The Works of Dionysius the Areopagite, tr. by John Parker, , at sacred-texts.com
Concerning the Seraphim and Cherubim and Thrones, and concerning their first Hierarchy.
We, whilst admitting this as the arrangement of the holy Hierarchies, affirm, that every appellation of the celestial Minds denotes the Godlike characteristic of each; and those who know Hebrew affirm, that the holy designation of the Seraphim denotes either that they are kindling or burning; and that of Cherubim, a fulness of knowledge or stream of wisdom. Naturally, then, the first (order) of the Heavenly Hierarchies is ministered by the most exalted Beings, holding, as it does, a rank which is higher than all, from the fact, that it is established immediately around God, and that the first-wrought Divine manifestations and perfections pass earlier to p. 25 it, as being nearest. They are called, then, "Burning," and Thrones, and Stream of Wisdom--by a name which sets forth their Godlike conditions. The appellation of Seraphim plainly teaches their ever moving around things Divine, and constancy, and warmth, and keenness, and the seething of that persistent, indomitable, and inflexible perpetual motion, and the vigorous assimilation and elevation of the subordinate, as giving new life and rekindling them to the same heat; and purifying through fire and burnt-offering, and the light-like and light-shedding characteristic which can never be concealed or consumed, and remains always the same, which destroys and dispels every kind of obscure darkness. But the appellation of the Cherubim denotes their knowledge and their vision of God, and their readiness to receive the highest gift of light, and their power of contemplating the super-Divine comeliness in its first revealed power, and their being filled anew with the impartation which maketh wise, and their ungrudging communication to those next to them, by the stream of the given wisdom. The appellation of the most exalted and pre-eminent Thrones denotes their manifest exaltation above every grovelling inferiority, and their supermundane tendency towards higher things; and their unswerving separation from all remoteness; and their invariable and firmly-fixed settlement around the veritable Highest, with the whole force of their powers; and their receptivity of the supremely Divine approach, in the absence of all passion and earthly p. 26 tendency, and their bearing God; and the ardent expansion of themselves for the Divine receptions.
This, then, is the revelation of their names, so far as we can give it; and we ought to say what we think their Hierarchy is. For I suppose we have sufficiently shewn above, that the purpose of every Hierarchy is an unswerving devotion to the divine imitation of the Divine Likeness, and that every Hierarchical function is set apart for the sacred reception and distribution of an undefiled purification, and Divine Light, and perfecting science.
And now I pray that I may speak worthily of the most exalted Minds--how the Hierarchy amongst them is exhibited through the Oracles.
One must consider, then, that the Hierarchy is akin, and in every respect like, to the first Beings, who are established after the Godhead, who gave them Being, and who are marshalled, as it were, in Its very vestibule, who surpass every unseen and seen created power. We must then regard them as pure, not as though they had been freed from unholy stains and blemishes, nor yet as though they were unreceptive of earthly fancies, but as far exalted above every stain of remissness and every inferior holiness, as befits the highest degree of purity--established above the most Godlike powers, and clinging unflinchingly to their own self-moved and same-moved rank in their invariable love of God, conscious in no respect whatever of any declivity to a worse p. 27 condition, but having the unsullied fixity of their own Godlike identity--never liable to fall, and always unmoved; and again, as "contemplative," not contemplators of intellectual symbols as sensible, nor as being led to the Divine Being by the varied texture of holy representations written for meditation, but as being filled with all kinds of immaterial knowledge of higher light, and satiated, as permissible, with the beautifying and original beauty of super-essential and thrice manifested contemplation, and thus, being deemed worthy of the Communion with Jesus, they do not stamp pictorially the deifying similitude in divinely-formed images, but, as being really near to Him, in first participation of the knowledge of His deifying illuminations; nay more, that the imitation of God is given to them in the highest possible degree, and they participate, so far as is allowable to them, in His deifying and philanthropic virtues, in the power of a first manifestation; and, likewise as "perfected," not as being illuminated with an analytic science of sacred variety, but as being filled with a first and pre-eminent deification, as beseems the most exalted science of the works of God, possible in Angels. For, not through other holy Beings, but being ministered from the very Godhead, by the immediate elevation to It, by their power, and rank, surpassing all, they are both established near the All-Holy without any shadow of turning, and are conducted for contemplation to the immaterial and intelligible comeliness, as far as permissible, and are initiated into the scientific p. 28 methods of the works of God, as being first and around God, being ministered, in the highest degree, from the very source of consecration.
This, then, the theologians distinctly shew (viz.) that the subordinate Orders of the Heavenly Beings are taught by the superior, in due order, the deifying sciences; and that those who are higher than all are illuminated from Godhead itself, as far as permissible, in revelations of the Divine mysteries. For they introduce some of them as being religiously instructed, by those of a higher rank, that He, Who was raised to Heaven as Man, is Lord of the Heavenly Powers and King of Glory; and others, as questioning Jesus Himself, as desiring to be instructed in the science of His Divine work on our behalf, and Jesus Himself teaching them immediately, and shewing to them, at first hand, His beneficent work out of love to man. For "I," He says, "am speaking of righteousness and judgment of Salvation." Now I am astonished that even the first of the Beings in Heaven, and so far above all, should reverently strive after the supremely Divine illuminations, as intermediate Beings. For they do not ask directly, "Wherefore are Thy garments red? " but they first raise the question among themselves, shewing that they desire to learn, and crave the deifying knowledge, and not anticipating the illumination given after a Divine procedure. p. 29
The first Hierarchy, then, of the Heavenly Minds is purified, and enlightened, and perfected, by being ministered from the very Author of initiation, through its elevation to It immediately, being filled, according to its degree, with the altogether most holy purification of the unproachable Light of the pre-perfect source of initiation, unstained indeed by any remissness, and full of primal Light, and perfected by its participation in first-given knowledge and science. But to sum up, I may say this, not inappropriately, that the reception of the supremely Divine Science is, both purification, and enlightenment, and perfecting,--purifying, as it were, from ignorance, by the knowledge of the more perfect revelations imparted to it according to fitness, and enlightening by the self-same Divine knowledge, through which it also purifies, that which did not before contemplate the things which are now made manifest through the higher illumination; and perfecting further, by the self-same Light, through the abiding science of the mysteries made clearly manifest.
This, then, according to my science, is the first rank of the Heavenly Beings which encircle and stand immediately around God; and without symbol, and without interruption, dances round His eternal knowledge in the most exalted ever-moving stability as in Angels; viewing purely many and blessed contemplations, and illuminated with simple p. 30 and immediate splendours, and filled with Divine nourishment,--many indeed by the first-given profusion, but one by the unvariegated and unifying oneness of the supremely Divine banquet, deemed worthy indeed of much participation and co-operation with God, by their assimilation to Him, as far as attainable, of their excellent habits and energies, and knowing many Divine things pre-eminently, and participating in supremely Divine science and knowledge, as is lawful. Wherefore the Word of God has transmitted its hymns to those on earth, in which are Divinely shewn the excellency of its most exalted illumination. For some of its members, to speak after sensible perception, proclaim as a "voice of many waters," "Blessed is the glory of the Lord from His place" and others cry aloud that frequent and most august hymn of God, "Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord of Sabaoth, the whole earth is full of His glory." These most excellent hymnologies of the supercelestial Minds we have already unfolded to the best of our ability in the "Treatise concerning the Divine Hymns," and have spoken sufficiently concerning them in that Treatise, from which, by way of remembrance, it is enough to produce so much as is necessary to the present occasion, namely, "That the first Order, having been illuminated, from this the supremely Divine goodness, as permissible, in theological science, as a Hierarchy reflecting that Goodness transmitted to those next after it," teaching briefly this, "That it is just and right that the p. 31 august Godhead -- Itself both above praise, and all-praiseworthy--should be known and extolled by the God-receptive minds, as is attainable; for they as images of God are, as the Oracles say, the Divine places of the supremely Divine repose; and further, that It is Monad and Unit tri-subsistent, sending forth His most kindly forethought to all things being, from the super-heavenly Minds to the lowest of the earth; as super-original Origin and Cause of every essence, and grasping all things super-essentially in a resistless embrace.