How to Depict the Heavenly

“The method of Divine revelation is twofold; one, indeed, as is natural, proceeding through likenesses that are similar, and of a sacred character, but the other, through dissimilar forms, fashioning them into entire unlikeness and incongruity. No doubt, the mystical traditions of the revealing Oracles sometimes extol the august Blessedness of the super-essential Godhead, as Word , and Mind , and Essence , manifesting its Godbecoming expression and wisdom, both as really being Origin, and true Cause of the origin of things being, and they describe It as light , and call it life. While such sacred descriptions are more reverent, and seem in a certain way to be superior to the material images, they yet, even thus, in reality fall short of the supremely Divine similitude. For It is above every essence and life. No light, indeed, expresses its character, and every description and mind incomparably fall short of Its similitude. But at other times its praises are supermundanely sung, by the Oracles themselves, through dissimilar revelations, when they affirm that it is invisible , and infinite , and incomprehensible ; and when there is signified, not what it is, but what it is not.”

From: The Celestial Hierarchy Dionysius the Areopagite (1st or 5th Century), Works (1899) vol. 2. p.1-66.

Dionysius is a great read for artists with a desire to depict the ‘super-essential’. In this article he ponders the many manners in which the Divine Godhead is revealed. Positing that a revelation as light, sun, stars, and fire and flowing water may be very reverent, but it is too obvious and therefore mundane, falling short of the true essence. He compares these to the supra-rational depictions, such as those clothed ‘in forms of wild beasts, and … identity with a Lion, and Panther, and say that it shall be a Leopard , and a rushing Bear … or even a worm’. (Dionysius, pg. 3). He claims that these undefined and dissilimar forms of holy things are apt in that one cannot rest in the thought that this image is true or even close to being true of God.

Angel wings; parachutes
St Michael approaches
Rockets land softly.

NASA litters the solar system, detritus.
Little sparks of Sophia, thrown out in human souls.

St Michael and the Super Sonic Parachute [Pigment Watercolour and Gold on Paper, 2014]
St Michael and the Super Sonic Parachute [Pigment Watercolour and Gold on Paper, 2014]

“… and so Divine things should be honoured by the true negations, and by comparisons with the lowest things, which are diverse from their proper resemblance. There is then nothing absurd if they depict even the Heavenly Beings under incongruous dissimilar similitudes, for causes aforesaid.”

Full article: The Celestial Hierarchy