Dionysius the Areopagite on the Soul


PLOTINUS: from Ennead VI

Self-knowledge reveals to the soul that her natural motion is not in a straight line, unless it is deflected. On the contrary, her natural motion is like a circular motion around some interior object, around a centre. The centre is that from which proceeds that which is around it . . . That is the secret of their divinity. For divinity consists in being attached to the centre. Anyone who withdraws much from it becomes an ordinary man or an animal.

Is the “centre” of the soul then the principle we are seeking? No, we must look for some other principle towards which all “centres” converge and to which, only by analogy of the visible circle, the word “centre” is applied . . . We are, by our own centre, attaching ourselves to the “centre” of all things; and so we rest, just as we make the centres of the great circles coincide with that of the sphere that surrounds them. If these circles were corporeal, not “circles” described by the soul, the centre and the circumference would have to occupy certain places. But since the souls are of the order of intelligible beings and the One is still above Intelligence, we shall have to assert that the union of the thinking being with its object proceeds by different means. The thinking being is in the presence of its object by virtue of its similarity and identity, and it is united with its kindred without anything to separate them. (1)


DIONYSIUS THE AREOPAGITE: from The Divine Names, Ch. 4

First the soul has a circular movement, that is, it turns within itself and away from the things without and there is a unified concentration of spiritual powers. This gives it a kind of fixed revolution which causes it to return from the multiplicity of external things and gather upon itself and then, in this unified condition, unites to those powers that are in perfect Unity and leads it to the Beautiful and Good which is beyond all things, ever the same and One, and without beginning or end. The second movement of the soul is a spiral motion, which occurs when the soul, in accordance with its capacity, is enlightened with truths of Divine Knowledge, not from the special unity of its own being, but by the process of discursive reasoning, in mixed and changeable activities. The soul’s third movement is in a straight line forward, when, instead of circling upon its own spiritual unity, as in its first motion, it proceeds to the things around it and feels an influence coming to it from the outward world, as from certain variegated and pluralized symbols, which draws it upward into simple and united contemplations. (2)

. . . . . . . . . .

The Good and the Beautiful is the cause of these three movements, as also the movements of the realm of what is perceived, and of the prior remaining, standing, and foundation of each. This is what preserves them. This is their goal, itself transcending all rest and all motion . . . To put the matter briefly, all being derives from, exists in, and is returned toward the Beautiful and Good. All things look to it. All things are moved by it . . . “For from Him and through Him and in Him and to Him are all things” says the holy scripture. (3)


 1. Plotinus, Ennead VI, The Enneads, trans. S. MacKenna, London, 1969.

 2. Dionysius the Areopagite, The Divine Names, Ch. 4. 9., translation modified from the versions by C. E. Rolt, Dionysius the Areopagite, London, 1979, and C. Luibheid, Pseudo-Dionysius: The Complete Works, London, 1987.

 3. Ibid.