For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god. Acts 17:23
“Knowledge obscures unknowing, and especially much knowledge.”
Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite, Theologia Mystica
“Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite” is an unknown writer who wrote in the late 5th century under the pseudonym of Dionysius the Areopagite. The real Dionysius the Areopagite was an Athenian judge at the Areopagus Court in Athens who was converted to Christianity by St. Paul in the first century.
Pseudo-Dionysius wrote during the time of the great Christological controversies when competing philosophies and traditions sought to define the person of God. Into this fray, Pseudo-Dionysius wrote a short, powerful appeal to humility and peace. His Mystical Theology would become one of the most influential books of Christian thought and practice, in which he describes a state of awareness that is beyond knowing:
“Unknowing, or agnosia, is not ignorance or absence of knowledge as ordinarily understood, but rather the realization that no finite knowledge can fully know the Infinite One, and that therefore He is only truly to be approached by agnosia, or by that which is beyond and above knowledge.”
Note 1 on Ch.1, para 2
As thinking, rational beings, we are burdened by our reliance on intellectual understanding or on our belief that we understand. Pseudo-Dionysius provides a method by which we can transcend ourselves and truly encounter God; a method of unburdening ourselves from the belief we know without losing the assurance of being known.
We have been truly blessed by symbols, practices, and traditions, all of which aid and direct our faith exploration and our growth in Christlike-ness. Our rich and varied Anglican worship relies on and celebrates the diverse and beautiful offerings and opportunities to achieve spiritual contact with God. We are immersed in image, song, light, and color all offering varied avenues to spiritual awareness as we gather, seeking Christ in us. These wonderful liturgical and personal devotion practices guide us along the path of awareness and can deliver us to the doorstep of divine revelation, but there may be one more thing we need to take that final step: agnosia.
Let this be my prayer; [to] leave behind the senses and the operations of the intellect, and all things sensible and intellectual, and all things in the world of being… Ch.1, para 2
How to get there? Try this as you pray:
Think about what you imagine as you make your prayers. Give form, in your mind, to the image of God and see that image with the understanding of how that image came to be or is a comfort for you. Now, gently erase the image and imagine God, not in the image-less space, but as the image-less space; in fact, allow God to be the imageless space in the center of your spirit—in your mind.
Once you have allowed this to happen, simply stay in that moment. Allow the newness of this event to become your prayer—your wordless awareness of God, and you may experience the closeness of God as unknown; the divine presence of God boundless and encompassing. This may sound a bit “out there,” but on our journey of searching for God, is it too strange to try? Thankfully, we have 1,700 years of Christian practice and faith to help on the Way.
Peace in agnosia,
Father Bill Burk†