The Divine Darkness

The Divine Darkness

Christian Meditation of Pseudo-Dionysius

Most people have never heard of Pseudo-Dionysius, an early Christian mystic and philosopher who wrote his works under the pseudonym of Dionysius the Areopagite. However, the works of Pseudo-Dionysius, particularly “The Mystical Theology,” are probably the closest the Christian tradition has ever come to something like Zen.

Pseudo-Dionysius describes a type of meditation, in which the Christian attempts to get closer to God through a process of denying any specific intellectual concepts about him. The idea is that, since God is the origin of all things, He is completely beyond all of those things. He is even beyond being and non-being, so that it is neither possible to say what God is nor what He is not:


“neither does anything that is know Him as He is; nor does He know existing things according to existing knowledge; neither can the reason attain to Him, nor name Him, nor know Him; neither is He darkness nor light, nor the false nor the true; nor can any affirmation or negation be applied to Him, for although we may affirm or deny the things below Him, we can neither affirm nor deny Him, inasmuch as the all-perfect and unique Cause of all things transcends all affirmation, and the simple pre-eminence of His absolute nature is outside of every negation — free from every limitation and beyond them all.”


Pseudo-Dionysius refers to this spiritual state, in which one approaches God by denying all concepts, as “agnosia” or “unknowing.” He also describes it as “the divine darkness.” By rejecting all attachment to dualistic intellectual concepts in order to reach a higher spiritual understanding, Pseudo-Dionysius created something like a Christian equivalent of Zen Buddhism.


Unlike the “Gospel of Judas” or other Gnostic texts, there is nothing heretical about Pseudo-Dionysius as far as the Catholic Church is concerned. Pseudo-Dionysius is and always has been an acceptable author for Catholics interested in meditation to study and learn from, and his works influenced a number of later Catholic writers. Even though his works are extremely obscure, Christians with an interest in Eastern religion can use the writings of Pseudo-Dionysius as a bridge between Buddhist meditation and their own faith tradition.