St Dionysius: Do You Praise Every Name of the Nameless One?

Feast of St Germanus, Patriarch of Constantinople

Dionysius_Square_2.jpgWITH 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” (Col. 1.17). 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.

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” (Jg. 13.17f.; cf. Gen. 32.29 and Ex. 3.13f.)? This surely is the wonderful “name which is above every name” (Phil. 2.9) 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” (Eph. 1.21).

And yet on the other hand they give it many names, such as “I am being” (Ex. 3.14; Rev. 1.4), “life” (Jn. 11.25, 14.6), “light” (Jn. 8.12), “God” (Gen. 28.13; Ex. 3.6, 15; Is. 40.28), the “truth” (Jn. 14.6). These same wise writers, when praising the Cause of everything that is, use names drawn from all the things caused: good (Mt. 19.17; Lk. 18.19), beautiful (Sg. 1.16), wise (Job 9.4; Rom. 16.27), beloved (Is. 5.1), God of gods (Deut. 10.17; Ps. 50.1 LXX; Ps. 136.2), Lord of Lords (Deut. 10.17; Ps. 136.3; 1 Tim. 6.15; Rev. 17.14, 19.16), Holy of Holies (Dan. 9.24 LXX) eternal (Is. 40.28, Bar. 4.8), existent (Ex. 3.14), Cause of the ages (Heb. 1.2). They call him source of life (2 Mac. 1.25), wisdom (Prov. 8.22-31; 1 Cor. 1.30), mind (Is. 40.13; cited in Rom. 11.34 and 1 Cor. 2.16), word (Jn. 1.1; Heb. 4.12), knower (Sus. 42), possessor beforehand of all the treasures of knowledge (Col. 2.3), power (Rev. 19.1; 1 Cor. 1.18; Ps. 24.8), powerful, and King of Kings (1 Tim. 6.15; Rev. 17.14, 19.16), ancient of days (Dan. 7.9, 13, 22), the unaging and unchanging (Mal. 3.6), salvation (Ex. 15.2; Rev. 19.1), righteousness (1 Cor. 1.30) and sanctification (1 Cor. 1.30), redemption (1 Cor. 1.30), greatest of all and yet the one in the still breeze (1 Kgs. 19.12 LXX). They say he is in our minds, in our souls (Wis. 7.27), and in our bodies (1 Cor. 6.19), in heaven and on earth (Ps. 115.3; Is. 66.1; Jer. 23.24), that while remaining ever within himself (Ps. 102.27) he is also in (Jn. 1.10) and around and above the world, that he is above heaven (Ps. 113.4) and above all being, that he is sun (Mal. 4.2), star (2 Pet. 1.19; Rev. 22.16), and fire (Ex. 3.2), water (Jn. 7.38), wind (Jn. 3.5-8, 4.24), and dew (Is. 18.4; Hos. 14.5), cloud (Ex. 13.21f., 24.16, 33.9; Job 36.27f.; Is. 4.5, 18.4; 1 Cor. 10.1f.), archetypal stone (Ps. 118.22, cited in Mt. 21.42; Mk. 12.10; Acts 4.11 and 1 Pet. 2.4, 7; Is. 8.14, cited in Rom. 9.33 and 1 Pet. 2.8; Is. 28.16, cited in Rom. 9.33; Eph. 2.20, 1 Pet. 2.4, 6), and rock (Ex. 17.6 and Num. 20.7-11, cited in 1 Cor. 10.4; 2 Sam. 22.2; Is. 8.14, cited in Rom. 9.33 and 1 Pet. 2.8), that he is all, that he is no thing.

And so it is the 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” (1 Cor. 15.28; cf. Col. 3.11), as scripture affirms, and certainly he is to be praised as being for all things the creator and originator, the One who brings them the power which returns them to itself, and all this in the one single, irrepressible, and supreme act.

—St Dionysius the Areopagite, The Divine Names

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