Chapter Two: A Darkness full of Light
I pray we could come to this Translucent Darkness so far above light! If only we lacked sight and knowledge so as to see, so as to know, unseeing and unknowing, that which lies beyond all vision and knowledge. For this would be really to see and to know: to praise the Transcendent One in a transcending way, namely through the denial of all beings. We would be like sculptors who set out to carve a statue. They remove every obstacle to the pure view of the hidden image, and simply by this act of clearing aside they show up the beauty which is hidden. Now it seems to me that we should praise the denials quite differently than we do the assertions. When we made assertions we began with the first things, moved down through intermediate terms until we reached the last things. But now as we climb from the last things up to the most primary we deny all things so that we may unhiddenly know that unknowing which itself is hidden from all those possessed of knowing amid all beings, so that we may see above being that darkness concealed from all the light among beings.
Prior to Dionysius no one in the Christian tradition referred to the Absolute in terms of Darkness. His Translucent Darkness is an entirely new term, yet it was introduced rather precariously into a milieu that reserved such terms for the devil—something dark and sinister. I recollect that not too long ago someone posted a reply here wondering why we spend so much time on Darkness; the tone was disconcerting and wondered why there was an apparent absence of light in our blogs. Let me state unequivocally now that to understand what we mean by darkness here you first have to understand Dionysius. For the writer of that post terms like “unknowing” simply fell on deaf ears. There is a fear that equating darkness with the Divine is categorically untrue, for God is just pure light. Dionysius shed light on this mystical understanding of darkness—it’s TRANSLUCENT, full of Light Itself, more bright than the sun itself. John of the Cross once wrote, “O’ Dark Night that is lovelier than the dawn.” This is why there’s a caveat in both Dionysius and the author of the Cloud of Unknowing—a warning not to present such teachings to the profane and mystically obtuse. They will never be able to comprehend and will continue to reside in the darkness of their own ignorance.
Why choose Darkness? Firstly, light is temporary and will eventually burn itself out—witness the death of a star. Whereas Darkness, to use a phrase from Blake, is Eternal Delight! It’s always there. “And in the beginning a darkness hovered over the earth.” The universe itself is composed mostly of Dark Matter, with occasional flickers of light. Also, light makes distinctions wherever it falls, dividing this from that. Darkness makes no such distinctions. All distinctions are absent. No one is young, nor old; big or small; fat or thin. That’s why people prefer to make love in the dark, because darkness cloaks all distinctions—one’s lover is what he/she imagines them to be. Ever notice how people close their eyes when they kiss? Love is a sightless affair, bathed in darkness. God as they say “is love” and in this way is closer to darkness than to light. Thus, the only way to see and know the Divine is to drop all distinctions; place it all beneath that cloud of forgetfulness and come to be where the Unborn Absolute Alone IS.
This Dark-way of the Unborn goes beyond the sculptor and his limiting chisel, for THAT which lies beyond vision and knowledge can only be seen and known by a special form of unseeing and unknowing; this is why Dionysius chose to create in negative strokes: the via negativa, or the neti, neti—neither this not that. Why? Because this or that in phenomenal terms is always limiting. The Absolute is so Dark that IT is sunya, self-empty of all that IT is not. Hence:
The second chapter ends with a restatement of the purpose for such a programmatic denial or removal: it is all in order to know the unknowing that is hidden from ordinary knowing and to see the (again, hyperexistent) darkness concealed from existing light. The chapter here reprises the opening theme of light and darkness but has moved on to specify the sequential arrangements of assertions and denials with no further mention of this visual language. (Paul Rorem, The Dionysian Mystical Theology, pg. 25)
This chapter also sheds light on another insight. Throughout the millennium the exoteric church and its religious authorities have cast the Absolute exclusively in via positiva fashion—so much so that the divine has been made limited and relative, cast only in anthropocentric imagery. The end result has been a slow deterioration and has now reached its critical mass—giving in to cultural wokeism at the expense of its own foundation, one that rested solidly on Universal Truth that resisted all transitory and profane movements of the so-called modern world; like a Lighthouse standing resiliently against the pounding surf. Now, sadly, the Lighthouse is no more as it has resigned itself to the rushing and submerging waves of cultural malignancy. The spiritual anguish of man has no cure but mysticism—as Merton wrote “It is the truth that liberates.” In point of fact, it is those Contemplative Mystics that have kept the exoteric church floating all this time. Again, from Merton, “Simply, the mystic is the sane or mature person. Though he will not allow anything, any inferior attachment, to come between him and the Real, he does not abjure all relations and responsibilities…the Way of the Bodhisattva remains the highest achievement of a civilized consciousness.” It is those Dark-Mystic Sojourners that have pointed the way so that other earnest seekers may see the superessential Darkness that is hidden by the Light.”