Tuesday, July 15, 2008

St. Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on Bl. Dionysius' "On Divine Names" (Lecture 1)


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A translation in progress by Matthew N. Petersen

Prologue A

For understanding of the books of blessed Dionysius it ought to be considered that the things which are contained in sacred Scripture regarding God are artificially divided into four parts: now in a certain book, which we do not have titled On the Divine Hypostases and Characteristics, he teaches the things of God which pertain to the unity of the Divine essence and the distinction of the persons. Regarding which unity and distinction sufficient similitude is not found in created things, but this mystery exceeds all faculty of natural reason. What things truly are said of God in the Scriptures, of which kind is every similitude with creatures, have themselves in two ways. Now a similitude of this kind is indeed attained in certain things following something in creatures derived from God. Thus from the first Good are all good things and from the first Life are all living things and thus of the other similitudes. And such things Dionysius goes through in the book On Divine Names which we have before our hands. In the other way, true similitude is attained following something translated from creatures to God. Thus God is called lion, rock, sun or something else of this kind; thus also God is named symbolically or metaphorically. And Dionysius goes through things of this kind in that book which is titled Of Symbolic Theology. But because all similitude of creatures to God is deficient and that which is God exceeds every thing which is found in creatures, whatever is known by us from creatures is removed from God, after the manner which it is in creatures; in whatever way, after everything thing which our intellect taught by creatures is able to conceive of God, that which is God Himself remains dark and unknown. For not only is God not a stone or sun, qualities apprehended by the senses, but neither is he that kind of life or essential quality able to be understood by us and thus what God is Himself, after exceeding all which is apprehended by us, remains unknown to us. Of this kind of remoteness however the ways by which God remains unknown to us and made dark is another book which is titled Regarding the Mystery Which Is Occult Theology.

Prologue B

It ought to be considered that blessed Dionysius uses an obscure pen in all his books. This however he did not do from ignorance, but from diligence that the sacred and divine doctrine would remain hidden from the mockery of infidels. Also, difficulties arose (fell) in the afore mentioned books from many causes: first, indeed because he very often uses the pen and mode of speaking which the Platonists use, which is unfamiliar to moderns. For the Platonists, wishing to reduce all composites or material things to simple and abstract principles, posited separate species of things, saying what man is is beyond matter, and likewise for a horse, and thus of the other species of natural things. They said therefore, that this singular sensible man is not the itself the thing which is man, but is called man by participation in that separate man. Thence in this sensible man they discover something which does not pertain to the species of man, namely individual matter and other things of this kind. But in the separate man there is nothing except what pertains to the species of man. Thence they names the separate man man per se, for the reason that it has nothing except what is of humanity; and principal man, insofar as humanity is derived to sensible men from the separate man, through the mode of participation. Thus also it is able to be said that the separate man is above men and that separate man is the humanity of all sensible men, insofar as human nature fully joins to the separate man, and from this is derived in sensible men. Nor only did the Platonists make such abstractions about the ultimate species of natural things, but also about the maximally common things, which are good, one, and being. Indeed, they posited one first which is itself the essence of good and unity and to be, which we call God, and that all others are called good or one or beings through derivation from that first. Thence they called that first good itself, or good in itself, or principal good or supergood, or also good of all goods whether good or essence and substance, according to that mode which has been exposited concerning separate man. Therefore the things of the Platonists are not consonant to the order of faith nor to truth, according to that which they contain regarding the separate natural species, but according to that which they say about the first foundation of things, their opinion is most true and consonant to the Christian faith. Thence Dionysius indeed sometimes calls God good itself or supergood or principal good or good of all good things. And likewise he names Him superlife, supersubstance and deity itself thearchian, which is principle deity, because the name of diety is indeed admitted to certain creatures according to a certain participation. The second difficulty arises in his writings because he often uses effective reasons to prove his point and often expounds them with few words or even with just one word. Third he often uses a certain multiplication of words because, although it may seem superfluous, nevertheless with diligent considerations it is found to contain great profundity of thought.

Chapter 1, Lecture 1, A

Therefore, in this book, which is called On Divine Names, he first sets forth, after the manner of those who artfully handed down the sciences, what things are necessary for the following consideration; second, in chapter 3, he begins to follow principle intent, which begins et primam etc. Regarding the first, he makes two divisions: in the first, he shown the order of divine names; second, he shows that the names, from which he draws in this book, are common to all the Trinity; and this begins in the second chapter which begins: thearchicam totam essentiam etc. The first of these he further divides in two: first, he continues the preceding book, where writing to blessed Timothy, he says “after the theology of the hypostases”, that is the divine distinctions by which the persons in the Trinity are mutually distinguished, he will go on “to revealing” that is manifesting “the divine names”, according to his power. For it seems to be elevated completely above man. Second, where he says: esto etc. he begins to put forth what is necessary for the following work. Moreover, he sets forth two things: indeed first, the mode of proceeding in this work, for this is necessary to know in advance in any teaching. Second, he shows the order of divine names which he intends to prove in this book; this begins has sequentes etc. And these two are sufficiently shown in the prologue of this chapter which is written thus: quae sermonis intentio, according to the first; and quae de divinis nominibus traditio, regarding the second.

Chapter 1, Lecture 1 B

Regarding the first division, he says two things: first, he shows from what things ought to be the foundations of this book, because it ought not lean upon human reason, but divine revelation. This fact he learned from the apostle who said in I Corinthians 2 “not with persuasive words of human wisdom (…): but through the teaching of the Spirit, Spiritual things being taught by the Spirit” and this is what he says “Esto autem et nunc nobis eloquiorum lex praedefinita” which would be more easily rendered “Sit autem etiam nunc lex eloquiorum praedeterminata a nobis” and in English: “Now the law of speaking (by which law he means the things handed down in holy Scripture) ought to be fixed before hand by us” just as it once was by the apostle; and that law is this: “ veritatem nos asserverare dictorum de Deo, non in persuasibilibus humanae sapientiae verbis, sed in demonstratione virtutis theologorum motae a spiritu” which is more easily rendered as “nos astruere” or “nos manifestare veritatem dictorum de deo, non in persuasibilibus humanae sapientiae verbis, sed in demonstratione virtutis theologorum motae a spiritu” which in English is “that we strive to write true things of God, not with persuasive words of human wisdom,” that is not leaning upon the medial first principles of human reason which proceed to the proposition to be shown according to natural reason, but “in explanation of the virtue of the theologians” that is of those who wrote sacred scripture, the Apostles and Prophets, “of virtues” I say, “moved by the spirit”, that is the Holy Spirit. For in his doctrine Dionysius is supported by the authority of sacred Scripture, which authority has strength and efficacy because the Apostles and Prophets are moved to speaking by the Holy Spirit revealing to them and speaking through them.

Chapter 1, Lecture 1, C

Second, he introduces the reason for the aforementioned law, here: secundum quam etc. And the virtue of his reason is of such a kind: we are able to begin with principles of human wisdom in those doctrines in which things are argued which are understandable and speakable for men, and are able to be understood and spoken by those who have that doctrine. But regarding doctrines of faith, certain things unknowable and unutterable yet clung to by the faithful are put forth; not through understanding or through explicating with perfect words, although they cling more surely and clinging to things of this sort is higher than any natural understanding. Therefore in doctrines of faith we are not able to begin with principles of human wisdom. And this is what he says: “according to which” namely, that sort of revelation in the Apostles and prophets which proceeds from the Holy Spirit, we ourselves through faith “are united to the ineffable and unknowable, that is to the divine truth which exceeds all human speech and understanding. Neither is faith thus joined to these things that it may make things to be understood by the believing man and thus to be spoken, for this of clear vision, but it joins the “ineffable and unknown:” “for we now see through a mirror” as it is said in I Corinthians 13. And lest anyone contemptuously believe this conjunction is because of the imperfection of his (reason), he is joined “secundum meliorem unionem nostrae rationalis et intellectualis virtutis et operationis” which because Dionysius, a Greek has conflated the Ablative and Genitive would be more easily rendered “supra virtutem et operationem nostrae rationis et intellectus” “beyond the power and operation of our reasoning and intellection.”

Chapter 1, Lecture 1, D

For we are joined to the higher through faith than the things to which the natural reason pertains, and we cling more surely, inasmuch as the divine revelation is surer than human cognition. He says therefore “rationalis et intellectualis” “Reasoning and intellection” because of the things which we naturally know, certain things are known in themselves by us, without any investigation, and properly regarding is intellection; other things are truly known through inquisition and of these is reasoning. He says however “operationis et vertutis” “operation and power” because we understand many things through power (of the soul), which we do not seek out through action. Then, when he says “igitur universaliter etc.” “therefore universally etc.” he shows what things ought to be taught in this doctrine; and first, he puts forth the proposition; second, he manifests the same; where he says “nam supersubstantialem scientiam etc.” “now the supersubstantial science etc.” He concludes this proposition however from premises. For in this and in human sciences it is believed, that principles and conclusions are from the same origin. Thus therefore the principles from which this doctrine proceeds are things which are received through the revelation of the Holy Spirit, and are contained in holy Scripture: this is therefore what he concludes, that someone ought to dare “dicere, nec etiam cogitare aliquid de occulta deitate supersubstantiali “to speak” that is with the mouth “now also to think something about the hidden supersubstantial divine nature” which is over all substances and because of this is hidden to us for whom creaturly substances are proportionate for cognition, and through argumentation for speaking, “except things which have been divinely squeezed forth from us from the holy writings” (“praeter ea quae nobis divinitus ex sanctis eloquiis sunt expressa ... exprimuntur per sancta eloquia”. However he does not say they are signified “in holy writings”, but “from holy writings” because whatever things from these things which are contained in sacred Scripture are able to be called out, they do not belong to another thing from that doctrine (from which they are drawn out tr.), for such things that are not contained in sacred Scripture are allowed.

Chapter 1, Lecture 1, E

Then, when he says “nam supersubstantialem scientiam etc.” “now the supersubstantial knowledge…” he introduces the reason for manifesting the proposition; first he states the reason; second, he demonstrates a certain thing which he puts under the proposition, at “etenim etc.” “for indeed…” The virtue of his reason is as follows: regarding something which is known by one alone, no one is able to cognize or speak it, unless inasmuch as it is manifested by that one. However, it is proper to God alone to perfectly cognize himself according to what he is. Therefore none is able to truly speak about God or to cognize him unless inasmuch as he is revealed by God. Indeed such a divine revelation is contained in sacred Scripture. And this is what he says “convenit ipsi attribuere supersubstantialem scientiam ignorantiae supersubstantialitatis quae est super rationem et intellectum ipsam substantiam” “It is fitting to ascribe to himself” that is to God alone “knowledge of the ignorant supersubstance” that is of the unknown divine supersubstance “which”—for indeed supersubstantiality is not unknown because of some defect, but because of its excess, because namely “it is beyond the reason and the intellect” which is created and over the created “substance itself” which is an object and commensurate to the created intellect, likewise the uncreated essence is proportional to uncreated knowledge. Therefore just as the divine essence is supersubstantial, likewise knowledge of it is called supersubstantial. For it is always proper that an object of the cognitive power be proportional to the power of knowing. Nevertheless that he not be flattened out in ignorance of the nature of God, he adds: “how great a radius of the thearchian eloquence extends itself to extend us who are reflecting on” through spiritual contemplation “the higher thing” that is on that which is above us, namely God, “to higher splendors” that is to intelligible truths of divine things. For the truth of Sacred Scriptures is a certain light like a radius derived from first truth which light does not extend itself to the point that like angels and the blessed seeing his essence, we should through Himself be able to see the essence of God or to cognize all which God in Himself knows, but fully, to a certain termination or measure, truths of divine things are manifested by the light of sacred Scripture.

Chapter 1, Lecture 1, F

“And” thus, now we do not extend ourselves more to understanding divine things, than the light of sacred Scripture extends itself, “snub-nosed” through this “constriction”, as if confined to a certain limit “about divine things” by a kind of “temperance and sanctity”: by sanctity when we maintain the splendid truth of sacred Scripture from all error; by temperance when we thrust ourselves to things no greater than we have been given. Then, when he says “etenim” “for indeed” etc. he shows clearly what the reasons for this conclusion are: and first, that God is known to Himself alone, too us however he is hidden; second, he shows clearly the way by which the divine cognition is communicated to us; where: “non tamen incommunicabile est” “it is not however incommunicable” etc. Regarding the first, he shows twice; the first of these, from reasons, second from authorities; where “etenim sicut ipsa de seipsa” “for indeed just as himself from he himself…”

Chapter 1, Lecture 1, G

“And” thus, now we do not extend ourselves more to understanding divine things, than the light of sacred Scripture extends itself, “snub-nosed” through this “constriction”, as if confined to a certain limit “about divine things” by a kind of “temperance and sanctity”: by sanctity when we maintain the splendid truth of sacred Scripture from all error; by temperance when we thrust ourselves to things no greater than we have been given. Then, when he says “etenim” “for indeed” etc. he shows clearly what the reason for this conclusion are: and first, that God is known to Himself alone, too us however he is hidden; second, he shows clearly the way by which the divine cognition is communicated to us; where: “non tamen incommunicabile est” “it is not however incommunicable” etc. Regarding the first, he shows twice; the first of these, from reasons, second from authorities; where “etenim sicut ipsa de seipsa” “for indeed just as himself from he himself…” He puts however, at the first, two reasons; of which the first thus: divine things are revealed by God according to the proportion of the things to whom they are revealed; but to know the infinite is beyond the proportion of the finite intellect; therefore the thing itself which God is beyond the proportion of the finite intellect; therefore the thing itself which God is not known by anyone through divine revelation. And this is what he says: certain “divine things are revealed” by God “and contemplated” by us, “according to the proportion of the minds of each.” [It would seem mentuim “of minds” should be singular, but it is plural here, and in Dionysius…] And I have amended what he earlier said [because it was too difficult] to: “If it is fitting in any respect to believe the all wise and most true theology”, that is sacred Scripture [divine things are revealed according to the minds of each]. Fir it says in Matthew 25 “he gave …to every man according to his several ability.” (AV) And it should be noted that he lays down two reasons from which it is shown that sacred Scripture ought to be believed in the highest degree. [It doesn’t match!!!!] For it happens to something that it is not to be believed from two reasons: either because it is, or at least is reputed to be, ignorant, or because it is, or at least is reputed to be, malicious. Thence, as sacred Scripture is all-wise, and most true because it has been revealed by and related by God who is truth and knows all, sacred Scripture ought to be believed in the highest degree. And this I say “thearchic” that is divine “goodness” having been separated “from the measured things” that is, from finite things, by “immesurability” that is by the infinitude of the divine essence, but not with the result that we are not acquainted with it in any way, but that it is not comprehended.

Chapter 1, Lecture 1, H

And because of this he adds “just as incomprehensible.” For indeed the Divine Essence is touched by the mind of the blessed, but is not comprehended. And indeed God does this “through justice.” For the ratio of distributive justice consists in this, that each one receives according to his condition. And as through the arrangement of distributive justice established by the magistrate, the whole political order is made whole, so through this order of justice the whole order of the universe is made whole by God, for if this is subtracted, all remains in confusion. And indeed he says this “it befits God”; for it befits him on account of his goodness to save those he has made. He gives a second reason where he says “sicut enim incomprehensibilia etc.” (“for thus incomprehensible things etc.”), namely: a superior rank of being is not able to be comprehended by the inferior, just as intelligible things are not able to be comprehended perfectly through the senses, nor simple things through composite, nor incorporeal through corporeal; but God is beyond every order of created things; therefore he is not able to be comprehended through anything created. And he says this when he says: “for thus the intelligible are incomprehensible and incontemplatible by” (that is through) “the senses; and the simple and unshaped” (through things) “which are in composition and figure (figura)” that is which are composite and shaped (figurata) (for there is no figure unless of composite things); and thus “deficiency” of things “incorporeal,” that is things lacking form of a body, which deficiency or privation indeed is intangible and infigurable, that is the deficiency is incorporeity itself; such things lack form and are intangible and infigurable (to understand we place an abstraction for the concrete), “such things are incomprehensible and inconteplatible in their forms according to the figure of bodies” that is by bodies themselves thus, I say, that is, “according to the same reason of truth, oneness is placed above” that is God who is oneness that is existing as one through his own essence “which is supersubstantial, and is placed above substances and which is beyond the mind” placed above “minds” that is beyond intellectual spirits; and “good Himself” namely God, “which is beyond comprehension” that is beyond all reason, “is incomprehensible to all comprehensions” that is no creaturely reason can investigate it “and which is beyond the word” that is beyond all locution of a creature, “is ineffable” that is unspeakable “in any created word.”

Chapter 1, Lecture 1, I

In this he touched upon four things, namely: substances, which are the object of cognition; mind, that is simple intellect; deliberation, that is investigative reason and which pertains to cognitive virtues; and the word which pertains to the manifestation of cognition. He gives however these four because he does not only intend to show that God is not able to be comprehended through any cognitive virtue, or to be manifested perfectly in speech, but neither is he [comprehended or manifested] through any created object or through any creaturely similitude. Thus also in the examples which he gives, he does not say that intelligible things are incomprehensible to the senses, but to sensible things because intelligible things are not able to be comprehended through sensible. And likewise for the other examples. And it should be noted that he does not only say that intelligible things are incomprehensible through sensible things, but also uncontemplible because through things which are of an inferior order, not only are superior things not able to be comprehended, but neither are they contemplated. This is because we contemplate through something when through one thing we are able to see the essence of that we may know from what it is. The essence of something is comprehended however when it is held in cognition [cognoscit] perfectly, as it is knowable [cognoscibilis]. For who knows the demonstrated conclusion to a medial degree, even if he somehow contemplates it, nevertheless, he does not comprehend it because he does not reach up to the perfect mode of his cognition. Thus, therefore, God is indeed incomprehensible to all created intellects because he is beyond all mind and reason, inasmuch as having more from the brightness of truth in his essence (and this pertains to knowability), than any creature from his power of knowing. Thus no creature is able to attain to the perfect mode of his own knowledge, which is called “supersubstantial knowledge” which would be to comprehend him.

Chapter 1, Lecture 1, J

Nevertheless, the created intellect is able to contemplate his essence according to some mode which shall be attained, but not through any abject of species or any creaturly similitude, because none of them is able to lead [?] into the divine essence much less than the body is able to lead into incorporeal essence. Thus therefore, according to the reasoning of Dionysius it is fitting to say that God is both incomprehensible to all intellects and incontemplatible to us in his essence, in that our intellect has been bound to created things, namely to things which are of similar nature to us; and thus it is in the state of life. And because he had called God unity, lest anyone believe it is that unity inhering in things formally, just as in things themselves by participation, in order that this be excluded he adds “unity” namely subsisting in itself, “unifying all unity” that is pouring out unity into all things which participate in unity according to any mode. Then because God had been called supersubstantial unity and good beyond the mind, someone is able to believe that God is in no way able to be called a substance or mind or anything of this kind, therefore, to exclude this error, he adds that God is indeed “a substance” but “supersubstantial.” Concerning this odd language we ought to reflect that names, when they have been imposed by us, they signify according to how things stand in our cognition. Therefore that itself which God is is beyond our cognotion, as has been made clear, our cognition however is commensurable to created things, the names we have imposed thus do not signify according to a congruence to the divine excellence, but according to a coming together to the essence of created things. The “to be” of created things however, has drawn out from the divine “to be” according to a certain sort of incomplete assimilation. Thus therefore, because of this, whatever similitude there is of created things to God, the names which we use are able to be said to be names of God—not as they would be of creatures, but through a certain projection—and Dionysius signifies this when he says that God is “a supersubstantial substance” (supersubstantialis substantia), and he puts it similarly that God is “a non intelligible intellect” (intellectus non-intelligibilis), that is not the sort of intellect which is intelligible [I’m not sure what the technical translation of this word is, it means able to be held in our intellect MNP] “and” he is “an unspeakable word” (verbum non-dicibile), that is not the sort of word which is able to be spoken by us.

Chapter 1, Lecture 1, K

However, just as the names which we impose are able to be said of God following the fact that there is some similitude of creatures to God; likewise following the fact that creatures fall short from a full image of God, the names we impose are able to be removed from God, and their opposite to be predicated (of Him). Whence he adds that God thus is called “reason” which is also able to be called “irrationality” (irrationabilitas), and thus he is called an intellect that is able to be called “non-intellectuality” (non-intelligibilitas); and thus he is called a word that is able to be called “non-namedness” (innominabilitas); not indeed because of this that these things do not extend to Him, but because “like (?) (secundum) none of the existing things is (his) existence”, that is he does not exist according to (secundum) the manner of any existing thing; “and” He Himself, “indeed” is “the cause” of existing “for all”, pouring forth into all whatsoever (?) their similitude; and thus he is able to be named from the names of creatures; “He Himself however is non-existing” not as if lacking an essence, but “as it were” existing “above all substances”; and he is “non-namedness” (innominabilitas) “thus he utters Himself from Himself, Personally and Knowingly” that is according to the property of his own “to be” and according to His own perfect Knowledge of Himself, by which mode, no one is able to utter Him. After these things have been said, he reaches the first conclusion when he adds: “from this therefore, just as it has been said, one ought not dare to speak nor to know anything about the supersubstantial and hidden deity, save those things which have been Divinely expressed to us from the Holy Speech” which has been explained above.
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