Dionysius and the Human Conceptualization of God

The subject of God and the relationship between humans and the Creator has been discussed for thousands of years. During this time, a consensus as to what is the right approach to worship has never been arrived. However, it is obvious that worshippers have arrived at a number of conventions that allow them to expand their potential for effective worship. Among the most common conventions would be the fusion of human traits and qualities with the image of the deity. Upon reading On Divine Names by Dionysius the Areogate, a few systemic problems deriving from such an approach are revealed.

Namely, when humans make God more human in depiction, the question arises Who has become the Creator More tellingly, one could ask Did the Creator make humans in his own image so that they could recreate the Creator to something more aesthetically pleasing to their sensibilities This can create a somewhat nebulous environment because it creates confusion regarding the relationship between humans and God. Such confusion can be reduced based upon examining what the specific confusing areas are how they derive and the reasons for their existence and the positive or negative impact such confusing components yield. This is achieved through an analysis of the relationship between humans and God through the eyes of Dionysius interpretations of such confusions.

One of the common confusions surrounding an interpretation of God is the tendency to assign human traits and conceptualizations to the deity. There are a multitude of reasons why this is so. Probably the most obvious would be the need to create an image that can be better understood. In some ways, the imagery of God in the Judeo-Christian sense is rather mundane. The reason is that the all-mighty God is given a number of very benignly human traits. This concept is explored somewhat in the writings of Dionusius where the notions of the beneficent progressions of the Godhead are explored. That is, there will be a notion that simplicity is needed in order to effectively promote the worship of a supernatural God. When God is too far removed from human understanding, it becomes difficult for humans to effectively direct their worship. An invisible entity has no form which can undermine the concepts promoted through the worship of God. This is why components of humanization and personification are needed.

Where can we see such notions of humanization and personification in a conceptualized manner The most common conceptualization of God is that of an older, wiser bearded man. Such a description allows people to gain a clear image of who God is from the baseline perspective of acknowledging his existence. That is, through the creation of a clear visual image of what God looks like allows people to absorb and accept the concept of God with greater ease. This concept is not limited to the image of God. Moses, Noah, and many of the Saints, for example, are all presented as bearded older men. St. Joseph was a young man when he married the Virgin Mary. Yet, artist depictions of him promote the portrayal of a much older  70-ish  gray bearded man. Clearly, there is a motivating factor behind such artistic depictions of such characters. The reasons are someone varied and worth examination. The following essay will provide such examination along with critical analysis.

Among the main reasons that the image of an older man may be employed in the Judeo-Christian religions is that the concept of God is represented in patriarchal modes the notion that God created humans in his own image promotes the need for congruency in the artistic renderings age is often associated with being wise and an all-knowing God would logically be properly depicted as an older man and with age there is a maturity that is not prone to emotional outbursts. This creates a wise image of a powerful God not prone to human folly and emotion. Ironically, this is achieved through the presentation of an all-too-human and decidedly un-godlike image.

All of the traits are brought together in order to create an image of God that is logical to humans. However, the logic here  by its mere existence  is illogical. Namely, humans should not be creating an image of God because it is God that created them. Hence, they may be creating a God that is, in essence, human. By humanizing God, God becomes more acceptable to them. This poses a unique question since when it is the role of humans to decide what is or is not acceptable in terms of how their Creator should look and be depicted

Such concepts may seem unimportant on the surface but they betray what is -- in essence  is a pseudo-logical approach to the conceptualization of God. Rather that the God guiding humans as to what he represents (God description of himself is presented in the Old Testament in the form of a non-answer I am who I am), it is humans that create the image of God based on what they perceive him to be from a matter of convenience. This can be considered an odd and dramatic reversal of thousands of years of human history which generally would create rather mythical depictions of what deities are to look like and represent.  

Dionysius drastically departs from such notions and presents a conceptualization of God that is far removed from the common approach. The Dionysius presents a more logical conceptualization of God as an unseen entity that avoids the trappings of human personification and visualization. This allows us to view God from a more pristine image that is closer to the true nature. By having an understanding of God from a true nature, we can understand what it is God wants from the populace. By creating an image of God from Earth to Heaven, there is the potential for misinterpreting and incorrectly presenting the message of God.

Regarding this notion of God, Dionysius makes the following assessment For even as Itself has taught (as becomes Its goodness) in the Oracles, the science and contemplation of Itself in Its essential Nature is beyond the reach of all created things, as towering super-essentially above all. And you will find many of the Theologians, who have celebrated It, not only as invisible and incomprehensible, but also as inscrutable and un-traceable, since there is no trace of those who have penetrated to Its hidden infinitude. (3) Again, this shows the folly of humans trying to define God based on their own interpretations as opposed to allowing the concept of God to be a more free-flowing and organic one.

The reason why it is important to realize the contemplation of itself needs to be beyond the natural order (human thinking) is that when the contemplation is rooted too close to the natural world, the omnipotent nature of God becomes skewed to appeal to human sensibilities. When this occurs, it is not the deity that is in control as much as it is humans guiding the presentation of the deity. When this is the case, interpretations of the deity become skewed which allows humans to mold interpretations of the Creator to their image.

Consider the irony of this God creates man in his own image and now humans reverse the notion and create a God that better fits their sensibilities and expectations. Such a reversal is so obtuse that it defies logic. Yet, such an approach has become commonplace over the years. Such a process did not originate as a result of nefarious goals as much as it did in order to make the study of God set the stage for effective worship.

That is to say, at some point in a persons life there needs to be an introduction to God. For most, this occurs when they are very young. In order to facilitate and understanding of the concept of God, familiar images need to be used. This is where the image of God as a wise old man derives. Honestly, there is nothing even remotely wrong with this approach. The problems do not occur until the human populace starts to re-imagine God to the point certain humans become semi-divine intermediaries between Heaven and Earth. This creates a connected where there is a greater closeness between the proletariat worshippers and the intermediaries than there is directly to God. This can be considered an odd variant on the traditional heaven and earth conceptual relationship.

This is not to say that there is no attempt by the populace to completely eradicate the spiritual aspect of God. In reality, it is the opposite that is the case. Humans wish to employ their imaging of God as a means of, hopefully, attaining a form of spiritual rebirth. As Dionysius points out But now, to the best of our ability, we use symbols appropriate to things Divine, and from these again we elevate ourselves, according to our degree, to the simple and unified truth of the spiritual visions and after our every conception of things godlike, laying aside our mental energies, we cast ourselves, to the best of our ability, towards the superessential ray.

Therein does exist the main goal that many people that worship seeks to achieve they wish to become as close to godhood as possible. This does not mean that they are hoping to develop supernatural powers. This is not the god-like qualities that they seek to attain. Rather, they are hoping to acquire the moral bearings that will allow them to live the good and just life.

From this, there is the hope that a spiritual attainment will be acquired which can lead to eventual internal existence in the afterlife. Such goals are noble and well worth seeking. Even those that may not be religious will certainly agree that seeking a moral life would lead to benefits in the here and now. With those that are religious, there is a need to follow symbols which would effectively present a clear image of the deity. From such images, inspirations may be procured which would aid in ultimately achieving the desired goal.

This is not to say that the whole purpose of the conceptualization of God is to make God too human. Often, it is the opposite result that is sought the purpose is to ensure God remains a Godlike figure. Consider the following The (Names) then, common to the whole Deity, as we have demonstrated from the Oracles, by many instances in the Theological Outlines, are the Super-Good, the Super-God, the Superessential, the Super-Living, the Super-Wise, and whatever else belongs to the superlative abstraction.

That is to say, much of the conceptualization and description of God that is put forth is done with the intention of making God highly Godlike. To do otherwise would undermine the ability to maintain a following of worshippers. However, the need to make a human image of God via personification is required in order to effectively develop a following. An image that would be considered overly abstract would not effectively present what is needed to build a following. Again, this is ironic because Gods common presentations of himself (e.g. a burning bush) can be considered highly abstract or, at the very least, surrealist depictions. Hence, there is a need to form a grounding of the image to make God more understandable to humans.

In many ways, the presence of confusing imagery of God is not entirely a bad thing. There needs to be an effective conceptualization for humans to clearly understand the notion of a God. This means, God must be given human traits in order to effectively create an image of God in the human mind so that an explanation of Gods omnipotence can be accepted. While contradictory, such a method is also effective and has been for thousands of years. The works of Dionysius allows us to see this and understand why it is needed and why it is effective.


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