Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite

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"Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite"
Other names "Pseudo-Dionysius", "Pseudo-Denys", mistakenly identified as "Dionysius the Areopagite"
Born unknown, 5th to 6th century AD
Died unknown, 5th to 6th century AD
Era Ancient philosophy, Medieval philosophy
Region Western philosophy
School Neoplatonism, Christian theology

Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite, also known as Pseudo-Denys, was a Christian theologian and philosopher of the late 5th to early 6th century, the author of the Corpus Areopagiticum (before 532). The author is identified as "Dionysos" in the corpus, which later incorrectly came to be attributed to Dionysius the Areopagite, the Athenian convert of St. Paul mentioned in Acts 17:34.[1] His surviving works include Divine Names, Mystical Theology,[2] Celestial Hierarchy, Ecclesiastical Hierarchy, and various epistles.[3] Some other works, such as Theological Outlines, are presumed to be lost.


[edit] Teachings

His works are mystical and show strong Neoplatonic influence. For example he uses Plotinus' well-known analogy of a sculptor cutting away that which does not enhance the desired image. He shows familiarity with Proclus, which indicates he wrote no earlier than the 5th century, as well as influence from Saint Clement of Alexandria, the Cappadocian Fathers, Origen of Alexandria, and others. The liturgical references in his writings also date his works after the 4th century. His writings were first cited in 519 in a work by Severus of Antioch, Adversus apologiam Juliani, who cited the Fourth Letter.[4] Debates over the author of the Dionysian corpus began in the Renaissance.

There is a distinct difference between pagan Neoplatonism and that of Eastern Christianity. In the former all life returns to the source to be stripped of individual identity, a process called henosis,[5] while in orthodox Christianity the Likeness of God in man is restored by grace (by being united to God the Holy Trinity through participation in His divine energies), a process called theosis.[6]

Dionysos appears to have belonged to the group which attempted a compromise between monophysitism and orthodox teaching. His thought was initially used by monophysites to back up parts of their arguments but his writings were eventually adopted by other church theologians, primarily due to the work of John of Scythopolis and Maximus the Confessor in producing an orthodox interpretation.[7]

The Dionysian writings and their mystical teaching were universally accepted throughout the East, amongst both Chalcedonians and non-Chalcedonians. St. Gregory Palamas, for example, in referring to these writings, calls the author, "an unerring beholder of divine things". In the West the manuscripts became popular amongst theologians, particularly through the medium of John Scotus Eriugena. Thomas Aquinas cites Pseudo-Dionysius over 1700 times.[8] Dionysius' portrayal of the "via negativa" was particularly influential among contemplatives and mystical theologians.[9]

[edit] Medieval misunderstandings

During the medieval period Saint Dionysius the Areopagite and Saint Denis of Paris were considered to be the same "Dionysius" who had been converted by Saint Paul in Acts 17:34.[10] Medieval tradition held that Saint Dionysius the Areopagite had traveled to Rome and then was commissioned by the Pope to preach in Gaul (France), where he was martyred.[11] This confusion of historical detail was compounded by the common acceptance of Pseudo-Dionysius's writings as the authentic work of the Biblical Dionysius of Acts 17:34. The great Abbey of Saint-Denis just north of Paris claimed to have the relics of Dionysius. Around 1121, Pierre Abélard, a Benedictine monk at Saint Denis Basilica, turned his attention to the story of their patron saint, and disentangled the three different Dionysiuses. The monks were offended at the apparent demotion of Saint Denis, and Abélard did not remain long at Saint Denis. The confusion over the text might stem from the text being an oral tradition (declamatio) that was only at a later date finally put to record. According to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy "It must also be recognized that 'forgery' is a modern notion. Like Plotinus and the Cappadocian Fathers before him, Dionysius does not claim to be an innovator, but rather a communicator of a tradition." [12]

The monastery of St. Denis, which had inadvertently conflated the two Dionysiuses, had a good Greek edition of Pseudo-Dionysius's works given to them by Charles the Bald, which was translated into Latin by John Scotus Eriugena in the late 9th century. This translation widely popularized both Pseudo-Dionysius' teaching and his explanation of the angels.[citation needed]

[edit] Astronomical fresco

On pages 190 and 191 of Owen Gingerich's monograph on Copernicus The Book Nobody Read, reference is made to an astronomical fresco in the main gallery of the Escorial Library, near Madrid, Spain, built 1567-84, which shows Dionysius the Areopagite observing an eclipse at the time of Christ's crucifixion. In a footnote Gingerich mentions that an eclipse (of the sun by the moon) could not have happened at that time because Passover is a full moon event, and solar eclipses always happen at new moon.

The legend is based on a claim made by Pseudo-Dionysius in a letter addressed to Polycarp: "What have you to say about the solar eclipse which occurred when the Savior was put on the cross? At the time the two of us were in Heliopolis and we both witnessed the extraordinary phenomenon of the moon hiding the sun at the time that was out of season for their coming together... We saw the moon begin to hide the sun from the east, travel across to the other side of the sun, and return on its path so that the hiding and the restoration of the light did not take place in the same direction but rather in diametrically opposite directions..."[13]

Pseudo-Dionysius had apparently read the Alexandrinus variant of Gospel of Luke (Luke 23:44-45) where the darkness said to have accompanied the crucifixion is attributed to an eclipse.[14]

In 1457 the Italian humanist Lorenzo Valla wrote: "...the claim of 'Dionysius'... that he observed the eclipse of the sun at the hour of the Saviour's death... is as blatant a fiction as the epistolary form of the report." [15]

[edit] Authorship

The authorship of the Dionysian Corpus was initially disputed; Severus and his party affirmed its apostolic dating, largely because it seemed to agree with their Christology. However, this dating was disputed by Hypatius of Ephesus, who met the monophysite party during the 532 meeting with Emperor Justinian I; Hypatius denied its authenticity on the grounds that none of the Fathers or Councils ever cited or referred to it. Hypatius condemned it along with the Apollinarian texts, distributed during the Nestorian controversy under the names of Pope Julius and Athanasius, which the monophysites entered as evidence supporting their position.[16]

The first defense of its authenticity is undertaken by John of Scythopolis, whose commentary, the Scholia (ca. 540), on the Dionysian Corpus constitutes the first defense of its apostolic dating, wherein he specifically argues that the work is neither Apollinarian nor a forgery, probably in response both to monophysites and Hypatius—although even he, given his unattributed citations of Plotinus in interpreting Dionysius, might have known better.[17] Dionysius' authenticity is criticized later in the century, and defended by Theodore of Raithu; and by the 7th century, it is taken as demonstrated, affirmed by both Maximus the Confessor and the 649 Lateran Council. From that point forward, the authorship is largely not in question until the Renaissance.

The Florentine humanist Lorenzo Valla (d. 1457), in his commentaries on the New Testament, did much to establish that the author of the Corpus Areopagiticum could not have been St. Paul's convert, though he was unable to identify the actual historical author. The fictitious literary persona had long been accepted on face value by all its readers, with a couple of exceptions such as Nicholas of Cusa noted by modern historians, but whose reservations went unheard.

William Grocyn pursued Valla's lines of text criticism, and Valla's critical viewpoint of the authorship of the highly influential Corpus was accepted and publicized by Erasmus from 1504 onward, for which he was criticized by Catholic theologians. In the Leipzig disputation with Martin Luther, 1519, Johann Eck used the Corpus, specifically the Angelic Hierarchy, as argument for the apostolic origin of papal supremacy, pressing the Platonist analogy, "as above, so below".

During the 19th century modernist Catholics too came generally to accept that the author must have lived after the time of Proclus. Dionysius' identity is still disputed. The compilers of the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy[12] find pseudo-Dionysius to be most probably "a pupil of Proclus, perhaps of Syrian origin, who knew enough of Platonism and the Christian tradition to transform them both. Since Proclus died in 485, and since the first clear citation of Dionysius' works is by Severus of Antioch between 518 and 528, then we can place Dionysius' authorship between 485 and 518-28." Ronald Hathaway provides a table listing most of the major identifications of Dionysius: e.g., Ammonius Saccas, Dionysius the Great, Peter the Fuller, Dionysius the Scholastic, Severus of Antioch, Sergius of Reshaina, unnamed Christian followers of everyone from Origen of Alexandria to Basil of Caesarea, Eutyches to Proclus.[18] Georgian academician Shalva Nutsubidze and Belgian professor Ernest Honigmann were authors of a theory identifying pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite with Peter the Iberian.[19] A more recent identification is with Damascius, the last scholarch of the School of Athens.[20] There is no scholarly consensus on the question of Pseudo-Dionysius' identification.

[edit] See also

[edit] References

  1. ^ The Areopagus of Athens was an open-air law court, a site for public declamations.
  2. ^ Dionysius the Areopagite on the Divine Names and the Mystical Theology, 2004, IBIS PRESS, ISBN 0-89254-095-8
  3. ^ Pseudo Dionysius: The Complete Works, 1987, Paulist Press, ISBN 0-8091-2838-1
  4. ^ Hathaway, Hierarchy and the Definition of Order in the Letters of Pseudo-Dionysius, p.4
  5. ^ see Iamblichus
  6. ^ Vladimir Lossky, The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church, SVS Press, 1997. (ISBN 0-913836-31-1) James Clarke & Co Ltd, 1991. (ISBN 0-227-67919-9)
  7. ^ Rorem, Pseudo-Dionysius, p. 14
  8. ^ Doherty, K.F. “St. Thomas and the Pseudo-Dionysian Symbol of Light”. In: The New. Scholasticism, 34(1960), pp.170-189.
  9. ^ The author of The Cloud of Unknowing, for instance, drew explicitly on "St. Denys" and composed an expanded Middle English translation of Dionysius' Mystical Theology.
  10. ^ Acts 17:34 “A few men became followers of Paul and believed. Among them was Dionysius, a member of the Areopagus, also a woman named Damaris, and a number of others.”
  11. ^ Roman Martyrology. Lutétiæ Parisiórum natális sanctórum Mártyrum Dionysii Areopagítæ Epíscopi, Rústici Presbyteri, et Eleuthérii Diáconi. Ex his Dionysius, ab Apóstolo Paulo baptizátus, primus Atheniénsium Epíscopus ordinátus est; deínde Romam venit, atque inde a beáto Cleménte, Románo Pontífice, in Gállias prædicándi grátia diréctus est.. pp. October 9 (Séptimo Idus Octóbris).
  12. ^ a b "It must also be recognized that “forgery” is a modern notion. Like Plotinus and the Cappadocians before him, Dionysius does not claim to be an innovator, but rather a communicator of a tradition. Adopting the persona of an ancient figure was a long established rhetorical device (known as declamatio), and others in Dionysius' circle also adopted pseudonymous names from the New Testament. Dionysius' works, therefore, are much less a forgery in the modern sense than an acknowledgement of reception and transmission, namely, a kind of coded recognition that the resonances of any sacred undertaking are intertextual, bringing the diachronic structures of time and space together in a synchronic way, and that this theological teaching, at least, is dialectically received from another. Dionysius represents his own teaching as coming from a certain Hierotheus and as being addressed to a certain Timotheus. He seems to conceive of himself, therefore, as an in-between figure, very like a Dionysius the Areopagite, in fact." Pseudo-Dionysius in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
  13. ^ Pseudo-Dionysius: The Complete Works, tr. Colm Luibheid (Paulist Press: New York) 1987, p. 268.
  14. ^ Pseudo-Dionysius, p. 268f
  15. ^ Pseudo-Dionysius, Introduction by Karlfried Froehlich, p. 38.
  16. ^ Hathaway, Hierarchy and the Definition of Order in the Letters of Pseudo-Dionysius, p.13
  17. ^ Rorem, "John of Scythopolis on Apollinarian Christology," p.482. John of Scythopolis was also proficient identifier of Apollinarian forgeries, giving his defense that much more credibility.
  18. ^ Hathaway, Hierarchy and the Definition of Order in the Letters of Pseudo-Dionysius, p.31
  19. ^ Sh. Nutsubidze. "Mystery of Pseudo-Dionys Areopagit (a monograph), Tbilisi, 1942; E. Honigmann, Pierre l'Iberian et les ecrits du Pseudo-Denys l'Areopagita. Bruxelles, 1952.
  20. ^ Carlo Maria Mazzucchi, Damascio, Autore del Corpus Dionysiacum, e il dialogo Περι Πολιτικης Επιστημης, Aevum: Rassegna di scienze storiche linguistiche e filologiche, ISSN 0001-9593, Anno 80, Nº 2, 2006, pp 299-334.

[edit] Secondary sources

  • Griffith, R., "Neo-Platonism and Christianity: Pseudo-Dionysius and Damascius", in: Studia patristica XXIX. Papers presented at the Twelfth International Conference on Patristic Studies held in Oxford 1995, ed. by E. A. Livingstone (Leuven: Peeters, 1997), 238-243.
  • Frend, W. H. C.. The Rise of the Monophysite Movement (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1972).
  • Hathaway, Ronald F.. Hierarchy and the definition of order in the letters of Pseudo-Dionysius: A study in the form and meaning of the Pseudo-Dionysian writings (The Hague, Nijhoff, 1969).
  • Hunt, P. "The Wisdom Iconography of Light: The Genesis, Meaning and Iconographic Realization of a Symbol," Byzantinoslavica, LXVII,1-2 (2009), 55-118.
  • Ivanovic, Filip, Symbol and Icon: Dionysius the Areopagite and the Iconoclastic Crisis (Eugene: Pickwick, 2010). ISBN 978-1-60899-335-2
  • Perl, Eric D. Theophany: The Neoplatonic Philosophy of Dionysius the Areopagite. (Albany: SUNY Press, 2007). ISBN 978-0-7914-7111-1.
  • Rorem, Paul. Pseudo-Dionysius: A commentary on the texts and an introduction to their influence (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993).
  • Rorem, Paul and John C. Lamoreaux, "John of Scythopolis on Apollinarian Christology and the Pseudo-Areopagite's True Identity." Church History, 62,4 (1993), 469–482.
  • Stock, Wiebke-Marie, Theurgisches Denken. Zur "Kirchlichen Hierarchie" des Dionysius Areopagita (Berlin: de Gruyter, 2008) (Transformationen der Antike, 4).

[edit] External links

[edit] External links to bibliography