Thoughts from the Early Church

Commentary by Denis the Areopagite

I am the living bread that came down from heaven.
(Jn: 6:51)

In his goodness and love for humankind, Jesus, the most divine Word, one, simple, and hidden, assumed our nature, appearing though unchanged in his own nature as a being both composite and visible.

Graciously he received us into unifying communion with himself, joining our lowliness to his sublime divinity, upon the sole condition that we in our turn should adhere to him as members of his body by living a pure and godly life like his, and not giving reign to ruinous, death-dealing passions, which would make us incapable of union with those completely healthy and divine members.

If we aspire to communion with Jesus, we must fix our eyes upon the most holy life he lived in the flesh and follow the example of his divine innocence so as to become pure and godlike. Then, in a manner befitting us, he will give us a resemblance to himself.

The bishop manifests these truths in the sacred rites he performs when he publicly unveils the hidden gifts, divides them into many parts, and by the perfect union of the sacrament he distributes with those who receive it, admits the recipients to communion with it

For by thus presenting Jesus Christ to our eyes he shows us the very life of our spirit and understanding in a way perceptible to our senses, as it were pictorially.

He shows us how Christ came forth from his divine concealment to assume for love of humanity our human form, becoming completely human without loss of his own identity; how while remaining unchanged he descended from his natural unity to the level of our divisibility; and how through the beneficent deeds inspired by his love for us, he calls the human race to communion with himself and to a share in his blessings

He asks only that we unite ourselves to his most divine life by imitating it to the best of our ability, so as to enter into a real communion with God and his divine mysteries.

The Ecclesiastical Hierarchy: PG 3, 444

Denis the Areopagite, Pseudo, was a mystical theologian who wrote approximately between the years 480 and 510, probably in Syria. The fictitious attribution of his writings to Denis of Athens greatly increased his influence. In the sixteenth century this identification was called in question and at the beginning of the twentieth century his doctrinal orthodoxy also was attacked. Recently however a more balanced judgement has prevailed. Careful examination of the philosophy underlying his spiritual doctrine has proved the validity of his teaching on the apophatic approach to God in prayer, characteristic also of the Cloud of Unknowing and the doctrine of Saint John of the Cross. The writings of Pseudo-Denis consist of the Celestial Hierarchy, the Ecclesiastical Hierarchy, the Divine Names, and about ten letters.

 

**From Saint Louis University

Kristin Clauson