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The Revelation of the Phenomena and the

Phenomenon of Revelation: An Apology for


Dionysius’s Phenomenological Appropriation
John Panteleimon Manoussakis

Abstract. The present essay is apologetic in as much as it aims to justify as well


as to explain the philosophical appropriation of Dionysian metaphysics by con-
temporary French phenomenology, especially by the work of Jean-Luc Marion.
It should be noted that Dionysius serves as the inspiration, direct or indirect, of
many authors in the contemporary French school, among whom the most notable
are Jacques Derrida, Jean-Louis Chrétien, and Jean-Yves Lacoste. The present es-
say will focus particularly on the convergence between Dionysius’s theology and
Marion’s phenomenology.

I.

S
ituating Marion in Dionysius’s work: Analogy, Anagogy, Philanthropy. It
is the mundane things of our everydayness that reveal God to us, as it
is this same everydayness that hides and obscures His manifestation.
This central tenet of Dionysius’s1 theological aesthetics is, at the same time, a
phenomenological principle or, perhaps, a principle that phenomenology, better
than any other philosophical method of today, can demonstrate. Before, however,
we examine the affinity between Dionysian metaphysics and phenomenology,
we need to discuss how for each of these systems the world around us and our
everyday engagement with it can manifest as well as conceal God. How is it,
in other words, that what appears reveals as much as hides, so that the light of
apparition blinds, especially in respect to its blinding effect, while the darkness
of blindness can manifest more clearly than any revealing light?

1
I avoid using the characterization “Pseudo-” for Dionysius as nonsensical. “Dionysius” may
have been the name that the author of the Dionysian corpus assumed upon his tonsure. Therefore,
this would be his proper name (as much as for any monk today). If anything, Dionysius was the
Pseudo-Areopagite.

©
2008, American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly, Vol. 82, No. 4
706 American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly

For Dionysius God’s manifestation is given ajnalogikw`~. This idea oc-


curs throughout the Divine Names2 and is very closely linked with another of
Dionysius’s signature concepts, namely, hierarchy. If there is a iJerarciva, it
is because of ajnalogiva. In fact, the inner connection that binds Dionysius’s
work together is precisely the theological affinity of those two concepts; in
other words, what is discussed as ajnalogiva in the Divine Names is treated as
iJerarciva in the two Hierarchies.3 Already from the opening lines of the Divine
Names, Dionysius sets down the principle of God’s manifestation as follows:
“as much [tosou`on] turning upwards, as much [o{son] as the ray of the divine
sayings itself grants.”4 The knowledge of God, Dionysius says—or rather, the
vision of God (for the verb employed here describes the turning of one’s head
up as in an effort to see)5—is proportional and corresponding to God’s initial
self- and free- “giving” (ejndivdwsin, “to give in”). It is this proportional relation
between theology and theophany that the term ajnalogiva comes to signify, as
by shorthand, as the very next sentence in Dionysius’s text attests, for it is here
that the term ajnalogiva occurs for the first time.6 In light of this circumlocu-
tion, then, the concept of ajnalogiva can be formulated as follows: “so much

2
The term ajnalogiva and its derivatives occur some sixty-five times in the Dionysian
corpus.
3
Thus, hierarchy is an integral part of revelation and not merely a superficial Dionysian
peculiarity. This is something that needs to be taken seriously especially by those who, on account
of modern sensibilities, feel uncomfortable with any hierarchical structure.
4
Dionysius, Divine Names I, 1 (588A). All translations of Dionysius’s text are mine, unless
otherwise noted. Parker’s translation (The Works of Dionysius the Areopagite, trans. John Parker,
2 vols. [London: James Parker, 1897–1899; repr. Merrick, N.Y.: Richwood, 1976]), reads: “so
far aspiring to the Highest, as the ray of the supremely Divine Oracles imparts itself.” Jones’s
translation (Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite. The Divine Names and Mystical Theology, trans. John
D. Jones [Milwaukee: Marquette University Press, 1980]) misses the point: “once we refuse such
[logos, intellect, and being] in our ascent, to the extent that the ray of the godhead freely gives of
itself.” Dionysius repeats a similar formula (see Mystical Theology III, 1033B) with reference to the
length of his own works (which becomes gradually diminished the higher he ascends).
5
And yet that which one strives to see cannot be seen: the rare word that Dionysius uses in
this phrase, namely a[nante~, is a direct reference to the hypercelestial place as described by Plato
in the Phaedrus (“poreuvontai pro;~ a[nante~,” 247b). Plato portrays here the procession of the
gods toward “the summit of the arch that supports the heavens” (in R. Hackforth’s translation),
where they will have their banquet and from where they will nourish their souls by beholding what
lies beyond the heavens and, in particular, the field of truth. If read within this context, Dionysius’s
passage is revealing: we, like the Platonic gods, strive to behold the hypercelestial field of truth or,
better yet, the incarnate Truth Himself, and this we achieve as much is given to each of us.
6
In von Balthasar’s words, analogia means “an appropriate relation, a proportion between
revelation and the capacity for receiving it, set by the one who reveals himself with regard to the
particular nature and comprehension of the subject” (Hans Urs von Balthasar, The Glory of the
Lord, vol. 2: Studies in Theological Style: Clerical Styles, trans. Andrew Louth et al. [San Francisco:
Ignatius Press], 171).
An Apology for Dionysius’s Phenomenological Appropriation 707

appearance, so much givenness.” I use, intentionally, Marion’s phrase that has


become a hallmark of his phenomenology7 in order to underscore the similarity
of Dionysius’s theology to Marion’s phenomenology, a similarity to which we
shall return at length below.
If God manifests Himself ajnagwgikw`~, man’s reception of the divine mani-
festation occurs ajnagwgikw`~. jAnagwghv is the way through which man learns
to recognize the theophanic character of the world. Indeed, I said at the beginning
of this essay that God reveals Himself through the world, but also that it is the
world which hides and obfuscates that vision. God’s revelation, precisely because
it is mediated, remains hidden. In Dionysius’s favorite metaphor, the world is a
veil that hides as much as it reveals God: “for it is not possible for the divine ray
to shine on us in any other way except through the manifoldness of sacred veils.”8
The world, thus, is more than the mere instrument of divine revelation; it is that
revelation itself. Thus the world imitates and, in a way, re-enacts the “folly” of
the incarnation of the Logos, revealed in flesh and hidden by flesh. jAnagwghv is
an act of recognition that discerns the eternal in the ephemeral, not by stripping
the sensible away in order to get to the suprasensible, but by adopting a different
attitude toward the “things themselves,” an attitude receptive to their revelatory
character. Dionysius, in the passage cited above, continues by explaining that the
divine ray is ajnagwgikw`~ perikekalummevnh9—neither ajnakekalummevnh nor
ajpokekalummevnh. A j nagwghv neither discloses nor uncovers, but circumfers
or surrounds—in other words, it brackets the world qua world by adopting a
liturgical inoperativeness toward it.10 Liturgical because, as Dionysius’s work
makes evident, to see the world ajnagwghv means nothing more than seeing
the world mustagwgikw`~, for ultimately ajnagwghv is mustagwgiva, just as
ajnalogiva was translatable to iJerarciva. My mystagogical attitude toward the
word needs not to dispense with my everyday worldly affairs but only to suspend
them in order that I recover their sacramental character. Thus anagogy operates
in an analogous way to phenomenological reduction. It is no accident that the

7
This is the principle of the so-called “third reduction” undertaken by Marion in expand-
ing the reduction to consciousness (Husserl) and to being (Heidegger). See Marion, Reduction
and Givenness, trans. Thomas A. Carlson (Evanston, Ill.: Northwestern University Press, 1998),
192–202; Marion, Being Given, trans. Jeffrey L. Kosky (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2002),
14–18; and Marion, In Excess, trans. Robyn Horner and Vincent Berraud (New York: Fordham
University Press, 2002), 16–29.
8
Dionysius, Celestial Hierarchy I, 2 (121C).
9
The context implied by the term perikekalummevnh is ritualistic. The terms occurs in
the LXX translation of 1 Kings 8:7, which describes how the cherubim surrounded, “veiling,”
the ark of the covenant.
10
See Jean-Yves Lacoste, Experience and the Absolute, trans. Mark Raftery-Skeban (New
York: Fordham University Press, 2004).
708 American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly

Doctor Seraphicus, the most Dionysian of the western Fathers, uses this very
term, reductio, to translate anagogy.
Both terms that we have discussed so far describe how Dionysius’s theology
understands the manner of God’s manifestation with respect to the two parties
involved, God and humanity. Thus, with respect to God, revelation takes place
according to the principle of analogy; with respect to humanity, revelation is
received by means of anagogy. What, however, prompts God to reveal Him-
self? In other words, what is the “why” of the divine manifestation which, in
Dionysius’s terms, permeates and sustains the entire created order? One feels
tempted to answer this question in a manner reminiscent of Angelus Silesius
by saying that “die Rose ist ohne warum.” Indeed, God’s revelation refers to no
reason and answers to no “why,” for God chooses to communicate Himself “on
His own” (ejf j eJautou`), as Dionysius remarks,11 obeying no necessity but also
demonstrating no indifference toward His creation. The God of Dionysius is
quite different from the Unmoved Mover of Aristotle. If everyone and everything
that partakes of this theophany (and to some degree everything is) is “winged
by love,” as he writes,12 this is because God first “by an excess of goodness loves
all.”13 Revelation is thus causing love (in the creation) because it is “caused” by
love (in God); only that love—and the word which Dionysius uses here is eros—is
not something other than God, but rather God Himself is this ecstatic eros. Even
through the last moment of the Dionysian schema God’s self-givenness remains
without reason; He gives Himself because He gives Himself. Moreover, He freely
gives Himself, which means that the reception of the theophanic gift is equally
free, in both senses of the word: (1) free, because no merit can compensate for it,
and (2) free, because it can be denied and refused. Phenomenologically speaking,
this givenness establishes God as a phenomenon, and a phenomenon above all,
the phenomenon par excellence,14 for in Him the phenomenological definition
of a phenomenon applies most evidently: He alone appears truly as Himself, of
Himself, and on the basis of Himself (ejf j eJautou`).15
God is thus named by that which His erotic manifestation in the world
effects. Among the many names mentioned by Dionysius (“monad,” “triad,”
“cause,” etc), he reserves a special place to one epithet in particular: “philan-
thropic.” Philanthropy for Dionysius denotes almost exclusively the Incarnation

11
Dionysius, Divine Names I, 2 (588D).
12
Ibid. (589A).
13
Ibid., IV, 10 (708B).
14
For revelation as the saturated phenomenon par excellence, see Marion, Being Given,
234–45, and the last chapter of In Excess, esp. 158–62.
15
Marion, Being Given, 219: “it alone appears truly as itself, of itself and on the basis of
itself.” Marion is here referring to Heidegger’s definition of the phenomenon as das Sich-an-ihm-
selbst-Zeigende (Sein und Zeit, §7).
An Apology for Dionysius’s Phenomenological Appropriation 709

of the Logos,16 an event which, as he explains, grounds every theological aes-


thetic.17 In this fourth chapter of the first book of the Divine Names Dionysius
makes clear that theological aesthetics is always Christological. Every theophany
either prefigures the Incarnation or imitates it; in short, every theophany serves
as an icon of the archetypal revelation of God in Christ, insofar as Christ is the
true “symbol” in the literary sense of the term, as the one who “put together”
(syn-ballo, symbolon) the divine and the human nature, and, by extension, the
uncreated (invisible) and created (visible) orders, enabling thus the representa-
tion of the former by means of the latter.
The epithet “philanthropic” cannot, strictly speaking, be applied to a
member of the human race, for to love humanity (the etymological meaning of
the word) implies someone who is not part of it; it implies, in other words, a
distance that the philia of philanthropy needs to traverse but equally to maintain
insofar as it presupposes it. This is why the characterization “philanthropic” is
thus strictly reserved for God.18 At the heart of the divine revelation, then, lies
this (diastemic, as Gregory of Nyssa would say) distance which God in His love
seeks to abridge by revealing Himself. Here, however, lies a paradox: the more
God reveals Himself, the greater the distance between God and humanity be-
comes19—the darkness of God’s unknowability intensifies in the light of God’s
revelation: “he remains unknown (kruvfio~) even after the manifestation or, to
say a more divine thing, during the manifestation.”20 Thus, hierarchic theophany

16
In the Divine Names philanthropy is linked to the Incarnation in five more instances: II,
2 (640C); II, 6 (644C); II, 10 (648 D); VI, 2 (856D) and IX, 5 (953A). For more references, see
A. Golitzin, Et introibo ad altare Dei (Thessalonica: The Patriarchal Institute of Patristic Studies,
1994), 67–8.
17
See Dionysius, Divine Names I, 4.
18
In that, as in so many other points, Dionysius follows the liturgical language of the Church,
which employs the term philanthropos exclusively with reference to Christ.
19
This paradox is uniquely captured by Marion, The Idol and Distance, trans. Thomas A.
Carlson (New York: Fordham University Press, 2001), where divine distance signals at the same
time the high point of divine revelation (p. 80: “the intimacy of man with the divine grows with
the gap that distinguishes them, far from diminishing it. The withdrawal of the divine would
perhaps constitute its ultimate form of revelation. This is what we attempt to delineate under
the name of distance”). Distance, then, takes the form of a givenness (p. 93: “precisely because
the divinity gives itself in that withdrawal”), indeed a condition of giving (p. 103: “for God gives
himself only within the distance that he keeps, and where he keeps us”). It is this distance that
passes judgment on men, for the way that they experience God’s withdrawal reveals the inclina-
tions of their hearts (p. 127: “the withdrawal judges men according to whether they are driven to
distraction as before an absence or whether they endure it as an affiliation”), for God’s distance
is embodied in the incarnation of the Son (p. 115: “Christ incarnates distance”) and in His pas-
sion (p. 118: “the cross manifests the withdrawal as distinction, and the Resurrection, the same
withdrawal as union”).
20
Dionysius, Epistle 3 (1069B).
710 American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly

is always paired with apophasis. Far from being dissimilar or even antithetical,
the two movements in Dionysius’s thought, the apophatic and the theophanic,
are intrinsically related. Divine transcendence brings about divine immanence,
and God’s immanence testifies to God’s transcendence. Such is the theology of
Dionysius that his Deus absconditus, while withdrawing Himself at the depths of
unknowableness, or by means of this withdrawal, withdraws also from Himself
(kenosis), being always “outside of Himself,” always moved by an ecstatic love
that moves Him, in turn, to fecundity, revealing Himself by creating the world
but also by generating His only-begotten Son “whence every paternity in heaven
and on earth is and is named.”21 Thus, following von Balthasar, a structure
emerges that encompasses the whole of corpus dionysiacum, with the absolute
transcendence of Mystical Theology at its apex (fittingly the shortest of Dionysius’s
works), mediated by the Divine Names, where the noetic and symbolic com-
munication of God requires the simultaneous upholding of both transcendence
and immanence, followed by the two Hierarchies.22 The importance, then, of
the Divine Names is nothing less than that of a hinge that holds the two parts
of Dionysius’s metaphysical structure in place. Indeed, without the “mediation”
of the Divine Names mystical transcendence would have become disjoined from
hierarchical immanence and neither would have been acceptable.
This “mediation” is precisely the possibility of signification, manifesta-
tion, and revelation, a possibility that has been sketched by the three concepts
we have discussed so far: analogy (or hierarchy), anagogy (or mystagogy), and
philanthropy (that is, the Incarnation). What, in other words, is at stake in the
Divine Names is not only the phenomenon of revelation itself but also the pos-
sibility of the revelation of the phenomena. Granted that Dionysius’s ultimate
goal is the revelation (Offenbarung)—insofar, however, as the revelation itself is
revealed—Dionysius must expand his discussion so as to include revealability
(Offenbarkeit).
Dionysius’s suggestion concerning the possibility of revelation is given by
means of a contrast between two different chronological moments (then . . .
now): an eschatological moment of presumably immediate experience of God
and, as long as that fullness is still lacking and anticipated, the reality of medi-
ated phenomena through symbols.
But, then, when we have become incorruptible and immortal, and have
reached the Christ-like and most blessed repose, according to the divine
saying, we shall be “ever with the Lord,” fulfilled, through all-pure con-
templations, with the visible manifestation of God shining on us with

21
Dionysius, Divine Names I, 4 (592A), citing Eph. 3:15.
22
See Hans Urs von Balthasar, The Glory of the Lord, vol. 2, 154–64. Von Balthasar is right
to include in this schema the so-called fictitious treatises.
An Apology for Dionysius’s Phenomenological Appropriation 711

glory, in most brilliant splendors, as the disciples in the most divine


Transfiguration, and participating in His gift of spiritual light, with
unimpassioned and immaterial mind; and even in the union beyond
conception, through the unknowable and most blessed reach of the rays
beyond visibility. . . .
But now, as much as it is possible to us, we use symbols appropriate
to things divine, and from these again we elevate ourselves analogically
to the simple and unified truth of the spiritual visions; and . . . we cast
ourselves, as much as permitted, toward the hyperessential ray.23

At a first reading, this passage seems as if it were only saying something about the
function of the symbol as locum tenens of the eschatological presence (symbols as
indicators). The very concept of a symbol, it seems, implies substitution, media-
tion, representation—all of these notions presupposing the absence of the thing
hereby substituted, mediated, or represented. Once, however, the thing itself is
made present, symbols become superfluous; indeed, they must be abolished so
as to make room for the reality they represented.
This train of thought might seem reasonable, for in it we recognize a
Saussurean (that is, modern) description of signification, of signs which, like
symbols, refer to a signified reality that can be absent, void, or even non-
existent. How right, however, would it be to ascribe such a modern theory of
signification to Dionysian theology? The passage cited above presents us with a
difficulty that indicates the resistance of Dionysius’s thought to such a theory.
In describing the fullness of the divine parousia that awaits us eschatologically,
Dionysius offers an example: “as the disciples in the most divine Transfigura-
tion.” Indeed, the Lord’s Transfiguration is an eschatological event, following
and fulfilling Christ’s promise that “some who are standing here will not taste
death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom” (Mt. 16:28 and,
prefacing all of the accounts of the Transfiguration, Mk. 9:1, Lk. 9:27); however,
the Transfiguration takes place by means of and in Christ’s human body and,
moreover, it is perceived through the disciples’ physical senses. If, then, we take
Christ’s Transfiguration as the exemplar of eschatological vision—as Dionysius
suggests—then the dialectic between symbol and the reality that the symbol
symbolizes must be subjected to revision. For Christ’s body (the symbol) is not
dispensed with when the reality of what symbolizes is revealed (His divinity),
but all the more symbol and symbolized reality overlap and coincide. This is a
moment when the “what” of revelation (Christ the revelation) is also its “how”
(Christ the revealer), when revelation is indistinguishable from revealability,
Offenbarkeit becomes Offenbarung; in one word, sacrament.

23
Dionysius, Divine Names I, 4 (592C–D); trans. Parker, largely modified.
712 American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly

A sacramental symbol is the unity or the chiasmus of representation and


being, form and content, the reference of the symbol to a reality beyond itself
and, at the same time, the efficacious conferring of that reality by means of the
symbol. What the Church puts before us in the sacraments is nothing more than
our own everyday actions, those same practices that constitute our everydayness:
the breaking of the bread, the sharing of the cup, the washing of one’s body, and
so forth. The sacraments are not outwardly realities. They do not pretend to hide
lofty but incomprehensible messages, nor do they function as secret initiations
to a sort of Eleusinian mysteries. What the Church reveals to us as mystery is
the commonplace and the trivial: a meal, a bath, the loving bond between two
people. In the repetition of their celebration (kairos), these acts of everydayness
are now taken away from the corrupting succession of time (chronos), they are
lifted up from the realm of necessity, that is of nature, and instead, they become
portals to another order, of an eschatology always to come and always already
here. A glorious light is shed on the mundane and as the corruptible becomes
eternal, we come to realize that it is the ordinary and the familiar which instanti-
ates the extraordinary and the mystical. And this is what Jean-Luc Marion has
called a “saturated phenomenon.”

II.

Situating Dionysius in Marion’s Work: Givenness, Saturation, and the Call. An


essay that discusses the influence of Dionysius on the work of one of France’s lead-
ing phenomenologists unavoidably blurs the dividing line between philosophy
and theology. This is especially the case with Marion, whose work is comprised
of a double body, that of “theological” works (The Idol and Distance, God Without
Being, Prolegomena to Charity), although they are never explicitly declared as
such, and that of his philosophical production (five books on Descartes and the
trilogy on phenomenology, among others). Marion himself has tried to maintain
a clear distinction between the two; however, the relation between them is more
than formal. Finally, both strands are interwoven in his “first” (as he says) book,
The Erotic Phenomenon.
Marion’s phenomenology discusses the revelation of phenomena, while his
theological essays are concerned with the phenomenon of revelation. The rev-
elation of phenomena invokes the possibility of a phenomenon to appear. The
phenomenon of revelation, on the other hand, refers to the historical and thus
actual phenomenon of Christian and Christic revelation. It immediately becomes
evident that the latter needs and presupposes the former; the Christian revelation,
to the extent that is a revelation, is actualized only through the possibility offered
by phenomenality and it is, therefore, a revelation to the second degree or, better
yet, the square of a revelation. But this is not all. For Marion, God’s presence is
An Apology for Dionysius’s Phenomenological Appropriation 713

occasioned by His withdrawal, the absence that follows Nietzsche’s death of God,
the diastemic “distance” of the title in The Idol and Distance.24 The appearance,
however, of a phenomenon, of any phenomenon, can take place only in this very
distance, in this space opened up by the withdrawal of the divine—a withdrawal
that is also and at the same time a giving— and because of it. The phenomenon
of revelation, therefore, ultimately conditions the revelation of the phenomena.
“Christ is the medium not only of theology, but also of philosophy.”25
Marion was introduced to the thought of Dionysius by Hans Urs von
Balthasar, an acquaintance occasioned by their mutual involvement with the
edition of Communio. Dionysius is mentioned, more or less frequently, in almost
every work by Marion, from The Idol and Distance (1977) to Being Given (1997),
which testifies to the considerable influence that the Church Father must have
had on the French phenomenologist. Unfortunately, this influence is usually
seen by secondary studies as involving mostly Dionysius’s apophaticism. While
this would have been true for someone like Jacques Derrida, it is far from being
the case with Marion, whose employment of Dionysius expands well beyond
his critique of God’s idolization (read “conceptualization”) and echoes through
his groundbreaking contributions to phenomenology.
That said, it would be rather far-fetched to assume that Marion relies on
anything Dionysian with regard to his phenomenology. It would be preposterous
to imagine that Marion needs to learn phenomenology from Dionysius, when
he draws rigorously from a Husserl, a Heidegger, and an Henry. References to
Dionysius or Dionysian themes are sparingly made in the phenomenological
works (Reduction and Givenness, Being Given, In Excess) and when these occur,
they are to be interpreted more as a gesture of generosity on Marion’s part to-
ward a tradition that he acknowledges, rather than an attempt to substantiate
or justify his phenomenological insights. On the other hand, Marion never
tires of rehearsing and retrieving the phenomenological tradition of Husserl
and Heidegger, for it is against this very tradition that he develops his third
reduction. In other words, if we were to evaluate Marion’s phenomenology, we
could do so only phenomenologically. Charges to the contrary notwithstanding,
Marion’s phenomenology does not depend, openly or secretly, on theology.26

24
See note 19 above.
25
This is F. Copleston’s assessment apropos of St. Bonaventure’s metaphysics but equally valid
in this context: “The purely philosophic doctrine of exemplarism,” Fr. Copleston writes, “prepares
the way for the theology of the Word and, conversely, the theology of the Word sheds light on
the truth attained by philosophy, and in this sense Christ is the medium not only of theology, but
also of philosophy” (A History of Philosophy, vol. 2: Medieval Philosophy: From Augustine to Duns
Scotus [New York: Image Books, 1962], 259).
26
And this assessment comes from a master of the hermeneutics of suspicion, Joe O’Leary,
“The Gift: A Trojan Horse in the Citadel of Phenomenology?” in Givenness and God: Questions of
714 American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly

And when he opens the horizons of his phenomenological reduction to biblical


texts and themes, this is done only so as to subject them to a phenomenological
analysis, for phenomenologically speaking no phenomenon—including religious
phenomena—can be a priori disqualified from appearing.
How would this methodological caveat spare the intentions of the present
essay? Is it not such a comparison between Marion and Dionysius what I have set
out to accomplish here? The answer has to be negative. Rather, I wish to assess
the compatibility between Dionysian theology and Marion’s phenomenology,
to trace the contours of the two thinkers’ overlapping, or to stage a dialogue
between the two without accusing Dionysius of not being phenomenological
enough or Marion of not following Dionysius blindly.
In the first formulation of his own “broadening” of the phenomenological
reduction, Marion discovers a horizon more essential than (and thus anterior to)
transcendental consciousness and being. What constitutes phenomena and, by
extension, what constitutes me, as the recipient of these phenomena, is neither
the intending character of the consciousness paired with the phenomenon’s
intuition, nor is it the opening of the Dasein to the nothingness of Being dis-
closed by anxiety and boredom, but rather the claim addressed to me by “the
pure form of the call.” Thus Marion writes: “that which gives itself gives itself
only to the one who gives himself over to the call and only in the pure form
of a confirmation of the call, which is repeated because received.”27 Receptiv-
ity (of the call) is thus constitutive of a subject without subjectivity (for it is
neither a being nor a consciousness). It should be noted that the subject does
not even exist prior to the call, for “giving himself over to the call” means, first
and foremost, to “be given a self by the call.” The self that gives himself over to
the call does not have even himself; in order, then, to give himself over to the
call he has to be given that self. In fact, this is not about a sequence, logical or
chronological: the self is not first given in order to be later given up, but rather
the self is given as much and insofar as it is given up. For the self, too, or rather
the self above all, must be given.
Alluding to Dionysius, we could say that the self is like the name. A self must
be given as a name is always given—we speak of somebody’s “given name”—and
never assumed by myself. I cannot name myself unless the Other first gives me
my name, by calling me—my parents after my birth, the priest in my baptism,
the abbot in my tonsure—thus giving my self to myself. In the absence of others
there is neither name nor self. To be given a name indicates one’s beginning, in
my name I acknowledge that I am generated, derived and dependent; the fact

Jean-Luc Marion, ed. Ian Leask and Eoin Cassidy (New York: Fordham University Press, 2005),
___–___.
27
Marion, Reduction and Givenness, 197–8.
An Apology for Dionysius’s Phenomenological Appropriation 715

that I have a name by which the Other can call me implies that the Other has
lain a claim over me, that I belong not to myself but to the Other from whom
I received not only my name—my name, after all, is a constant confession of
this debt—but also my self. A name is always given and therefore it can never
be a proper name—for my name does not belong to me, not only insofar as it is
given to me but also insofar as it has named others before me, and it will name
others after me.28 Dionysius knew that all too well; the scholarly debate over his
proper name and the propriety of his identity misses this very point. Someone
like Dionysius could not write with a “proper” name but only under a given name
(that of St. Dionysius the Aeropagite), which, once given, is to be appropriated
as his new identity. The question over Dionysius’s name should have been not
whether this is his proper name (for no one owns his name), but rather whether
he successfully responded to the call addressed to him by his given name.
Only God has no name, for God has no beginning. Who was there before
God in order to name Him? To give God a name would imply that oneself is
prior to or higher than God, but such a “God” would be a mere idol, for he who
names God creates “God,” that is, he erects for himself an idol. God is strictly
anonymous (as the Divine Names make clear) or, and this amounts to the same
thing, polyonymous.29 Marion’s early critique of conceptual and metaphysical
idolization (namely, in God Without Being and The Idol and Distance) finds its
complementary gesture in the critique of subjectivity, for the subject is the idol
of (one)self. It is precisely the death of such idolatry (the idolatry of the self-
subsisting subject) that the triple immersion in the baptismal waters effects,30 so
that the new person who emerges from death can now receive not only a name
but a new identity “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy
Spirit”; that is, an identity inscribed within a community, a personal identity, since
it is given by the invocation of three Persons, given as a gift and not claimed as a
possession. For “what do you have that you did not receive?” (1 Cor. 4:7).
After the call to existence and the call to ecclesial life there is finally one
last call: “I tell you the truth, a time is coming and has now come when the
dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live” (John
5:25). Here, then, lies the whole question of the call, for “the dead will hear the
voice.” How are the dead to hear the voice that calls them to everlasting life?
How is the voice to penetrate the dead ears that hear nothing? To play with this

28
See “The Improper Name,” in Marion, Being Given, 291–3. However, “in this way, the
baptismal given name, the ‘proper’ name par excellence, results from a call (one calls me with the
name of such a saint) because, more essentially, this name constitutes a call in itself—I would not
be called simply by this name, but indeed to this name” (292, my emphasis).
29
See Marion, The Idol and Distance, 142.
30
For the connection of death and baptism in Dionysius, see Ecclesiastical Hierarchy II, 7
(404B).
716 American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly

paradox, we could say that only the dead ear hears; unless one has become (like
the) dead, one would not hear the call. Indeed, receptivity to the call presupposes
an unconditional passibility, such that one can compare it only to the absolute
passivity of the dead.31 As in the Mystical Theology one ascends higher by leaving
behind more and more of oneself—that is, of one’s own categories, concepts, and
images—so as to arrive to the summit of ajfaivresi~ naked of all conceptual
armory, so here we will hear the voice that calls to life once we have silenced
our voice and have mortified the activities of the subject, once our intending
consciousness ceases to search, and returns upon itself by means of an inverse
intentionality that allows it only to receive, to hear the call ,and by hearing it to
live. The domain of the call, particularly of the divine call, extends from before
birth (see Luke 1:13) to after death (see John 11:43; Luke 7:14) and thus proves
itself to be unrestricted by what we might take to be absolute termini. Similarly,
however, the one called, the one to whom the call is addressed, is shown to be
more than his being for, in a sense, he precedes his birth and survives his death.
Thus the call has displayed the insufficiency of being or consciousness in counting
as the ground of selfhood. The interloqué is “man without being” as the call that
constitutes him comes ultimately from the “God without being.”
The foregoing analysis might give to our discussion of the call a particular
color that is not overall accurate. It might, in other words, give the false im-
pression that the call is restricted to one category, that of religious or ethical
phenomena; for instance, the “call of conscience” or vocation as a “calling.”
Against this assumption, I must emphasize that the call is above all a property
of the visible or, better yet, the call becomes most noticeable as the visible. By
this I mean not that every thing that appears is the call, but rather that whatever
appears (from everyday things, like chairs and books, to ideas, emotions and
state of things) appears because it addresses us a call. A silent face in a café, a
painting in a museum, an exam that I need to take, all of these appear by means
of a certain call, a call to which I can respond in different ways. The call is not
only what calls our attention but also what fails to do so, the unnoticed and the
unnoticeable; the call is not only the pleasing or the interesting but also what
one finds unpleasant or boring. Therefore, it makes all the more of a paradox to
say that the call is the beautiful.
Of course, one knows, since Kant, that the beautiful is not to be identi-
fied with pleasure, and von Balthasar does not hesitate to take even ugliness as
a manifestation of God’s glory (the unsurpassable example of such paradox is of
31
The sense of hearing is an exemplary case of the passivity as well as passibility of senses.
Together with touching, hearing is always affected by the world. Contrary to vision, where the
initiative is always mine, hearing exemplifies a certain exposure to the other. For a phenomenological
analysis of the sense of hearing, see chap. 6 (“The Interrupted Self ”) of my God After Metaphysics
(Bloomington, Ind.: Indiana University Press, 2007).
An Apology for Dionysius’s Phenomenological Appropriation 717

course the Cross), but what does it mean that the call is the beautiful? Indeed,
what else can the beautiful be than what calls? And, how else is one to understand
the ability of the call to call if not by means of beauty? Language tells us that
much when it indicates that the derivation of “beautiful” (tov kalovn) comes
from the verb “to call” (kalevw, kalei`n). Naturally, if we understand beauty as
symmetry or proportion, as harmony of color or sound, it would be difficult,
indeed impossible, to explain the catholicity of the beautiful as the call that calls
through the visible, even when it is not a question of harmony or symmetry.
These “scientific” explanations, as Socrates somewhat scornfully calls them in
the Phaedo, are descriptive at best of the ways in which beauty is perceived; that
is, they explain only the “mechanics” of the aesthetical phenomenon, but fail to
answer why we call something “beautiful” or, worse, what beauty is in itself. Plato,
therefore, rejects them as insufficient and confusing, Kant as threatening beauty’s
universality, and phenomenology as imposing limitations that are inadmissible
within the reduction. The only two answers to the question of beauty that merit
some consideration are those given to us by Plato in his Phaedo and Kant in his
Critique of Judgment. For Plato “what is beautiful is beautiful by the beautiful.”32
Of course, such a statement is heavily in need of interpretation. One has learned
to see in this answer Plato’s so-called theory of forms. The beautiful, then, by
which anything becomes beautiful is taken to be the form of beauty. This already
implies that what makes something beautiful is not itself, that is to say, it is not
to be found in the thing itself, but rather comes from beyond, it is other than
the thing that one perceives as beautiful. Surprisingly, Kant gives a very similar
answer when he refuses to assign beauty as the property of a thing.33 For him, too,
beauty is external and a sign of exteriority. Both Plato and Kant seem to converge
on another point: that beauty is teleological. It is needless to rehearse here the
movements of Kantian teleology—suffice to say that it is solely the teleological
character of the beautiful that maintains the coherence of an otherwise disparate
Critique, divided, as it is, between aesthetic and teleological judgments. To see a
similar notion in Plato’s treatment of the beautiful we need to remind ourselves
of the context within which he discusses beauty: it is the famous episode where
Socrates gives a brief account of his philosophical autobiography and of his

32
Plato, Phaedo, 100d 7–8.
33
See Kant, Critique of Judgment, Ak 219: “Beautiful is what, without a concept, is liked
universally.” (The references to Kant’s text are to the Akademie edition.) Furthermore, “beauty
is not a characteristic of the object [as, say, the redness of the rose] when taken in its own right”
(347). This means that a thing is never beautiful in itself, as if beauty were a quality, but its beauty
lies with the feeling aroused in the subject. So, “apart from a reference to the subject’s feeling,
beauty is nothing by itself ” (218). Of course, this does not imply a subjectivism along the lines
of “beauty is on the eye of the beholder.” The whole purpose of the third Critique is to establish
the universality of aesthetic judgments.
718 American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly

encounter with Anaxagoras’s teleology in particular. Socrates believes that in


Anaxagoras he has found the only tenable answer as to the cause of things, that
is, perfection (“for if one wished to know the cause of each thing . . . one had
only to find what was best for it”).34 His later disillusionment with Anaxagoras
leads Socrates to the famous “second sailing” that consists of an investigation to
the logoi of things, the latter being, as it is made clear in the dialogue, their final
causes (thus, every form for Plato ought to be understood as a final cause).35 For
the remaining pages of the dialogue, Plato singles out one particular form, that
of beauty, which, by calling everything to itself, makes everything that heeds its
call—and everything to some degree is—beautiful.
Dionysius is situated in the middle of the distance between Plato and
Kant. His beautiful is no longer as impersonal as Plato’s form, nor has it been
yet depersonalized as Kant’s a priori idea of purposiveness. For Dionysius the
beautiful is a person, God Himself:
The beautiful (kalo;n) that is beyond all being is called “beautiful”
(kavllo~) on account of its own beauty, which it transmits to each and
every thing, and for being accountable for the harmony and brilliance of
all as the light that shines to every thing its radiating rays, and for call-
ing (kalou`n) everything to itself and gathering everything and in every
respect, for which reason it has been called “beautiful” (kavllo~).36

Therefore, if the beautiful is recognized as beautiful it is because it renders itself


visible (that is, it “calls” to itself ) and, by the same token, what is visible, what
appears and by appearing “calls” to itself, is only the beautiful. Dionysius’s pas-
sage distinguishes between these two (simultaneous) movements clearly: the
beautiful radiates “like the light”—thus it renders everything visible, indeed it
is the condition of visibility—but also recollects everything to itself, now strictly
in its capacity as the “beautiful”—that is, as a call from the future.37

34
Plato, Phaedo, 97c
35
Here we have another idea that would come to play a decisive role in Christian philoso-
phy: the Platonic idea of the logoi of beings is inherited by Dionysius (as proorismoi or exempla),
amended according to a Christian metaphysics (since the logoi are now “in God”—Divine
Names V.8 [842C]), and via Dionysius, received by St. Maximus the Confessor (Ambigua, PG
91:1081A–1085A; a particular reference to Dionysian logoi as proorismoi is made at 1085A5). It
was this Dionysian exemplarism that helped the medieval West navigate away from the rock of
crude realism (incompatible with Christian doctrine) and the whirlpool of nominalism.
36
Dionysius, Divine Names IV 7 (701C).
37
The teleological character of the beautiful (and, for Dionysius, its eschatological character
as well) does not allow us to imagine the attraction that the Beautiful itself exercises as vertical
(contemporaneous) but rather as horizontal (diachronic), that is, as coming from the future (telos)
in order to gradually perfect the present (teleiosis). Jean-Louis Chrétien, commenting on the very
passage from the Divine Names that we have quoted, writes: “God’s call gathers back, the origin
An Apology for Dionysius’s Phenomenological Appropriation 719

It is this double movement of the beautiful / visible that Marion’s phenom-


enology of saturation retrieves. What these phenomena are saturated with is
the excess of givenness of the phenomenon itself—it is an excess of intuition, a
surplus of information we would say, that saturates them. This, however, does
not mean that we have to look for saturated phenomena far: not, for sure, among
the exotic, the extraordinary, and perhaps the bizarre. Saturated phenomena are
not a special group of phenomena but every phenomenon when seen without
the protective glasses of regulatory concepts and preconceived intentionalities.
Every phenomenon is inexhaustible—there is no viewing of a painting that is
ever final, as there is no performance of a composition that is definitive; there is
no event that can be transfixed into a single interpretation and, above all, there
is no Other that would fit comfortably in one of my categories. We, now, under-
stand that saturation is complemented by and, indeed, results in some kind of
negation (negative theology). The task of the phenomenologist of the abundant
givenness is similar to the theologian of the divine names: never-ending, or, as
one could say, epectatic. Everything gives always more than one can receive—it is
this generosity of that necessitates revision, repetition, interpretation, and finally,
what gives rise to philosophy itself, wonder. This fecundity of intuition surrounds
every phenomenon as if it were a halo of excessive visibility, a mandorla of light,
that transforms phenomena—better yet, it renders them visible. For, phenom-
enologically speaking, in order to see what is seen one must also “see” what one
cannot see, what remains unseen and as such shows the visible. There is no doubt
that the theme of the abundance and irreducibility of donation, as well as the
chiastic intertwining of the visible and the invisible bear a strong affinity with
the Dionysian world-view. For here too, as with Dionysius, the phenomenon of
revelation ultimately conditions the revelation of the phenomena.

College of the Holy Cross


Worcester, Massachusetts

calls insofar as it also constitutes itself as the end. This luminous dispensation does not communi-
cate beauty as an inert property but as a power of radiation rekindled from being to being. What
it sends out the extremity of diastole and effusion is the same as what makes the creature turn
around toward the source. Creation is here inseparable from a vocation for beauty; the call takes
on its biblical meaning of election, which is what distinguishes Dionysus [sic] from Platonism.
To call is to create, to bestow being and beauty, but also to save” (The Call and the Response, trans.
Anne Davenport [New York: Fordham University Press, 2004], 15–6).