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The Works of Dionysius the Areopagite, tr. by John Parker, [1897], at


What is Hierarchy? and what the use of Hierarchy?

Section I.

Hierarchy is, in my judgment, a sacred order and science and operation, assimilated, as far as attainable, to the likeness of God, and conducted to the illuminations granted to it from God, according to capacity, with a view to the Divine imitation. Now the God-becoming Beauty, as simple, as good, as source of initiation, is altogether free from any dissimilarity, and imparts its own proper light to each according to their fitness, and perfects in most Divine initiation, as becomes the undeviating moulding of those who are being initiated harmoniously to itself. p. 14

Section II.

The purpose, then, of Hierarchy is the assimilation and union, as far as attainable, with God, having Him Leader of all religious science and operation, by looking unflinchingly to His most Divine comeliness, and copying, as far as possible, and by perfecting its own followers as Divine images, mirrors most luminous and without flaw, receptive of the primal light and the supremely Divine ray, and devoutly filled with the entrusted radiance, and again, spreading this radiance ungrudgingly to those after it, in accordance with the supremely Divine regulations. For it is not lawful for the Mystic Rites of sacred things, or for things religiously done, to practise anything whatever beyond the sacred regulations of their own proper function. Nor even must they attempt otherwise, if they desire to attain its deifying splendour, and look to it religiously, and are moulded after the example of each of the holy minds. He, then, who mentions Hierarchy, denotes a certain altogether Holy Order, an image of the supremely Divine freshness, ministering the mysteries of its own illumination in hierarchical ranks, and sciences, and assimilated to its own proper Head as far as lawful.

For each of those who have been called into the Hierarchy, find their perfection in being carried to the Divine imitation 198 in their own proper degree; and, what is more Divine than all, in becoming a p. 15 fellow-worker 199 with God, as the Oracles say, and in shewing the Divine energy in himself manifested as far as possible. For it is an Hierarchical regulation that some are purified and that others purify 200 ; that some are enlightened and others enlighten 201 ; that some are perfected and others perfect; the Divine imitation will fit each one in this fashion. The Divine blessedness, to speak after the manner of men, is indeed unstained by any dissimilarity 202 , and is full of invisible light 203 --perfect 204 , and needing no perfection; cleansing, illuminating, and perfecting, yea, rather a holy purification, and illumination, and perfection--above purification, above light, preeminently perfect, self-perfect source and cause of every Hierarchy, and elevated pre-eminently above every holy thing.

Section III.

It is necessary then, as I think, that those who are being purified should be entirely perfected, without stain, and be freed from all dissimilar confusion; that those who are being illuminated should be filled with the Divine Light, conducted to the habit and faculty of contemplation in all purity of mind; that those who are being initiated should be separated from the imperfect, and become recipients of that perfecting science of the sacred things contemplated. Further, that those who purify should impart, from their own abundance of purity, their own proper holiness; that those who illuminate, as being more p. 16 luminous intelligences, whose function it is to- receive and to impart light, and who are joyfully filled with holy gladness, that these should overflow, in proportion to their own overflowing light, towards those who are worthy of enlightenment; and that those who make perfect, as being skilled in the impartation of perfection, should perfect those being perfected, through the holy instruction, in the science of the holy things contemplated. Thus each rank of the Hierarchical Order is led, in its own degree, to the Divine co-operation, by performing, through grace and God-given power, those things which are naturally and supernaturally in the Godhead, and accomplished by It superessentially, and manifested hierarchically, for the attainable imitation of the God-loving Minds 205 .


14:198 Eph. v. 1.

15:199 1Corinthians 3:9.

15:200 Ps. li. 9.

15:201 Psalm 119:18.

15:202 Deut. vi. 4.

15:203 John xii. 46.

15:204 Matt. v. 48.

16:205 The Holy Angels.

Next: Caput IV.