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St Dionysius the Areopagite The Ecclesiastical Hierarchy

Translated by John Parker

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To my Fellow Presbyter Timothy. Dionysius the Presbyter.

What is the traditional view of the Ecclesiastical Hierarchy and what is its purpose?

Section I.

We must, then, most pious of pious sons, demonstrate from the supermundane and most sacred Oracles and traditions, that ours is a Hierarchy of the inspired and Divine and Deifying science, and of operation, and of consecration, for those who have been initiated with the initiation of the sacred revelation derived from the hierarchical mysteries. See, however, that you do not put to scorn things most holy (Holy of Holies); but rather treat them reverently, and you will honour the things of the hidden God by intellectual and obscure researches, carefully guarding them from the participation and defilement of the uninitiated, and reverently sharing holy things with the holy alone, by a holy enlightenment. For thus, as the Word of God has taught us who feast at His Banquet, even Jesus Himself----the most supremely Divine Mind and superessential, the Source and Essence, and most supremely Divine Power of every Hierarchy and Sanctification and Divine operation----illuminates the blessed Beings who are superior to us, in a manner more clear, and at the same time more intellectual, and assimilates them to His own Light, as far as possible; and by our love of things beautiful elevated to Him, and which elevates us, folds together our many diversities, and after perfecting into a uniform and Divine life and habit and operation, holily bequeaths the power of the Divine Priesthood; from which by approaching to the holy exercise of the priestly office, we ourselves become nearer to the Beings above us, by assimilation, according to our power, to their abiding and: unchangeable holy steadfastness; and thus by looking upwards to the blessed and supremely Divine [ ] self of Jesus, and reverently gazing upon whatever. we are permitted to see, and illuminated with the knowledge of the visions, we shall be able to become, as regards the science of Divine mysteries, purified and purifiers; images of Light, and workers, with God, perfected and perfecting.

Section II.

Then what is the Hierarchy of the Angels[1] and Archangels, and of supermundane Principalities and Authorities, Powers and Lordships, and Divine Thrones, or of the Beings of the same ranks as the Thrones----which the Word of God declares to be near, and always about God, and with[2] God, naming them in the Hebrew tongue Cherubim and Seraphim----by pondering the sacred ranks and divisions of their Orders and Hierarchies, you will find in the books we have written----not as befits their dignity but to the best of our ability----and as the Theology of the most holy Scriptures guided, when they extolled their Hierarchy. Nevertheless, it is necessary to say this, that both that, and every Hierarchy extolled now by us, has one and the same power, throughout the whole Hierarchical transaction; and that the Hierarch himself, according to his essence, and analogy, and rank, is initiated in Divine things, and is deified and imparts to the subordinates, according to the meetness of each for the sacred deification which comes to him from' God; also that the subordinates follow the superior, and elevate the inferior towards things in advance; and that some go before, and, as far as possible, give the lead to others; and that each, as far as may be, participates in the truly Beautiful, and Wise, and Good, through this the inspired and sacerdotal harmony.

But the Beings and ranks above us, of whom we have already made a reverent mention, are both incorporeal, and their Hierarchy is both intelligible and supermundane; but let us view our Hierarchy, comformably to ourselves, abounding in the variety of the sensible symbols, by which, in proportion to our capacity, we are conducted, hierarchically according to our measure, to the uniform deification ----God and Divine virtue. They indeed, as minds, think, according to laws laid down for themselves; but we are led by sensible figures to the Divine contemplations, as is possible to us. And, to speak truly, there is One, to Whom all the Godlike aspire, but they do not partake uniformly of this One and the Same, but as the Divine balance distributes to each the meet inheritance. Now these things have been treated more systematically in the Treatise concerning "Intelligible and Sensible [3]." But now I will attempt to describe our Hierarchy, both its source and essence, as best I can; invoking Jesus, the source and Perfecting of all Hierarchies.

1. [d] See Epistle to Trallians.

2. [e] John i. 1.

3. [f] Ap. C. viii. 16.

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