that it would properly and knowingly / manifest itself about itself.


2. Thus, as has been said, we must neither dare to say –nor, clearly, to conceive– anything about the hidden divinity that is contrary to what has been divinely manifested to us in the sacred writings. For, as it has fittingly communicated about itself[7] in the writing, the knowledge and contemplation of it, whatever it is, is inaccessible to all; for, it is apart from all beyond every manner of being. You shall find that many theologians have celebrated it, not only as invisible and unencompassed, but also as at once unsearchable and untrackable; for, there is no path for those who penetrate into its infinite hiddenness.



Clearly, the good is not wholly unshared by any being. But, of itself, the founding ray beyond being is abidingly and fittingly revealed to the analogical illumination of each being. The good stretches forth the sacred intellects toward their desired contemplations of it, toward communion and likeness with it; they are sacredly thrown upon it as far as the divine law permits. Thus, they neither powerlessly vaunt themselves boldly against[8] that which is more excellent than its harmoniously given theophanies, nor do they slip away in a descent from their inferiority to something worse. Rather, they [holy intellects] are stretched forth by the commensurate love for the illuminations which are permitted them. They are wisely and piously raised up with a sacred reverence as though on new wings.


3. When we follow these thearchic bonds which govern the splendid ordering of the super-celestial orders, and both when we honor the thearchic hiddenness beyond intellect[9] and being by non-searching, sacred, and reverent intellects and when we honor what is ineffable by a temperate silence, then we are lifted up to the bright light which wholly illumines us in the sacred writings.


They guide us in their light toward the thearchic celebration; we are super-cosmically illuminated by them. Thus, we are formed toward the sacred logos of celebration and toward seeing the thearchic[10] light which is commensurately given to us by them.


Thus do we celebrate the good-giving source of every sacred manifestation of light as it has bestowed itself in the sacred writings:

It alone is cause, source, being and life of all,


a recalling and resurrecting of those who have fallen away from it,

a renewal and re-formation of those who are slipping away toward a destruction of the divine form,

a sacred foundation of those who are tossed about in an unholy tempest,

a security against falling for those who stand upright,

a guiding hand which is stretched out for those who are being led back to it



an illumination for those who are illumined,[11]

a source of completion for those who are completed,

a god-source for those who are deified,

a simplicity for those who are simplified,


an unity for those who are unified,

the source of every source / beyond-beingly beyond every source,

and the good gift of what is hidden / according to the divine law.



To speak simply:

it is the life of all that lives and

the being of all beings,

the source and cause of every life and being,

through its goodness it brings forth and

conserves beings in being.


4. We are initiated into these matters by the sacred writings. You shall find, as it were, that every sacred celebration of the theologians prepares, in a manifesting and celebrating way, the divine names with a view to the good-providing procession of the godhead. For this reason, in nearly all theological matters, we shall see the godhead celebrated as:

Monad and unity.[12] This is on account of the simplicity and unity of its partlessness which is beyond nature. From this, as a power of unification, we are super-cosmically unified and brought together into a divinely formed monad and divinely imitating unity from the folding together of our divisibility and otherness.[13]

Trinity.[14] This is the three-person manifestation of the fecundity beyond being. From this all fatherness in heaven and earth both is and is named.


—Cause of beings. For all have been brought forward into being through its being-producing goodness.

—Wise and beautiful. For all beings are preserved in what is incorruptible of their own nature and indeed are filled with every divine harmony and sacred good form.

The love of man of the godhead is also excellent. For, in harmony with truth, it has been wholly communicated to us[15] in one of its three persons so that it recalls and raises human purposes to itself. From this the simple Jesus was ineffably composed; the everlasting received a temporal dimension and came to be equal in our nature with its unchanging and steady founding of those things which are fitting to it. Nevertheless, according to every nature, it exceeds every nature beyond every manner of being.

The hidden traditions of our divinely inspired leaders[16] have given us many other theurgic lights[17] which we have learned in harmony with the writings.

Now [in our present life] we analogously learn through the sacred veils[18] of the human love of the writings and of the hierarchic traditions. These hide both what is intelligible in what is sensible and what is beyond being in beings. These bestow form and shape to the formless and shapeless and multiply and break up the unstructured simplicity by a diversity of divisible symbols.



Hereafter, when we have come to be indestructible and immortal[19] and have attained a most blessed and Christ-like lot, “we shall” as the writings say, “be always with the Lord” and shall be filled with his visible theophany[20] in the holy contemplations which shall illumine us with the most brilliant splendors as the disciples were in that most divine transfiguration. We shall share in his intellectual gifts of light with a passionless and pure intellect. We shall share in the unity beyond intellect in the unknown and blessed radiations of the rays that are beyond every light. Thus shall we be a more divine imitation of the super-celestial intellects. For, as the truth of the writings say “we shall be equal to the angels and will be sons of God, by being sons of the resurrection.”


But now, as far as is attainable by us, we employ the fitting symbols for what is divine; from these we are analogically lifted up to the simple and unified truth of the intellectual visions of God which are beyond our intellection of the divine ideas. Once we cease our intellectual activities, we are thrust upon the ray beyond being as far as the divine law permits.


In this ray the limits of all knowledge have pre-subsisted in a more than ineffable way.[21] It is not possible to conceive, to speak, or in any way to contemplate this ray; for, it is apart from all, beyond unknowing, and at once the completing ends of all essential knowledge and powers. It has anticipated, beyond every manner of being, all in itself and is founded beyond all the super-celestial intellects by its unencompassed powers.



For if all knowledge is of beings and has its limits in beings, then that beyond every being is apart from every knowledge.



5. Yet, clearly, if it is superior to every logos and every knowledge of it, if it is wholly established beyond intellect and being – be-ing a comprehending, a gathering, and a unifying of all, and before the gathering of all – and if it is wholly incomprehensible to all, such that there is neither sensation, imagination, opinion, name, logos, touch,[22] or knowledge of it, how is the logos about the divine names to be examined by us? For we have shown that the divinity beyond being is incomprehensible and beyond all names.


But this is just what we said when we set forth our Outlines of Theology: it is not possible to conceive the one, the unknown, the good itself beyond being which is itself, as I affirm, the triadic unity, the god-like and the good-like. Indeed, even the angelically appropriate unions of the holy power, which we speak of as emissions or receptions of the goodness beyond all unknowing and light, are ineffable and unknowable; they come to be only in those angels who are beyond angelic knowledge and are deemed to have need of them.



The divinely formed intellects – which are unified by way of imitating angels as far as possible[23] (for it is in ceasing all intellectual activities that such a union emerges among such consecrated intellects as come to be engaged in the light unity beyond god) – celebrate it most fittingly through the denial of all beings.


As a result of their most blessed union they truly and brilliantly illuminate this:


It is cause of all;

but itself: nothing[24]

as beyond-beingly apart from all.


To none of those who are lovers of the truth beyond every truth is it permissible to celebrate the thearchic-beyond-beingness, whatever is the beyond-source beyond goodness, as logos, power, intellect, life, or being. For it is preeminently removed from everything whatsoever that is be-ing: from every habit, motion, life, imagination, opinion, name, logos, thinking, intellection, being, rest, foundation, unity, limit, and non-limit.



Yet since it is cause of all by its being (as source of goodness), it is necessary to celebrate the good-source-providence of the godhead[25] in relation to the totality of what is caused:



All are about it and for the sake of it,

it is before all,

all have been brought together in it,

it is the bringing forth of all and / what stands under all,

all desire it:


the intellectual and rational / in a knowing way,

what is inferior to these / in a sensible way, and

all others, / according to their habituated capacity

for a living or merely existing motion.



6. Seeing this, the theologians celebrate it as nameless and in accordance with all names. Thus, they call it nameless when the godhead itself, in one of the mystical sights of the symbolic manifestation of God, rebukes him who says “What is thy name?” by saying “To what end to you ask my name, for it is the most wondrous of all?” [Judg. 13:17-18] and leads him away from a knowledge of the divine names. For it is not this truly the most wondrous name: the nameless beyond all names, which is placed beyond “every name which is named either in this age or in the future?”




Yet they do give it many names and introduce it as: “I am who am,” “life,” “light,” “God,” and “truth.” Those who are wise of God themselves celebrate the cause of all beings in terms of the totality of what is caused and with many names: “good,” “beautiful,” “wise,” “beloved,” “God of gods,” “Lord of lords,” “Holy of holies,” “age,” “be-ing,” “cause of every age,” “leader of life,” “wisdom,” “intellect,” “logos,” “knower,” “beyond having the treasure of every knowledge,” “power,” “empowered,” “King of those who are ruled,” “Ancient of days,” “not aging and unchanging,” “savior,” “justice,” “sanctification,” “redemption,” “surpassing all in greatness,” “in the still small breeze.”





And, further, they say that it is in intellects, in souls, in bodies, in the heaven and in the earth and at one and the same time in itself, in the cosmos, around the cosmos, beyond the cosmos, beyond the heaven, and beyond being. It is named “sun,” “air,” “fire,” “water,” “spirit,” “dew,” “cloud,” “a stone itself,” and “a rock”: all beings, yet nothing among beings.




7. Thus, both nameless and all the names of beings befit the cause of all, be-ing beyond all, precisely so that it would be king of all and all would be about it –being raised to it as cause, source, and limit– and so that it would be “all in all” as the writings say.

Thus, we truly celebrate it to be the support, source of guidance, connection, completion, protection and hearth of all,[26] and as reverting [all] to itself. [It accomplishes] these in a unified, immeasurable, and excellent way.

For it is not only the cause of connection, of life, or of completion such that the goodness beyond name would be named from one or another of its providences. Rather, it has anticipated the all simply and infinitely in itself: the all complete goodness of its one and all causing providence. Thus, it is to be harmoniously celebrated and named in terms of all beings.



8. Indeed, not only do the theologians worship those divine names which are drawn from either its complete or particular providences or from those for which it has provided, but these names are also drawn from certain divine visions which have in some way illuminated the initiates and the prophets in the sacred places or elsewhere. Hence, they name the beyond brilliant and beyond named goodness according to one cause and power after another. Thus, too, they bestow upon it human, fiery, or amber forms and shapes; they celebrate its ears, hair, faces, hands, wings, feathers, arms, backparts, and feet. They form around it a crown, throne, cup and mixing bowl and certain other mystical things. We have discussed all of these according to our powers in our work entitled Symbolic Theology.


But now, collecting those parts of the holy writings which are important for the present inquiry, and employing what has been so far said as a canon – thus we make our inquiry with respect to them – let us proceed to the unfolding of the intelligible divine names as the hierarchic law demands of every theology. By a thinking which seeks the divine, we shall become initiated. With sacred ears, we shall take up the unfolding of the sacred divine names. We shall establish what is holy in those who are holy in accordance with the divine tradition. We shall remove them from the laughter and mockery of the uninitiated and, if there are such persons as these uninitiated ones, we shall purify them from their war against God.



You then, dear Timothy, observe these according to the hierarchic guidance and do not speak of them [the divine names] nor make them known to the uninitiated.

Let God grant that I may celebrate in a fitting way the many-named good works of the incomprehensible and nameless divinity. May he not remove the logos of truth from my mouth.



1. And so, my friend, after The Theological Representations, I come now to an explication of the divine names, as far as possible. Here too let us hold on to the scriptural rule that when we say anything about God, we should set down the truth “not in the plausible words of human wisdom but in demonstration of the power granted by the Spirit” to the scripture writers, a power by which, in a manner surpassing speech and knowledge, we reach a union superior to anything available to us by way of our own abilities or activities in the realm of discourse or of intellect.



This is why we must not dare to resort to words or conceptions concerning that hidden divinity which transcends being, apart from what the sacred scriptures have divinely revealed. 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 corporal 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.

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.


2. Now as I have already said, we must not dare to apply words or conceptions to this hidden transcendent God. We can use only what scripture has disclosed. In the scriptures the Deity has benevolently taught us that understanding and direct contemplation of itself is inaccessible to beings, since it actually surpasses beings. Many scripture writers will tell you that the divinity is not only invisible and incomprehensible, but also “unsearchable and inscrutable,” since there is not a trace for anyone who would reach through into the hidden depths of this infinity.




And yet, on the other hand, the Good is not absolutely incommunicable to everything. By itself it generously reveals a firm, transcendent beam, granting enlightenments proportionate to each being, and thereby draws sacred minds upward to its permitted contemplation, to participation and to the state of becoming like it. What happens to those that rightly and properly make this effort is this. They do not venture toward an impossibly daring sight of God, one beyond what is duly granted them. Nor do they go tumbling downward where their own natural inclinations would take them. No. Instead they are raised firmly and unswervingly upward in the direction of the ray which enlightens them. With a love matching the illuminations granted them, they take flight, reverently, wisely, in all holiness.



3. We go where we are commanded by those divine ordinances which rule all the sacred ranks of the heavenly orders. With our minds made prudent and holy, we offer worship to that which lies hidden beyond thought and beyond being. With a wise silence we do honor to the inexpressible. We are raised up to the enlightening beams of the sacred scriptures, and



with these to illuminate us, with our beings shaped to songs of praise, we behold the divine light, in a manner befitting us, and




our praise resounds for that generous Source of all holy enlightenment, a Source which has told us about itself in the holy words of scripture.

We learn, for instance, that / it is the cause of everything, that it is origin, being, and life.

To those who fall away it is the voice calling, “Come back!” and it is the power which raises them up again.

It refurbishes and restores the image of God corrupted within them.

It is the sacred stability which is there for them when the tide of unholiness is tossing them about.

It is safety for those who made a stand. It is

the guide bringing upward those uplifted to it and is



the enlightenment of the illuminated.

Source of perfection for those being made perfect,

source of divinity for those being deified,

principle of simplicity for those turning toward simplicity,


point of unity for those made one;

transcendently, beyond what is, it is the Source of every source.

Generously and as far as may be, it gives out a share of what is hidden.



To sum up.

It is the Life of the living,

the being of beings, it is

the Source and the Cause of all life and of all being,

for out of its goodness it commands all things to be

and it keeps them going.


4. We learn of all these mysteries from the divine scriptures and you will find that what the scripture writers have to say regarding the divine names refers, in revealing praises, to the beneficent processions of God. And so all these scriptural utterances celebrate the supreme Deity by describing it as a


monad or henad, because of its supernatural simplicity and indivisible unity, by which unifying power we are led to unity. We, in the diversity of what we are, are drawn together by it and are led into a godlike oneness, into a unity reflecting God.


They also describe it as a Trinity, for with a transcendent fecundity it is manifested as “three persons.” This is why “all fatherhood in heaven and on earth is an is named after it.”


They call it Cause of beings since in its goodness it employed its creative power to summon all things into being,

and it is hailed as wise and beautiful because beings which keep their nature uncorrupted are filled with divine harmony and sacred beauty.


But they especially call it loving toward humanity, because in one of its persons it accepted a true share of what it is we are, and thereby issued a call to man’s lowly state to rise up to it. In a fashion beyond words, the simplicity of Jesus became something complex, the timeless took on the duration of the temporal, and, with neither change nor confusion of what constitutes him, he came into our human nature, he who totally transcends the natural order of the world.


This is the kind of divine enlightenment into which we have been initiated by the hidden tradition of our inspired teachers, a tradition at one with scripture.

We now grasp these things in the best way we can, and as they come to us, wrapped in the sacred veils of that love toward humanity with which scripture and hierarchical traditions cover the truths of the mind with things derived from the realm of the senses. And so it is that the Transcendent is clothed in the terms of being, with shape and form on things which have neither, and numerous symbols are employed to convey the varied attributes of what is an imageless and supra-natural simplicity.

But in time to come, when we are incorruptible and immortal, when we have come at last to the blessed inheritance of being like Christ, then, as scripture says, “we shall always be with the Lord.” In most holy contemplation we shall be ever filled with the sight of God shining gloriously around us as once it shone for the disciples at the divine transfiguration. And there we shall be, our minds away from passion and from earth, and we shall have a conceptual gift of light from him and, somehow, in a way we cannot know, we shall be united with him and, our understanding carried away, blessedly happy, we shall be struck by his blazing light. Marvelously, our minds will be like those in the heavens above. We shall be “equal to angels and sons of God, being sons of the resurrection.” That is what the truth of scripture affirms.

But as for now, what happens is this. We use whatever appropriate symbols we can for the things of God. With these analogies we are raised upward toward the truth of the mind’s vision, a truth which is simple and one. We leave behind us all our own notions of the divine. We call a halt to the activities of our minds and, to the extent that is proper, we approach the ray which transcends being.


Here, in a manner no words can describe, preexisted all the goals of all knowledge and it is of a kind that neither intelligence nor speech can lay hold of it nor can it at all be contemplated since it surpasses everything and is wholly beyond our capacity to know it. Transcendently it contains within itself the boundaries of every natural knowledge and energy. At the same time it is established by an unlimited power beyond all the celestial minds.



And if all knowledge is of that which is and is limited to the realm of the existent, then whatever transcends being must also transcend knowledge.




5. How then can we speak of the divine names? How can we do this if the Transcendent surpasses all discourse and all knowledge, if it abides beyond the reach of mind and of being, if it encompasses and circumscribes, embraces and anticipates all things while itself eluding their grasp and escaping from any perception, imagination, opinion, name, discourse, apprehension, or understanding? How can we enter upon this undertaking if the Godhead is superior to being and is unspeakable and unnameable?


I said in my Theological Representations that one can neither discuss nor understand the One, the Superunknowable, the Transcendent, Goodness itself, that is, the Triadic Unity possessing the same divinity and the same goodness. Nor can one speak about and have knowledge of the fitting way in which the holy angels can commune with the comings or with the effects of the transcendently overwhelming Goodness. Such things can neither be talked about nor grasped except by the angels who in some mysterious fashion have been deemed worthy.



Since the union of divinized minds with the Light beyond all deity occurs in the cessation of all intelligent activity, the godlike unified minds who imitate these angels as far as possible praise it most appropriately through the denial of all beings.




Truly and supernaturally enlightened after this blessed union, they discover that


although it is the cause of everything, it is not a thing

since it transcends all things

in a manner beyond being.


Hence, with regard to the supra-essential being of God –transcendent Goodness transcendently there– no lover of the truth which is above all truth will seek to praise it as word or power or mind or life or being. No. It is at a total remove from every condition,  movement, life, imagination, conjecture, name, discourse, thought, conception, being, rest, dwelling, unity, limit, infinity, the totality of existence.




And yet, since it is the underpinning of goodness, and by merely being there is the cause of everything, to praise this divinely beneficent Providence you must turn to all of creation.


It is there at the center of everything and everything has it for a destiny.

It is there “before all things

and in it all things hold together.”

Because it is there the world has come to be and exists.

All things long for it.


The intelligent and rational long for it by way of knowledge,

the lower strata by way of perception,

the remainder / by way of the stirrings of being alive

and in whatever fashion befits their condition.



6. Realizing all this, the theologians praise it by every name – and as the Nameless One. For they call it nameless when they speak of how the supreme Deity, during a mysterious revelation of the symbolical appearance of God, rebuked the man who asked, “ What is your name?” and led him away from any knowledge of the divine name by countering, “Why do you ask my name, seeing it is wonderful?” This surely is the wonderful “name which is above every name” and is therefore without a name. It is surely the name established “above every name that is named either in this age or in that which is to come.”




And yet on the other hand they give it many names, such as “I am being,” “life,” “light,” “God,” the “truth.” These same wise writers, when praising the Cause of everything that is, use names drawn from all the things caused: good, beautiful, wise, beloved, God of gods, Lord of Lords, Holy of Holies, eternal, existent, Cause of the ages. They call him source of life, wisdom, mind, word, knower, possessor beforehand of all the treasures of knowledge, power, powerful, and King of Kings, ancient of days, the unaging and unchanging, salvation, righteousness and sanctification, redemption, greatest of all and yet the one in the still breeze.






They say he is in our minds, in our souls, and in our bodies, in heaven and on earth, that while remaining ever within himself he is also in and around and above the world, that he is above heaven and above all being, that he is sun, star, and fire, water, wind, and dew, cloud, archetypal stone, and rock, that he is all, that he is no thing.




7. And so it is that as Cause of all and as transcending all, he is rightly nameless and yet has the names of everything that is. Truly he has dominion over all and all things revolve around him, for he is their cause, their source, and their destiny. He is “all in all,” as scripture affirms,

and certainly he is to be praised as being for all things the creator and originator, the One who brings them to completion, their preserver, their protector, and their home, the power which returns them to itself, and all this in the one single, irrepressible, and supreme act.

For the unnamed goodness is not just the cause of cohesion or life or perfection so that it is from this or that providential gesture that it earns a name, but it actually contains everything beforehand within itself – and this in an uncomplicated and boundless manner – and it is thus by virtue of the unlimited goodness of its single all-creative Providence. Hence the songs of praise and the names for it are fittingly derived from the sum total of creation.


8. These are not the only names for God favored by the scripture writers, these drawn from universal or individual acts of Providence or from those provided for. Some too have their origin in spiritual visions which enlightened initiates or prophets in the holy places or elsewhere. For all sorts of reasons and because of all sorts of dynamic energies they have applied to the divine Goodness, which surpasses every name and every splendor, descriptions of every sort – human, fiery, or amber shapes and forms; they praise its eyes, ears, hair, face, and hands, back, wings, and arms, a posterior, and feet. They have placed around it such things as crowns, chairs, cups, mixing bowls, and similar mysterious items of which I will do my best to speak in The Symbolic Theology.




However let us for the moment proceed to an explication of the conceptual names of God, collecting, for this purpose, what scripture has to say and being guided in the manner I have already mentioned. And as hierarchical law leads us whenever we study the entire Word of God, let us behold these acts of heavenly contemplation –which is indeed what they are– ready for a sight of God and our hearing made holy as we listen to the explication of the divine names. As the divine tradition so commands [597C] us, let the holy be there only for the holy, and let such things be kept away from the mockery and the laughter of the uninitiated. Or, rather, let us try to rescue such men and turn them from their hostility to God.



So, my Good Timothy, you must guard these things in accordance with divine command and you must never speak nor divulge divine things to the uninitiated.


As for me, I pray that God should allow me to praise in a divine way the beneficent and divine names of the unutterable and unnameable Deity, and that he “take not the word of truth from out of my mouth.”


[1] 1 Cor 2:4

[2] John of Scythopolis: “[…] The divinity of the only God, which is hidden from all, is a ‘thearchic power’ because it is the source [archousa] of those who are called gods, whether angels or holy persons, as also it is the creator of those who become gods by participation, in so far as it is in truth divinity itself, from itself and without cause.”

[3] John of Scythopolis: “Observe how he calls the Scripture of the divine Paul ‘true theology’, for it was he who said that enlightenment is clearly furnished by God ‘according to the measure’ of each one’s capacity [2 Cor. 10:13 or Rom. 12:3]. The Lord also indicated this when he said to his more perfect disciples, ‘To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom’ [Matt. 132:11], and this, because they applied themselves more intently to the prophecies. The great Dionysius said that this was uttered not only respecting people, but also respecting the angels, whom (following certain outside philosophers) he was wont to call ‘minds’. Some of the higher orders were called ‘minds’, in so far as they are essentially and completely mind, and understand singly all things which flow from God directly to them. For this reason also, all of the most holy Cherubim together are said to be covered with eyes.”

[4] John of Scythopolis: “He says that God reveals himself to each in a proportion to their capacity, not because he begrudges the majority, but because he preserves justice in measuring out the knowledge of God, for justice is the appropriate granting to each in proportion to their merit. The knowledge of God is without measure, but we need measures. If it were revealed to us without measure, we would not be preserved, just as a bodily eye cannot receive the whole sun.”

[5] John of Scythopolis: “In this passage he establishes the incomprehensibility of the knowledge of God. If not even simple and formless things, even though they are beings, are subject to the senses (e.g. angels and souls are not subject to the bodily senses); how much more does God transcend the senses – God, I say, who is not being, but beyond being; not simple, but beyond simplicity; not mind, but even beyond mind; not henad, but even beyond henad; not circumscribed by a limit, but free from the circumscriptions of beings. When, therefore, you hear in the Scripture of a shape and form and face of God, think of God worthily by being uplifted beyond bodies. Likewise, when you hear of unity, do not think of a concourse of certain differences into unity. The present treatise does not concern such things; it concerns God, who is not the source of numbers, not even an uncompounded source, but is unified even beyond the simple beings.”

[6] John of Scythopolis [“henad unifying every henad”]: “Henceforth, after distinguishing the things of God from all the things among beings, at last, in accordance with the limits of human speech –for one cannot escape these– he praises God by those very things from which he has distinguished him.

He calls him a ‘henad’, but adds ‘unifying every henad’, that is, the creator of all simple beings, such as angels and souls.

He calls him an ‘unthinkable mind’, which is to say, that which is not thought by any mind. For if like is known by like, it is necessary that, if he were mind, he be known by minds. But ‘who has known the mind of the Lord’ [Isa. 40:13 LXX and Rom. 11:34]? Accordingly, he is ‘mind beyond mind’ and ‘name beyond every name’ [Phil. 2:9]. ‘My name’, he says, ‘I did not speak to them’ [Exod. 6:3]. Thus also he is ‘unnamed’ to all.

Neither is he ‘that which is’. For if he created beings from non-beings, he is not a being, but beyond beings. Even if he says, ‘I am who am’ [Exod. 3:14], understand worthily that he is without beginning and end, and ‘unsearchable’ [Rom. 11:33].”

[7] John of Scythopolis: “God alone understands the things of God, since he with understanding properly knows himself as he is. But to all those outside he is not clearly known, namely, both what he is and how he is, for ‘no one knows the Father except the Son, and no one knows the Son except the Father’ [Matt. 11:27] – since the Father knows his own venerable image (i.e. the Son), he also knows himself. The same holds true with respect to the Holy Spirit, for ‘no one knows the things of God, except the Spirit who is from God’ [1 Cor. 2:11]. All things, therefore, which this blessed man contemplated concerning God, he also understood to relate to the venerable Trinity.”

[8] John of Scythopolis [“Venture toward an impossibly”]: “Rightly does he say ‘impossibly’. Even if one were to attempt this, one would not succeed, but because one caused one’s intellectual sight to grow dim, one would only fall away from the true light, since one obstinately received the whole sun with one’s corporeal eye – that sun, I say, hinting at which, the divine and intelligible powers, the Cherubim and Seraphim, cover their faces, indicating that they do not strive after a contemplation which is above them and has not been granted to them [Isa. 6]. {…}”

[9] John of Scythopolis [Beyond thought]: “From these things it is quite possible to overcome the madness of Arius and Eunomius, who made bold to quibble about the essence of the only-begotten, an essence which is in fact ineffable and beyond being itself.”

[10] John of Scythopolis [The Thearchy]: “He everywhere calls the all-ruling Trinity ‘the Thearchy’, since it is the source of those called gods, that is, angels and saints, as we have said. The incomprehensible [nature] of that unnamable being is ‘hidden’. A little later he asserts this same thing, when he uses the phrase ‘with a prudent silence’; and a little earlier, when he said ‘in a manner befitting the sacred’.”

[11] John of Scythopolis: “Step by step, as if progressing to what is greater, he says that they are first illuminated and then perfected. To be perfected is to be led into perfection through the advance which comes about after baptism through right-living, so that one is able to say, ‘I have finished the race, I have kept the faith’ [2 Tim 4:7]. The venerable Trinity is rightly thought to be the source of such a rite, since also it is the effective source of all perfection. Those advancing to perfection are wholly deified by becoming ‘partakers of the divine nature’ [2 Pet 1:4]. God is the Thearchy of such as these according to their capacity, since he is the source of those who have become gods. After this ascent they advance into simplicity by becoming equal to the angels through the resurrection, and according to the apostle, by no longer having an ensouled body [cf. 1 Cor 15:44], that is, no longer subsisting and being moved through a soul. Rather they have a spiritual body, which is to say, through the Holy Spirit which is poured out upon them they are freed from the manifold diversity of thoughts and from the senses. Then they are united by being led into the henad of simplicity, as we said before, for he says the same elsewhere. ‘The company of those who believed were of one heart and soul’ [Acts 4:32].”

[12] John of Scythopolis [As a monad]: “Here he makes clear what he especially wishes to signify by predicating ‘henad and monad’ of God. He says that the theologians said this in order to establish the undividedness of God. That which is distinguished by bulk and mass is such in so far as body is divided; that which is undivided has no share of body, but rather is even above every incorporeality.

Moreover, when God by thinking willingly established all things, this took place not like some mind divided into thoughts is multiplied, but having remained and remaining, he says, in the henad without division and dissipation he established and establishes the creation. For God ‘is working still’, as it is said in the Gospels [John 5:17]. Therefore, he is beyond simplicity, since without division he transcends every simplicity.”

[13] John of Scythopolis: “In the case of both the super-celestial worlds and this visible world, lower things turn toward higher things and the corporeal is established in the living, for ‘in his hand are the depths of the earth’ [Ps 95:4]. This also holds true with respect to the heavens, for ‘in him are all things’ [Rom 11:36]. In the case of us mortals, the opposite holds, for the soul turns toward the spirit in which are grounded the senses and thoughts through which we think about the objects of our inquiry – which spirit knows the things which are in man, according to the apostle [cf. 1 Cor 2:11]. Therefore, the soul, by turning toward that spirit, also turns toward the senses in it; and through them, to the body. Moreover, the conceptions in the mind are in some sense divided: by way of dissipation they advance into differences – from the first conception into the second conception, either better or worse. Therefore, he says that we, when we stretch upward toward God, are made an indivisible one by that henad, when our manifold differences are collected from dissipation into an enfolding and are made one supernaturally, that is, in a manner that is not sensible, but intelligent – when we are no longer irreconciled to ourselves, but become one in form, even as ‘he is one’, as it is said in the Gospels [John 17:22].”

[14] John of Scythopolis: “Note the ‘thrice-hypostatic Trinity’. By ‘fecundity’ he means the paternal procession beyond thought unto the revelation of the Son and the Holy Spirit. Rightly does he say ‘as a Trinity’, for not number, but glory is meant: ‘the Lord God is one Lord’ [Deut 6:4].”

[15] John of Scythopolis [“A true share”]: “{…} See how he says that ‘one of the hypostases wholly participated in us’. As the apostle said: ‘in him the fullness of the Deity dwells bodily’ [Col 2:9]. The word ‘wholly’ is also contrary to Apollinaris.”

[16] John of Scythopolis: “Note that lofty matters and what is beyond the hearing of the masses, whether it relates to the theology or the economy of the life-giving God – all these things, I say, the divine apostles handed on in a hidden manner, when they revealed them secretly to the perfect.

“Note also that the expression ‘without confusion’ and ‘without change’, which he used, are from the apostles, as also is the expression ‘the whole man’.

“Accordingly, when the apostle wrote to the Thessalonians, he said that they must guard all that they heard ‘either by word of mouth or by letter’ [2 Thess. 2:14]. When he wrote to Timothy, again he spoke of what had been ‘entrusted’ [2 Tim 1:12, 14] in secret. In the present text this is referred to as happening ‘by means of revelation’.”

[17] John of Scythopolis: “By ‘theurgical lights’ he means the teachings of the saints, in so far as they infuse the light of knowledge and cause those who believe to become gods.”

[18] John of Scythopolis: “Note that one must place in a single rank both holy Scripture and the traditions of the bishops (whom he was wont to call ‘hierarchs’, since they rule over priests [hiereon], that is, elders and deacons and door-keepers, as he says in his treatise on our hierarchy). Because of this single rank we also have faith in their doctrinal sayings.

“From these oracles, he says, crass images are predicated of things which are beyond being, for the sake of our thought and mystagogy – in the case of God, when he appears as fire [Deut. 4:24] and as an old man in Daniel [Dan 7:9, 13, 22] and as a man who wrestles with Jacob [Gen 32:24-29], and so forth; in the case of angels, like the Cherubim when they are in the form of wild beasts and various sorts of men and youths.”

[19] John of Scythopolis: “Note that in the resurrection in addition to incorruptibility and immortality the saints will attain a Christ-like state, shining brighter than the sun, as also did the Lord when he was transfigured on the mountain [Like 9:28-36] – even as the apostle says concerning the saints, t that time they will be even as he is, and they ‘will be always with the Lord’ [1 Thess. 4:16].”

[20] John of Scythopolis: “Note that he calls even his divine body a ‘visible theophany’ so as to adapt his comment in the same way against both the Nestorians and the Acephalians, as well as against those who suppose that the Lord is neither now nor in the future with flesh.

“Note also, on the one hand, what his ‘visible theophany’ is – ensouled flesh; on the other hand, what his ‘intelligible’ theophany is – that which will be intelligibly shared by us more perfectly at that time. {…}”

[21] John of Scythopolis [“In a manner no words can describe, pre-existed”]: “You should make a special effot to understand the word ‘re-existed’, for in what follows he makes clear all the other things [mentioned in this passage]. Moreover, from this it will be understood how the apostle says that we were in God ‘before the foundation of the world’ [Eph 1:4]. Now then, one must know that the production of all things depends upon him as cause and principle, since all beings are from him. Reasonably, just as all future things will happen through his unknowable act of will, they also pre-existed in him who knew both what he would produce and when he would produce it. Therefore, those things which before the ages were foreknown in him, ‘pre-existed’, for before the intelligible were produced (i.e. the ages) and before every other creature, the things which will be were known to him, as it is said, ‘He who knew all things before their generation’ [Sus. 42], and again, ‘Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you’ [Jer. 1:5].”

[22] John of Scythopolis [“Apprehension”]: “By ‘touch’ he here means intelligent comprehension, for when in understanding we intuit intelligible and immaterial things by means of the mind, we seem in some way to touch them and through the mind to perceive what sorts of things they are, as also we do through touching sensible objects. In the case of God, however, we do not touch him, even intelligently.”

[23] John of Scythopolis: “He says that the godlike minds ‘in imitation of the angels’ (to the extent that they can) are led into union with the holy powers, which powers he has already called ‘angels’. One must understand these godlike minds to be our theologians (i.e. our prophets and apostles). One must not suppose him to be speaking of angels (especially on the basis of the phrase ‘in imitation of the angels’), for an angel does not imitate an angel, but what is less [imitates what is greater]. <…>”

[24] John of Scythopolis: “One must understand that God is ‘nothing’ as follows, namely, in so far as he is not a being, for the cause of beings is beyond beings. <…>”

[25] John of Scythopolis: “With these words he refutes the ignorant opinions of those who dare to say that the creative faculty is in God by nature, as also weaving is in spiders, for he says that God produced the universe through his goodness alone.

“None of the theologians dared to praise God on the basis of what he is (i.e. his essence), for this cannot be known. Rather, based on God’s outward procession (i.e. his providence), they praise his providence over all things [or] ‘his effects’, that is, those things which subsist through him as cause.

“All things desire divine providence through which they both exist and subsist, but intelligent and rational things do this mentally. As many things as (through being mind) think the higher intelligible – these are called intelligences, for that which is thought is the intelligible, which is also the ‘food of the intelligent (i.e. that which thinks). Accordingly, as many things as (through their being intelligent, for mind thinks) are rational and apply themselves mentally to the providence of God – these desire God according to their capacity.

“As many things as are below the intelligences and have a sensible soul, I mean, beasts and all things with ensouled bodies but no reason, whose soul, because it is composed of the elements and material fire, has its existence in a material spirit – all these, I say, because they are driven to eat and drink by sense perception alone, suitably desire through sense perception the one who manages [the universe]. As it is said, ‘These all look to thee, to give them their food in due season’ [Ps 104:27]. You will find many such things in Job and David [e.g. Job 38:39-21 {???!?}, Ps. 148].

“There are other things, however, which have neither sense perception nor a soul but only a certain vegetative or vital motion. Plants and grasses would fall into this class. Such as these subsist through their possession of this vital spirit alone, not being equipped with a faculty of sense perception. Through excessive dryness trees and the like can be deprived of this vegetative spirit through which they grow and flower. It is for these reasons that even such as these seem to desire divine providence in which they both subsist and flourish. Accordingly, in the 148th Psalm they are presented as praising God for his maintenance [Ps. 148 passim]. Therefore, although lacking soul and sense perception, even these things have a share in his ineffable providence, but only in so far as they are alive and are endowed with a certain ‘habitual propensity’ which is present in them as a potential. A permanent quality is said to be a habit. It is through this disposition and potential that it is called such at thing. Through this habit, therefore, whatever participates only in this vegetative life in order to grow and move, essentially and habitually, but without a soul or sense perception, is said to desire the goodness of God.”

[26] There is a footnote on p.115 of Jones (cf. Cratylus 401c/d). Gk. hestia, hesia, ousia: hestia is hearth, and it is related here & in Proclus to essence and stability.

John of Scythopolis [“Their home”]: “He says that God is ‘the home [Hestia] of all things’, because he is the dwelling place of all the saints. The Lord himself said this same thing: ‘Remain in me’ [John 15:4]. Just as we are his ‘temple’ [1 Cor 6:19], according to the verse, ‘I will live in them and walk around’ [2 Cor 6:16], thus also he is our house. Rightly does he immediately add ‘in a unity’. For when he said that God is all things and that in him are all things, someone might lower his mind to composition and fall away from the truth by supposing that all things are piled up inside God, or that God is all things by way of some sort of composition. It is for this reason that he immediately cures this absurd opinion, by saying ‘unified’, that is, in his unity.

“Or to speak more properly, God is all things and in all things and yet remains beyond unity and simplicity, without division or mixture with beings. But also, he is ‘unrelatedly’ in all things, which is to say, held back or bodily circumscribed by nothing, but rather he is ‘transcendently’ in all things, for he is outside of all things, existing nowhere – he from whom are all things and who is in all, for from him all things hold together [cf. Col. 1:17].”


13 thoughts on “Pseudo-Dionysius, Divine Names, Book I

    • It really depends upon the post. This post on Denys is a very small section of a very large MS Word document that I compiled years ago in order to get a handle on what Denys was saying. It was tremendously liberating. Some of my professors were grateful to have a copy of it. (It is part of a background of hundreds or even thousands of hours of conversations that got me an honorable mention in my first advisor’s latest book — link below.) For this post, all I needed to do was to write the introduction to frame it, and to fiddle for probably 6-8 hours (broken up into several 1.5-hour sessions) with the formatting to make it display properly. I have a lot –a lot– of written material from grad school that I could post. I could post every day for a year, and not quite get rid of the stuff, but I’m working my way back over the source material, and re-evaluating most of what I wrote, so you won’t see that. I post when the source material has been properly (read: almost adequately) revisited, and I am confident I could maintain such-and-such a position before a jury of my academic peers, and repel pushbacks. I have posts that I’ve re-written over a hundred times, and still haven’t published, because I’m not confident in them. I have nearly 200 unpublished draft posts.

      Then there are poems that pop out in about an hour or two.

      Some posts I begin writing, and have finished in about an hour or five, only to doubt myself, read two or twenty books, then come back to write them. Currently post five of “The Flags of the Dead and the Promise of the Future” is in this stage. I expect that it shall be the next post, unless I finish a four- or five-part poem titled “Bridges” first. For “Flags of the Dead” I’m reading. Reading. Reading. That post is in draft form — 2k words are finished, and then there are note stubs to mark the sections yet to be written, or links to written articles or videos of UN talks, &c., that I want to work in. Likely I’ll post it before I can finish all of the reading I’d like to do, and will doubt it, and come back to it over a year from now to revise it radically.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Reblogged this on romeosyne and commented:
    This is very helpful for anyone trying to make sense of St Dionysius’ Divine Names. Keep the SC volume in your hand and scan across these four (count them) different English translations. Note that Luibheid/Rorem seems to diverge a lot from the other versions at about I.5. Why? I have my own ideas, but I need some help on the original Greek (I am fine with the French on the SC facing-pages…).

    Liked by 1 person

    • Rebloggingis the ultimate flattery. As I mentioned on your site: so glad you found this useful. I read warnings about Rorem in several places, and several not-to-be-named scholars told me to avoid him, so I thought I’d compile a list to help people to see for themselves. Rorem’s is the easiest purchase, as it is part of the Classics of Western Spirituality series — and it seems that this is unfortunate.


  2. From the introduction I conclude that you (like most everybody nowadays) are convinced that the writer of the Corpus Dionysiacum (DC) is “pseudo-something” (Dionysius or Areopagite). Perhaps without quite realizing, you are accusing that writer to be a deceiver and a liar because he states repeatedly in several of his writings (incl. the letters) that he is the Areopagite.

    Personally, I’m ever amazed how people are seemingly satisfied with the explanations given, for example that the writer copied entire stretches of Proclus’ work. Of course, if Dionysius is in fact who he claims to be, the copyist would be Proclus.

    I do not know the solution to the problem, but he who originally penned the words of the CD (some of it having been lost) cannot possibly be a deceiver and a liar.

    A possible solution (the thought is not my own):

    In the early centuries of the Christian faith there was teaching (incl. that by Dionysius) which was only taught orally. Divine Names, ch 1, sect 8: “… make the things Divine neither spoken nor known to the uninitiated.” If anything was written down, it was to be kept secret. These teachings were handed down from generation to generation, unknown to the uninitiated. Only in the sixth century these teachings became known when (for whatever reasons) a summary of the teaching and/or a copy of the original writings became known, written down by an appointed successor of Dionysius (who may well have been given the name of Dionysius himself).

    There are other examples where teachings were passed on orally only. No texts by Pythagoras are known to have survived. Ancient Pythagoreans usually quoted their master’s doctrines with the phrase “autos ephe” (“he himself said”) — emphasising the essentially oral nature of his teaching (Wikipedia).

    Perhaps the truth is yet quite different; but to me the CD is by the real Dionysius.

    By the way: Thank you for the very interesting comparison of translations. The table does not properly line up in my Firefox browser (I’m using Linux). I have thus reformatted the data and saved it to a pdf file (for personal use only). I do not much like Luibheid’s book (he does not even mention John Parker’s translation!).

    Liked by 1 person

    • Roland,

      I’m sorry I took so long to get to your comment. Life, busy — you know.

      You are correct: I take the evidence to be persuasive. I do not think Proclus copied from Denys. I do not think that he is a deceiver and a liar; I think the author wanted to write on a topic that would be unifying in the midst of Christological controversies, and knew that if he were to offer his true name, his treatises could not have the healing effects they might otherwise have — he would be dismissed by one side as a member of the “enemy team”, so to speak, and the members of his own “team” would simply champion him because of his group affiliation, rather than his teachings. There is a pedagogical and political function for his pseudonym; it has no malice, any more than Jesus’ deception to his brothers (in John’s Gospel, about whether he is going up to the temple for a feast) has malice. In his treatise On Marriage, John Chrysostom calls Jesus’ deception here ‘not so much deception, as good management’, the kind that’s needed by fathers for their wives and children, wives for their husbands and children, and children for their parents. People are often riddled with damage and even evils that cannot be addressed directly, but must be worked around so that a more fundamental issue can be tackled, to heal them, to better them. C.S. Lewis said something like this regarding fiction — “lies breathed through silver” was what he called it. Lies, but not wicked.

      I stress this because your objection seems to be largely a moral one — you seem to be unwilling to entertain that this pseudonym could be anything but a moral failing. I don’t think that’s the case.

      Also, it’s not clear that we are, actually, missing any of the CD. There are treatises that are mentioned that aren’t in the current corpus, but that doesn’t mean that they were ever written, especially when the whole of the CD can be understood with only the summaries of them that are given.

      There are plenty of examples of oral traditions that take on writing only eventually; in the case of Pythagoras, my guess would be that this is because the technology of writing was still gaining widespread traction, and that, because it was new, there was fear that the distribution of writings could not be controlled as easily as the chatter of people (regarding the leaking-out of secret teachings). Your narrative isn’t bad, and perhaps some merits might be built for its case, were it not for the clear developmental trajectory of Neoplatonism within Late Antiquity, and the way that all of the core teachings of the CD depend on the history of this development in order to become possible positions.

      You’ll probably not like my reply, but there it is. –and yes: the Luibheid translation is not very good. Bummed it doesn’t display properly, and I hope it wasn’t too much work to get it to do what you wanted!


  3. Thank you for the interesting reply (August 30, 2017 at 3:41 PM).

    May I respond?

    I cannot accept the explanation that the writer was a deceiver and a liar for some “good” reason; such a tactic would be totally amoral and unchristian. The devil is a liar and the father of lies (John 8:44).

    As an example you mention John 7:6-10, apparently thinking that Jesus here (also) lied, but without malice. This is rather bold!

    Many Greek MSS have οὐκ (= not), some others have οὔπω (= not yet). In either case the meaning of the Greek is tha same:

    “I am not yet going” or “I am not now going.”

    It is the meaning of the Greek (not that of the translation) that counts.

    Jesus’ refusal to go up to the feast does not preclude action of a different kind at a later time. He refused to accompany his brothers with the rest of the crowd, preferring to travel “in secret” with his disciples only. Jesus was not deceiving nor was He lying; He simply said: I am not going with you.

    The structure of John 7:5-10

    A) For not even his own brothers believed in him.
    B) “My time has not yet arrived
    C) you are ready at any opportunity
    D) the world cannot hate you
    d) it hates me
    c) You go up
    b) I am not yet going up”
    a) Jesus went up in secret.


    You write: “Also, it’s not clear that we are, actually, missing any of the CD. There are treatises that are mentioned that aren’t in the current corpus, but that doesn’t mean that they were ever written, especially when the whole of the CD can be understood with only the summaries of them that are given.”

    Why would such writings be referred to if they never existed? What/how would this profit? And how can we know what we are missing by not having these books?


    You write: “I do not think Proclus copied from Denys.”

    There were voices that complained about the stealing of Dionysius’ writings even in the sixth century. An example is published by Beate Regina Suchla (I’ll give her translation in German – I do not know if the original is in Greek or Latin – and add an english translation):

    Source: Beate Regina Suchla, “Dionysius Areopagita / Leben – Werk – Wirkung”
    © Herder 2008, Seite 205, Anhang 6, Anonyme Dionysius Areopagita-Verteidigung [1] (6. Jahrhundert).

    »Man muss wissen, dass etliche der Philosophen draußen, und ganz besonders Proklus, die Überlegungen des seligen Dionysius oftmals benutzt haben, selbst in ihren dürren Redeweisen. Man kann daher den Argwohn hegen, dass die älteren Athener Philosophen dessen [2] Schriften an sich genommen und – wie er in dem gegenwärtigen Buch erwähnt – versteckt haben, damit sie selbst als Väter seiner herrlichen Aussprüche angesehen werden. Durch das Walten Gottes ist nun das gegenwärtige Werk [3] ans Tageslicht gebracht worden, um deren eitle Ruhmsucht und Arglist zu überführen. Dass denen vertraut ist, sich das Unsere anzueignen, zeigt der erhabene Basilius anlässlich von “Am Anfang war das Wort”, [4] indem er über ihre Redeweise folgendermaßen spricht: “Ich weiß, dass viele von denen, die ohne Erwägung der Wahrheit um der irdischen Weisheit willen außerordentlich klug sind, dieses [5] einerseits bewundert, anderseits ihren eigenen Werken einzuverleiben sich vermessen haben. Ein Dieb ist nämlich der Teufel, und er plaudert das Unsere gegenüber seinen Interpreten aus.” So spricht dieser. Wenn der Pythagoreer Numenius offen ausspricht: “Was denn ist Platon, wenn nicht ein attizierender Mose?”, so vermag niemand, dieses zu leugnen, da er [6] nicht zu uns, sondern zu unseren Gegenern gehört; gleichsam bestätigt auch Eusebius, der Bischof von Caesarea in Palästina, dass nicht nur in heutiger Zeit, sondern auch schon vor der Ankunft Christi jenen außerhalb unserer Weisheit vertraut war, das Unsere zu stehlen.«

    [1] Übersetzt nach Suchla 1995, 19 f.
    [2] D.h.: des Dionysius Areopagita.
    [3] D.h.: das Werk des Dionysius Areopagita.
    [4] Johannes 1,1.
    [5] D.h.: das Unsere.
    [6] D.h.: Numenius.


    My translation (sorry, it’s as good as I’m able to):

    Anonymous Dionysius Areopagita-Defense [1] (6th century).

    »One needs to know that many of the philosophers out there, and in particular Proclus, have often used the deliberations of blessed Dionysius, even in their dry manner of speaking. One can therefore harbor the suspicion that the older Athenian philosophers have taken his [2] writings into their possession and – as he mentiones in the present book – hidden them, so that they themselves would be seen as the fathers of his splendid sayings. By the working of God the present work [3] has now been brought to the light of day in order to prove their vain glory and deceit. That they are accustomed to take possession of what is ours is shown by the sublime Basilius on the occasion of “In the beginning was the Word,” [4] in that he says about their manner of speaking as follows: “I know that many of those who are extraordinarily clever, without consideration of truth for the sake of worldly wisdom, have on the one hand admired this [5] and on the other were presumptuous to incorporate in their own works. A thief in particular is the devil, and he divulges what is ours to his interpreters.” Thus he speaks. When the Pythagorean Numenius openly speaks: “What then is Platon if not a atticizing Moses?”, so can no one deny this because he [6] does not belong to us, but rather to our opponents; likewise also confirms Eusebius, the bishop of Caesarea in Palestine, that not only in our day, but even before the arrival of Christ, those outside of our wisdom were accustomed to steal what is ours.«

    [1] translated from Suchla 1995, 19 f.
    [2] i.e. those of Dionysius the Areopagite.
    [3] i.e. the works of Dionysius the Areopagite.
    [4] John 1:1
    [5] i.e. what is ours.
    [6] i.e. Numenius.


    You are right of course that I see the issue as a moral one.

    »DO not imagine this a victory, holy Sopatros, to have denounced a devotion, or an opinion, which apparently is not good. For neither – even if you should have convicted it accurately – are the (teachings) of Sopatros consequently good. For it is possible, both that you and others, whilst occupied in many things that are false and apparent, should overlook the true, which is One and hidden. For neither, if anything is not red, is it therefore white, nor if something is not a horse, is it necessarily a man. But thus will you do, if you follow my advice, you will cease indeed to speak against others, but will so speak on behalf of truth, that every thing said is altogether unquestionable.« (Dionysius, Letter VI)

    … and the one having written this letter is supposed to be lying and deceiving without malice in order to “heal” (as you write) a present situation?

    Best wishes,



  4. Pingback: Theodoret of Cyrus on The Mash-up of Tiered Cosmology and Philosophical Theology, with An Eye to The Ascension, 2 | Into the Clarities

Start a conversation!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.