The Works of Dionysius the Areopagite, tr. by John Parker, , at sacred-texts.com
For what reason the Prophet Isaiah is said to have been purified by the Seraphim.
Come, then, let us examine this as best we can, why the Seraphim is said to be sent to one of the Theologians; for some one may object, that not one of the inferior Angels, but he, the enrolled amongst the most reverend Beings, cleanses the Prophet.
Some, then, affirm that, according to the definition already given of the mutual relation of all the Minds, the Logion does not name one of the highest around God, as having come for the cleansing of the Theologian, but that some one of the Angels, placed over us as a sacred Minister of the Prophet’s cleansing, is called by the same name. as the Seraphim, on the ground that the removal of the faults spoken of, and the restoration of him who was cleansed for the Divine mission, was through fire; and they say that the Logion speaks simply of one of the Seraphim, not one of those who are established around God, but one of the Powers set over us for the purpose of cleansing.
Now another man brought forward to me a by no means foolish defence of the present position. p. 47 For he said that that great one, whoever he was,--the Angel who formed this vision for the purpose of teaching the theologian Divine things,--referred his own cleansing function to God, and after God, to the first working Hierarchy. And was not this statement certainly true? For he who said this, affirmed that the supremely Divine Power in visiting all, advances and penetrates all irresistibly, and yet is invisible to all, not only as being superessentially elevated above all, but as secretly transmitting its providential energies to all; yea, rather, it is manifested to all the intellectual Beings in due degree, and by conducting Its own gift of Light to the most reverend Beings, through them, as first, It distributes in due order to the subordinate, according to the power of each Division to bear the vision of God; or to speak more strictly, and through familiar illustrations (for if they fall short of the Glory of God, Who is exalted above all, yet they are more illustrating for us), the distribution of the sun’s ray passes with easy distribution to first matter, as being more transparent than all, and, through it with greater clearness, lights up its own splendours; but when it strikes more dense materials, its distributed brilliancy becomes more obscure, from the inaptitude of the materials illuminated for transmission of the gift of Light, and from this it is naturally contracted, so as to almost entirely exclude the passage of Light. Again, the heat of fire transmits itself chiefly to things that are more receptive, and yielding, and conductive p. 48 to assimilation to itself; but, as regards repellent opposing substances, either it leaves none, or a very light, trace of its fiery energy; and further, when through substances favourable to its proper action, it comes in contact with things not congenial,--first, it perchance makes things easily changed to heating hot, and through them heats proportionately either water or something else which is not easily heated. After the same rule, then, of Nature’s well-ordered method, the regulation of all good order, both visible and invisible, manifests supernaturally the brightness of its own gift of Light, in first manifestation to the most exalted Beings, in abundant streams, and through these, the Beings after them partake of the Divine ray. For these, as knowing God first, and striving preeminently after Divine virtue, and to become first-workers, are deemed worthy of the power and energy for the imitation of God, as attainable, and these benevolently elevate the beings after them to an equality, as far as possible, by imparting ungrudgingly to them the splendour which rests upon themselves, and these again to the subordinate, and throughout each Order, the first rank imparts its gift to that after it, and the Divine Light thus rests upon all, in due proportion, with providential forethought. There is, then, for all those who are illuminated, a Source of illumination, viz., God, by nature, and really, and properly, as Essence of Light, and Cause of Being, and Vision itself; but, by ordinance, and for Divine imitation, the relatively p. 49 superior (is source) for each after it, by the fact, that the Divine rays are poured through it to that. All the remaining Angelic Beings, then, naturally regard the highest Order of the Heavenly Minds as source, after God, of every God-knowledge and God-imitation, since, through them, the supremely Divine illumination is distributed to all, and to us. Wherefore, they refer every holy energy of Divine imitation to God indeed as Cause, but to the first Godlike Minds, as first agents and teachers of things Divine.
The first Order, then, of the holy Angels possesses, more than all, the characteristic of fire, and the streaming distribution of supremely Divine wisdom, and the faculty of knowing the highest science of the Divine illuminations, and the characteristic of Thrones, exhibiting their expansion for the reception of God; and the ranks of the subordinate Beings possess indeed the empyrean, the wise, the knowing, the God-receptive, faculty, but subordinately, and by looking to the first, and through them, as being deemed worthy of the Divine imitation in first operation, are conducted to the attainable likeness of God. The aforesaid holy characteristics, then, which the Beings after them possess, through the first, they attribute to those Beings themselves, after God, as Hierarchs.
He who said this, used to affirm, that this vision was shewn to the Theologian, through one of the p. 50 holy and blessed Angels set over us, and that from his illuminating direction, he was elevated to that intellectual contemplation in which he saw the most exalted Beings seated (to speak symbolically) under God, and with God, and around 215 God, and the super-princely 216 Eminence elevated unspeakably above them and all, seated on high in the midst of the superior Powers. The Theologian then learned, from the things seen, that, as compared with every super-essential pre-eminence, the Divine Being was seated incomparably above every visible and invisible power, yea, even that It is exalted above all, as the Reality of all things, as Absolute--not even like to the first of created Beings;--further also, that It is source and essentiating Cause, and unalterable Fixity of the undissolved continuance of all things, from, Which is both the being and the well-being of the most exalted Powers themselves. Then he revealed that the Godlike powers of the most holy Seraphim, themselves, whose sacred appellation signifies the Fiery, concerning which we shall shortly speak as best we can, conducted the elevations of the empyrean power to the Divine likeness. And, the holy Theologian, by viewing the description of free and most exalted elevation of the sixfold wings to the Divine Being in first, middle, and last conceptions, and further, their endless feet and many faces, and their extended wings--one under their feet, and the other over their faces, as seen in vision, and the perpetual movement of their middle wings--was p. 51 brought to the intelligible knowledge of the things seen, since there was manifested to him the power of the most exalted minds for deep penetration and contemplation, and the sacred reverence which they have, supermundanely, for the bold and courageous and unattainable scrutiny into higher and deeper mysteries; and of the incessant and high-flying perpetual movement of their Godlike energies in due proportion. But he was also taught the hidden mysteries of that supremely Divine and much esteemed Hymn of Praise--whilst the Angel who formed the vision imparts, as far as possible, his own sacred knowledge to the Theologian. He also taught him this, that the participation, as far as attainable, in the supremely Divine and radiant purity, is a purification to the pure however pure; and it being accomplished from the very Godhead by most exalted causes, for all the sacred Minds by a superessential hiddenness, is in a manner more clear, and exhibits and distributes itself, in a higher degree, to the highest powers around It; but with regard to the second, or us, the lowest mental powers, as each is distant from, as regards the Divine likeness, so It contracts its brilliant illumination to the single unknowable of its own hiddenness. And it illuminates the second, severally, through the first; and, if one must speak briefly, it is firstly brought from hiddenness to manifestation through the first powers. This, then, the Theologian was taught by the Angel who was leading him to Light--that purification, and all the supremely Divine operations, p. 52 illuminating through the first Beings, are distributed to all the rest, according to the relation of each for the deifying participations. Wherefore he reasonably attributed to the Seraphim, after God, the characteristic of purification by fire. There is nothing, then, absurd, if the Seraphim is said to purify the Prophet. For, as God purifies all, by being cause of every purification, yea, rather (for I use a familiar illustration) just as our Hierarch, when purifying or enlightening through his Leitourgoi or Priests, is said himself to purify and enlighten, since the Orders consecrated through him attribute to him their own proper sacred operations; so also the Angel who effected the purification of the Theologian attributes his own purifying science and power to God, indeed, as Cause, but to the Seraphim as first-operating Hierarch; as any one might say with Angelic reverence, whilst teaching one who was being purified by him, "There is a preeminent Source, and Essence, and Worker, and Cause of the cleansing wrought upon you from me, He Who brings both the first Beings into Being, and holds them together by their fixity around Himself, and keeps them without change and without fall, moving them to the first participations of His own Providential energies (for this, He Who taught me these things used to say, shews the mission of the Seraphim), but as Hierarch and Leader after God, the Marshal of the most exalted Beings, from whom I was taught to purify after the example of God -- this is he, who cleanses thee through me, through whom the Cause and Creator p. 53 of all cleansing brought forth His own provident energies from the Hidden even to us." These things, then, he taught me, and I impart them to thee. Let it be a part of thy intellectual and discriminating skill, either, to acquit each of the causes assigned from objection, and to honour this before the other as having likelihood and good reason, and perhaps, the truth; or, to find out from yourself something more allied to the real truth, or to learn from another; (God, of course, giving expression, and Angels supplying it;) and to reveal to us, the friends of Angels, a view more luminous if it should be so, and to me specially welcome.
50:215 John 1. 1.
50:216 Or super-original.