The Works of Dionysius the Areopagite, tr. by John Parker, , at sacred-texts.com
What is the power of prayer, and concerning the blessed Hierotheus, and concerning reverence and covenant in the Word of God.
FIRST, with your permission, let us examine the all-perfect Name of Goodness, which is indicative of the whole progressions of Almighty God, having invoked the supremely good, and super-good Triad--the Name which indicates Its whole best Providences. For, we must first be raised up to It, as Source of good, by our prayers; and by a nearer approach to It, be initiated as to the all good gifts which are established around It. For It is indeed present to all, but all are not present to It. But then, when we have invoked It, by all pure prayers and unpolluted mind, and by our aptitude towards Divine Union, we also are present to It. For, It is not in a place, so that It should be absent from a particular place, or should pass from one to another. But even the statement that It is in all existing beings, falls short of Its infinitude (which is) above all, and embracing all. Let us then elevate our very selves by our prayers to the higher ascent of the Divine and good rays,--as if a luminous chain being suspended from the celestial heights, p. 28 and reaching down hither, we, by ever clutching this upwards, first with one hand, and then with the other, seem indeed to draw it down, but in reality we do not draw it down, it being both above and below, but ourselves are carried upwards to the higher splendours of the luminous rays. Or, as if, after we have embarked on a ship, and are holding on to the cables reaching from some rock, such as are given out, as it were, for us to seize, we do not draw the rock to us, but ourselves, in fact, and the ship, to the rock. Or to take another example, if any one standing on the ship pushes away the rock by the sea shore, he will do nothing to the stationary and unmoved rock, but he separates himself from it, and in proportion as he pushes that away, he is so far hurled from it. Wherefore, before everything, and especially theology, we must begin with prayer, not as though we ourselves were drawing the power, which is everywhere and nowhere present, but as, by our godly reminiscences and invocations, conducting ourselves to, and making ourselves one with, it.
Perhaps also, this is worthy of apology, that whilst our illustrious leader, Hierotheus, is compiling his Theological Elements, in a manner above natural capacity, we, as if those were not sufficient, have composed others, and this present theological treatise. And yet, if that man had deigned to treat systematically all the theological treatises, and had gone p. 29 through the sum of all theology, by detailed expositions, we should not have gone to such a height of folly, or stupidity, as to have attempted alone theological questions, either more lucidly or divinely than he, or to indulge in vain talk by saying superfluously the same things twice over, and in addition to do injustice to one, both teacher and friend, and that we, who have been instructed from his discourses, after Paul the Divine, should filch for our own glorification his most illustrious contemplation and elucidation. But, since in fact, he, whilst teaching things divine, in a manner suitable to presbyters, set forth comprehensive definitions, and such as embraced many things in one, as were suitable to us, and to as many as with us were teachers of the newly-initiated souls, commanding us to unfold and disentangle, by language commensurate with our ability, the comprehensive and uniform compositions of the most intellectual capacity of that illustrious man; and you, yourself, have oftentimes urged us to this, and sent back the very book, as being of transcendent value; for this reason, then, we too distinguish him as a teacher of perfect and presbyterial conceptions for those who are above the common people, even as certain second Oracles, and next to the Anointed of God. But for people, such as we are, we will transmit things Divine, according to our capacity. For, if strong meat belongs to the perfect, how great perfection is required that the same should feed others. Correctly, then, we have affirmed this, that p. 30 the self-perceptive vision of the intelligible Oracles, and their comprehensive teaching, needs presbyterial power; but the science and the thorough teaching of the reasons which lead to this, fittingly belong to those purified and hallowed persons placed in a subordinate position. And yet, we have insisted upon this with the utmost care, that, as regards the things that have been thoroughly investigated by him, our divine leader, with an accurate elucidation, we should not, in any way, handle the same tautologically, for the same elucidation of the Divine text expounded by him. For, amongst our inspired hierarchs (when both we, as you know, and yourself, and many of our holy brethren, were gathered together to the depositing of the Life-springing and God-receptive body, and when there were present also James, the brother of God, and Peter, the foremost and most honoured pinnacle of the Theologians, when it was determined after the depositing, that every one of the hierarchs should celebrate, as each was capable, the Omnipotent Goodness of the supremely Divine Weakness), he, after the Theologians, surpassed, as you know, all the other divine instructors, being wholly entranced, wholly raised from himself, and experiencing the pain of his fellowship with the things celebrated, and was regarded as an inspired and divine Psalmist by all, by whom he was heard and seen and known, and not known. And why should I say anything to thee concerning the things there divinely spoken? For, p. 31 if I do not forget myself, many a time do I remember to have heard from thee certain portions of those inspired songs of praise; such was thy zeal, not cursorily, to pursue things Divine.
But to pass over the mystical things there, both as forbidden to the multitude and as known to thee, when it was necessary to communicate to the multitude, and to bring as many as possible to the sacred knowledge amongst ourselves, he so excelled the majority of sacred teachers, both by use of time and purity of mind, and accuracy of demonstrations, and by his other sacred discourses, that we should scarcely have dared to look so great a sun straight in the face. For we are thus far conscious in ourselves, and know, that we may neither advance to understand sufficiently the intelligible of Divine things, nor to express and declare the things spoken of the divine knowledge. For, being far removed from the skill of those divine men, as regards theological truth, we are so inferior that we should have, through excessive reverence, entirely come to this--neither to hear nor to speak anything respecting divine philosophy, unless we had grasped in our mind, that we must not neglect the knowledge of things divine received by us. And to this we were persuaded, not only by the innate aspirations of the minds which always lovingly cling to the permitted contemplation of the supernatural, but also by the most excellent order itself of the Divine institutions, p. 32 which prohibits us, on the one hand, from much inquisition into things above us, as above our degree, and as unattainable; yet, on the other hand, persistently urges us to graciously impart to others also whatever is permitted and given to us to learn. Yielding then to these considerations, and neither shirking nor flinching from the attainable discovery of things Divine, but also not bearing to leave unassisted those who are unable to contemplate things too high for us, we have brought ourselves to composition, not daring indeed to introduce anything new, but by more easy and more detailed expositions to disentangle and elucidate the things spoken by the Hierotheus indeed.