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The principle of necessary mediation

December 5, 2009 3 comments

One of the aspects of Dionysius’ system I’ve been trying to get handle on is what you can call the principle of necessary mediation: the lower ranks of the hierarchy can only receive the divinity through the higher ranks. The point of the principle, believe it or not, is not to absolutize the place of the bishop or any other church authority. Dionysius’ treatise on the ecclesiastical hierarchy assumes that some such principle is in effect, but it’s not a point of explicit insistence. The point of the principle, rather, is to say that the angels are absolutely necessary in relaying the divine word and the divine activity to human beings—that’s the reason that they, above all other creatures, are fittingly called angels or messengers. If the ecclesiastical hierarchy also works that way, it’s for the precise reason that the ecclesiastical hierarchy ought to be a perfect image of the celestial one.

That doesn’t rule out the possibility that this is all just ideological obfuscation, of course. And the fact that Dionysius offers literally no philosophical defense the principle might lend some credence to that interpretation. (The defense he does offer is scriptural: showing that Ezekiel, Moses, even Jesus only received the divine will through angelic intermediaries.) I’m inclined, though, to think Dionysius is being genuine here, especially since he’s creating this whole concept of hierarchy more or less ex nihilo, and affording himself a relatively low status. But then I’m just left baffled. Why insist on this principle at all? Even if there’s good reason to say that no one has gazed upon divinity directly, that there’s some necessary mediation there, what could possibly be the point of insisting that all communication from God be stepwise? And that not only knowledge of God is so mediated, but that the knowledge of the higher angels is as well?

Posted by Brian Hamilton

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