hermeneutical way, are learning the love of God and of neighbour embedded throughout the scriptures.44
Beyond Augustine, Dionysius the Areopagite (c. 500), whose identity remains mysterious but whose literary corpus commanded attention East and West, re-located the analysis of scriptural signa within a panoramic vision of divine revelation in 'procession' down through the celestial and terrestrial hierarchies to uplift all creatures toward perfect unity with God and with one another. Gregory of Nyssa's apophaticism appears with new force in the Areopagite, as does the notion of divine accommodation through even the most unseemly scriptural language. Along with the lofty titles of 'Good', 'Beauty', and 'Light', Dionysius re-visits language eliciting God's love for humanity, and vice versa, in terms of desire or 'yearning' (eros).45 The result is a trenchant analysis of the mutually 'ecstatic' love of God and of creation evoked in scripture. '[God] is, as it were, beguiled by goodness, by love, and by yearning and is enticed away from his transcendent dwelling place and comes to abide within all things, and he does so by virtue of his supernatural and ecstatic capacity to remain, nevertheless, within himself.'46 Eros for the Areopagite is equivalent to agape as communicating God's incarnational love and human beings' reciprocal passion for God and for unity in God. 'It is left to the divine Wisdom [in scripture] to lift them and to raise them up to a knowledge of what yearning (eros) really is, after which they take no offense.'47
By now it is clear that, unlike their counterparts in modern higher criticism, patristic interpreters were scarcely preoccupied with reconstructing the original meaning of biblical texts as frozen in a particular historical or cultural location. Their Bible divulged a new world, a new horizon, and even its 'literal' sense had more to do with its divine authorship and ultimate intention (sko-pos) for the church than with the human authors' constrained, albeit inspired, frame of reference.
The 'literal' sense, historically speaking, has hardly been monolithic. Sometimes it has denoted the allegedly transparent meaning, as with Augustine's simple non-metaphorical signa, scriptural words having unambiguous
44 Augustine, De doctrina christiana 1.2.2-1.40.44 (ed. Green, 12-54).
45 Dionysius, De divinis nominibus 4.11-12 (PTS 33:156-8; evidencing the appropriateness of divine eros in scriptural discourse, Dionysius cites Proverbs 4.6, 8 (LXX) and Wisdom 8.2.
46 Dionysius, Div. nom. 4.13 (PTS 33:159), trans. Luibheid, 82.
47 Dionysius, Div. nom. 4.12 (PTS 33:158), trans. Luibheid, 81.
Was this article helpful?