Light

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

17. “luminous darkness”

Behind the father-image, behind the mother-image, behind the image of light inaccessible, and behind the image of profound abysmal darkness, there is something else which we cannot conceive at all. Saint Dionysius called it the ‘luminous darkness.’ Nargajuna called it sunyata, the void. Shankara called it Brahman, that of which nothing at all can be said, neti-neti, beyond all conception whatsoever. However, this in not atheism in the formal sense of the word. On the contrary, this is a profoundly religious attitude because it corresponds practically to an attitude toward a life of total trust in letting go. When we have images of God, they are all really exhibitions of our lack of faith.

– Alan Watts: ‘Images of God’

Wherefore John the Sublime, who penetrated into the luminous darkness, says, No one has ever seen God, thus asserting that knowledge of the divine essence is unattainable not only by men but also by every intelligent creature.

– Gregory of Nyssa: ‘Life of Moses’

It is in the deepest darkness, that we most fully possess God on earth, because it is then that our minds are most truly liberated from the weak, created lights that are filled with His infinite Light which seems pure darkness to our reason.

– Thomas Merton: ‘New Seeds of Contemplation’, 1961

18. “cloud, finally dark”

“Clouds and darkness are round about him: righteousness and judgment are the habitation of his throne.”

– Psalm 97:2

Moses’ vision of God began with light; afterwards God spoke to him in a cloud. But when Moses rose higher and became more perfect, he saw God in the darkness.

– Gregory of Nyssa: ‘Life of Moses’

This cloud, mist, darkness, or ignorance into which whoever seeks your face enters when one leaps beyond every knowledge and concept is such that below it your face cannot be found except veiled. But this very cloud reveals your face to be there beyond all veils, just as when our eye seeks to view the light of the sun, which is the sun’s face, it first sees it veiled in the stars and in the colours and in all the things which participate its light.

– Nicholas de Cusa: ‘The Vision of God’, Chapter VI 21

I want to ask you to close your eyes

for a few moments and to image:

I want you to follow me

into a dark cloud,

a mist so dense

we are hidden from each other,

and although we can see,

there is nothing to be seen

except the darkness.

– Thomas Merton: ‘A Guided Meditation on “The Face”’, based on Chapter VI 17-21 of Nicholas de Cusa’s ‘The Vision of God’ (De Visione Dei)

25. “Awareness of hidden things”

Now the doctrine we are taught here is as follows. Our initial withdrawal from wrong and erroneous ideas of God is a transition from darkness to light. Next comes a clear awareness of hidden things, and by this the soul is guided through sense phenomena to the world of the invisible.

– Gregory of Nyssa: ‘Homilies on the Song of Songs’

29. “Beyond essence, inconceivability Beyond light, limit, the unmixed, the unfettered the unchangeable, the untrammeled Intangible, invisible, illimitable Beyond “seeing,” beyond foul and fair”

O Trinity

beyond essence and

beyond divinity

beyond goodness

guide of Christians in divine wisdom

direct us towards mysticism’s heights

beyond unknowing

beyond light

beyond limit

there where the 

unmixed and

unfettered and

unchangeable

mysteries of theology

in the dazzling dark of the welcoming silence

lie hidden, in the intensity of their darkness

all brilliance outshining

our intellects, blinded – over-whelming,

with the intangible and

with the invisible and

with the illimitable,

Such is my prayer.

. . .

beyond foul and fair,

. . .

– The Pseudo-Dionysius: ‘De Mystica Theologia’ (‘The Divine Dark’)

32. “supreme principle”

The Supreme must be an entity in which the two are one; it will, therefore, be a Seeing that lives, not an object of vision like things existing in something other than themselves: what exists in an outside element is some mode of living-thing; it is not the Self-Living.

– Plotinus: ‘The Six Enneads’

Plotinus has given its fullest development to Neo-Platonism. We will follow his working out of the two fundamental ideas which, in his view, sum up all philosophy.

(1) The Process of Emanation from a Supreme Principle, the one source of all existing things, explains the physical and the metaphysical worlds. According as this principle gives out its energy, it exhausts itself; its determinations follow a descending scale, becoming less and less perfect. The following are the successive steps in the process:

The One

At the head of the intelligible world, far removed from the world of sense (Plato), reigns One Supreme Essence. To safeguard its transcendence, Piotinus states it to be absolutely indeterminate (apeiron). No quality marks or defines it; nothing can determine it, for all determination implies limitation (negative theodicy). The Supreme Being has no attribute, not even intellect or will: knowledge and volition suppose a duality of knower and thing known, of that which wills and that which is willed; and all duality is irreconcilable with the infinitely perfect. However, as this negative concept has for basis the Divine perfection, Plotinus has recourse to positive descriptions, the insufficiency of which, moreover, he fully recognises. By preference he describes the Supreme Being as the First (to prôton), the One, the Universal Cause, Goodness (Plato), Light. Immutable in itself, this First Unitary Being does not diffuse its substance into other beings, as the advocates of substantialist pantheism maintain; but it permeates them by its activity (dynamic pantheism); and what we call the proper, specific substantiality of things is simply the product of this activity. Furthermore, this outflow of the Divine activity into all other beings is not direct and immediate; it is effected through the agency of intermediary forces which emanate successively from one another. And as the effect is always less perfect than the cause, these activities are arranged in gradation according to their respective degrees of perfection, each one occupying a position which is lower the greater the number of intermediate steps by which it communicates with the Divine energy. What are these intermediaries into which the Divine energy flows, as it were, by cascades? Plotinus reduces them to three: Intelligence and the World-Soul in the suprasensible order; and, in the sensible order, Matter.

– Maurice De Wulf: ‘History of Medieval Philosophy’, 1909

Only blankness, complete awareness, distinterestedness; the “artist-as-artist” only, of one and rational mind, “vacant and spiritual, empty and marvelous,” in symmetries and regularities only; the changeless “human content,” the timeless “supreme principle,” the ageless “universal formula” of art, nothing else.

– Ad Reinhardt, ‘Timeless in Asia’, Art News, January 1960