St. Bonaventure’s

Saint Bonaventure (1221 – 1274) born Giovanni di Fidanza, was an Italian medieval Franciscan, scholastic theologian and philosopher. The seventh Minister General of the Order of Friars Minor, he was also Cardinal Bishop of Albano. He was canonised on 14 April 1482 by Pope Sixtus IV and declared a Doctor of the Church in the year 1588 by Pope Sixtus V.  He is known as the “Seraphic Doctor”.

His works consist of Commentary on the Sentences of Lombard and Commentary on the Gospel of St Luke.  He also had a number of smaller works; the most famous of which are The Mind’s Road to God (Itinerarium mentis in Deum), an outline of his theology. 


1. In the beginning I call upon that First Beginning from whom all illuminations flow down as from the God of lights, and from whom comes every good and perfect gift—namely, I call upon the eternal Father through his Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, that through the intercession of the most holy virgin Mary, the mother of that same Lord and God, Jesus Christ, and through the intercession of blessed Francis, our leader and father, God might grant clearly seeing eyes to our mind in order to guide our feet to the path of peace: that peace which surpasses all understanding. This is the peace, which our Lord Jesus Christ proclaimed and granted to us. It was this message of peace, which our father Francis took over, proclaiming it at the beginning and the end of each one of his sermons. In every one of his greetings he wished for peace; and in every experience of contemplation he sighed for an ecstatic peace. He was like a citizen of that Jerusalem about which that man of peace—he who was peaceable even with those who despised peace—says: Pray for those things that are for the peace of Jerusalem. For he knew that it was only in peace that the throne of Solomon stood, since it is written: His place is in peace, and his dwelling is in Sion.
2. Now I, a sinner, who, unworthy as I am, had taken over the responsibilities of the most blessed father after his death to become the seventh minister general of the brothers, was moved by the example of our most blessed father, Francis, and eagerly desired this peace. As I was thus preoccupied, it happened around the time of the thirty-third anniversary of the death of the saint [year 1259] that, by God’s will, I withdrew to Mount Alverna, as to a quiet place, seized with desire to seek the peace of mind. While I was there, reflecting on certain ways, in which the mind might ascend to God, I recalled, among other things, that miracle which the blessed Francis himself had experienced in this very place, namely the vision of the winged Seraph in the form of the Crucified. As I reflected on this, it became immediately clear to me that this vision presented not only the uplifting of our father himself in contemplation but also the road by which one might arrive at this contemplation.
3. For those six wings can rightly be understood to stand for six levels of uplifting illuminations. By means of these illuminations—as by certain steps or pathways, so to say,—the soul is disposed to move on to peace through the ecstatic raptures of Christian wisdom. This road, however, can only go through the most burning love of the Crucified. It was that sort of love, which lifted Paul into the third heaven and transformed him into Christ to such a degree that he could say: With Christ I am nailed to the cross; it is now no longer I that live, but Christ lives in me. It was also that sort of love that so absorbed the mind of Francis that his spirit became apparent in his flesh; and for two years prior to his death, he carried the most holy marks of the passion on his body. The figure of the six wings of the Seraph, therefore, stands for the six stages of illumination, which begin with creatures and lead up to God, to whom no one has proper access except through the Crucified. For anyone who does not enter by that door, but climbs up another way, is a thief and a robber. But anyone who enters by that door will go in and out, and will find pastures. For this reason, John writes in the Apocalypse: Blessed are those who wash their robes in the blood of the Lamb, for they are nourished at the tree of life and they may enter the city through the gates. This is to say that no one can enter into the heavenly Jerusalem by means of contemplation except through the blood of the Lamb as through a door. For no one is disposed in any way for those divine contemplations, which lead to ecstasies of the mind, without being, like Daniel, a person of desires. However, desires can be inflamed in us in two ways, namely through the cry of prayer, which makes us cry aloud with groaning of the heart, and through the brightness of contemplation, by which the mind turns itself most directly and intently towards the rays of light.
4. Therefore, I first of all invite the reader to groans of prayer through Christ crucified, through whose blood we are purged from the filth of our vices—in order that you might not assume that reading is sufficient without unction, speculation without devotion, investigation without admiration, examination without exultation, industry without piety, knowledge without love, understanding without humility, study without divine grace, merely mirroring things without divinely inspired wisdom. To those, then, who are already touched by divine grace—to the humble and pious; to those who are devout and sorrowful for their sins; to those anointed with the oil of gladness; to those who are lovers of divine wisdom and are inflamed with desire for it; and to those who wish to give themselves to glorifying, admiring, and even savoring God—I propose the following reflections. At the same time I warn them that to have a mirror placed before them externally1 is of little or no use unless the mirror of the mind is first cleansed and polished. Therefore, O child of God, train yourself first to be more sensitive to the stinging bite of conscience before you raise your eyes to those rays of wisdom that are reflected in its mirrors—in order to avoid falling into an even deeper pit of darkness as a result of the very act of looking at these rays.
5. It seemed appropriate to me to divide this treatise into seven chapters with a title attached to each chapter for clarity. I ask, therefore, that you give more attention to the intent of the writer than to the work itself, more to the meaning of the things said than to the unsophisticated language, more to the truth than to the gracefulness of style, more to how much affection is being stumulated than to how much more learned the intellect becomes. In order to achieve this, you should not run through these reflections in a perfunctory manner, but should ponder them carefully.

Chapter I:

1. Blessed are those whose help comes from you. In their hearts they are prepared to ascend by steps in the valley of tears, in the place which they have set. Since happiness is nothing other than the enjoyment of the highest good, and since the highest good is above us, no one can become happy without rising above herself: not by a bodily ascent, but by an ascent of the heart. But we cannot rise above ourselves except by means of a superior power lifting us up. For no matter how much one works on ordering these internal steps, nothing will happen without the accompaniment of the divine aid. Divine aid, however, comes to those who ask from their heart humbly and devoutly. This means to sigh for it in this valley of tears, which only happens through fervent prayer. Therefore prayer is the mother and the origin of the upward movement of the soul. It is for this reason that pseudo-Dionysius in his book Mystical Theology [Bk. 1, ch. 1], wishing to teach us about the ecstasy of the mind, first offers a prayer. Let us, therefore, pray and say to the Lord our God: Lead me, O Lord, in your way so that I might enter into your truth. Let my heart rejoice that it may be in awe of your name.
2. When we pray in this manner, the [first] step of the ascent to God is illuminated for our understanding. Now in accordance with our [created] condition, the whole universe of things itself could serve as a ladder, by which we can ascend into God. Further, among those things some are vestiges, others are images; some are bodily, others are spiritual; some are temporal, others are everlasting; and in accordance with this, some are outside us, others are inside us. Now since what we just said is the case, in order for us to be able to consider that First Principle—which is most spiritual and eternal, and above us—we ought to move on through the vestiges, which are bodily and temporal and outside us: and this means to be led in the way of God. Next we must enter into our mind, which is the image of God, an image which is everlasting, spiritual, and inside us: and this means to enter into the truth of God. Finally, we must pass beyond to that which is eternal, most spiritual, and above us by raising our eyes to the First Principle: and this means to rejoice in the knowledge of God and to stand in awe before God’s majesty.
3. This, therefore, is the three-day journey in the solitude of the desert; this is the triple illumination of a single day: the first is like evening, the second like morning, and the third like noon. This illumination corresponds to the three-fold existence of things, namely in matter, in understanding, and in the eternal Art, in connection with which it is written: Let it be, God made it, and it was made. This also relates to the triple substance in Christ who is our ladder: namely the corporeal, the spiritual, and the divine.
4. In accordance with this three-fold progression, our soul has three principal ways of relating itself. In one way, the soul is directed towards external corporeal things; under this aspect, the soul is called ‘animality’ or ‘sensation.’ In the second way, the soul is directed at itself and within itself; viewed under this aspect, the soul is called ‘spirit.’ In the third way, the soul looks above itself; under this aspect, it is called ‘mind.’ Accordingly, one must so dispose oneself towards the ascent to God that he might love God with the whole mind, the whole heart, and the whole soul. Those three constitute perfect observance of the Law together with Christian wisdom.
5. Now each of the aforesaid ways may be doubled: insofar as we happen to consider God as the alpha and the omega; or insofar as we hapen to see God in any of the abovementioned ways as through a mirror or as in a mirror; or because each of these ways can be considered as mixed, i.e., as conjoined with another, or simply in itself in its purity. For all the aforesaid reasons, it is necessary to increase the number of these principal levels of ascent form three to six, in order that, just as God completed the entire world in six days and rested on the seventh, the “lesser world”2 might be led to the quiet of contemplation in a most orderly way through six successive levels of illumination. This can be symbolized by the six steps, with which one ascended to the throne of Solomon; by the Seraphs whom Isaiah saw, each of whom had six wings; by the six days, after which the Lord called Moses from the midst of the cloud; and by the six days, after which, as Matthew writes, Christ led the disciples to the mountain and was transfigured before them.
6. Corresponding to the six steps of the ascent to God, there are six levels of the powers of the soul, by which we ascend from the lowest to the highest, from the external to the internal, and by which we move from the temporal to the eternal. These six levels are: sense, imagination, reason, understanding, intelligence, and the high point of the mind, or the spark of conscience. These powers are implanted in us by nature. They are deformed through sin and reformed through grace. They must be cleansed through [the exercise of] justice, developed by learning, and perfected by wisdom.
7. According to its original natural constitution, the human being was created with a capacity to experience the quiet of contemplation. Therefore, God placed the first human being in a paradise of pleasures. However, turning away from the true light to the changeable good, the first human strayed through his own fault, and the entire human race went sideways on account of original sin, which infected human nature in two ways. It infects the mind with ignorance, and the flesh with concupiscence. The result is that humans, blind and wayward, sit in darkness and do not see the light of heaven, unless grace together with justice aid them against concupiscence, and unless knowledge together with wisdom aid them against ignorance. All this comes about through Jesus Christ, who by God has been made wisdom and justice and sanctification and redemption for us. For since he is the power of God and the wisdom of God, and the incarnate Word of God full of grace and truth, he is the source of grace and truth. He pours into us the grace of love, which, since it arises from a pure heart and a good conscience and unfeigned faith, rectifies the entire soul according to the three ways mentioned above. He has taught the knowledge of truth according to three sorts of theology, namely symbolic, proper, and mystical, so that through symbolic theology we might use sensible things correctly, through theology in the proper sense we might deal with intelligible things correctly, and through mystical theology we might be drawn up to ecstatic experiences.
8. Therefore, a person who wishes to ascend to God must do the following things. The first is avoiding sin, which deforms nature. Next comes sharpening the aforesaid natural powers of the soul in order to receive reforming grace (and this is done through prayer); in order to obtain justice that purifies (and this is achieved by one’s way of life); in order to receive illuminating knowledge (and this happens through meditation); and in order to achieve the wisdom that perfects (and this is done through contemplation). For just as no one arrives at wisdom except through grace, justice, and knowledge, so no one arrives at contemplation except by means of insightful meditation, a holy way of life, and devout prayer. Therefore, just as grace is the foundation of the righteousness of the will and the enlightening clarity of reason, so for us it is necessary first of all to pray. Then we must live in a holy way. And third, we must fix our gaze on the manifestations of truth, and gazing on them, rise gradually, until we arrive at the high mountain, where the God of gods is seen in Sion.
9. Now since we must ascend before we can descend on Jacob’s ladder, let us place the first step of our ascent at the bottom, putting this whole world perceived by the senses before us as a mirror, through which we may pass to God, the highest creative Artist. In this way we may become true Hebrews, passing from Egypt to the land promised to the forbears. And we shall be Christians passing over with Christ from this world to the Father. We shall also be lovers of that wisdom, which calls and says: Pass over to me, all you who desire me, and be filled with my fruits. For in the greatness and beauty of created things their Creator can be seen and known.
10. The supreme power, wisdom, and benevolence of the Creator shines forth in created things; accordingly, the bodily senses make this known to the interior senses in a three-fold way. For the bodily senses aid the intellect when it investigates rationally, or believes faithfully, or contemplates intellectually. When it contemplates, the intellect considers the actual existence of things; when it believes it considers the habitual flow of events; and when it investigates by means of reason, it is concerned with the potential excellence of things.
11. According to the first way, as the intellect contemplates, considering things as they are in themselves, it sees them in terms of weight, number, and measure. Weight refers to the position toward which they are inclined; number refers to that by which things are distinguished; and measure is that by which things are limited. Thus we see things in terms of state, form-beauty, and order, and in terms of substance, power, and activity. From observing these aspects, we can rise as from the trace or vestige to an understanding of the immense power, wisdom, and goodness of the Creator.
12. According to the second way, as the intellect approaches with faith while considering this world, it notices the aspects of origin, development, and end. For it is by faith that we believe that the world was fashioned by the Word of life. By faith we believe that the periods of the three laws followed each other in a most orderly succession: namely, the law of nature, the law of Scripture, and the law of grace. By faith we believe that the world is to come to an end in the final judgment. Considering the first [i.e., origin], we notice the power of the highest Principle; considering the second [i.e., development], we notice its providence; and considering the third [i.e., the end], we notice its justice.

13. According to the third way, as the intellect investigates by means of reason, it sees that some things merely exist; others exist and live; and yet others exist, live, and are sentient. Here it recognizes that the first of these are the less perfect ones; the second are the intermediate ones; and the third are the more perfect ones. Again, it sees that some things are merely corporeal; some are partly corporeal and partly spiritual; and from this it conjectures that some are wholly spiritual and hence are better and of greater dignity than the first two types of beings. It sees also that some things are changeable and corruptible, such as earthly things; some are changeable but incorruptible, such as heavenly bodies; and from this it conjectures that some are unchangeable and incorruptible, such as those things that are beyond heavenly bodies.3 Therefore, from these visible realities, the intellect learns to see the power, wisdom and goodness of God as existing, living, intelligent, purely spiritual, incorruptible and unchangeable.
14. These observations can be extended if we take into consideration the seven properties of the created world, which offer a seven-fold witness to the power, wisdom, and goodness of God—namely, if we consider the origin, greatness, multitude, beauty, fullness, activity, and order of all things.
For the origin of things—taking into consideration their creation, distinction, and adornment, which manifested themsleves during the work of the six days—proclaims the power of God that produces all things from nothing, the wisdom of God that clearly distinguishes all things, and the goodness of God that richly adorns all things.
The greatness of things, if one considers the immensity of their length, width, and depth; or if one considers their immense power, which extends in length, width, and depth, such as the diffusion of light clearly demonstrates; or if one considers the efficiency of their internal, continuous, and diffuse operations, such as the action of fire shows—all this clearly points to the immensity of the power, wisdom, and goodness of the triune God who, though unlimited, exists in all things by virtue of his power, presence, and essence.
The multitude of things, if one considers their general, particular, and individual diversity of substance, form or figure, and activity—the diversity that is beyond human estimation—manifestly points to and demonstrates the immense scale, to which the three aforesaid attributes4 are present in God.
The beauty of things, if one considers the diversity of light, shape, and color in bodies that are simple, mixed,5 or complex6—for example, in the heavenly bodies, in minerals (such as stones and metals), and in plants and animals— clearly proclaims the three aforesaid attributes.7
Moreover, if one considers the fact that matter is full of forms on account of the seminal principles;8 and that form is full of power, i.e., of potential towards actuality; and that this power is full of actual effects, one will see that the fullness of things also clearly proclaims the same three attributes.
Likewise, activity in its many forms, whether natural, artistic, or moral, shows by its extreme variety the immensity of that power, art, and goodness,9 which is for all things “the cause of being, the basis of understanding, and the rule of life.”10
As far as order is concerned, if one considers it under the aspect of sequence, position, and status (i.e., in terms of prior and posterior, higher and lower, and more or less noble), it clearly shows in the book of creation the primacy, sublimity, and dignity of the First Principle, as far as the infinity of its power goes. As for the order of the divine laws, precepts and judgments in the book of the Scriptures, it shows the immensity of God’s wisdom. Finally, the order of the divine sacraments, graces, and rewards in the body of the church shows the immensity of God’s goodness. In this way order leads us most manifestly to that which is first and highest, most powerful, most wise, and best.
15. Therefore, any person who is not illumined by such great splendors in created things is blind. Anyone who is not awakened by such great outcries is deaf. Anyone who is not led from all these effects to give praise to God is mute. Anyone who does not notice the First Principle from such conspicuous signs is a fool. Therefore open your eyes, alert your spiritual ears, unlock your lips, and apply your heart so that in all creation you may see, hear, praise, love and adore, extol and honor your God—lest the entire world rise up against you. For it is on this account that the entire world will fight against the fools. On the other hand, this will be a cause of glory for the wise who can say in the words of the prophet: You have given me delight, O Lord, in your deeds, and I shall rejoice in the work of your hands. How wonderful are your works, O Lord. You have made all things in wisdom, the earth is filled with your richness.

Chapter II:

1. However, as far as the mirror of sensible things is concerned, we contemplate God not only through them, but also in them, in as far as God is in them through his essence, power, and presence—and this way of reflecting is higher than the previous one. For this reason contemplation of this sort comes second, as the second step of contemplation, by which we ought to be led to the contemplation of God in all those creatures that enter into our mind through the bodily senses.
2. It should be noted that this world, which is called the macrocosm, enters our soul, which is called a lesser world (microcosm), through the doors of the five senses, by which we apprehend, take pleasure in, and judge the objects of sense experience.
(A further clarification is in order. In the world, some things generate, some are generated, and some govern both of these. Those that generate are simple bodies such as the heavenly bodies and the four elements. For anything that is generated or produced through the operation of a natural power must be generated or produced from these elements through the power of light that harmonizes the contrary qualities of the elements in mixed things. Those things that are generated are bodies composed of the elements, such as minerals, plants, animals, and human bodies. Those things that govern both the former and the latter are spiritual substances, which can be completely bound to matter as are the souls of the brute animals, or separably joined to matter, as are the rational spirits, or totally separated, as are the heavenly spirits, which pagan philosophers call Intelligences, but we Christians call angels. According to pagan philosophers, it is the task of these Intelligences to move the heavenly bodies, and therefore they are charged with the administration of the universe. They receive from the First Cause, namely God, an influx of power, which they then use in the work of administration, which corresponds to the natural order of things. According to Christian theologians, however, the same entities11 are charged with administering the universe in accordance with the supreme power of most high God in terms of the work of reparation, whereby they are called ministering spirits sent for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation.)
3. The human being, then, who is called a microcosm, has five senses, which are like five doors, through which the knowledge of all things that are part of the sensible world enters the human soul. Thus the subtle and luminous bodies and the other type, colored bodies, enter through sight; solid and earthly bodies enter through touch; and those bodies that are located inbetween [the aforesaid two types] enter through the three senses that are located inbetween [sight and touch]. For example, watery bodies enter through taste, aerial bodies12 through hearing, and vaporous bodies through smell. These latter type contains something of the nature of water, something of the nature of air, and something of the nature of fire or heat, as is clear from the smoke released from [burning] aromatic substances.
Now it is not only simple bodies that enter the soul through these doorways, but also composite or mixed bodies. Indeed, our senses perceive not only objects of particular senses, such as light, sound, smell, taste, and the four primary qualities which are grasped by the sense of touch, but also the common sense objects, such as number, size, shape, rest, and motion. (Now “whatever is moved is moved by another,” and even though certain things such as animals move and come to rest by themselves, when we take note of their bodily movement through these five senses we are led to the knowledge of spiritual movers, as from an effect to the knowledge of its cause.)

4. Thus the whole sensible world, with its three categories of beings,13 enters the human soul through apprehension or perception. It is, however, these external sensible beings that are the first to enter the soul through the doors of the five senses. They enter, I say, not in their substantial reality but by means of the likenesses of them, which are first generated in the medium,14 then from the medium pass into the organ [of sensation], and from the external organ they move to the internal organ, and from the latter they move to the faculty of perception. In this way, the generation of the likeness in the medium, its movement from the medium to the organ, and the faculty of perception shifting its focus on to this likeness result in the perception or apprehension of all those things, which the soul perceives externally.
5. Now if this perception or apprehension is of an object that harmonizes [with the sense organ], pleasure follows. Further, the senses delight in an object, which is perceived by means of the likeness that has been abstracted from it, either by reason of its beauty, as in the case of vision, or by reason of its sweetness, as in the case of smell and hearing, or by reason of its healthful quality as in the case of taste and touch, to use appropriate terminology. Thus the cause of all pleasure is proportionality. Now insofar as shape or form15 flows from its origin,16 passes through the medium,17 and acts on its point of termination,18 its nature combines the aspects of form, power, and activity. For this reason, there are three ways, in which the senses become aware of the aforesaid proportionality. First, by way of likeness, insofar as shape or form has the nature of beautiful shape or form, and in this case proportionality is called beauty of shape, because “beauty is nothing else but numerical equality,” or a “certain arrangement of parts together with pleasing color.”19 Second, insofar as shape or form has the nature of power or potential, and then proportionality is called sweetness, when the power that is acting is not out of proportion to the recipient, for the senses are pained by extremes but take delight in moderate20 sensory inputs. Finally, insofar as shape or form has the nature of impressive efficiency. In this case, form or shape is proportional when the agent’s impressive action fulfills a need in the recipient and thereby preserves and nourishes it. This is most apparent in the case of taste and touch. Thus, as far as the aspect of pleasure goes, external objects of delight enter the soul by means of a likeness according to the pleasure of three kinds.
6. Perception and pleasure are followed by judgment. And through this judgment one judges not only whether a thing is white or black (for this pertains to a particular sense), and not only whether it is healthful or harmful (for this pertains to the interior sense)—but one also judges and receives an explanation as to why the senses derive pleasure from the sense object. This happens when one looks for the reason why an object is called beautiful, sweet, or wholesome, and finds out that this reason lies in the proportion of equality. Now the nature of equality is the same in large or in small things; it is not extended by greater dimensions of size; nor does is recede or pass away with things that pass away; nor is it altered by motion.Therefore, it is independent of place, time and motion, and hence it is unchangeable, unlimited, and entirely spiritual. Judgment, therefore, is a process which allows the sensible shape, which has been received by the senses in a sensible way, to enter the thinking faculty through purification and abstraction. And it is in this manner that all this visible world has access to the human soul through the gates of the senses through the three aforesaid activities.
7. For all these things are vestiges, in which we can see our God. Indeed, the apprehended shape is a likeness, which has been generated in the medium and subsequently impressed upon the sense organ, and through that impression it leads back to its origin, namely the object of cognition. This clearly shows, therefore, that the eternal light [i.e., God the Father] generates out of itself a co-equal, consubstantial, and co-eternal likeness or splendor [i.e., God the Son]. Now just as the object of perception generates its likeness throughout the whole medium, and just as this shape is united to the corporeal organ, in the same way he who is the image of the invisible God, and the splendor of his glory, and the form of his substance (Col. 1:15; Hebr. 1:3), he who is everywhere from the first moment of his generation, is united through the grace of union to the individual of rational nature [i.e., the human soul], in order that through that union he might lead us back to the Father, as to our original source and final object. Therefore, if all knowable things have the ability to generate their own shape, they openly proclaim that the eternal generation of the Word, the Image, and the Son eternally proceeding from God the Father can be observed in them as in mirrors.
8. Now sensual shape, which gives delight in this way, i.e., as beautiful, sweet, and wholesome, suggests that in that original shape or form, there is that original beauty, sweetness, and wholesomeness, in which is found (1) the highest proportionality and equality in relation to the one who generates it; (2) power that is manifested not by means of images in the imagination, but on account of the truth of sensory perception; (3) impression that is salutory and sufficient, which does not leave wanting the one who perceives. Therefore, if “delight is the joining of the two things that are in harmony with each other,”21 and if it is only the likeness of God that qualifies as the most beautiful, sweet and wholesome; and if that likeness is united to us in a manner that is true, intimate, and replenishing us to our capacity, one can see clearly that it is in God alone that the true fountain of delight is to be found, and that all other delights are just stepping stones on our way to this one delight.
9. Judgment, however, leads us to see the eternal truth with greater certainty, in a way that is more excellent and more immediate. Now a judgment is made by a movement of reason that abstracts from place, time, and mutability, and hence from dimension, succession and change, i.e., by a movement of reason that is immutable, unlimited, and unending. But nothing is entirely unchangeable, unlimited, and unending except that which is eternal. But whatever is eternal is either God or in God. Therefore, if all of our more certain judgments are made by the movement of reason that is of this sort,22 then it is clear that God himself is the principle of all things, their infallible rule, and light of truth, in which all things shine forth in a way that is infallible, indelible, beyond doubt and beyond questioning or argumentation, unchangeable, having no limits in space and no ending in time, in a way that is indivisible and intellectual. Now those laws, by which we judge with certitude concerning all sense objects that come to our attention, are infallible and beyond doubt to the intellect of the one who perceives; they cannot be removed from the memory of one who recalls, for they are always present; and they are beyond question and beyond the judgment of the intellect of the one who judges, because, as Augustine says, “no one judges about them, but by means of them.”23 Therefore, these laws must be changeless and incorruptible because they are necessary. They must be without limits in space since they are not circumscribed. They must be endless in time since they are eternal. They must be indivisible because they are intellectual and incorporeal. They are not made but are uncreated, existing eternally in the eternal Art,24 from which, through which, and in accordance with which all beautiful things are formed. Therefore no one can judge with certainty about these laws, except that [eternal Art itself,] which not only acted as the forming principle that produced all things, but also keeps conserving them and making them distinct—in the manner of Being, which sustains the form in all things, or of the rule that directs all things. And it is with the help of this [Art] that our mind comes to judge about all those things, which enter it through the senses.
10. This observation can be broadened further by considering the seven kinds of numbers, by which, as by seven steps, we ascend to God, as Augustine shows in his works On True Religion and On Music, Book 6. In these texts he discusses different categories of numbers that lead us gradually from all these sensible things to the Maker of all, so that God may be seen in all things.
He says that all bodies, and especially musical sounds and articulated words, are endowed with numbers.25 He calls these numbers “sounding.” The numbers that are abstracted from these and received in our sense organs he calls “occurring.” The numbers that proceed from the soul into the body, as is clear in gesticulating and in dancing, he calls “progressing.” The numbers that are involved in the pleasures of the senses, when the attention is turned to the sensible shape that is being perceived, he calls “sensory.” The numbers that are retained in the memory he calls “mnemonic.” The numbers by means of which we make judgments about all these others he calls “judging.” As has been said above, these latter are necessarily above the mind and are infallible and beyond any judgment of ours. It is also from this last category of numbers that “artistic” numbers are impressed in our minds. Augustine does not mention these in his classification since they are tightly linked to the “judging” numbers. It is also from these “judging” numbers that “progressing” numbers flow, which are responsible for the creation of the numerous forms of artifacts. Thus there is an orderly descent from the highest numbers to the lowest through the intermediate. [In an opposite movement,] we ascend to the highest numbers step by step, moving from the “sounding” numbers through the intermediate “occurring,” “sensory” and “mnemonic” numbers.
Therefore, since all things are beautiful and in some way delightful; and since there is no beauty or delight without proportion; and since proportion resides first of all in numbers—all things must involve number. From this we conclude that “number is the principal prototypical form in the mind of the Creator,”26 and in creatures it is the principal vestige leading to Wisdom.27 And since number is most evident to all and is the closest thing to God, its seven varieties lead us very close to God and make God known in all bodily and sensible things: when we perceive numerical realities, when we take delight in numerical proportions, and when we come to make irrefutable judgments by means of the laws of numerical proportions.
11. From these first two steps (which are like the two wings [of the Seraph] hanging down over its feet), by which we are led to behold God in his vestiges, we can conclude that all creatures in this world of sensible realities lead the spirit of the contemplative and wise person to the eternal God. Indeed, creatures are shadows, echoes, and pictures of that first, most powerful, most wise and best Principle, of that eternal source, light, and fullness; of that efficient, prototypical and ordering Art. They are vestiges, images, and spectacles offered to us so that we could contemplate God. They are divinely given signs. These creatures are prototypes, or rather copies, offered to the minds that are still uncultured and immersed in sensible things, so that through sensible things, which they do see, they may be lifted to the intelligible things, which they see not, moving, as it were, from signs to that which they signify.
12. Indeed, the created things of this sensible world signify the invisible things of God: partly because God is the origin, exemplar, and final destination of all creation, and every effect is a sign of its cause or origin, every copy is a sign of its exemplar, and the road is a sign of the final destination to which it leads; partly in virtue of their own ability to represent; partly by means of prophetic prediction; partly by means of angelic forces; and partly by means of establishing an institution. Indeed, by nature every creature is a kind of copy and likeness of that eternal Wisdom. However, specifically this applies to those creatures that, according to the book of Scripture, have been chosen by the spirit of prophecy to prefigure spiritual realities. Even more specifically, however, this applies to those creatures, in whose image God wished to appear by means of angelic ministry. But most specifically this applies to that creature, which God wished to institute as a sign: however, not as a sign as it is commonly understood, but as a Sacrament.
13. From all these observations we may conclude that from the creation of the world the invisible things of God are seen, being understood through those things that are made, so that they are without excuse who refuse to notice these things, or to recognize, bless, and love God in all these [sensible] things, since such people refuse to be lifted from darkness to the marvelous light of God. But thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord, who has lifted us out of the darkness into his marvelous light, as through those lights that come to us from outside, we are being prepared to re-enter the mirror of our mind, in which divine realities shine forth.

Chapter III:

1. The two preceding steps, which have led us to God by means of his vestiges, through which he shines forth in every creature, have brought us to a point where we can re-enter into ourselves, that is, into our mind, in which the divine image shines forth. Therefore, at this third stage, as we leave the outer court and enter into ourselves, we should try to see God through a mirror in the sanctum—namely, in the anterior part of the tabernacle. There, the light of truth shines like the light of a candelabrum in the face of our mind, in which the image of the most blessed Trinity shines brightly.
Therefore, enter into yourself and recognize that your mind loves itself most fervently; but that it could not love itself if it did not know itself; and that it could not know itself unless it remembered itself, for we do not grasp anything with our understanding unless it is present to us in our memory. From this you see, not with the eye of the flesh but with the eye of reason, that your soul possesses a threefold power.28 Now consider the operation of these powers and their relation to each other—and you will be able to see God through yourself as through an image, which means to see through a mirror in an obscure manner.
2. The operation of the memory consists in retaining and representing not only things that are present, corporeal, and temporal, but also things that are successive, simple, and eternal. Thus, memory retains past things by recalling them, present things by receiving them, and future things by means of foresight.
Moreover, it retains the simple things, such as the principles of continuous and discrete quantities, e.g., the point, the instant, and the unity, without which it would be impossible to recall or to think of those things which are founded on them.
It also retains, in a lasting way and as eternal, the principles and axioms of the sciences. Indeed, as long as one uses reason, one can never “forget” them to such a degree as to not be able to assent to them and aprove of them when she hears them, as if one were recognizing them as innate and familiar to herself, and not as if one were perceiving them for the first time. This becomes clear when the following principle is proposed to someone: “Concerning any particular matter, one must say either true or false,” or: “Every whole is greater than its part,” or any other axiom which cannot be contradicted “by virtue of its inner reasoning.”29
In its first function, the actual retention of all temporal things past, present, and future, the memory is an image of eternity, whose undivided presentness extends to all times.
From its second function, it is clear that memory is formed not only by images in the imagination derived from external objects, but also from above by receiving and holding within itself simple forms, which cannot enter through the doorways of the senses or through images of sensible things in the imagination.
From its third function, we gather that memory has present within itself a changeless light, in which light it remembers changeless truths. So through the operations of memory, it becomes clear that the soul itself is an “image and likeness” of God. Now these image and likeness are present to the soul to such a degree, and they are themselves so filled with God’s presence that the soul both actually grasps God and potentially “has the capacity for God and the ability to participate in God.”30
3. The operation of the intellective power consists in grasping the meaning of terms, propositions, and inferences. As for grasping what terms signify, the intellect does that when it comprehends what each thing is by means of a definition. But a definition is formulated by using terms of a higher degree of generality; and these, in turn, are defined by terms of a still higher degree of generality—until we arrive at the highest and most general terms. If these higher terms are not known, lower terms cannot be understood by means of a definition. Therefore, unless we understand the meaning of ‘being’31 when it is taken all by itself, we cannot fully understand the definition of any specific substance. And in order to understand the meaning of ‘being’ when it is taken all by itself, one must understand it together with its properties unity, truth, and goodness.32 Now ‘being’ can be thought of as diminished or complete, as imperfect or perfect, as being potentially or being in actuality, as being in a qualified sense or as being in an unqualified sense, as partial being or as total being, as transient being or as permanent being, as being through another or as being through itself, as being mixed with non- being or as pure being, as dependent being or as absolute being, as posterior being or prior being, as mutable being or as immutable being, as simple being or as composite being, for “privations and defects cannot be known except through affirmations.”33 Therefore,34 our intellect cannot fully grasp the meaning of any created being unless it is aided by the intellect of the most pure, most actual, most complete, and absolute being35 (which being is being in an unqualified sense and eternal). This [divine] intellect contains the principles of all things in their purity. For how could the intellect know that a certain being is defective or incomplete if it had no knowledge of that being which has no defect? The same line of argument can be made concerning the other properties [of being] mentioned above.

As for comprehending truly the meaning of propositions, the intellect is said to do that when it knows with certainty that they are true. And to know this means to know that it cannot be deceived in this act of comprehension: for the intellect knows that this truth cannot be other than it is; therefore, it knows that this truth is unchangeable. But since our own mind is changeable, it cannot see this truth shining unchangeably in this manner except through some other light, which shines forth in an entirely unchangeable manner. And it is impossible that such a light would be a changeable creature. Therefore, our mind acquires knowledge in that light which enlightens all who come into this world, and which is the true light and the Word in the beginning with God.
As for grasping the meaning of an inference in the truest sense, our intellect does that when it sees that the conclusion follows necessarily from the premises. Now the intellect sees this36 not only when the terms [of the proposition] are necessary, but also when they are contingent, as in this one: “If a human being is running, a human being is moving.” For it perceives this relation as necessary not only in things that actually exist but also in the case of things that do not exist in reality. For just as the proposition “If a human being is running, a human being is moving” is true if the human being in question actually exists, so it is true if he doesn’t. Therefore, the source of the necessity of this sort of inference is not the existence of a thing in physical matter, for this sort of existence is contingent. Nor is it rooted in the existence of the thing in the mind, because that would be a figment if the thing did not also exist in reality. Therefore, its source is the prototypical reality (exemplarity) [of things] in the eternal Art, which is responsible for the propensities that things have for each other, or for the relations that things have to each other, as [the prototypical relations in] this eternal Art are reflected [in things]. So, as Augustine says in On True Religion, “The light of anyone who reasons truly is enlightened by that truth and seeks to return to it.”37
From this it is clear that our intellect is conjoined with the eternal truth itself, for our intellect could not grasp any truth with certitude if that [higher truth] were not teaching it. So you are able to see by yourself that truth, which teaches you—as long as unruly desires and images in the imagination do not stand as impediments, becoming like clouds between you and the ray of truth.
4. The operation of the power of choice is observed in deliberation, judgment, and desire. Deliberation consists in inquiring whether this thing is ‘better’ than that thing. But ‘better’ always means ‘closer to the best’; and ‘closer’ means ‘more like it.’ Therefore, no one can know whether one thing is ‘better’ than another without knowing that the former is ‘more like the best.’ And no one can know whether something is ‘more like’ another without knowing that other. (Indeed, I cannot know whether this person is like Peter unless I know or get acquainted with Peter.) Therefore, the notion of the highest good38 must be present in the mind of anyone who is engaged in deliberation.
As for a sure judgment concerning matters that are the object of deliberation, it happens according to some law. And no one judges with certitude according to a law without being certain that this law is right, and that this law itself ought not be judged. But our mind does judge about itself.39 At the same time, our mind cannot judge about the law, which it uses to judge. Therefore, that law is superior to our mind. And our mind is able to judge by this law in as far as this law has been impressed in the mind. But nothing is superior to the human mind except He alone who has created it. Therefore, when our deliberative power arrives at a full and complete analysis in making its judgments, it comes in contact with the divine laws.

Finally, desire tends primarily to that which moves it the most. It is, however, that which we love the most which moves it the most. And that which we love the most is to be happy. But happiness is attained only by reaching the best, or the ultimate goal. Therefore, human desire is directed at something exclusively because that something is the supreme Good itself, or because it leads to it, or because it has some resemblance with that supreme Good. The power of the supreme Good is so great that nothing can be loved by a creature except insofar as that thing is able to hijack the latter’s desire for the supreme Good. ‘To be deceived’ or ‘to fall into error,’ then, means to take the image or the copy for the genuine thing itself.40
Behold, therefore, how close the soul is to God, and how, in the same way as the memory leads to eternity, and the intelligence leads to truth, the power of choice, through its operations, leads one to the highest Good.41
5. Furthermore, if one considers the order, origin, and relation of these faculties to one another, one is led to the most blessed Trinity itself. Indeed, intelligence emerges out of memory as its offspring, because we come to understand only when a likeness, which lies in the memory, is foregrounded in our mental focus. And this [process] is nothing other than [generating] a word. Finally, from memory and intelligence, love is breathed forth as the bond that unites them. These three, namely the mind that generates, the word, and love, exist in the soul in connection with memory, intelligence, and will. They are of one essence, coequal, and coeval, and mutually indwelling. Therefore, if God is the perfect spirit, there must be not only memory, intelligence, and will in God, but there must also be the Word begotten and the Love breathed forth42—who are necessarily distinguished (since one is produced by the other): not in essence, and not through accidental properties, but as persons.
Therefore, when the soul reflects upon itself, it rises, through itself as through a mirror, to the spectacle of the blessed Trinity of Father, Word, and Love: three persons that are coeternal, coequal, and of one essence—in such a way that every one of them is in every other, and yet one is not the other, and these three are one God.
6. Now on its way to becoming aware of its own triple and unitary nature by looking at the trinity of its own powers (which is what makes it into an image of God) the soul is aided by the light of the sciences, which perfect and shape it, and which represent the most blessed Trinity in a threefold way. Indeed, all of philosophy consists of natural, rational, and moral. The first type deals with the cause of existence and therefore points to the power of the Father. The second type deals with the basis of understanding and therefore leads to the wisdom of the Word. And the third type deals with the order of living and therefore leads to the goodness of the Holy Spirit.
Again, the first type43 is subdivided into metaphysics, mathematics, and physics. The first deals with the essences of things; the second with numbers and figures; and the third with natures, powers, and diffusive operations. Therefore the first points to the First Principle, namely, the Father; the second points to the image of the Father, namely, the Son; and the third points to the gift of the Holy Spirit.
The second type44 is divided into grammar, which makes people capable of expressing themselves; logic, which makes people sharp in argumentation; and rhetoric, which enables people to persuade and move others. Again, this points to the mystery of the most blessed Trinity.
The third type45 is divided into the monastic, the familial, and the political. Therefore, the first suggests the unbegottenness of the First Principle; the second suggests the familial relation of the Son; and the third suggests the generosity of the Holy Spirit.
7. All these sciences are governed by certain and infallible laws that are like lights and rays coming down from that eternal law into our mind. Therefore, our mind, enlightened and filled with such splendors, can be guided to reflect on this eternal light through itself—that is, unless it is blind. Now the irradiation of this light and the reflection on it lifts up the wise in admiration. On the contrary, the fools who reject faith as a way to understanding are led to confusion. Thus the prophetic word is fulfilled: You enlighten wonderfully from the everlasting hills. All the foolish of heart were troubled.

Chapter IV:

1. Since, however, it is possible to contemplate the First Principle not only by way of passing through ourselves,46 but also in ourselves, and since the latter is more excellent than the former, this type of consideration occupies the fourth step on the ladder of contemplation. Now after it has been shown that God is extremely close to our minds, it seems surprising that there are so few who actually contemplate the First Principle within themselves. However, the reason for this is clear. The human mind is distracted by many concerns, and hence does not enter into itself through memory. It is beclouded by images of sense objects in the imagination, and therefore does not return to itself through intelligence. And it is drawn away by base desires, and therefore a desire for internal sweetness and spiritual joy is unable to turn the mind back to itself. Thus totally immersed in matters of the senses, the mind is unable to re-enter into itself as the image of God.
2. Consider the situation when a person falls: this person will certainly remain lying there until someone comes near to reach out and raise the fallen one up. It is the same way with our soul: it was unable to be lifted up perfectly from these sensible realities to see itself and the eternal truth within itself—until the truth, after Christ had assumed a human form, became its ladder that repaired the previous ladder that had been broken in Adam.
Therefore, no matter how much someone may be illumined by the light of nature and acquired knowledge, she is still unable to enter into herself, in order to take delight in the Lord [Ps. 36:4] while being within herself, without the mediation of Christ, who says: I am the door. Those who enter through me shall be saved; they shall go in and out and find pasture. [John 10:9] However, we do not come near this “door” unless we believe in it, hope in it, and love it. If we wish, therefore, to re- enter into the enjoyment of truth as into a paradise, we must enter through faith in, hope in, and love for the mediator between God and humanity, Jesus Christ, who is like the tree of life in the middle of paradise.
3. Therefore the “image” that is our mind must be clothed over with the three theological virtues, by which the soul is purified, illumined, and perfected. In this way the image is reformed, is brought into conformity with the heavenly Jerusalem and becomes a member of the church militant, which is the offspring of the heavenly Jerusalem, according to the Apostle. For he says: That Jerusalem which is above is free, and she is our mother. The soul, then, must believe in, hope in, and love Jesus Christ who is the Word incarnate, uncreated, and inspired (that is, the way, the truth, and the life). Now when that soul in faith believes in Christ as in the uncreated Word, who is the Word and splendor of the Father, it recovers its spiritual senses of hearing and of sight: its hearing so that it might receive the words of Christ, and its sight that it might perceive the splendors of that light. When, however, that soul in hope yearns to receive the inspired Word, through this desire and affection it recovers its spiritual sense of smell. And when that soul in love embraces the incarnate Word, receiving delight from him and passing over to him in ecstatic love, it recovers its senses of taste and touch.
Ultimately, when the soul, through its restored spiritual senses, sees, hears, smells, tastes, and embraces its bridegroom, it can sing like the bride in the Canticle of Canticles: the poem that was written for the exercise of contemplation at Step Four. And this step no one knows except one who receives it, for it consists rather in emotional experience than in rationalization. At this step, then, after its interior senses have been restored to the point of perceiving the highest beauty, of hearing the highest harmony, of smelling the sweetest fragrance, of tasting the utmost sweetness, and of embracing what is most delightful, the soul is prepared for spiritual ecstasies: through devotion, admiration, and exultation, in accordance with the three exclamations found in the Canticle of Canticles. The first of these comes from the abundance of devotion, through which the soul becomes like a column of smoke filled with the aroma of myrrh and frankincense. The second comes from the overflowing sense of wonder, by which the soul becomes like the dawn, the moon, and the sun, following the order of illuminations that lift it up in wonder at the Bridegroom. And the third comes through the superabundance of joy, through which the soul is brought to the fullness of delights of most sweet pleasure and rests totally upon her Beloved.
4. After attaining those things, our spirit becomes sufficiently orderly to be able to ascend up the hierarchy, as it is now in conformity with the heavenly Jerusalem: for no one enters into that city unless that city has first descended into that person’s heart through grace, as John saw in his Revelations. However, it does not descend into our heart until our spirit becomes orderly—i.e., cleansed, illumined, and perfect—through the reformation of the [divine] image, by means of the theological virtues, through the joys of the spiritual senses, and through the ecstasy of rapture.
As it advances in this way, our spirit is also stamped with the marks of the nine orders. Correspondingly, the following are found within it, in an appropriate order: announcing, dictating, leading, ordering, strengthening, commanding, receiving, revealing, and anointing. These correspond to the nine hierarchies of angels. Now as far as the human mind is concerned, the first three of these hierarchical steps correspond to nature; the next three correspond to our own effort; and the final three correspond to grace. When it has attained these, the soul, when it enters into itself, enters into the heavenly Jerusalem where, as it considers the hierarchies of angels, it sees in them the God who dwells in them and who performs all their activities. Hence, Bernard says to Pope Eugene that “God loves in the Seraphim as charity; knows in the Cherubim as truth; sits in the Thrones as justice; reigns in the Dominations as majesty; rules in the Principalities as a guiding principle; protects in the Powers as salvation; is at work in the Virtues as strength; reveals in the Archangels as light; assists in the Angels as kindness.”47 From all this, God is seen as all in all when we contemplate God in our minds, where God dwells through the gifts of the most generous love.
5. At this level of speculation it is particularly helpful to consider the divinely given sacred Scriptures, just as philosophy was helpful at the previous level. For sacred Scripture is concerned above all with the work of reparation. Therefore, it deals mainly with faith, hope and love: that is, with the virtues by which the soul is reformed. However, its specific focus is love, of which the Apostle says that it is the whole point of the Law, and that it arises from a heart that is pure and from a good conscience, and from genuine faith. As the same Apostle says, it is the fulfillment of the Law. And our Savior affirms that the whole of the Law and the Prophets depend on two commandments regarding love: namely, to love God and to love our neighbor. These two are symbolized by the one bridegroom of the church, Jesus Christ, who is both our God and our neighbor, both our lord and our brother, both king and friend, both the uncreated Word and the incarnate Word, both our creator and our re-creator, both the alpha and the omega. As the supreme hierarch, it is he who cleanses, illumines and perfects his bride, namely the entire church and each holy soul.
6. Therefore, this hierarch together with the ecclesiastical hierarchy constitute the subject of all of sacred Scripture, through which we are taught how to be cleansed, illumined and perfected. Now all this happens according to the threefold law, which has been handed down in the Scriptures: namely, the law of nature, the law of Scripture, and the law of grace. Or, rather, this happens in accord with the three main parts of Scripture: the Mosaic law which cleanses, the prophetic revelation which illumines, and the teaching of the Gospel which perfects. Or, most likely, this happens according to the threefold spiritual meaning of Scripture: the tropological,48 which cleanses one for an upright life; the allegorical, which enlightens one for clarity of understanding; and the anagogical, which leads one to perfection through spiritual ecstasies and through the most sweet infusions of wisdom.
All this happens with the aid of the aforementioned three theological virtues, of the reformed spiritual senses, of the three spiritual ecstasies mentioned above, and of the three orderly acts of the mind, by which it returns inside itself, in order to see God there in the splendor of the Saints, and to sleep in peace in these splendors as in her bed, while the Bridegroom pleads that she should not be awakened until it is her will to come forth.
7. Thus from these two intermediate steps—by which we enter in order to contemplate God within us as in the mirror of the created image [of God], and which are like the two middle wings [of the Seraph] extended for flight—we can come to un- derstand that we are led to divine things through the powers of the rational soul itself. Now some of these powers are naturally present in the soul and work through their operations, dispositions, and predispositions for knowledge, as becomes clear at Step Three. Some of these powers are reformed and work by way of virtues given by grace, by way of the spiritual senses, and by way of the mental ecstasies, as becomes clear at Step Four. We are also led by downward movements down celestial hierarchies that, e.g., cleanse, illumine and perfect human minds; or by revelations of the sacred Scriptures handed down to us from above by the angels, according to that statement of the Apostle, to the effect that the Law has been given by the angels at the hand of a mediator. Finally, we are led by the hierarchies and the hierarchic orders, which are formed in our mind in the image of the heavenly Jerusalem.
8. Flooded with all these intellectual lights, our mind turns into a house of God that is inhabited by the divine Wisdom. Our mind, then, becomes a daughter, a bride, and a friend of God. It becomes a sister and a coheir of Christ, and is like a limb of a body, of which Christ is the head. It also becomes a temple of the Holy Spirit, which is founded on faith, raised through hope, and dedicated to God through holiness of mind and body. It is the most sincere love of Christ that brings this about, a love which is poured forth in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who is given to us. And without this Spirit we cannot know the hidden things of God. Just as no one can know a human person’s innermost self except the spirit of that person which dwells within, so no one knows the things of God but the Spirit of God. Therefore, let us be rooted and grounded in love, so that we might comprehend with all the saints what is the length of eternity, the breadth of generosity, the height of majesty, and the depth of that discerning wisdom.

Chapter V:

1. Now God can be contemplated not only outside ourselves and inside ourselves but also above ourselves: outside ourselves through his vestiges; inside ourselves through his image; and above ourselves by means of the light that is positioned above our mind. This is the light of the eternal truth itself, since “our mind itself is shaped immediately by truth itself.”49 Those who have become adept at the first way have already entered into the court before the tabernacle. Those who are practiced in the second way have entered into the sanctum. And those who are skilled in the third way enter together with the High Priest into the Holy of Holies, where the Cherubim of glory stand above the ark and overshadow the Mercy Seat. The two Cherubim symbolize the two modes or levels of contemplating the invisible and eternal qualities of God. The first mode concerns the essential attributes of God; the second concerns the properties of the persons.
2. The first approach fixes our gaze primarily and first of all on Being Itself, thus indicating that God’s primary name is He Who Is. [Exodus 3:14] The second approach fixes our gaze on the Good, thus suggesting that God’s primary name is ‘the Good.’ The first looks above all to the Old Testament, which above all proclaims the unity of the divine essence. Hence it was said to Moses: I am who am. The second approach looks to the New Testament, which establishes the plurality of persons by baptizing in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Therefore Christ, our Master, wishing to raise to evangelical perfection the young man who had observed the Law, attributed to God principally and precisely the name of Goodness saying: No one is good but God alone. So Damascene, following Moses, says that God’s primary name is He Who Is, while pseudo-Dionysius, following Christ, says that God’s primary name is Good.50
3. Anyone, therefore, who wishes to contemplate the invisible qualities of God that have to do with the unity of essence must first of all fix his or her gaze on Being Itself. Next, this person must recognize that Being Itself is of itself so thoroughly certain that it cannot be thought not to be, for the purest being itself only occurs in the total absence of non-being, just as nothing is present only in the total absence of being. Therefore, just as total nothingness possesses nothing of being or of being’s attributes, so, on the contrary, Being Itself possesses nothing of non-being, neither in actuality nor in a potential state, and neither in reality nor in our mind. Now, since non-being is the privation of being, it does not occur to the intellect except by way of [the positive notion of] being. Being, on the other hand, does not need anything else in order to occur to the intellect, because everything that is understood is conceptualized either as non-being, or as potential being, or as actual being. But if non-being cannot be understood except through being, and potential being cannot be understood except through actual being, and if ‘to be’ refers precisely to the pure actuality of a being—then it follows that being is what first occurs to the intellect, and that this being amounts to ‘pure actuality.’ This, however, cannot be a particular being, which is limited because it is mixed with potentiality. Nor is it analogous being, which has the least actuality because it has the least of existence. It remains, therefore, that this being is the divine Being.
4. How remarkable, then, is the blindness of the intellect, which does not take notice of that which it sees first, and without which it can know nothing. It is just like the [physical] eye, which is focused on perceiving different shades of color and fails to see the light, which enables it to see other things; or if it sees it, it pays no attention to it. So it is with the eye of our mind: it is focused on perceiving particular and universal beings and pays no attention to being itself, which transcends every genus—even though it is being that first occurs to the mind, and it is through being that all other things are known. Hence it rings true that “as the eye of a bat reacts to light, so the eye of our mind reacts to the most evident things of nature.”51 That is, when the mind, accustomed to the darkness of individual beings and to the images of sensible objects in the imagination, looks directly upon the light of the highest being, it seems to it that it sees nothing: just as when the eye sees pure light it seems to it that it sees nothing. And our mind does not understand that this darkness itself is its highest illumination.
5. Therefore, gaze at the purest being itself, if you can, and you will realize that it cannot be thought of as something received from another. For this reason it is necessarily thought of as first in every sense; but such a thing cannot result from nothing, nor from something else [than itself]. For what else could exist by itself if even being itself does not exist through and of itself? Also you will realize that this pure being is totally lacking in non-being, and hence that is has never had a beginning nor will ever have an ending, but is eternal. Also you will realize that this being has no attributes whatsoever except that it is being itself; hence it has no composition in itself, but is most simple. Also you will realize that this being has nothing of potentiality since whatever is potential in some way possesses something of non-being; hence this being is actual in the highest degree. Also you will realize that this being has no defect, and therefore it is most perfect. Finally, you will realize that there is no diversity in this being, and therefore it is supremely one.
That being, therefore, which is being in an unqualified sense, pure, and absolute, is the first, the eternal, the most simple, the most actual, the most perfect, and the supremely one being.

6. Now these qualities are so certain that noone who understands the meaning of ‘being’ itself, can imagine the opposites of these qualities [in their place]. Moreover, each one of these qualities necessarily implies the other. For since it is being with no qualification, it is thereby first in an unqualified sense. Since it is first in an unqualified sense, it is not made by another, nor could it be made by itself; therefore it is eternal. And since it is first and eternal, therefore it is not made out of other things, which makes it supremely simple. Also, because it is first, eternal, and most simple, therefore there is no potentiality in it that is mixed with actuality; it is therefore most actual. Then, because it is first, eternal, most simple, and most actual, it is also most perfect. Such a being lacks absolutely nothing, and nothing can be added to it. Because it is first, eternal, most simple, most actual, and most perfect, it is supremely one. Indeed, when one uses the language of ‘super- excess52 of all sorts,’ it can only refer to the ‘multitude of all things.’ “However, when one uses the language of ‘super-excess in an unqualified way’ (or ‘super-excess simply’), it can only be appropriate for one thing alone.”53 Hence, if the term ‘God’ stands for the ‘primary, eternal, most simple, most actual, and most perfect being,’ then it is impossible to think of God as not existing, or to think of God as existing in any other way than as exclusively one. Therefore, Hear, O Israel. The Lord your God is one. [Deut. 6:4] And if you see this with the pure simplicity of your mind, you will be filled to some extent with the illumination of the eternal light.
7. Here you have something to lift you up in wonder. Indeed, being itself is both first and last, eternal and most present, most simple and greatest, most actual and least changeable, most perfect and immense, supremely one and all-embracing.

If you marvel at these things with a pure mind, you will be filled with an even greater light when you see further that it is last precisely because it is first. For since it is first, it does everything for its own sake; therefore, it is of necessity the ultimate end, the beginning and the consummation, the Alpha and the Omega.
Also, it is most present precisely because it is eternal. Indeed, because it is eternal, it does not flow from another, it is not absent from itself, and it does not move from one state to another: therefore, it has neither past nor future, but it exists only in the present.
Also, it is the greatest precisely because it is most simple. Indeed, since it is most simple in essence, it is greatest in power, since the more unified or concentrated a power is, the more unlimited it is.
And it is least changeable precisely because it is most actual. Indeed, because it is most actual, it is pure actuality. And whatever is such can neither acquire anything new nor lose anything it already possesses; therefore it cannot be changed.
And it is immense or immeasurable precisely because it is most perfect. Indeed, because it is most perfect, nothing can be thought of that would be better, more noble, or of greater dignity than it; hence nothing is greater than it; and anything of this sort is immense.
Finally, it is all-embracing precisely because it is supremely one. Indeed, that which is supremely one is the universal origin of all multiplicity. By reason of this, it is the universal efficient, exemplary, and final cause of all things, as it is the “cause of existence, the basis of understanding, and the rule of life.” [see p. 10, note 10] Therefore it is all-embracing not in the sense of being the essence of all things, but in the sense of being the most excellent, most universal, and most sufficient cause of all essences. And the power of this universal cause, because it is supremely unified in its essence, is thereby supremely infinite and supremely multiple in its effects.

8. Backtracking, let us say as follows: because the most pure and absolute being (which is being in an unqualified sense) is first and last, it is both the origin and consummating end of all things.
Because it is eternal and most present, it both exists in and traverses all durations, simultaneously existing, as it were, as both their center and circumference.
Because it is most simple and greatest, all of it is both within all things and outside all things, and hence “it is an intelligible sphere whose center is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere.”54
Because it is most actual and least changeable, therefore remaining thus unmoved, you movement give to all.55
Because it is most perfect and immense, it is within all things but is not contained by them; and it is outside all things but is not excluded; it is above all things but not distant; and it is below all things, but not dominated by them.
Because, however, it is both supremely one and all- embracing, it is all in all, even though all things are multiple and this being is merely one; what allows it to function that way is all that power, all exemplarity, and all communicability in it on account of its most simple unity, most peaceful truth, and most sincere goodness. Hence, from him and through him and in him are all things, for he is all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-good. And to see that perfectly is to be blessed, as it was said to Moses: I will show you all good.

Chapter VI:

1. After our consideration of the essential attributes of God, the eye of intelligence must be raised to the contemplation of the most blessed Trinity, so that the second Cherub might be placed across from the first. Now as far as seeing God’s essential properties is concerned, being itself is the root principle and the name, through which other essential attributes come to be known. As far as our contemplation of the processions56 is concerned, however, the same role belongs to the good itself, which is its most basic foundation.
2. Therefore, see and take notice that the ‘best’ (or the ‘highest good’) is simply ‘that, than which nothing better can be conceived.’57 Now such a thing exists in such a way that it cannot be rightly imagined as not existing, because it is absolutely better to exist than not to exist.58 Such a thing also exists in such a way that it cannot be rightly imagined not to be both singular and triple. Indeed, “the good is referred to as self-diffusive.”59 The supreme good, therefore, is supremely self- diffusive. But the highest degree of diffusion can only exist as actual and internal, substantial and personal, natural and voluntary, free and necessary, lacking nothing and perfect. In the supreme good, then, there must be from eternity a produc- tion60 that is actual and of the same essence, and persons61 that are as noble as [the person of] the producer,62 who produces by way of both generation and spiration—so that these persons might result from the eternal principle that eternally co- produces.63 This production must result in a beloved and a co- beloved, in one generated and one spirated, so as to form [, together with the producer, three persons:] Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And if this were not the case, it would not be the supreme good at all, since it would not be supremely self- diffusive. Indeed, that diffusion in time or history, i.e., in the created world, is a mere dot or speck in comparison to the immensity of the eternal goodness. In comparison [to creaturely diffusion,] one surely can think of another diffusion that is greater than that one: namely, of that sort of diffusion, in which the one diffusing itself communicates the whole of its substance and nature to the other. Therefore, it would not be the highest good if that [diffusion that it produces] were lacking either in reality or in intelligence.
Are you able, then, with the eye of your mind to reflect on the purity of that goodness, which is the pure act of the principle that in charity loves with a love that is free, and with a love that is due, and with a love that is a combination of both? or which is the fullest diffusion by way of nature (i.e., the diffusion by way of the Word,64 in which all things are spoken) and will (i.e., the diffusion by way of the Gift,65 in which all other gifts are given)? If you are able to reflect in this way, you are able to see that the supreme communicability of the good demands necessarily the existence of a Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. That same supreme goodness also demands that there be supreme communicability in those three persons; and on account of supreme communicability, that there be identity of essence; and on account of the supreme identity of essence, that there be supreme conformability; and on account of all of these, that there be supreme co-equality; and because of this, that there be supreme co-eternity; and from all of the above, that there be supreme mutual intimacy, which means that each person is necessarily in the others through the greatest degree of mutual indwelling, and that one acts with the others in a total unity of substance, power, and activity within the most blessed Trinity itself.
3. But as you contemplate these matters, beware that you do not think that you have come to comprehend the One who is incomprehensible. For you still have something to consider about these six characteristics that will plunge your mental vision into stupefying awe. For here we find the highest degree of communicability together with individual properties of persons, highest unity of essence together with the plurality of persons, highest conformability together with separate personalities, highest co-equality together with hierarchy, and highest co-eternity and intimacy together with procession. Who would not be rapt in wonder at the thought of such marvels?
And yet we know with utmost certainty that all these are present in the most blessed Trinity if we raise our eyes to that super-excelling goodness. Indeed, if there is supreme communication and true diffusion there, then there is also true origin and true distinction. And since it is the whole that is communicated and not just a part, it follows that whatever is possessed is given, and given in its entirety. Therefore, the producer and the product are both distinguished by their properties and are one in essence.
Now since they are distinguished by their properties, it follows that they have personal properties and a plurality of persons. Further, as there is a procession from the source in them, they are hierarchically ordered: not according to temporal prority,66 but according to the priority of origin.67 Further, there is procession in them, which consists not in local change but in free breathing forth, by the authority of the producer, which is the authority of the sender with respect to the one who is sent.
However, because they are substantially one, it is necessary that there be oneness of essence and form, of dignity and eternity, of existence and limitlessness. And as you consider these matters one at a time, you are certainly contemplating truth.
Therefore, when you consider these things in themselves one by one, you will have ample material for contemplating truth; when, however, you consider these things in relation to one another, you will arrive at the source of greatest wonder. Therefore, in order that your mind might ascend through admiration to wondering contemplation, you must consider all these matters together.
4. Even the Cherubim that face each other symbolize this.68 Nor is there lack of mystery in the fact that they faced each other, their faces being turned toward the Mercy Seat. In this is fulfilled what our Lord said in John’s Gospel: This is eternal life, to know the only true God, and the one whom you have sent, Jesus Christ. For we must come to admire the essential and personal attributes of God not only in themselves, but also in relation to the most admirable union of God and humanity in the unity of the person of Christ.
5. Now if you are like that first Cherub, when you contemplate the essential attributes of God, you are surely amazed, because God’s being is simultaneously first and last; eternal and most present; most simple and greatest or unlimited; everywhere in its entirety and yet never contained by anything; most actual and yet never moved; most perfect and having nothing superfluous nor deficient—and nonetheless immense and infinite without boundaries; supremely one and yet all- embracing, as it contains in itself all things, and as it represents all power, all truth, and all good. If you are, once again, so amazed, then look toward the Mercy Seat and be [further] astonished that there the First Principle is joined to the last, God with the human being created on the sixth day, the eternal is joined with a temporal human being, born of the Virgin in the fullness of time; the most simple with the most composite, the most actual with the supremely passive and dead; the most perfect and immense with the modest, the supremely one and all-inclusive with an individual that is of a composite nature and that is distinct from others—namely, with the human being Jesus Christ.
6. If, however, you are like that other Cherub, when you contemplate the properties of the persons, you must be amazed to find communicability together with [individual] properties, being of the same essence with plurality, conformability with [individual] personality, co-equality with a hierarchical arrangement, co-eternity with production [of one by the other], mutual intimacy with procession—since the Son proceeds from the Father, and the Holy Spirit proceeds from both the Father and the Son, yet the one that proceeds does not depart from the others but remains always with them. If you are so amazed, then, look toward the Mercy Seat and be [further] astonished that in Christ, personal union stands together with a trinity of substances69 and with a duality of natures;70 and that total agreement exists there together with plurality of wills; and that there is the mutual predication of God and humanity together with a plurality of properties; that there is co-adoration together with a plurality of rank; co-elevation over all things together with the plurality of eminence; and co-dominion together with a plurality of powers.
7. Considering these things, one reaches a perfect illumination of his or her mind: when the mind sees humanity as made in the image of God, as it could on the sixth day of Creation. Now since this ‘image’ functions as a perfectly revelatory likeness, when our mind contemplates our humanity so remarkably exalted in Christ, the Son of God, who is by nature the image of the invisible God—seeing, at the same time, how this humanity is so ineffably united into something one, which is both the first and the last, the highest and the lowest, the circumference and the center, the Alpha and the Omega, the caused and the cause, the Creator and the creature, that is, the book written within and without—at this point our mind has already reached something perfect, which would allow it, with God, to reach the perfection of its illuminations on the sixth step, as on the sixth day of Creation. Nothing further remains but the day of rest, when, in an ecstatic insight, the discerning power of the human mind rests from all the work that it has done.

Chapter VII:

1. At last, we have exhausted these six considerations, which are like the six steps leading to the true throne of Solomon: these steps lead one to peace, where the true person of peace rests in the quiet of the mind as in an interior Jerusalem. They are also like the six wings of the Cherub, by which the mind of the truly contemplative person, filled with the light of heavenly wisdom, is able to ascend upwards. They are also like the first six days of Creation, during which the mind is trained, in order to arrive, finally, at the Sabbath of rest. Further, our mind has contemplated God outside itself through and in the vestiges; within itself through and in the image; and above itself: through the likeness of the divine light, which shines on us from above, and in the divine light itself, as far as our pilgrim state and the level of training of our mind permit that. Finally, only at Step Six, our mind has come to reflect, using as its object the first and highest Principle and the mediator between God and humanity, Jesus Christ, on those things that have no whatsoever parallel in the created world, and that completely surpass the penetrating power of the human intellect. It remains, then, for the mind, while it meditates on these things, to pass over and transcend not only this sensible world but even itself. And in this passage, Christ is the way and the door. Christ is the ladder and the vehicle, like the Mercy Seat placed above the ark of God and the mystery that has been hidden from all eternity.
2. Anyone who turns fully to face this Mercy Seat with faith, hope, and love, devotion, admiration, joy, appreciation, praise and rejoicing, beholding Christ hanging on the Cross, celebrates the Pasch, that is, the Passover, with Christ. This allows this person, using the rod of the Cross, to pass over the Red Sea, moving from Egypt into the desert where he could taste the hidden manna. This also allows this person to rest with Christ in the tomb, as one dead on the outside, yet experiencing, as far as this pilgrim state allows, what was said on the cross to the thief who was hanging there with Christ: This day you will be with me in Paradise.
3. All this was shown also to blessed Francis when, in a rapture of contemplation on the top of the mountain71 where I reflected on the things I have written here, a six-winged Seraph fastened to a cross appeared to him, as I myself and many others have heard from the companion who was with him at that very place. Here he was carried out of himself in contemplation and passed over into God. And he has been set forth as the example of perfect contemplation, just as he had earlier been known as the example of action, like another Jacob transformed into Israel. His example enables God to invite all truly spiritual persons to this sort of passing over and ecstatic experience, more by example than by words.
4. Now if this passing over is to be perfect, all intellectual activities must be given up; all of our affection, intensified to its highest point, must be directed to God and transformed into God. However, this experience is mystical and most hidden, which no one knows except one who receives it. And no one receives it except one who desires it. And no one desires it but one who is set on fire internally by the fire of the Holy Spirit, whom Christ has sent into the world. Therefore the Apostle says that this mystical wisdom is revealed through the Holy Spirit.
5. Now since our nature can achieve nothing in this area, and even personal effort cannot achieve much, little importance should be given to investigation and much to unction; little to speech but exceedingly much to interior joy; little to words or writing and all to the gift of God, namely the Holy Spirit; little or no importance should be given to the creature but all to the creative essence, the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit—so that we could cry out to the Triune God with pseudo- Dionysius: “O Trinity, essence beyond essence and God beyond all deities, and most excellent Protector of the theological wisdom of Christians, guide us to that totally unknown but exceedingly radiant and most high summit of mystical discourse. There, the new, absolute, and changeless mysteries of theology are concealed in the dazzling darkness of a silence that teaches secretly: the darkness that shines exceedingly brightly in a total obscurity that is nevertheless exceedingly manifest; the darkness, in which all things shine forth and which fills to excess invisible intellects with the splendor of invisible goods that are above all good.”72 This was said to God. But to the friend, to whom this was written, we can say with Dionysius: “In this matter of mystical visions, my friend, being strengthened for your journey, leave behind the world of the senses and of intellectual activities, all sensible and all invisible things, and everything that exists or does not exist, and, in your ignorance, allow yourself, in as far as that is possible, to be restored to unity with that One who is above all essence and knowledge. Thus, in an ecstasy of a pure mind that is beyond you and other things, and beyond their scale, leaving all things behind and freed from all things, you shall rise up to the radiance of the divine darkness that is beyond all essence.”
6. If, however, you ask how all these things come about, ask grace, not learning; desire, not intellect; the groaning of prayer and not diligent reading; the Bridegroom, not the academic teacher; God, not a human being; darkness, not clarity; not light, but the fire that inflames one totally and carries one into God through spiritual fervor and with the most burning affections. Now this ‘fire’ is God, and God’s furnace is in Jerusalem. And it is Christ who starts the fire with the white flame of his most intense passion. Only that person who says My soul chooses hanging, and my bones death can truly grasp this passion. Only one who loves this death can see God, for it is absolutely true that no one can see me and live.

Let us die, then, and enter into this darkness. Let us silence all our cares, desires, and images in the imagination. Let us pass over with the crucified Christ from this world to the Father, so that when the Father has been shown to us, we may say with Philip: It is enough for us. Let us hear with Paul: My grace is sufficient for you; and let us exult with David, saying: My flesh and my heart waste away; you are the God of my heart, and the God that is my portion forever. Blessed be the Lord forever, and let all the people say: let it be, let it be. Amen.