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The Mystery of Union with God

The Mystery of Union with God

Matthew Levering
Thomas Joseph White
Copyright Date: 2015
Pages: 544
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  • Book Info
    The Mystery of Union with God
    Book Description:

    The Mystery of Union with God offers the most extensive, systematic analysis to date of how Albert and Thomas interpreted and transformed the Dionysian Moses "who knows God by unknowing." It shows Albert's and Thomas's philosophical and theological motives to place limits on Dionysian apophatism and to reintegrate mediated knowledge into mystical knowing. The author surfaces many similarities in the two Dominicans' mystical doctrines and exegesis of Dionysius. This work prepares the way for a new consideration of Albert the Great as the father of Rhineland Mysticism. The original presentation of Aquinas's theology of the Spirit's seven gifts breaks new ground in theological scholarship. Finally, the entire book lays out a model for the study of mystical theology from a historical, philosophical and doctrinal perspective.

    eISBN: 978-0-8132-2750-4
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Abbreviations
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. xi-xxxiv)

    Over half a century after Chenu’s remark, the task of mining the riches of the commentaries on Dionysius by Albert, the “father” of Rhineland mysticism and teacher of Thomas Aquinas, remains far from completion. Work has hardly begun on Albert’s exposition of the Areopagite’sMystical Theology. In recent years, much research has explored Albert the philosopher and his notion of naming God, but only a few articles on his theory of union with God have emerged. Nor do we have an adequate account of how Aquinas appropriates the Areopagite’s vision of union or how Albert mediates Dionysius to his student....


    • 1 Dionysius on Union with God
      (pp. 3-29)

      Saint Paul’s sermon on “the unknown God” at the Areopagus in Athens gained only a few converts, among them a certain Dionysius the Areopagite (Acts 17). The Greek philosophers had little patience for Paul’s message about bodily resurrection. Four centuries later another Dionysius proposed a creative development and fusion of Greek patristic and pagan Neoplatonic mystical doctrines within a highly systematic corpus that climaxes with Moses meeting “the unknown God” in darkness. Here the resurrected Jesus is the ultimate hierarch through whom divine light descends. I thus begin with the “real” Dionysius, the Christian theologian so deeply marked by Athens....

    • 2 Key Developments in the Dionysian Tradition up to Albert the Great
      (pp. 30-46)

      Albert and Aquinas appropriated the Areopagite’s mystical theology seven hundred years after the first publication of the Dionysian corpus. Their understanding of the Greek father becomes more comprehensible in light of the rich tradition of translation and commentary that bridged these centuries. I will focus on those elements of the late antique and early medieval Dionysian tradition that directly pertain to Albert’s and Thomas’s interpretations of union. Like chapter 1, this survey of key doctrinal themes and historical developments mostly summarizes the results of contemporary research. The present chapter has a strictly preparatory function for parts 2 and 3 of...


    • 3 Mystical Union and Its Doctrinal Pillars in the Early Albert
      (pp. 49-121)

      Albert’s first extensive treatment of union with God comes in hisSentences Commentary. In addition, this and another early work (theDe homine) contain Albert’s longest studies of key anthropological and epistemological themes that undergird any scholastic mystical theology. The present chapter treats these background issues: the soul’s structure, its relation to the body, noetics, eschatology, and divine naming. In addition, many of these themes contain elements of a mystical theology, especially the docrines of theimago, the Son’s and the Spirit’s invisible missions, grace, faith, charity, the Spirit’s seven gifts, and glory. Thus many of these doctrines simultaneously serve...

    • 4 Albert’s Dionysian Commentaries on Union with God
      (pp. 122-212)

      Albert arrived in Cologne in the summer of 1248 to found a new Dominicanstudium. He had considerable freedom to determine this doctoral school’s curriculum. He made the works of Dionysius and Aristotle the foundational texts for the firststudiumcourses. Albert also may have lectured on the Bible and the Lombard, though we have neither historical reports nor manuscript traditions for such projects.¹ As noted in chapter 3, recent research shows that all of his Dionysian commentaries date from the early Cologne period—that is, Albert deliberately chose to place the Greek father’s entire corpus at the heart of...


    • 5 Thomas’s Anthropological Synthesis of Aristotle, Augustine, and Dionysius
      (pp. 215-248)

      Aquinas left Cologne in 1251 or 1252, his notes of Albert’s lectures on the Dionysian corpus in hand. Thomas walked to Paris in order to begin his term asbaccalaureus biblicusbefore proceeding to comment on the Lombard.¹ One of the first distinctions in Aquinas’s work on theSentencesalready analyzes Moses on Mt. Sinai in very Albertian fashion, as we will see in chapter 8. More importantly, Thomas begins to develop his own vision of union through an intense dialogue with Scripture, Aristotle, Augustine, and Dionysius, not to mention his contemporaries. The synthesis that emerges is unthinkable without these...

    • 6 Grace in Thomas
      (pp. 249-295)

      Having considered the structure of Thomas’s mystical subject, I now turn to the various modalities of God’s gracious gifts that enable union with him. As usual, I will focus only on those elements of key doctrines that illumine Aquinas’s understanding of the nature of mystical union. With one exception I treat the same issues that I considered in the study of Albert’s “mysticism from above” (chapters 3–4): the divine missions, divine action, grace, the Spirit’s seven gifts in general, the virtues of faith and charity, and the vision of God. The exception is the study of divine action. In...

    • 7 Divine Naming in Thomas
      (pp. 296-316)

      The Dionysian element of Thomas’s theology of union proceeds from and in turn marks Aquinas’s creative development of the theory of the divine names. Because naming follows knowing, new insights on the manner of our union with God through knowing affect the doctrine of divine naming and vice versa. Since Thomas’s approach to the possibility and limits of naming God differs from the Areopagite’s, the significance of Moses in the dark cloud also shifts for Aquinas. Like Dionysius, Thomas carefully integrates the pieces of his theological puzzle into a systematic whole. Also, Aquinas’s theology of union grants a significant place...

    • 8 Dionysian Union in Thomas
      (pp. 317-442)

      We now have an overview of the doctrinal framework for Thomas’s reception of the Areopagite’s theology of union with God. In the last three chapters I articulated Aquinas’s understanding of the mystical subject, the structure of elevating grace, and the path of noetic ascent to God by knowing and naming him. Thomas especially appropriates the Dionysian theology of union in four parts of his corpus: (1) in his discussion of union passages in theCommentary on the Divine Names; (2) in a few citations of theMystical Theologyscattered throughout Thomas’s corpus; (3) in his doctrine of the Spirit’s gift...

  9. General Conclusion
    (pp. 443-468)

    Like John of Scythopolis (with his Plotinian reading of “knowing by unknowing”) and Thomas Gallus (with his affective hermeneutic), Albert and Aquinas integrate and extensively transform Dionysian mystical theology. I now consider the major results of the preceding chapters. In particular, I will consider how these chapters confirm my main thesis—namely, that Albert and Thomas interpret Dionysian mysticism in a kataphatic way, emphasize our need for mediations as well as the mystic’s active cooperation in union, and posit a trinitarian structure for union, all the while retaining a qualified apophatism, the noetic status of union, and the immediacy of...

  10. Bibliography
    (pp. 469-496)
  11. Index of Names
    (pp. 497-501)
  12. Subject Index
    (pp. 502-508)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 509-509)