Recently, I've had two pieces on hagiography published by The Symbolic World blog. Long-time readings of Blog on the Barrow Downs will be aware of my debt to Jonathan Pageau's Symbolic World project, and it is a pleasure to be able to contribute to it.
The first piece is on the symbolism of St. Dionysius the Areopagite:
Scholarship has separated the “body” (Latin: corpus), in the sense of the written text and its historical context from its “head”, in the sense of its source, origin, or organizing principle. For instance, On the Divine Names begins with an address to “Timothy the Fellow-Elder,” the recipient of two New Testament epistles and a fellow disciple of St. Paul.3 By accepting the theological propositions of this text while discarding its proposed author, namely St Dionysius, and audience, namely Timothy, we separate the ideas of St. Dionysius from their “body,” that is, their historical embodiment in a particular text sent by a particular person to another particular person. Once this separation has been made, modern scholarship is free to try to fit that head to any number of other bodies, be they Neo-Platonist or crypto-pagan.
The second, which was just published today, is on the symbolism of hagiography in general. Put another way, how are we to read hagiography?
Our first approach to reading hagiography must therefore be mystical, for to encounter a saint is to encounter the deep mystery of personhood. This mystical reading requires, first and foremost, an “unknowing” of the limits of our own personhood—of our own feeble attempts to participate in the Patterns. It is for this reason that the Fathers of the Church have long considered the reading of hagiography to be an ascetic discipline, one which should be cultivated specifically to counter the passion of pride, for pride is a false knowledge of one’s own personhood, an attempt to seize personhood without crucifixion.