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


What is meant by the appellation "Angels?"

Section I.

Now that the Hierarchy itself has been, in my judgment, sufficiently defined, we must next extol the Angelic Hierarchy, and we must contemplate, with supermundane eyes, its sacred formations, depicted in the Oracles, in order that we may be borne aloft to their Divinely resplendent simplicity, through the mystic representations, and may extol the source of all Hierarchical science with God-becoming reverence and with thanksgivings. First of all, however, p. 17 let this truth be spoken --that it was through goodness that the superessential Godhead, having fixed all the essences of things being, brought them into being. For this is the peculiar characteristic of the Cause of all things, and of goodness surpassing all, to call things being to participation of Itself, as each order of things being was determined from its own analogy. For all things being share in a Providence, which bubbles forth from the superessential Deity, Cause of all things. For they would not be, unless they had participated in the Essence and Origin of things being. All things then, without life, participate in It by their being. For the being of all things is the Deity, above being; things living participate in its life-giving power, above all life; things rational and intellectual participate in its self-perfect and preeminently perfect wisdom, above all reason and mind. It is evident, then, that all those Beings are around It, which have participated in It, in many forms.

Section II.

The holy orders, then, of the Heavenly Beings share in the supremely Divine participation, in a higher degree than things which merely exist, or which lead an irrational life, or which are rational like ourselves. For by moulding themselves intelligibly to the Divine imitation, and looking supermundanely to the supremely Divine likeness, and striving to mould their intellectual appearance, they naturally have more ungrudging communications with It, being near and ever moving upwards, as far as p. 18 lawful, elevating themselves with the intensity of the Divine unswerving love, and receiving the primal illuminations without earthly stain, and ranging themselves to these, and having their whole life intellectual. These, then, are they who, at first hand, and under many forms, participate in the Divine, and, at first hand, and under many forms, make known the supremely Divine Hiddenness. Wherefore, beyond all, they are deemed pre-eminently worthy of the appellation Angelic, on the ground that the supremely Divine illumination comes to them at first hand, and, through them, there pass to us manifestations above us. Thus, then, the Law, as the Word of God affirms, was given to us through the ministration of Angels 206 ; and Angels led our illustrious fathers 207 before the Law, and after the Law, to the Divine Being, either by leading 208 them to what was to be done, and by converting them from error, and an unholy life, to the straight way of truth 209 , or by making known to them sacred ordinances 210 , or hidden visions, or supermundane mysteries 211 , or certain Divine predictions through the Prophets 212 .

Section III.

But if any one should say that Divine manifestations were made directly and immediately to some holy men 213 , let him learn, and that distinctly, from the most Holy Oracles, that no one hath seen, nor p. 19 ever shall see, the "hidden" τὸ κρύφιον of Almighty God as it is in itself 214 . Now Divine manifestations were made to the pious as befits revelations of God, that is to say, through certain holy visions analogous to those who see them. Now the all-wise Word of God (Theologia) naturally calls Theophany that particular vision which manifests the Divine similitude depicted in itself as in a shaping of the shapeless, from the elevation of the beholders to the Divine Being, since through it a divine illumination comes to the beholders, and the divine persons themselves are religiously initiated into some mystery. But our illustrious fathers were initiated into these Divine visions, through the mediation of the Heavenly Powers. Does not the tradition of the Oracles describe the holy legislation of the Law, given to Moses, as coming straight from God, in order that it may teach us this truth, that it is an outline of a Divine and holy legislation? But the Word of God, in its Wisdom, teaches this also--that it came to us through Angels, as though the Divine regulation were laying down this rule, that, through the first, the second are brought to the Divine Being. For not only with regard to the superior and inferior minds, but even for those of the same rank, this Law has been established by the superessential supreme ordinance, that, within each Hierarchy, there are first, and middle, and last ranks and powers, and that the more divine are instructors p. 20 and conductors of the less, to the Divine access, and illumination, and participation.

Section IV.

But I observe that Angels first were initiated in the Divine mystery of the love of Jesus towards man, then, through them, the gift of its knowledge passed to us. Thus, for example, the most divine Gabriel instructed Zachariah, the Hierarch, that the son who was to be born to him, beyond hope, by Divine grace, should be a prophet of the God-incarnate work of the Lord Jesus, to be manifested to the world for its salvation, as becomes the Divine goodness; and he revealed to Mary, how, in her, should be born the supremely Divine mystery of the unutterable God-formation. Yet another Angel instructed Joseph, how, in very truth, should be fulfilled the things Divinely promised to his ancestor David. Another declared glad tidings to the shepherds, as being purified by their separation from the multitude, and their quiet life, and, with him, a multitude of the Heavenly Host announced to those on earth that often-sung doxology. Let us then ascend to the highest manifestations of light contained in the Oracles, for I perceive that even Jesus Himself, the superessential Cause of the super-heavenly Beings, when He had come to our condition, without change, did not overstep the good order which becomes p. 21 mankind, which Himself arranged and took, but readily subjected Himself to the dispositions of the Father and God, through Angels; and, through their mediation, was announced to Joseph the departure of the Son to Egypt, which had been arranged by the Father, and again the return to Judaea from Egypt. And through Angels we see Him subjecting Himself to the Father’s decrees. For I forbear to speak, as addressing one who knows the teaching of our hierarchical tradition, both concerning the Angel who strengthened the Lord Jesus, or that even Jesus Himself, when He had come to manifest the good work of our beneficent salvation, was called Angel of Great Counsel. For, as He Himself says, after the manner of an Angel, "Whatsoever He heard from the Father, He announced to us."


18:206 Gal. iii. 18.

18:207 Acts vii. 53.

18:208 Gen. xxii. 12.

18:209 Acts x. 3.

18:210 Dan. vii. 16.

18:211 Daniel 7:10.

18:212 2Corinthians 12:2.

18:213 Matt. ii. 13.

19:214 John i. 18; 1John 4:12; 1Timothy 6:16.

Next: Caput V.