Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite

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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 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 no longer extant.

Contents

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. There is a distinct difference between Neoplatonism and Eastern Orthodox Christianity. In Neoplatonism, it is often said, all life returns to the source to be stripped of individual identity, a process called henosis (see Iamblichus). However, in Orthodox Christianity, theosis restores the Likeness of God in man by grace (by being united to God the Holy Trinity through participation in His divine energies).[4] The liturgical references in his writings also date his works after the 4th century.

He appears to have belonged to the group which attempted to form a compromise position between monophysitism and the orthodox teaching. His writings were first cited in 519 in a work by Severus of Antioch, Adversus apologiam Juliani, who cited the Fourth Letter.[5] Dionysius was initially used by monophysites to back up parts of their arguments, but his writings were eventually adopted by other church theologians as well, primarily due to the work of John of Scythopolis and Maximus the Confessor in producing an orthodox interpretation.[6] 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." And in the West, the manuscripts grew to be very popular amongst theologians in the Middle Ages -- Thomas Aquinas cites Pseudo-Dionysius over 1700 times.[7] Dionysius' portrayal of the "via negativa" was particularly influential among contemplatives and mystical theologians.[8] Debates over the authenticity of the authorship of Dionysian corpus, however, began in the Renaissance.

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