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The Definitive Type Of Religion

The works of Dionysius the Areopagite first appear in the controversies in
the reign of Justinian, when they are quoted in the Conference with the
Severians, 531 or 533. There are citations from the works of the
Areopagite fifteen or twenty years earlier in the works of Severus, the
Monophysite patriarch of Antioch. In this is given the latest date to
which they may be assigned. They cannot be earlier than 476, because the
author is acquainted with the works of Proclus (411-485) and uses them;
also he refers to the practice of singing the Credo in divine service,
which was first introduced by the Monophysites at Antioch in 476. No
closer determination of the date is possible. The author is wholly

That he was Dionysius the Areopagite (Acts 17:34) is maintained by no
scholar to-day. His standpoint is that of the later Eastern religious
feeling and practice, with its strong desire for mysteries and sacramental
system. But he brings to it Neo-Platonic thought to such a degree as to
color completely his presentation of Christian truth. The effect of the
book was only gradual, but eventually very great. In the East it gave
authority, which seemed to be that of the apostolic age, for its highly
developed system of mysteries, which had grown up in the Church. In the
West it served as a philosophical basis for scholastic mysticism. On
account of the connection between Dionysius and the later Greek philosophy
and the mediaeval philosophy, Dionysius the Areopagite occupies a place in
the histories of philosophy quite out of proportion to the intrinsic merit
of the writer.

Additional source material: English translations of Dionysius the
Areopagite, Dean Colet, ed. by J. H. Lupton, London, 1869, and J.
Parker, Oxford, 1897 (not complete); a new translation into German
appeared in the new edition of the Kempten Bibliothek der
Kirchenvaeter, 1912.

(a) Dionysius Areopagita, De Caelesti Hierarchia, III, 2. (MSG, 3:165.)

Dionysius thus defines "Hierarchy":

He who speaks of a hierarchy indicates thereby a holy order which in a
holy manner works the mysteries of illumination which is appropriate to
each one. The order of the hierarchy consists in this, that some are
purified and others purify; some are illuminated and others illuminate;
some are completed and others complete.

(b) De Caelesti Hierarchia, VI, 2. (MSG, 3:200.)

The heavenly hierarchy.

Theology has given to all heavenly existences new explanatory titles. Our
divine initiator divides these into three threefold ranks. The first is
that, as he says, which is ever about God, and which, as it is related
(Ezek. 1), is permanently and before all others immediately united to Him;
for the explanation of the Holy Scripture tells us that the most holy
throne and the many-eyed and many-winged ranks, which in Hebrew are called
cherubim and seraphim, stand before God in the closest proximity. This
threefold order, or rank, our great leader names the one, like, and only
truly first hierarchy, which is more godlike and stands more immediately
near the first effects of the illuminations of divinity than all others.
As the second hierarchy, he names that which is composed of authorities,
dominions, and powers, and as the third and last of the heavenly
hierarchies he names the order of angels, archangels, and principalities.

(c) De Ecclesiastica Hierarchia, I, 1. (MSG, 3:372.)

The nature of the ecclesiastical hierarchy.

That our hierarchy which is given by God, is God-inspired and divine, a
divinely acting knowledge, activity, and completion, we must show from the
supernal and most Holy Scriptures to those who through hierarchical
secrets and traditions have been initiated into the holy consecration.
Jesus, the most divine and most transcendent spirit, the principle and the
being and the most divine power of every hierarchy, holiness, and divine
operation, brings to the blessed beings superior to us a more bright and
at the same time more spiritual light and makes them as far as possible
like to His own light. And through our love which tends upward toward Him,
by the love of the beautiful which draws us up to Him, He brings together
into one our many heterogeneities; that He might perfect them so as to
become a uniform and divine life, condition, and activity, He gives us the
power of the divine priesthood. In consequence of this honor we arrive at
the holy activity of the priesthood, and so we ourselves come near to the
beings over us, that we, so far as we are able, approximate to their
abiding and unchangeable holy state and so look up to the blessed and
divine brilliancy of Jesus, gaze religiously on what is attainable by us
to see, and are illuminated by the knowledge of what is seen; and thus we
are initiated into the mystic science, and, initiating, we can become
light-like and divinely working, complete and completing.

(d) De Ecclesiastica Hierarchia, V, 3. (MSG, 3:504.)

The most holy consecration of initiation has as the godlike power or
activity the expiatory purification of the imperfect, as the second the
illuminating consecration of the purified, and as the last, which also
includes the other two, the perfecting of the consecrated in the knowledge
of the consecrations that belong to them.

5. The divine order of the hierarch(209) is the first under the
God-beholding orders; it is the highest and also the last, for in it every
other order of our hierarchy ends and is completed.(210) For we see that
every hierarchy ends in Jesus, and so each one ends in the God-filled

6. The hierarchical order, which is filled full of the perfecting power,
performs especially the consecrations of the hierarchy, imparts by
revelation the knowledge of the sacred things, and teaches the conditions
and powers appropriate to them. The order of priests which leads to light
leads to the divine beholding of the sacred mysteries all those who have
been initiated by the divine order of the hierarchs and with that order
performs its proper sacred functions. In what it does it displays the
divine working through the most holy symbols [i.e., sacraments] and
makes those who approach beholders and participants in the most holy
mysteries, sending on to the hierarch those who desire the knowledge of
those sacred rites which are seen. The order of the liturges [or deacons]
is that which cleanses and separates the unlike before they come to the
sacred rites of the priests, purifies those who approach that it may
render them pure from all that is opposing and unworthy of beholding and
participating in the sacred mysteries.

(e) De Ecclesiastica Hierarchia, I, 3. (MSG, 3:373.)

The sacraments.

The mysteries or sacraments, according to Dionysius the
Areopagite, are six in number: baptism, the eucharist, anointing
or confirmation, the consecration of priests, the consecration of
monks,(211) and the consecration of the dead. These he discusses
in chs. 2-7 of the Ecclesiastical Hierarchy.

Salvation can in no other way come about than that the saved are deified.
The deification is the highest possible resemblance to God and union with
Him. The common aim of all the hierarchy is the love which hangs upon God
and things divine, which fills with a divine spirit and works in godlike
fashion; and before this is the complete and never retreating flight from
that which is opposed to it, the knowledge of being as being, the vision
and knowledge of the holy truth, the divinely inspired participation in
the homogeneous perfection of the One himself, so far as man can come to
that, the enjoyment of the holy contemplation, which spiritually nourishes
and deifies every one who strives for it.

Chapter II. The Transition To The Middle Ages. The Foundation Of The
Germanic National Churches

While the doctrinal system of the Church was being wrought out in the
disputes and councils of Rome and the East, the foundations of the
Germanic national churches were being laid in the West. In the British
Isles the faith was extended from Britain to Ireland and thence to
Scotland ( 96). Among the inmates of the monasteries of these countries
were many monks who were moved to undertake missionary journeys to various
parts of Western Europe, and among them St. Columbanus. But even more
important for the future of Western Christendom was the conversion of the
Franks from paganism to Catholic Christianity. At a time when the other
Germanic rulers were still Arian, Clovis and the Franks became Catholics
and, as a consequence, the champions of the Catholic faith. The Franks
rapidly became the dominant power in the West, and soon other Germanic
races either were conquered or followed the example of the Franks and
became Catholics ( 97). The State churches that thus arose were more
under the control of the local royal authority than the Catholic Church
had previously been, and the rulers were little disposed to favor outside
control of the ecclesiastical affairs of their kingdoms ( 98). Toward the
end of the sixth century the greatest pontiff of the ancient Church,
Gregory the Great, more than recovered the prestige and influence which
had been lost under Vigilius. By his able administration he did much to
unite the West, to heal the schism resulting from the Fifth Council, and
to overcome the heresies which divided the Arians and the Catholics. At
the same time he advanced the authority of the see of Rome in the East as
well as in the West ( 99). Of the many statesman-like undertakings of
Gregory none had more far-reaching consequences than the conversion of the
Anglo-Saxons and the establishment in England of a church which would be
in close and loyal dependence upon the Roman see, and in consequence of
that close connection would be the heir of the best traditions of culture
in the West ( 100).

Next: The Celtic Church In The British

Previous: The Byzantine State Church Under

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