A Meditation

Article excerpt

St. Simeon: Exultations of Light St. Simeon (949-1022) is the towering figure of the Byzantine mystics. He was called "the New Theologian," presumably drawing a contrast with St. Gregory Nazianzus (329-89) who was called "the Theologian."

In his own time, St. Simeon ran afoul of the "official" theology because of his disdain for rational speculation on divine mysteries in favor of an inner, charismatic, and direct revelatory experience. As with other "classical" mystics of the Christian tradition, both East and West, Simeon teaches an inward turning and emptying of the soul of all distractions-including intellectual-which impede a divine awareness, ecstasy, and union with God. And, as with other Christian mystics, Simeon understands union with God (as in "I became a Light") not, of course, as literal union with the divine substance but rather something like a transparency of the soul to the divine light and love, and a consequent transfiguration of the soul.

The following lines, from "Hymn XXV," are instructive in many ways. Most obvious here is the mystical theme and symbol of Divine Light, and its interplay with night and darkness, all of which is so central in Simeon's mystical imagery. More specifically, his imagery is marked by a striking vividness, as in the two lines of the second extract, by which he depicts the mystic's personal pursuit of, struggle for, and ecstatic experience of this Light. That the mystic is nonetheless said, recurringly, to be "in the midst of darkness," "in darkness bound," and the like, exemplifies a characteristically mystical penchant for paradoxical expression. …