Intellect

12. “Mystical ascent”

“And the people stood afar off, while Moses drew near to the thick darkness where God was”

– Exodus 20:21, (King James Version)

“Since he was alone, by having been stripped as it were of the people’s fear, he boldly approached the very darkness itself and entered the invisible things where he was no longer seen by those watching. After he entered the inner sanctuary of the divine mystical doctrine, there, while not being seen, he was in company with the Invisible. He, teaches, I think, by the things he did that the one who is going to associate intimately with God must go beyond all that is visible and (lifting up his own mind, as to a mountaintop, to the invisible and incomprehensible) believe that the divine is there where the understanding does not reach.”

– Gregory of Nyssa: ‘Life of Moses’

“In the diligent exercise of mystical contemplation, leave behind the senses and the operations of the intellect, and all things sensible and intellectual, and all things in the world of being and nonbeing, that thou mayest arise by unknowing towards the union, as far as is attainable, with Him who transcends all being and all knowledge. For by the unceasing and absolute renunciation of thyself and of all things thou mayest be borne on high, through pure and entire self-abnegation, into the super-essential Radiance of the Divine Darkness. It was not without reason that the blessed Moses was commanded first to undergo purification himself and then to separate himself from those who had not undergone it; and after the entire purification heard many-voiced trumpets and saw many lights streaming forth with pure and manifold rays; and that he was there after separated from the multitude, with the elect priests, and pressed forward to the summit of the divine ascent. Nevertheless, he did not attained to the Presence of God Himself, he saw not Him (for He can not be looked upon) but the Place where He dwells.”

– The Pseudo-Dionysius: ‘De Mystica Theologia’

“…away from what sees and is seen and he plunges into the truly mysterious darkness of unknowing. Here, renouncing all that the mind may conceive, wrapped entirely in the intangible and the invisible, he belongs completely to him who is beyond everything. Here, being neither oneself nor someone else, one is supremely united by a completely unknowing inactivity of all knowledge, and knows beyond the mind by knowing nothing.”

– The Pseudo-Dionysius: ‘De Mystica Theologia’

“…the ascent from the realm of the Intellect and Reason up to the absolute Simplicity of the perfect One as the highest principle is more difficult than the climb from the corporeal world perceivable through the senses on up to the Intellectual World of Ideas… Mere human abilities of thought and comprehension – which are capable of dealing initially with that which has limits, form and finiteness in the visible world, and then with that which has intelligible form – shrink back from the One in Its Infinity.”

– The Pseudo-Dionysius: ‘De Mystica Theologia’

The mystical life has three stages ({the} classical division):

1. Light, the burning bush: purgation – we die to the passions by apatheia.

2. Cloud (obscurity): illumination (gnosis) – we die to intellectual knowledge on {the} natural level and attain to theoria (physica).

3. “Holy of Holies,” Deep Darkness: union – not gnosis but ousia.

– Thomas Merton: Introduction to Christian Mysticism

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16. “the divine dark”

In setting out the via negationis (or ‘negative’) approach to God, ‘De Theologia Mystica’ treatise of the 5th century mystic and theologian Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite describes the ineffability of God as “the Divine Dark”:

The Divine Dark is nought else but that inaccessible light wherein the Lord is said to dwell. Although it is invisible because of its dazzling splendours and unsearchable because of the abundance of its supernatural brightness, nevertheless, whosoever deserves to see and know God rests therein; and, by the very fact that he neither sees nor knows, is truly in that which surpasses all truth and all knowledge.”

– The Pseudo-Dionysius: ‘De Mystica Theologia’

Referencing the Sufi poem ‘The Colloquy of the Birds’, Evelyn Underhill’s 1912 ‘Mysticism’ (’A study of the nature and development of man’s spiritual consciousness’) says that the sixth of the ‘Seven Valleys’ along the road to the hidden Palace of the King is known as the Valley of Amazement in which “the pilgrim’s receptive power appears to be taken from him and he is plunged in darkness and bewilderment. This is the state which Dionysius the Arcopagite, and after him many mediaeval mystics, called the Divine Dark, and described as the truest and closest of all our apprehensions of the Godhead. It is the Cloud of Unknowing: “dark from excessive bright.”

“’That meek darkness be thy mirror.’ What is this darkness? It is the ‘night of the intellect into which we are plunged when we attain to a state of consciousness which is above thought; enter on a plane of spiritual experience with which the intellect cannot deal. This is the ‘Divine Darkness’ – the Cloud of Unknowing, or of Ignorance, ‘dark with excess of light’ – preached by Dionysius the Areopagite, and eagerly accepted by his English interpreter. ‘When I say darkness, I mean a lacking of knowing . . . and for this reason it is not called a cloud of the air, but a cloud of unknowing that is betwixt thee and thy God.’ It is ‘a dark mist,’ he says again, ‘which seemeth to be between thee and the light thou aspirest to.’ This dimness and lostness of mind is a paradoxical proof of attainment. Reason is in the dark, because love has entered ‘the mysterious radiance of the Divine Dark, the inaccessible light wherein the Lord is said to dwell, and to which thought with all its struggles cannot attain.’

– Anonymous: ‘Cloud of Unknowing’

Reinhardt associates the phrase ‘the divine dark’ with Meister “Eckhardt” [sic] on several occasions, including the unpublished and undated texts ‘[Oneness]’ and ‘Black’ as well as in his ‘Black as Symbol and Concept’ contribution to the 1967 telephone seminar, subsequently published by artscanada. The phrase ‘the divine dark’ is more correctly associated with the Blessed Jan Van Ruysbroeck, as in:

When love has carried us above all things, into the Divine Dark, we receive in peace the Incomprehensible Light, enfolding us and penetrating us. What is this Light, if it be not a contemplation of the Infinite, and an intuition of Eternity?

– Blessed Jan Van Ruysbroeck: ‘The Spiritual Espousals’, c1340

It is possible that Reinhardt’s error in confusing Eckhart and Ruysbroeck was due to a book review published in ‘The Tablet’ in 1963, which said:

The mysticism of the New Testament with St. Paul’s “through a glass darkly” and the teaching of the mystical body takes us to Dionysius the Areopagite and the Confessions of St. Augustine with significant quotes from the famous Book X, the real basis and ground of European mystical thought. Two themes are traced of the divine dark or unknowing, and spiritual marriage. Dr. Happold has chosen his anthology with knowledge of the principal texts so that we have Eckhardt [sic] on time and Ruysbroeck on the mystic way.

– The Tablet: ‘Books of the Week’, p. 11, 06 July 1963

54. “the plane of theory”

Hence, the Will by itself is manifestation of the Essence and other existents have been created through its means. We don’t however intend to give here the proof of this sublime matter. The devotee who understands this matter on the plane of theory and metaphysical proof, knows that his own being, as well as his worship, knowledge, will, heart, the actions of his heart, and his inward and outward being all of them are present before His Sanctity or, rather, they are presence itself. Should the pen of his intellect inscribe this truth on the tablet of his heart and should the heart attain conviction in this certain, axiomatic premise by the means of theoretical and practical exercises, he will obtain attention of the heart to the revelations on the plane of faith.

– Imam al-Nawawi: ‘Forty Hadith, An Exposition – Twenty-Seventh Hadith: Prayer And Concentration, Attention To The Worshipped One’

My internal contradictions were resolving themselves out, but still only on the plane of theory, not of practice: not for lack of good-will, but  because I was still completely fettered by my sins and my attachments.

– Thomas Merton: ‘The Seven Storey Mountain’, 1948