Thursday, February 25, 2010

Pope Benedict on Pseudo-Dionysius

From Pope Benedict's audience on Pseudo-Dionysius, the Areopagite. May 14, 2008. The entire article is here.

All Creation speaks of God and is praise of God. Since the creature is praise of God, Pseudo-Dionysius' theology became a liturgical theology: God is found above all in praising him, not only in reflection; and the liturgy is not something made by us, something invented in order to have a religious experience for a certain period of time; it is singing with the choir of creatures and entering into cosmic reality itself. And in this very way the liturgy, apparently only ecclesiastical, becomes expansive and great, it becomes our union with the language of all creatures. He says: God cannot be spoken of in an abstract way; speaking of God is always - he says using a Greek word - a "hymnein", singing for God with the great hymn of the creatures which is reflected and made concrete in liturgical praise. Yet, although his theology is cosmic, ecclesial and liturgical, it is also profoundly personal. He created the first great mystical theology. Indeed, with him the word "mystic" acquires a new meaning. Until then for Christians such a word was equivalent to the word "sacramental", that is, what pertains to the "mysterion", to the sacrament. With him the word "mystic" becomes more personal, more intimate: it expresses the soul's journey toward God. And how can God be found? Here we note once again an important element in his dialogue between Greek philosophy and Christianity, and, in particular biblical faith. Apparently what Plato says and what the great philosophy on God says is far loftier, far truer; the Bible appears somewhat "barbaric", simple or pre-critical one might say today; but he remarks that precisely this is necessary, so that in this way we can understand that the loftiest concepts on God never reach his true grandeur: they always fall short of it. In fact these images enable us to understand that God is above every concept; in the simplicity of the images we find more truth than in great concepts. The Face of God is our inability to express truly what he is. In this way one speaks - and Pseudo-Dionysius himself speaks - of a "negative theology". It is easier for us to say what God is not rather than to say what he truly is. Only through these images can we intuit his true Face, moreover this Face of God is very concrete: it is Jesus Christ.

And although Dionysius shows us, following Proclus, the harmony of the heavenly choirs in such a way that it seems that they all depend on one another, it is true that on our journey toward God we are still very far from him. Pseudo-Dionysius shows that in the end the journey to God is God himself, who makes himself close to us in Jesus Christ. Thus, a great and mysterious theology also becomes very concrete, both in the interpretation of the liturgy and in the discourse on Jesus Christ: with all this, Dionysius the Areopagite exerted a strong influence on all medieval theology and on all mystical theology, both in the East and in the West. He was virtually rediscovered in the 13th century, especially by St Bonaventure, the great Franciscan theologian who in this mystical theology found the conceptual instrument for reinterpreting the heritage - so simple and profound - of St Francis. Together with Dionysius, the "Poverello" tells us that in the end love sees more than reason. Where the light of love shines the shadows of reason are dispelled; love sees, love is an eye and experience gives us more than reflection. Bonaventure saw in St Francis what this experience is: it is the experience of a very humble, very realistic journey, day by day, it is walking with Christ, accepting his Cross. In this poverty and in this humility, in the humility that is also lived in ecclesiality, is an experience of God which is loftier than that attained by reflection. In it we really touch God's Heart.

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