Monday, October 28, 2013

More Random Thoughts on Pseudo-Dionysius' Writings

I'm now reading the Eccesiastical Hierarchy. It's confirming a hunch that has been growing all the way through the corpus, and that is that I wonder if he isn't being ironic when he talks about hierarchies; first because his hierarchies do exactly the opposite of the human hierarchies of his day and even more of ours, i.e., members of each level of the hierarchy show generosity in the imparting of wisdom, the 'hidden knowledge' necessary to their uplifting. They desire to help those in an inferior position to be raised up by God (instead of crushing imagined rivals underfoot). 

Of course this knowledge isn't 'hidden' except in the sense that you can't teach someone pure mathematics who doesn't have a basic foundation in algebra. You can't teach someone about unknowing who isn't even aware of her own illusion. Contemplatives are often accused of 'elitism' but it is rather the fact that there are staging-posts along the way, different for each person, which must be passed through before he or she is capable of even recognizing the next one that lies ahead. Paul's use of athleticism as a metaphor perhaps pushes fewer emotional buttons: we admire Olympic athletes from afar but we don't call them 'elitist' because we know how much hard work they have put in, a capacity for work we can't even imagine. The same is true of knowledge of God: to grow into God, you have to do the work.

Which brings us to he next aspect of this question, which is that of Pseudo-Dionysius' emphasis on union. Over and over he uses the qualifier, 'according to their capacity'. A toddler can run a hundred metres, but it will take him many times longer than Usain Bolt. When a thimble is full it is no less full than a bucket. Full is full. The idea is to become a bigger bucket.

So, in a sense, there are no hierarchies. He almost says this in Ecclesiastical Hierarchy 272C: '...every hierarchy, including the one being praised by us now, has one and the same power throughout all its hierarchical endeavor....'

I'm not putting this very well because I've just started thinking about it, but you can see that from certain points of view, the author is continually undermining the very idea of hierarchy. He frequently refers to the Gospel of John, and perhaps the clearest statement in the bible about the elimination of hierarchy (having just said in the previous chapter that 'the system' cannot behold) is what Jesus says in John 15:15, 'I no longer call you servants . . . but friends.


Anonymous Matthew said...

I have always liked the metaphor of the balloon being filled with water or air - it is always united to the Source which fills it and it is always 'full'and it also capable of allowing itself to be stretched, according to its commitment to 'stay put' and trust that the Source fill it in its own time. Also - its focus is on the Source not how full it is or isn't. Of course, like all metaphors, this one also breaks down at some point! In terms of the sporting metaphor - maybe the idea of a coach who longs to see others develop and grow is useful - the coach has walked the walk but their work is self-emptying in the sense that their focus is on helping the other become 'fully alive', to 'win the prize', to 'behold' God, so that at some point they may be able to do something similar, in a self-forgetful way, for others. The gift is given in order to be given again, and again, and again - that's the church isn't it? That's apostolic succession? Anyway - I've got to go (literally!) - hope it helps.

7:24 pm, October 28, 2013  
Anonymous desertfisher said...

I must admit that one of the most transdiciplinary journal articles on the spiritual life i've read is the Apophatic Prayer as a Theological Model: Seeking Coordinates in the Ineffable, Notes for a Quantum Theology.

I have been immersing in quantum physics nowadays in view of understanding the two diagrams - one from the book The Fire and the Furnace, and the other on the two ways of knowing. The first diagram, though simply an analogy from physics to describe the movement of tears and transfiguration, i'm finding out is incorrect from a scientific point of view. I used the word "incorrect" because beyond analogy, my intuition is convincing me we can actually use the "facts from quantum physics as "immanent scaffolding" of this movement you are trying to describe. I haven't done a close comparison yet of the two diagrams but initially, it's giving me the impression of a "development".

11:49 pm, October 28, 2013  
Anonymous johnzero said...

Becoming a bigger bucket seems a strong metaphor, and a good one to play with. Does the bucket also need to become stronger, or does that happen naturally as it gets bigger? And is the bucket actually "us"? Is it some aspect of the person that grows (which raises some interesting metaphorical noise about disappearing into the Holy as we grow enough to hold more of the Holy). I'd be tempted to speculate that the bucket is the same spirit that prays in us, but it's strange territory to me.

Thanks for your voice Maggie.

1:23 pm, October 29, 2013  
Blogger changeinthewind said...

A bigger bucket assumes there is a hierarchy seems to me.

What of "Is the servant the equal of the master?"

Perhaps it is "do the work" and a "thimble full" becomes "enough" and, in this, distinction becomes meaningless.

Is there a difference between a sense of spectrum present and a sense of hierarchy present?

2:22 pm, October 29, 2013  
Blogger Maggie Ross said...

Yes, there is 'enough', full and overflowing whether one is a thimble or a bucket, and so hierarchy is meaningless. Also as Ps Denys is always saying, the ones who are buckets are under obligation to the thimbles to help them become buckets or wine vats or whatever floats your boat.

6:43 pm, October 29, 2013  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Seems like we're supposed to be humbling ourselves like Jesus did.

We're not supposed to covet other people's 'buckets'.

Benchmarks are fun to reach.

I used to get overwhelmed because I thought I would NEVER reach the finish line. Just can't think like that. Maybe there is no finish line.

But it's the faith that God will show me the light, just have to ask God for the courage to follow it.

What about the fire in us? Fire drives us. Does humility extinguish that fire? Don't think so, seems like it during the trials though. Seems like God bends me until I ALMOST break, and then lifts me up again. No reason to be scared. Love. Victory.

6:51 pm, October 29, 2013  
Anonymous desertfisher said...

To me, we are living in interesting times despite (or because of the chaos with all these cultural "correctives" and insights coming up - Maggie, Gilchrist, Barker, Abram, Rowan Williams, Francis, and even Hawking and my grandmother (or yours) who seem to have all the joy of the beatitude after long years of steadfast faith. There are crossing points between rational clarity and theological hope drawing us more keenly not only to the urgent question of what makes us more human but on what really matters and why. We grapple with the answers, go wayward here and there, turned rebellious now and then. But the bottomline of the search is the joy of the beatitude that is actually inherent in every seeker. And these people are providing the compass while they themselves have to taste their own tears, enter their own narrow gates. But this compass is actually more paradoxical, as paradoxical as the wisdom of the beatitude - the truth most of us dare not live, or taught not to embody by the bigger culture around us like science or organized religion.

Science has the lofty ambition of unifying the uncertainty and randomness of the quarks and the cosmic order due to relative gravity. But this is not paradoxical thinking. Truth seems to reside in both randomness and order. Organized religions try to impose its own "theory and praxis of cosmic faith". But then this is not paradoxical "thinking". Truth seems to reside in the uniqueness of individual solitudes and the gathering of these solitudes.

To me, these are interesting times indeed because of these people who bug and tug me not only towards cognitive, representational, mimetic thinking but more importantly, to participate with the many dimensions of my own uniqueness(to my interpretation of the diagram, both could be expressions of beholding)in the very mystery of the questions (unknowing) and the answers we glimpse only as if through a mirror.

10:48 pm, October 29, 2013  
Blogger changeinthewind said...

The "obligation" (being that of a friend rather than that of a servant) is something chosen to do freely or not. So the word loses its sense of forced by the exercise of power.

This is rather like enlightenment having no rank.

11:38 pm, October 29, 2013  

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