A 14th century view of God

I managed to finish reading the other day ‘The Cloud of unknowing and other works’, and one of the ‘…other works’ is entitled ‘Dionysius’ Mystical Teaching’. This has nothing to do with the Dionysius of classical Greek mythology, but it is thought that he was a 6th century AD Christian writer from Syria. However, the work mentioned here dates from the 14th century, and is written by an unknown author referred to as “Pseudo-Dionysius” due to his similarity in style and teachings, and I have decided to quote in full the fifth and final chapter of this short work. In it, the author puts forward his belief about God and how he is truelly unknowable (and within a ‘Cloud of Unknowing’), which I find to be highly perceptive and quite near to the mark with my own views.

God who is the cause of them all is none of the things we can understand.

And so we who have begun our denials and removals by reaching the ‘highest’ of the things we can understand say that God is neither soul nor angel; he has no imagination or opinion or reason or understanding; nor is he reason or understanding; nor can he be described or understood. Moreover, and here we are moving from high things to low, he has no number, order, greatness, smallness, equality, likeness, unlikeness; he neither stands still nor moves, keeps silence nor speaks. And if we turn back to the highest matters to end our denyings there, we assert that he has no virtue, nor is he virtue or light; he is not life or substance or age or time; we can understand nothing about him, nor is he knowledge or truth or kingdom or wisdom or singularity or unity or Godhead or goodness. Nor in the sense that we understand ‘spirit’ is he spirit; there is no sonship or fatherhood, nor anything else that is known by us or by anyone else. He is none of the things that have no being, none of the things that have being. None of the things that are known know him for what he is. Nor does he know the things that exist for what they are in themselves, but only for what they are in him. Nor is there any way by which we can reach him through reason or understanding: he has no name; we cannot know him; he is neither darkness or light, error nor truth. Speaking generally there is no affirmation we can make of him, nothing we can deny of him. When we attribute something  to him, or deny any or all of the things which he is not, we do not describe him or abolish him, nor in any way that we can understand do we affirm him or deny him. For the perfect and unique cause of all it is necessary beyond compare with the highest of  all imaginative heights, whether by affirmation or denial. And this surpassing non-understandability is ‘un-ununderstandably’ above every affirmation and denial.

‘Dionysius’ Mystical Teaching’, in ‘TCoUaow’ pp 217-218

 

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