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The Dance of Love - Ludus Amoris




Today I read through the proofs of my entry to the new Oxford Handbook of Dionysius the Areopagite. I attach a section from it on Dionysius's influence on the Cloud of Unknowing and Hugh of Balma which I have called 'The Game of Love'...




Commentators such as Tixier have stressed the role in the Cloud in particular of the ‘love game’ of the medieval courtly love tradition. It is possible to understand this ‘hide and seek’ as the Cloud author’s interpretation of the ‘circling motion’ of Dionysius dressed in language suitable for his contemporaries. If, as I have argued in this chapter, we see the Dionysian inheritance of the Cloud as advocating the indirect transmission between the master and pupil then the ‘love game’, the ludus amoris, is an appropriate expression of that transmission. As the author of the Cloud puts it in Chapter 46 where he describes the journey to the Divine ‘one-ing’ as ‘some sort of game’:

And gamenly be it seyde, I rede that thu do that in thee is, refreynyng the rude and the grete steryng of thi spirite; ryght as thou on no wyse woldest lat Hym wite hou fayne thou woldest see Hym and have Hym or fele Hym. (Hodgson 1982: 48) [1]


For, as he writes in the Book of Privy Counsel, God withdraws his face only to return with it later and that this loving search is a form of love-making:


Inasmuch as he is sometimes absent and sometimes present, he wishes by this coming and going to test you secretly and to form you for his own work... whenever he goes away he will come more worthily and merrily than ever. (Walsh 1988: 244-5) [2]


The seeker will become ‘unclothed: that is, you are not wrapped in any of the sensible consolations which may be experienced in this life, no matter how sweet or holy they may be’ (Walsh 1988: 245). After this God will ‘loke up, paraventure right sone, and efte touch thee with a more fervent stering of that same grace than ever you feltest any before’ (Hodgson 1944: 167).[3] Throughout God’s aim in this love-game is that ‘he will have thee maad as pleying to his wille goostly as a roon glove to thin honde bodely’ (Hodgson 1944: 168)[4]

The Cloud author thus describes the perfect love-game in his missives that direct the soul to the naked, total encounter with the loved one if the way and procedure is followed correctly. Tixier concludes that ‘by its content and style the Cloud is in fact a love letter and is meant to be read as such’ (Tixier 1990: 129). Which, as I have argued in this chapter, places it firmly in the Dionysian tradition of initiation through Eros that has been explored throughout the present volume whilst pointing to the affective spirituality that will so dominate the Western Christian tradition on the eve of the Reformation.

[1]‘And as though it be a game, I advise you to do this, refraining the coarse and great stirring of your spirit, as though you wouldn’t let Him know how much you desired to see Him and have Him or feel Him..’ [2]See also Hodgson 1944: 151 on the ‘love triste’, Hodgson 1944: 21 on the ‘love knot’ and Hodgson 1944:156 on Christ as ‘the perfect lover’. [3]‘Look up, peradventure right soon, and after touch you with a more fervent stirring of that same grace than ever you felt before.’ [4]‘To make you as close fitting to his spiritual will as a soft leather glove fits your bodily hand.’

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