The Purpose of Life is Enlightenment
Last Revised: 10 February 2005
Details of bibliographic acronyms are available here .
Subject: Abba Sisoes
Dates: D. c. 429
Tradition: Desert Father.
It was said of Abba Sisoes that when he was at the point of death, while the fathers were sitting beside him, his face shone like the sun. He said to them, "Look, Abba Anthony has come." A little later he said, "Look, the choir of prophets is coming." Again his countenance shone with brightness and he said, "Look, the choir of apostles is coming." His countenance increased in brightness and lo, he spoke with someone. Then the old men asked him, "With whom are you speaking, Father?" He said, "Look, the angels are coming to fetch me, and I am begging them to let me do a little penance." The old men said to him, "You have no need to do penance, Father." But the old man said to them, "Truly, I do not think I have even made a beginning yet." Now they all knew that he was perfect. Once more his countenance suddenly became like the sun and they were all filled with fear. He said to them, "Look, the Lord is coming and he's saying, 'Bring me the vessel from the desert.'" Then there was a flash of lightning and all the house was filled with a sweet odour. (SDF, 215.)
Subject: St. Augustine of Hippo
When a deep consideration had from the secret bottom of my soul drawn together and heaped up all my misery in the sight of my heart; there arose a mighty storm, bringing a mighty shower of tears. ... I cast myself down I know not how, under a certain fig tree, giving full vent to my tears; and the floods of mine eyes gushed out, an acceptable sacrifice to Thee. And ... I spake much unto Thee: And Thou, O Lord, how long? how long, Lord, wilt Thou be angry, for ever? ... Why not is there an hour to end my uncleanness? ... I seized [the Bible], opened, and in silence read that section, on which my eyes first fell: Not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in spite and envying, but put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh in concupiscence. No further would I read; nor needed I: for instantly at the end of this sentence, by a light as it were of serenity infused into my heart, all the darkness of doubt vanished away. (CSA, 170-1.)
Subject: Pseudo-Dionysius (Dionysius the Areopagite, St. Denys)
Dates: Probably Fifth Century.
The Good ... generously reveals a firm, transcendent beam, granting enlightenments proportionate to each being, and thereby draws sacred minds upward to its permitted contemplation, to participation and to the state of becoming like it. (CWPD, 50.)
We must not dare to apply words or conceptions to this hidden transcendent God. ... In the scriptures the Deity has benevolently taught us that understanding and direct contemplation of itself is inaccessible to beings, since it actually surpasses being. Many scripture writers will tell you that divinity is not only invisible and incomprehensible, but also "unsearchable and inscrutable," since there is not a trace for anyone who would reach through into the hidden depths of this infinity. (CWPD, 50.)
In time to come, when we are incorruptible and immortal, when we have come at last to the blessed inheritance of being like Christ, then, as scripture says, "we shall always be with the Lord." In most holy contemplation we shall be ever filled with the sight of God shining gloriously around us as once it shone for the disciples at the divine transfiguration. And there we shall be, our minds away from passion and from earth, and we shall have a conceptual gift of light from him and, somehow, in a way we cannot know, we shall be united with him and, our understanding carried away, blessedly happy, we shall be struck by his blazing light. Marvellously, our minds will be like those in the heavens above. We shall be "equal to angels and sons of God, being sons of the resurrection." (CWPD, 52-3.)
One can neither discuss nor understand the One, the Superknowable, the Transcendent, Goodness itself. (Pseudo-Dionysius in CWPD, 53.)
If all knowledge is of that which is and is limited to the realm of the existent, then whatever transcends being must also transcend knowledge. (CWPD, 53.)
All things long for it. The intelligent and rational long for it by way of the stirrings of being alive and in whatever fashion befits their condition. (CWPD, 54.)
By an undivided and absolute abandonment of yourself and everything, shedding all and freed from all, you will be uplifted to the ray of the divine shadow which is above everything that is. (CWPD, 135.)
I pray we could come to this darkness, so far above light! If only we lacked sight and knowledge so as to see, so as to know, unseeing and unknowing, that which lies beyond all vision and knowledge. For this would be really to see and to know: to praise the Transcendent One in a transcending way, namely through the denial of all beings. ...Now as we climb from the last things up to the most primary we deny all things so that we may unhiddenly know that unknowing which itself is hidden from all those possessed of knowing amid all beings, so that we may see above being that darkness concealed from all the light among beings. ... As we plunge into that darkness which is beyond intellect, we shall find ourselves not simply running short of words but actually speechless and unknowing. (CWPD, 138-9.)
The fact is that the more we take flight upward, the more our words are confined to the ideas we are capable of forming; so that now as we plunge into that darkness which is beyond intellect, we shall find ourselves not simply running short of words but actually speechless and unknowing. ... The more [the mind] climbs, the more language falters, and when it has passed up and beyond the ascent, it will turn silent completely, since it will finally be at one with him who is indescribable. (CWPD,139.)
For he in himself is beyond them all indeed, whether it is by negation or affirmation. (MT, 210.)
The Purpose of Life is Enlightenment
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