Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The Manifold Perfections of Divinity 

"The divinity is jointly a sole perfection, and many perfections diverse, one in simplicity, and many in valor and eminence."--Fray Luis de León, The Perfect Wife §I

"Hear, O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is one!"  So declares the Shema of Deuteronomy, and so declares the Church: and yet we also declare that God is Three.  Not only does the Divinity have three Persons, but God manifests Himself to us in a multitude of ways.  These three Persons show themselves to us in many, many ways.  (They are not themselves merely manifestations of the Divinity, for this was the ancient heresy of Modalism.)  One tradition speaks of the different "books" by which one encounters God: first is the book of Scripture, of course, but there is also the book of nature, and the book of experience, among others.  We learn of God through prayer, through the liturgy, through contemplation, through study.  Yet it is always the one God we learn of, the One Who Is, the One above being, above all that we can know of Him, even beyond our conception of God: as Dionysius said, He is "hyper-God" (ὑπέρθεος).

Along with the many methods by which we can come to know God, He also reveals Himself to us in various ways, through His various energies.  The gifts of the Spirit are energies of God that He imparts to us, so that He can live in us.  These are multiple and various, as St. Paul says, and his list is not even fully comprehensive of all the ways God can work in us.  These diverse perfections in God, "many in valor and eminence," still all come from the sole God, "one in simplicity."  "He is in His perfection single and unique," and yet He has "many-splendoured rays of light" (John the Solitary, John the Venerable).

God comes to us in many ways, imparting His Spirit to us for various gifts.  We are called to synergize with the Lord, to use our energies in tune with the energies He imparts to us.  During this week of Pentecost, when we remember the Lord's great outpouring of the Spirit on the Apostles, let us ask the Lord to bestow His energies upon us and to show us how to work with them, that we might ever more work to bring the Kingdom of God on earth.

"This Godhead is granted as a gift to all things.  It flows over in shares of goodness to all.  And it becomes differentiated in a unified way.  It is multiplied and yet remains singular.  It is dispensed to all without ceasing to be a unity."--Dionysius the Areopagite, The Divine Names II.11

Nota Bene: The quote from John the Solitary of Apamea is from his On the Mystery of the Dispensation of Christ, and the quote from John the Venerable (John of Dalyatha) is from his "Discourse on Prayer" in his Discourses; both are found in Brian E. Colless' The Wisdom of the Pearlers: An Anthology of Syriac Christian Mysticism, volume 216 in the Cistercian Studies series (Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian Publications, 2008).  The quote from (Pseudo-)Dionysius the Areopagite is found in Colm Luibheid's translation of his Complete Works, part of the Classics of Western Spirituality series (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1987).

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