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​​​The Celestial Hierarchy



Dionysius the Areopagite
esoteric.msu.edu


CHAPTER 4
     

To my fellow-presbyter Timothy, Dionysius the Presbyter


That every divine illumination, while going forth with love in various ways to the objects of its forethought, remains one.

Nor is this all: it also unifies the things illuminated.
'Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above and comes down from the Father of Lights.'[James 1:17]



The Meaning of the Name 'Angels'

Since, in my opinion, the nature of a hierarchy has been adequately defined, we must proceed to render honour to the Angelic Hierarchy, intently gazing with supermundane sight upon the holy imagery of it in the Scriptures, that we may be uplifted in the highest degree to their divine purity through that mystical representation, and may praise the Origin of all hierarchical knowledge with a veneration worthy of the things of God, and with devout thanksgiving.


In the first place this truth must be declared, that the superessential Deity, having through His Goodness established the essential subsistence of all, brought all things into being. For 'it is the very nature of that God which is the Supreme Cause of all to call all things to participation in Itself in proportion to the capacity and nature of each.


Wherefore all things share in that Providence which streams forth from the superessential Deific Source of all; for they would not be unless they had come into existence through participation in the Essential Principle of all things.

    
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All inanimate things participate in It through their being; for the 'to be' of all things is the Divinity above Being Itself, the true Life. Living things participate in Its life-giving Power above all life; rational things participate in Its self-perfect and pre-eminently perfect Wisdom above all reason and intellect.

It is manifest, therefore, that those Natures which are around the Godhead have participated of It in manifold ways. On this account the holy ranks of the Celestial Beings are present with and participate in the Divine Principle in a degree far surpassing all those things which merely exist, and irrational living creatures, and rational human beings. For moulding themselves intelligibly to the imitation of God, and looking in a supermundane way to the Likeness of the Supreme Deity, and longing to form the intellectual appearance of It, they naturally have more abundant communion with Him, and with unremitting activity they tend eternally up the steep, as far as is permitted, through the ardour of their unwearying divine love, and they receive the Primal Radiance in a pure and immaterial manner, adapting themselves to this in a life wholly intellectual.

Such, therefore, are they who participate first, and in an all-various manner, in Deity, and reveal first, and in many ways, the Divine Mysteries. Wherefore they, above all, are pre-eminently worthy of the name Angel because they first receive the Divine Light, and through them are transmitted to us the revelations which are above us.

It is thus that the Law (as it is written in the Scriptures) was given to us by Angels and, both before and after the days of the Law, Angels guided our illustrious forefathers to God, either by declaring to them what they should do and leading them from error and an evil life to the straight path of truth, or by making known to them the Divine Law, or in the manner of interpreters, by showing to them holy Hierarchies, or secret visions of supermundane Mysteries, or certain divine prophecies.

        
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Now, if anyone should say that God has shown Himself without intermediary to certain holy men, let him know beyond doubt, from the most holy Scriptures, that no man has ever seen, nor shall see, the hidden Being of God; but God has shown Himself, according to revelations which are fitting to God, to His faithful servants in holy visions adapted to the nature of the seer.

The divine theology, in the fullness of its wisdom, very rightly applies the name theophany to that beholding of God which shows the Divine Likeness, figured in Itself as a likeness in form of That which is formless, through the uplifting of those who contemplate to the Divine; inasmuch as a Divine Light is shed upon the seers through it, and they are initiated into some participation of divine things.

By such divine visions our venerable forefathers were instructed through the mediation of the Celestial Powers. Is it not told in the holy Scriptures that the sacred Law was given to Moses by God Himself in order to teach us that in it is mirrored the divine and holy Law? Furthermore, theology wisely teaches that it was communicated to us by Angels, as though the authority of the Divine Law decreed that the second should be guided to the Divine Majesty by the first. For not solely in the case of higher and lower natures, but also for co-ordinate natures, this Law has been established by its superessential original Author: that within each Hierarchy there are first, middle and last ranks and powers, and that the higher are initiators and guides of the lower to the divine approach and illumination and union.(3)


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I see that the Angels, too, were first initiated into the divine Mystery, of Jesus in His love for man, and through them the gift of that knowledge was bestowed upon us: for the divine Gabriel announced to Zachariah the high-priest that the son who should to born to him through Divine Grace, when he was bereft of hope, would be a prophet of that Jesus who would manifest the union of the human and divine natures through the ordinance of the Good Law for the salvation of the world; and he revealed to Mary how of her should be born the Divine Mystery of the ineffable Incarnation of God.

Another Angel taught Joseph that the divine promise made to his forefather David should be perfectly fulfilled. Another brought to the shepherds the glad tidings, as to those purified by quiet withdrawal from the many, and with him a multitude of the heavenly host gave forth to all the dwellers upon earth our often-sung hymn of adoring praise.

Let us now mount upward to that most sublime of all Lights celebrated in the Scriptures: for I perceive that Jesus Himself who is the superessential Head of the supercelestial Beings above Nature, when taking our nature while still keeping His own immutable Divinity, did not turn away from the human order which He arranged and chose, but rather submitted Himself obediently to the commands given by God the Father through Angels, by whose ministrations the Father's decree touching the flight of His Son into Egypt and the return from Egypt into Judea. was announced to Joseph. Moreover, through Angels we see Him subjecting Himself to the Father's will; for I will not recall to one who knows our sacred tradition the Angel who fortified Jesus, or even that Jesus Himself, because He came for the good work of our salvation to fulfill the law in its spiritual application, was called Angel of Good Counsel. For He Himself says, in the manner of a herald, that whatsoever He heard from the Father He announced unto us.

        
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CHAPTER V

Why all the Celestial Beings in common are called 'Angels'


This, so far as we understand it, is the reason for the name Angel in the Scriptures. 

Now, I think we should investigate the reason why theologians give the general name Angels to all the Celestial Beings, but when explaining the characteristics of the supermundane Orders they specifically give the name Angel to those who complete and conclude the Divine Celestial Hierarchies. Above these they place the choirs of Archangels, Principalities, Powers, Virtues, and those other beings who are acknowledged by the traditional scriptural teachings to be of higher rank.

Now, we maintain that in these Hierarchies the higher Orders possess the illuminations and powers of the lower ranks, but the lower do not participate equally with those above them. Hence the theologians call the higher of these spiritual Orders Angels because they, too, show forth the Divine Radiance; but we can find no reason for calling the lowest choirs of the Celestial Intelligences Principalities or Thrones or Seraphim, for they do not manifest in the same degree that supremely excellent power; but just as they guide our inspired hierarchs to the Divine Brightness known to them, so do those most holy Powers which are above them lead to the Divine Majesty those ranks which complete the Angelic Hierarchies.(4)

And this also may be added, that all can rightly be called Angels in respect of their participation in the Divine Likeness and Illumination both in the higher and lower ranks.

But now let us proceed further into detail, and with singleness of mind examine the particular sacred characteristics of each of the Celestial Orders which are set forth for us in the Scriptures.
      
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CHAPTER VI

Which is the first Order of the Celestial Beings, which the middle, and which the last?


I hold that none but the Divine Creator by whom they were ordained is able to know fully the number and the nature of the supermundane Beings and the regulation of their sacred Hierarchies; and furthermore, that they know their own powers and illuminations and their own holy supermundane ordination. For we could not have known the mystery of these supercelestial Intelligences and all the holiness of their perfection had it not been taught to us by God through His Ministers who truly know their own natures.

Therefore we will say nothing as from ourselves, but being instructed will set forth, according to our ability, those angelic visions which the venerable theologians have beheld.

Theology has given to the Celestial Beings nine interpretative names, and among these our divine initiator distinguishes three threefold Orders.(5) In the first rank of all he places those who, as we are told, dwell eternally in the constant presence of God, and cleave to Him, and above all others are immediately united to Him. 

      
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And he says that the teachings of the holy Word testify that the most holy Thrones and many-eyed and many-winged ones, named in the Hebrew tongue Cherubim and Seraphim, are established immediately about God and nearest to Him above all others. Our venerable hierarch describes this threefold Order as a co-equal unity, and truly the most exalted of the Hierarchies, the most fully Godlike, and the most closely and immediately united to the First Light of the Godhead.

The second, he says, contains the Powers, Virtues and Dominions, and the last and lowest choirs of the Celestial Intelligences are called Angels, Archangels and Principalities.



CHAPTER VII


Of the Seraphim, Cherubim and Thrones, and their first Hierarchy


In accepting this order of the holy Hierarchies we affirm that the names of each of the Celestial Choirs expresses its own Godlike characteristic. We are told by Hebrew scholars that the holy name Seraphim means 'those who kindle or make hot', and Cherubim denotes abundance of knowledge or an outflowing of wisdom.* Reasonably, therefore, is this first Celestial Hierarchy administered by the most transcendent Natures, since it occupies a more exalted place than all the others, being immediately present with God; and because of its nearness, to it are brought the first revelations and perfections of God before the rest. Therefore they are named 'The Glowing Ones', 'Streams of Wisdom', 'Thrones', in illustration of their Divine Nature.


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The name Seraphim clearly indicates their ceaseless and eternal revolution about Divine Principles, their heat and keenness, the exuberance of their intense, perpetual, tireless activity, and their elevative and energetic assimilation of those below, kindling them and firing them to their own heat, and wholly purifying them by a burning and all- consuming flame; and by the unhidden, unquenchable, changeless, radiant and enlightening power, dispelling and destroying the shadows of darkness.

The name Cherubim denotes their power of knowing and beholding God, their receptivity to the highest Gift of Light, their contemplation of the Beauty of the Godhead in Its First Manifestation, and that they are filled by participation in Divine Wisdom, and bounteously outpour to those below them from their own fount of wisdom.


The name of the most glorious and exalted Thrones denotes that which is exempt from and untainted by any base and earthly thing, and the supermundane ascent up the steep. For these have no part in that which is lowest, but dwell in fullest power, immovably and perfectly established in the Most High, and receive the Divine Immanence above all passion and matter, and manifest God, being attentively open to divine participations.


This, then, is the meaning of their names, so far as we understand it: but now we must set forth our conception of the nature of this Hierarchy, for the object of every Hierarchy, as I think we have already sufficiently shown, is a steadfast devotion to the divine assimilation in the Likeness of God; and the whole work of a Hierarchy is in the participation and the imparting of a most holy Purification, Divine Light and perfecting Knowledge.

And now I pray that I may speak worthily of those most exalted Intelligences, and as their Hierarchy is revealed in the Scriptures.

        
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It is clear that the Hierarchy is similar in its nature and has close affinity with those First Beings who are established after the Godhead, which is the Source of their Being, as though within Its Portals, transcending all - created powers, both visible and invisible. Therefore we must recognize that they are pure, not as having been cleansed from stains and defilements, nor as not admitting material images, but as far higher than all baseness, and surpassing all that is holy. As befits the highest purity, they are established above the most Godlike Powers and eternally keep their own self-motive and self-same order through the Eternal Love of God, never weakening in power, abiding most purely in their own Godlike identity, ever unshaken and unchanging. 

Again, they are contemplative, not as beholding intellectual or sensible symbols, nor as being uplifted to the Divine by the all-various contemplations set forth in the Scriptures, but as filled with Light higher than all immaterial knowledge, and rapt, as is meet, in the contemplation of that Beauty which is the superessential triune Origin and Creator of all beauty. In like manner they are thought worthy of fellowship with Jesus, not through sacred images which shadow forth the Divine Likeness, but as truly being close to Him in that first participation of the knowledge of His Deifying Illuminations. Moreover, the imitation of God is granted to them in a pre-eminent degree, and as far as their nature permits they share the divine and human virtues in primary power.

In the same manner they are perfect, not as though enlightened by an analytical knowledge of holy variety, but because they are wholly perfected through the highest and most perfect deification, possessing the highest knowledge that Angels can have of the works of God; being Hierarchs not through other holy beings, but from God Himself, and since they are uplifted to God directly by
their pre-eminent power and rank, they are both established immovably beside the All-Holy, and are borne up, as far as is allowable, to the contemplation of His Intelligible and Spiritual Beauty. 

Being placed nearest to God, they are instructed in the true understanding of the divine works, and receive their hierarchical order in the highest degree from Deity Itself, the First Principle of Perfection.



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The theologians therefore clearly show that the lower ranks of the Celestial Beings receive the understanding of the divine works from those above them in a fitting manner, and that the highest are correspondingly enlightened in the Divine Mysteries by the Most High God Himself.(6)  For some of them are shown to us as enlightened in holy matters by those above them, and we learn that He who in human form ascended to heaven is Lord of the Celestial Powers and King of Glory. The Angels are represented as questioning Him and desiring knowledge of His divine redemptive work for us, and Jesus Himself is depicted as teaching them and revealing directly to them His great goodness towards mankind. 'For I, He says, 'speak righteousness and the judgment of salvation.' Moreover, I am astonished that even the first rank of Celestial Beings, so far surpassing all the others, should reverently desire to receive the divine enlightenment in an intermediate manner. For they do not ask directly, 'Wherefore are Thy garments red?' but first eagerly question one another, showing that they seek and long for the knowledge of His divine words, without expectation of the enlightenment divinely granted them.


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The first Hierarchy of the Celestial Intelligences, therefore, is purified and enlightened; being ordained by that First Perfecting Cause, uplifted directly to Himself, and filled, analogously, with the most holy purification of the boundless Light of the Supreme Perfection, untouched by any inferiority, full of Primal Light, and perfected by its union with the first-given Understanding and Knowledge.

But to sum up, I may say, not unreasonably, that the participation in Divine Knowledge is a purification, an illumination and a perfection. For it purifies from ignorance by the knowledge of the perfect Mysteries granted in due measure; it illuminates through the Divine Knowledge Itself by which it purifies the mind which formerly did not behold that which is now shown to it by the higher illumination; and it perfects by the self-same light through the abiding knowledge of the most luminous initiations.



This, so far as I know, is the first Order of Celestial Beings which are established about God, immediately encircling Him: and in perpetual purity they encompass His eternal Knowledge in that most high and eternal angelic dance, rapt in the bliss of manifold blessed contemplations, and irradiated with pure and primal splendours.


They are filled with divine food which is manifold, through the first-given outpouring, yet one through the unvaried and unific oneness of the divine banquet; and they are deemed worthy of communion and co-operation with God by reason of their assimilation to Him, as far as is possible for them, in the excellence of their natures and energies. For they know pre-eminently many divine matters, and they participate as far as they may in Divine Understanding and Knowledge.



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Wherefore theology has given those on earth its hymns or praise in which is divinely shown forth the great excellence of its sublime illumination. For some of that choir (to use material terms) cry out as with a voice like the sound of many waters, 'Blessed is the Glory of the Lord from His Place'; others cry aloud that most renowned and sacred hymn of highest praise to God, 'Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of Sabaoth, the whole earth is full of Thy Glory !'



Now we have already expounded to the best of our ability in the treatise on Divine Hymns, these most sublime hymns of the super-celestial Intelligences and have sufficiently dealt with them there.  For the present purpose it is enough to o recall that this first Order, having been duly enlightened by the Divine Goodness in the knowledge of theology, gave to those below it, as befits angelic goodness, this teaching (to state it briefly-) that it is meet that the most august Deity, above praise, and all-praised, worthy of the highest praise, should be known and proclaimed, as far as is attainable, by the God-filled Intelligences (for, as the Scriptures say, being in the Likeness of God, the\are divine habitations of the Divine Stillness); and again, the teaching that He is a monad and tri-subsistent unity, providentially pervading all things through His Goodness, from the supercelestial Natures down to the lowest things of the earth; for He is the super-original Principle and Cause of every essence, and holds the whole universe superessentially in His irresistible embrace.But to sum up, I may say, not unreasonably, that the participation in Divine Knowledge is a purification, an illumination and a perfection. For it purifies from ignorance by the knowledge of the perfect Mysteries granted in due measure; it illuminates through the Divine Knowledge Itself by which it purifies the mind which formerly did not behold that which is now shown to it by the higher illumination; and it perfects by the self-same light through the abiding knowledge of the most luminous initiations.


This, so far as I know, is the first Order of Celestial Beings which are established about God, immediately encircling Him: and in perpetual purity they encompass His eternal Knowledge in that most high and eternal angelic dance, rapt in the bliss of manifold blessed contemplations, and irradiated with pure and primal splendours.


They are filled with divine food which is manifold, through the first-given outpouring, yet one through the unvaried and unific oneness of the divine banquet; and they are deemed worthy of communion and co-operation with God by reason of their assimilation to Him, as far as is possible for them, in the excellence of their natures and energies. For they know pre-eminently many divine matters, and they participate as far as they may in Divine Understanding and Knowledge.


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Wherefore theology has given those on earth its hymns or praise in which is divinely shown forth the great excellence of its sublime illumination. For some of that choir (to use material terms) cry out as with a voice like the sound of many waters, 'Blessed is the Glory of the Lord from His Place'; others cry aloud that most renowned and sacred hymn of highest praise to God, 'Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of Sabaoth, the whole earth is full of Thy Glory !'

Now we have already expounded to the best of our ability in the treatise on Divine Hymns, these most sublime hymns of the supercelestial Intelligences and have sufficiently dealt with them there. 

For the present purpose it is enough to o recall that this first Order, having been duly enlightened by the Divine Goodness in the knowledge of theology, gave to those below it, as befits angelic goodness, this teaching (to state it briefly-) that it is meet that the most august Deity, above praise, and all-praised, worthy of the highest praise, should be known and proclaimed, as far as is attainable, by the God-filled Intelligences (for, as the Scriptures say, being in the Likeness of God, the\are divine habitations of the Divine Stillness); and again, the teaching that He is a monad and tri-subsistent unity, providentially pervading all things through His Goodness, from the supercelestial Natures down to the lowest things of the earth; for He is the super-original Principle and Cause of every essence, and holds the whole universe superessentially in His irresistible embrace.







The Celestial Hierarchy