What does it mean that Moses entered the darkness and then saw God? (80)
This question begins Gregory’s in depth interpretation of Moses’ journey up the mountain of Divine Knowledge. The first observation Gregory makes is that Moses’ encounter with the Divine is in darkness, not in the Light of the Burning Bush. Rather than see this as a contradiction, Gregory asserts to his readers that Divine Truth first comes as light to those who desire truth: “the escape from darkness comes about when one participates in the light.” (80) But the closer one gets to the light, the darker things become.
But as the mind progresses and, through an ever greater and more perfect diligence, comes to apprehend reality, as it approaches more nearly to contemplation, it sees more clearly what of the divine nature is uncontemplated. (80)
I suppose the best way to explain this would be: the more you know, the more you know you don’t know. The closer one gets to the light, the more blinding it becomes, and thus, light becomes a sort of Divine darkness. This is a darkness that is not at odds with the Divine, it is not the darkness of Evil.
An apt, but still inadequate metaphor might be this (I remember reading this recently, but I can’t remember where, so I have not come up with this on my own):
Imagine that you want to look at the sun. The sun obviously illuminates the world around us with light. We come to understand the sun as a source of light that eradicates darkness. But the sun itself becomes dark when we attempt to look at it. We are forced to squint and at some point, the sun’s light becomes so overpowering that we must close our eyes. We no longer see light, but darkness (to some extent obviously…if you have normal human eyelids).
For leaving behind everything that it [the mind] observed, not only what sense comprehends but also what the intelligence thinks it sees, it keeps on penetrating deeper until by the intelligence’s yearning for understanding it gains access to the invisible and incomprehensible, and there it sees God. (80)
The human mind can perceive the sun, but only to a certain point at which the sun becomes invisible to us. Our eyes are forced shut and we are left to contemplate the intensity of the sun’s light–but within the darkness.
This is the seeing that consists in not seeing, because that which is sought transcends all knowledge, being separated on all sides by incomprehensibility as by a kind of darkness. (80)
Seeing is not seeing. Knowing is not knowing. The darkness, for Gregory, is a metaphor for God’s complete Otherness, his incomprehensibility, unknowableness, beyond all our rational and intellectual capacities. This is a darkness that surrounds God, protecting God from being turned into a fetish, an idol, for our use. God “made darkness his biding place” (Ps 18.11) so as to render our feeble intellect powerless because of our tendency to create concepts that do injustice to God:
…every concept which comes from some comprehensible image by an approximate understanding and by guessing at the divine nature constitutes an idol of God and does not proclaim God. (81)
Speculative theology (“guessing”) and metaphorical language (“approximate understanding”) do not and can not adequately grasp the Divine Essence. Speculative theology about the Divine Essence, while it may be considered educated guesses to some extent, leads to improper conceptions about God. Despite the education of the guesser, speculative theology is still just that–a guess. No certainty. Perhaps even poorly structured foundational beliefs.
Metaphorical language about God approximates our knowledge of God with close but not necessarily accurate descriptions. Metaphors break down at some point and we have to recognize that. Metaphors can also be taken to such an extreme that reality is clouded over.
On to the next chapter.