AGNŌSIA: The Apophatic Experience of God in Dionysius the Areopagite – Daniel JUGRIN | University of Bucharest

Teologia, 67 (2), pp. 102-115, 2016

ABSTRACT: The mystical union with God is accomplished at the moment when the Intellect separates from itself, by entering into the Divine Darkness. This ecstasy of the Intellect and this accession to God are the ones who allow it to know God not by itself but by the union itself, to know God in God and through God. This is “the most divine knowledge” qua unknowing (cf. De divinis nominibus VII.3). There is a difference between ignorance (agnoia) and unknowing (agnōsia) which corresponds to the distinction between skotos (obscurity qua deprivation of light) and gnophos (darkness qua superabundance of light).

KEY-WORDS: Dionysius the Areopagite, experience of God, apophatic theology, agnōsia, henōsis.

For Dionysius the Areopagite, the full expression of negative theology is reached only when the mind relinquishes all its intellectual preoccupations and enters into agnōsia, the experience of “knowing through unknowing” beyond all affirmations and negations: “It is not dark nor light, not error, and not truth. There is universally neither postulation nor abstraction of it [the cause of all]” – οὔτε σκότος ἐστὶν οὔτε φῶς͵ οὔτε πλάνη οὔτε ἀλήθεια· οὔτε ἐστὶν αὐτῆς καθόλουθέσις οὔτε ἀφαίρεσις.

The most systematic presentation of the doctrine of unknowing is found in the Divine Names VII.3, a passage with cardinal signifi cance also for other Dionysian themes. Avoiding ontologism, Dionysius ascertains that we can never know God “in terms of its nature, for this is unknown, and exceeds all logos and intellect” – ἐκτῆς αὐτοῦ φύσεως͵ ἄγνωστον γὰρ τοῦτο καὶ πάντα λόγον καὶ νοῦν ὑπεραῖρον4. A series of antitheses follow, including: “God is known through knowledge, and through unknowing” – Καὶ διὰ γνώσεως ὁ θεὸς γινώσκεται καὶ διὰ ἀγνωσίας5, culminating in the formula: “God is all in all, nothing in none, known to all in reference to all, known to no one in reference to nothing” – Καὶ ἐν πᾶσι πάντα ἐστὶ καὶἐν οὐδενὶ οὐδὲν καὶ ἐκ πάντων πᾶσι γινώσκεται καὶ ἐξ οὐδενὸς οὐδενί… [PDF]