Peonies, Day 18

“The Eternal Tao (Panels 1 and 2)”
©️2020 by Gloria M. Chang

“The Tao that can be spoken is not the eternal Tao
The name that can be named is not the eternal name”

Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching, chapter 1, translated by Derek Lin

Tao is the word used to translate Logos of St. John’s Prologue. The Tao (literally “the Way” or universal principle) is beyond all names and concepts because it is absolute and “prior” to all creatures. 

Mystics of the Christian tradition arrived at the same realization.

According to Pseudo-Dionysius, God “cannot be reached by any perception, imagination, conjecture, name, discourse, apprehension, or understanding… the Super-Essential Godhead is unutterable and nameless” (Divine Names 1.5).

St. Gregory of Nyssa writes, “The divine word at the beginning forbids that the Divine be likened to any of the things known by men, since 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” (Life of Moses II.165). 

In the mercy of God, however, the Way back to the Father ascends through the Holy Name of Jesus (the Tao/Logos made flesh) in the power and grace of the Holy Spirit. The Greek Fathers called this the divine condescension (synkatabasis). 

Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus,
Who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God something to be grasped.
Rather, he emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
coming in human likeness;
and found human in appearance,
he humbled himself,
becoming obedient to death,
even death on a cross.
Because of this, God greatly exalted him
and bestowed on him the name
that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue confess that
Jesus Christ is Lord, 
to the glory of God the Father.

Philippians 2:5-11

St. Gregory of Nyssa’s prayerful commentary on the Song of Songs expresses our pilgrim state in and toward the Trinity beyond all names:

Tell me, you whom my soul loves. This is how I address you, because your true name is above all other names; it is unutterable and incomprehensible to all rational creatures. And so the name I use for you is simply the statement of my soul’s love for you, and this is an apt name for making your goodness known.”

From the Liturgy of the Hours, 33rd Week in Ordinary Time, Thursday, Office of Readings

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