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Dionysius the Pseudo-Areopagite

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By "Dionysius the Areopagite" is usually understood the judge of the Areopagus who, as related in Acts 17:34, was converted to Christianity by the preaching of St. Paul, and according to Dionysius of Corinth (Eusebius, Church History III.4) was Bishop of Athens.

In the course of time, however, two errors of far-reaching import arose in connection with this name. In the first place, a series of famous writings of a rather peculiar nature was ascribed to the Areopagite and, secondly, he was popularly identified with the holy martyr of Gaul, Dionysius, the first Bishop of Paris. It is not our purpose to take up directly the latter point; we shall concern ourselves here (1) with the person of the Pseudo-Areopagite; (2) with the classification, contents, and characteristics of his writing; (3) with their history and transmission; under this head the question as to the genuineness of, origin, first acceptance, and gradual spread of these writings will be answered.

Deep obscurity still hovers about the person of the Pseudo-Areopagite. External evidence as to the time and place of his birth, his education, and latter occupation is entirely wanting. Our only source of information regarding this problematic personage is the writings themselves. The clues furnished by the first appearance and by the character of the writings enable us to conclude that the author belongs at the very earliest to the latter half of the fifth century, and that, in all probability, he was a native of Syria. His thoughts, phrases, and expressions show a great familiarity with the works of the neo-Platonists, especially with Plotinus and Proclus. He is also thoroughly versed in the sacred books of the Old and New Testament, and in the works of the Fathers as far as Cyril of Alexandria. (Passages from the Areopagitic writings are indicated by title and chapter. in this article D.D.N. stands for "De divinis nominibus"; C.H. for "Caelestis hierarchia"; E.H. for "Ecclesiastica hierarchia"; Th.M. for "Theologia mystica", which are all found in Migne, P.G., vol. III) In a letter to Polycarp (Ep. vii; P.G., III, 1080 A) and in "Cael. hier." (ix, 3; P.G. III, 260 D) he intimates that he was formerly a pagan, and this seems quite probable, considering the peculiar character of his literary work. But one should be more cautious in regard to certain other personal references, for instance, that he was chosen teacher of the "newly-baptized" (D.D.N., iii, 2; P.G., III, 681 B); that his spiritual father and guide was a wise and saintly man, Hierotheus by name; that he was advised by the latter and ordered by his own superiors to compose these works (ibid., 681 sq.). And it is plainly for the purpose of deceiving that he tells of having observed the solar eclipse at Christ's Crucifixion (Ep., vii, 2; P.G., III, 1081 A) and of having, with Hierotheus, the Apostles (Peter and James), and other hierarchs, looked upon "the Life-Begetting, God-Receiving body, i.e., of the Blessed Virgin" (D.D.N., iii, 2; P.G., III, 681 C). The former of these accounts is based on Matthew 27:45, and Mark 15:33; the latter refers to the apocryphal descriptions of the "Dormitio Mariae". For the same purpose, i.e., to create the impression that the author belonged to the times of the Apostles and that he was identical with the Areopagite mentioned in the Acts, different persons, such as John the Evangelist, Paul, Timothy, Titus, Justus, and Carpus, with whom he is supposed to be on intimate terms, figure in his writings.

The doctrinal attitude of the Pseudo-Areopagite is not clearly defined. A certain vagueness, which was perhaps intended, is characteristic of his Christology, especially in the question concerning the two natures in Christ. We may well surmise that he was not a stranger to the latter, and rather modified, form of Monophysitism and that he belonged to that conciliatory group which sought, on the basis of the Henoticon issued in 482 by Emperor Zeno (Evagrius, Hist. Eccl., III, iv), to reconcile the extremes of orthodoxy and heresy. This reserved, indefinite attitude of the author explains the remarkable fact that opposite factions claimed him as an adherent. As to his social rank, a careful comparison of certain details scattered through his works shows that he belonged to the class of scholars who were known at the time as scholastikoi.

The writings themselves form a collection of four treatises and ten letters. The first treatise, which is also the most important in scope and content, presents in thirteen chapters an explanation of the Divine names. Setting out from the principle that the names of God are to be learned from Scripture only, and that they afford us but an imperfect knowledge of God, Dionysius discusses, among other topics, God's goodness, being, life, wisdom, power, and justice. The one underlying thought of the work, recurring again and again under different forms and phrases, is: God, the One Being (to hen), transcending all quality and predication, all affirmation and negation, and all intellectual conception, by the very force of His love and goodness gives to beings outside Himself their countless gradations, unites them in the closest bonds (proodos), keeps each by His care and direction in its appointed sphere, and draws them again in an ascending order to Himself (epistrophe). While he illustrates the inner life of the Trinity by metaphors of blossom and light applied to the Second and Third Persons (D.D.N., ii, 7 in P.G., III, 645 B), Dionysius represents the procession of all created things from God by the exuberance of being in the Godhead (to hyperpleres), its outpouring and overflowing (D.D.N., ix, 9, in P.G., III, 909 C; cf. ii, 10 in P.G., III, 648 C; xiii, 1 in P.G., III, 977 B), and as a flashing forth from the sun of the Deity (D.D.N., iv, 6 in P.G., III,701 A; iv, 1 in P.G., III, 693 B). Exactly according to their physical nature created things absorb more or less of the radiated light, which, however, grows weaker the farther it descends (D.D.N., xi, 2 in P.G., III, 952 A; i, 2 in P.G., III, 588 C). As the mighty root sends forth a multitude of plants which it sustains and controls, so created things owe their origin and conservation to the All-Ruling Deity (D.D.N., x, 1 in P.G., III, 936 D). Patterned upon the original of Divine love, righteousness, and peace, is the harmony that pervades the universe (D.D.N., chapters iv, viii, xi). All things tend to God, and in Him are merged and completed, just as the circle returns into itself (D.D.N., iv, 14 in P.G., III, 712 D), as the radii are joined in the centre, or as the numbers are contained in unity (D.D.N., v, 6 in P.G., III, 820 sq.). These and many similar expressions have given rise to frequent charges of Pantheism against the author. He does not, however, assert a necessary emanation of things from God, but admits a free creative act on the part of God (D.D.N., iv, 10, in P.G., III, 708 B; cf. C.H., iv, 1 in P.G., III, 177 C); still the echo of neo-Platonism is unmistakable.

The same thoughts, or their applications to certain orders of being, recur in his other writings. The second treatise develops in fifteen chapters the doctrine of the celestial hierarchy, comprising nine angelic choirs which are divided into closer groupings of three choirs each (triads). The names of the nine choirs are taken from the canonical books and are arranged in the following order. First triad: seraphim, cherubim, thrones; second triad: virtues, dominations, powers; third triad: principalities, archangels, angels (C.H., vi, 2 in P.G., III, 200 D). The grouping of the second triad exhibits some variations. From the etymology of each choir-name the author labours to evolve a wealth of description, and, as a result, lapses frequently into tautology. Quite characteristic is the dominant idea that the different choirs of angels are less intense in their love and knowledge of God the farther they are removed from him, just as a ray of light or of heat grows weaker the farther it travels from its source. To this must be added another fundamental idea peculiar to the Pseudo-Areopagite, namely, that the highest choirs transmit the light received from the Divine Source only to the intermediate choirs, and these in turn transmit it to the lowest. The third treatise is but a continuation of the other two, inasmuch as it is based upon the same leading ideas. It deals with the nature and grades of the "ecclesiastical hierarchy" in seven chapters, each of which is subdivided into three parts (prologos, mysterion, theoria). After an introduction which discusses God's purpose in establishing the hierarchy of the Church, and which pictures Christ as its Head, holy and supreme, Dionysius treats of three sacraments (baptism, the Eucharist, extreme unction), of the three grades of the Teaching Church (bishops, priests, deacons), of three grades of the "Learning Church" (monks, people, and the class composed of catechumens, energumens, and penitents), and, lastly, of the burial of the dead [C.H., iii, (3), 6 in P.G., III, 432 sq.; vi, in P.G., III, 529 sq.] The main purpose of the author is to disclose and turn to the uses of contemplation the deeper mystical meaning which underlies the sacred rites, ceremonies, institutions, and symbols. The fourth treatise in entitled "Mystical Theology", and presents in five chapters guiding principles concerning the mystical union with God, which is entirely beyond the compass of sensuous or intellectual perception (epopteia). The ten letters, four addressed to a monk, Caius, and one each to a deacon, Dortheus, to a priest, Sopater, to the bishop of Polycarp, to a monk, Demophilus, to the Bishop Titus, and to the Apostle John, contain, in part, additional or supplementary remarks on the above-mentioned principal works, and in part, practical hints for dealing with sinners and unbelievers. Since in all of these writings the same salient thoughts on philosophy and theology recur with the same striking peculiarities of expression and with manifold references, in both form and matter, from one work to another, the assumption is justified that they are all to be ascribed to one and the same author. In fact, at its first appearance in the literary world the entire corpus of these writings was combined as it is now. An eleventh letter to Apollophanes, given in Migne, P.G., III, 1119, is a medieval forgery based on the seventh letter. Apocryphal, also, are a letter to Timothy and a second letter to Titus.

Dionysius would lead us to infer that he is the author of still other learned treatises, namely: "Theological Outlines" (D.D.N., ii, 3, in P.G., III 640 B); "Sacred Hymns" (C.H., vii, 4 in P.G., III, 212 B); "Symbolic Theology" C.H., xv, 6 in P.G., III,336 A); and treatises on "The Righteous Judgment of God" (D.D.N., iv, 35 in P.G., III, 736 B); on "The Soul" (D.D.N., iv, 2 in P.G., III, 696 C); and on "The objects of Intellect and Sense" (E. H., i, 2 in P.G., III, 373 B). No reliable trace, however, of any of these writings has ever been discovered, and in his references to them Dionysius is as uncontrollable as in his citations from Hierotheus. It may be asked if these are not fictions pure and simple, designed to strengthen the belief in the genuineness of the actually published works. This suspicion seems to be more warranted because of other discrepancies, e.g., when Dionysius, the priest, in his letter to Timothy, extols the latter as a theoeides, entheos, theios ierarches, and nevertheless seeks to instruct him in those sublime secret doctrines that are for bishops only (E.H., i, 5 in P.G., III, 377 A), doctrines, moreover, which, since the cessation of the Disciplina Arcani, had already been made public. Again, Dionysius points out (D.D.N., iii, 2 in P.G., III, 681 B; cf. E.H., iv, 2 in P.G., III, 476 B) that his writings are intended to serve as catechetical instruction for the newly-baptized. This is evidently another contradiction of his above-mentioned statement.

We may now turn to the history of the Pseudo-Dionysian writings. This embraces a period of almost fifteen hundred years, and three distinct turning points in its course have divided it into as many distinct periods: first, the period of the gradual rise and settlement of the writings in Christian literature, dating from the latter part of the fifth century to the Lateran Council, 649; second, the period of their highest and universally acknowledged authority, both in the Western and Eastern Church, lasting till the beginning of the fifteenth century; third, the period of sharp conflict waged about their authenticity, begun by Laurentius Valla, and closing only within recent years.

The Areopagitica were formerly were supposed to have made their first appearance, or rather to have been first noticed by Christian writers, in a few pseudo-epigraphical works which have now been proved to be the products of a much later period; as, for instance, in the following: Pseudo-Origenes, "Homilia in diversos secunda"; Pseudo-Athanasius, "Quaestiones ad Antiochum ducem", Q. viii; Pseudo-Hippolytus, against the heretic Beron; Pseudo-Chrysostom, "sermo de pseudo-prophetis." Until more recently more credit was given to other lines of evidence on which Franz Hipler endeavoured to support his entirely new thesis, to the effect that the author of the writings lived about the year 375 in Egypt, as Abbot of Rhinokorura. Hipler's attempts, however, at removing the textual difficulties, ekleipsis, adelphotheos, soma, proved to be unsuccessful. In fact, those very passages in which Hipler thought that the Fathers had made use of the Areopagite (e.g., in Gregory of Nazianzus and Jerome) do not tell in favor of this hypothesis; on the contrary, they are much better explained if the converse be assumed, namely, that Pseudo-Dionysius drew from them. Hipler himself, convinced by the results of recent research, has abandoned his opinion. Other events also, both historical and literary, evidently exerted a marked influence on the Areopagite: (1) the Council of Chalcedon (451), the Christological terminology of which was studiously followed by the Dionysius; (2) the writings of the neo-Platonist Proclus (411-485), from whom Dionysius borrowed to a surprising extent; (3) the introduction (c. 476) of the Credo into the liturgy of the Mass, which is alluded to in the "Ecclesiastical Hierarchy" [iii, 2, in P.G., III, 425 C, and iii, (3), 7 in P.G., III, 436 C; cf. the explanation of Maximus in P.G., IV, 144 B]; (4) the Henoticon of the Emperor Zeno (482), a formula of union designed for the bishops, clerics, monks, and faithful of the Orient, as a compromise between Monophystism and orthodoxy. Both in spirit and tendency the Areopagitica correspond fully to the sense of the Henoticon; and one might easily infer that they were made to further the purpose of the Henoticon.

The result of the foregoing data is that the first appearance of the pseuodo-epigraphical writings cannot be placed earlier than the latter half, in fact at the close, of the fifth century.

Having ascertained a terminus post quem, it is possible by means of evidence taken from Dionysius himself to fix a terminus ante quem, thus narrowing to about thirty years the period within which these writings must have originated. The earliest reliable citations of the writings of Dionysius are from the end of the fifth and the beginning of the sixth century. The first is by Severus, the head of a party of moderate Monophysites named after him, and Patriarch of Antioch (512-518). In a letter addressed to a certain abbot, John (Mai, Script. vett. nov. coll., VII, i, 71), he quotes in proof of his doctrine of the mia synthetos physis in Christ the Dionysian Ep. iv (P.G., III, 1072 C), where a kaine theandrike energeia is mentioned. Again, in the treatise "Adversus anathem. Juliani Halicarn." (Cod. Syr. Vat. 140, fol. 100 b), Severus cites a passage from D.D.N., ii, 9, P.G., III, 648A (abba kai to pases — thesmo dieplatteto), and returns once more to Ep. iv. In the Syrian "History of the Church" of Zacharias (e. Ahrens-Kruger, 134-5) it is related that Severus, a man well-versed in the writings of Dionysius (Areop.), was present at the Synod in Tyre (513). Andreas, Bishop of Caesarea in Cappodocia, wrote (about 520) a commentary on the Apocalypse wherein he quotes the Areopagite four times and makes use of at least three of his works (Migne, P.G., CVI, 257, 305, 356, 780; cf. Diekamp in "Hist. Jahrb", XVIII, 1897, pp. 1-36). Like Severus, Zacharias Rhetor and, in all probability, also Andreas of Cappodocia, inclined to Monophysitism (Diekamp, a "Book of Hierotheus"---Hierotheus had come to be regarded as the teacher of Dionysius---existed in the Syrian literature of that time and exerted considerable influence in the spread of Dionysian doctrines. Frothingham (Stephen Bar Sudaili, p. 63 sq.) considers the pantheist Stephen Bar Sudaili as its author. Jobius Monachus, a contemporary of the writers just mentioned, published against Severus a polemical treatise which has since been lost, but claims the Areopagite as authority for the orthodox teaching (P.G., CIII, 765). So also Ephraem, Archbishop of Antioch (527-545), interprets in a right sense the well-known passage from D.D.N., i, 4, P.G., III,, 529 A: ho haplous Iesous synetethe, by distinguishing between synthetos hypostasis and synthetos ousia. Between the years 532-548, if not earlier, John of Scythopolis in Palestine wrote an interpretation of Dionysius (Pitra, "Analect. sacr.", IV, Proleg., p. xxiii; cf. Loof's, "Leontius of Byzantium" (p. 270 sq.) from an anti-Severan standpoint. In Leontius of Byzantium (485-543) we have another important witness. This eminent champion of Catholic doctrine in at least four passages of his works builds on the megas Dionysios (P.G., LXXXVI, 1213 A; 1288 C; 1304 D; Canisius-Basnage, "Thesaur. monum. eccles.", Antwerp, 1725, I, 571). Sergius of Resaina in Mesopotamia, archiater and presbyter (d. 536), at an early date translated the works of Dionysius into Syriac. He admitted their genuineness, and for their defence also translated into Syriac the already current "Apologies" (Brit. Mus. cod. add. 1251 and 22370; cf. Zacharias Rhetor in Ahrens-Kruger, p. 208). He himself was a Monophysite.

By far the most important document in the case is the report given by Bishop Innocent of Maronia of the religious debate held at Constantinople in 533 between seven orthodox and seven Severian speakers (Hardouin II, 1159 sq.). The former had as leader and spokesman, Hypatius, Bishop of Ephesus, who was thoroughly versed in the literature of the subject. On the second day the "Orientals" (Severians) alleged against the Council of Chalcedon, that it had by a novel and erroneous expression decreed two natures in Christ. Besides Cyril of Alexandria, Athanasius, Gregory Thaumaturgus, and Felix and Julius of Rome, they also quoted Dionysius the Areopagite as an exponent of the doctrine of one nature. Hypatius rejected as spurious all these citations, and showed that Cyril never made the slightest use of them, though on various occasions they would have served his purpose admirably. He suspects that these falsifiers are Apollinarists. When the Severians rejoined that they could point out in the polemical writings of Cyril against Diodorus and Theodore the use made of such evidence, Hypatius persisted in the stand he had taken: "sed nunc videtur quoniam et in illis libris [Cyrilli] haeretici falsantes addiderunt ea". The references to the archives of Alexandria had just as little weight with him, since Alexandria, with its libraries, had long been in the hands of the heretics. How could an interested party of the opposition be introduced as a witness? Hypatius refers again especially to Dionysius and successfully puts down the opposition: "Illa enim testimonia quae vos Dionysii Areopagitae dicitis, unde potestis ostendere vera esse, sicut suspicamini? Si enim eius erant, non potuissent latere beatum Cyrillum. Quis autem de beato Cyrillo dico, quando et beatus Athanasius, si pro certo scisset eius fuisse, ante omnia in Nicaeno concilio de consubstantiali Trinitate eadem testimonia protulisset adversus Arii diversae substantiae blasphemias". Indeed, as to the consubstantiality of the Father and the Son the Areopagite has statements that leave no room for misinterpretation; and had these come from a disciple of the Apostles, they would have been all the more valuable. Hereupon the Severians dropped this objection and turned to another.

The fact must, indeed, appear remarkable that these very writings, though rejected outright by such an authority as Hypatius, were within little more than a century looked upon as genuine by Catholics, so that they could be used against the heretics during the Lateran Council in 649 (Hardouin III, 699 sqq.). How had this reversion been brought about? As the following grouping will show, it was chiefly heterodox writers, Monophysites, Nestorians, and Monothelites, who during several decades appealed to the Areopagite. But among Catholics also there were not a few who assumed the genuineness, and as some of these were persons of consequence, the way was gradually paved for the authorization of his writings in the above-mentioned council. To the group of Monophysites belonged: Themistius, deacon in Alexandria about 537 (Hardoiun, III, 784, 893 sq., 1240 sq.); Colluthus of Alexandria (Hardouin III, 786, 895, 898); John Philoponus, an Alexandrian grammarian, about 546-549 (W. Reichardt, "Philoponus, de opificio mundi"); Petrus Callinicus, Monophysite Patriarch of Antioch, in the latter half of the sixth century, cited Dionysius in his polemic against the Patriarch Damianus of Alexandria (II, xli, and xlvii; cf. Frothingham, op. cit., after Cod. Syr. Vat., 108, f. 282 sqq.). As examples of the Nestorian group may be mentioned Joseph Huzaja, a Syrian monk, teacher about 580 at the school of Nisibis (Assemani, Bibl. orient., vol. III, pt. I, p. 103); also Ischojeb, catholicos, from 580 or 581 to 594 or 595 (Braun, "Buch der Synhados", p. 229 sq.); and John of Apamea, a monk in one of the cloisters situated on the Orontes, belonging most probably to the sixth century (Cod. Syr. Vat., 93). The heads of the Monothelites, Sergius, Patriarch of Constantinople (610-638), Cyrus, Patriarch of Alexandria (630-643), Pyrrhus, the successor of Sergius in Constantinople (639-641), took as the starting point in their heresy the fourth letter of Dionysius to Caius, wherein they altered the oft-quoted formula, theandrike energeia into mia theandrike energeia.

To glance briefly at the Catholic group we find in the "Historia Euthymiaca", written about the middle of the sixth century, a passage taken, according to a citation of John Damascene (P.G., XCVI, 748), from D.D.N., iii, 2, P.G., III, 682 D: paresan de — epakousas. Another witness, who at the same time leads over to the Latin literature, is Liberatus of Carthage (Breviarium causae Nestor. et Euthych., ch. v). Johannes Malalas, of Antioch, who died about 565, narrates, in his "Universal Chronicle", the conversion of the judge of the Areopagus through St. Paul (Acts 17:34), and praises our author as a powerful philosopher and antagonist of the Greeks (P.G., XCVII, 384; cf. Krumbacher, Gesch. d. byz. Lit.", 3rd ed., p. 112 sq.). Another champion was Theodore, presbyter. Though it is difficult to locate him chronologically, he was, according to Le Nourry (P.G., III, 16), an "auctor antiquissimus" who flourished, at all events, before the Lateran Council in 649 and, as we learn from Photius (P.G., CIII, 44 sq.), undertook to defend the genuineness of the Areopagitic writings. The repute, moreover, of these writings was enhanced in a marked degree by the following eminent churchmen: Eulogius, Patriarch of Alexandria (580-607), knew and quoted, among others, the D.D.N., xiii, 2, verbatim (P.G., CIII, 1061; cf. Der Katholic, 1897, II, p. 95). From Eulogius we naturally pass to Pope Gregory the Great, with whom he enjoyed a close and honourable friendship. Gregory the Great (590-604), in his thirty-fourth homily on Like, xv, 1-10 (P.L.L. XXVI, 1254), distinctly refers to the Areopagite's teaching regarding the Angels: "Fertur vero Dionysius Areopagitica, antiquus videlicet et venerabilis Pater, dicere" etc. (c.f. C.H., vii, ix, xiii). As Gregory admits that he is not versed in Greek (Ewald, Reg., I,28; III, 63; X, 10, 21) he uses fertur not to express his doubt of the genuineness, but to imply that he had to rely on the testimony of others, since at the time no Latin version existed. It is, indeed, most probable that Eulogius directed his attention to the work.

About the year 620, Antiochus Monachus, a member of the Sabas monastery near Jerusalem, compiled a collection of moral "sentences" designed for the members of his order (P.G., LXXXIX, 1415 sqq.). In the "Homilia (capitulum) LII" we discover a number of similar expressions and Biblical examples which are borrowed from the eighth letter of Dionysius "ad Demophilum" (P.G., III, 1085 sq.). In other passages frequent reference is made to the D.D.N. In the following years, two Patriarchs of Jerusalem, both from monasteries, defend Dionysius as a time-honoured witness of the true doctrines. The first is the Patriarch Modestus (631-634), formerly abbot of the Theodosius monastery in the desert of Judah. In a panegyric on the Assumptio Mariae (P.G., LXXXVI, 3277 sq.) he quotes sentences from the D.D.N., i, 4; ii,10; from the "Theologia Mystica", i, 1; and from Ep. ii. The second, a still brighter luminary in the Church, is the Patriarch Sophronius (634-638), formerly a monk of the Theodosius monastery near Jerusalem. Immediately after his installation he published an epistula synodica, "perhaps the most important document in the Monothelitic dispute". It gives, among other dogmas, a lengthy exposition of the doctrine of two energies in Christ (Hefele, Conciliengesch., 2nd ed., III, 140 sqq.). Citing from "Eph. iv ad Caium" (theandrike energeia), he refers to our author as a man through whom God speaks and who was won over by the Divine Paul in a Divine manner (P.G., LXXXVII, 3177). Maximus Confessor evidently rests upon Sophronius, whose friendship he had gained while abbot of the monastery of Chrysopolis in Alexandria (633). In accordance with Sophronius he explains the Dionysian term theandrike energeia in an orthodox sense, and praises it as indicating both essences and natures in their distinct properties and yet in closest union (P.G., XCI, 345). Following the example of Sophronius, Maximus also distinguishes in Christ three kinds of actions (theoprepeis, anthropoprepeis and miktai) (P.G., IV, 536). Thus the Monothelites lost their strongest weapon, and the Lateran Council found the saving word (Hefele, op. cit., 2nd ed., III, 129). In other regards also Maximus plays an important part in the authorization of the Areopagitica. A lover of theologico-mystical speculation, he showed an uncommon reverence for these writings, and by his glosses (P.G., IV), in which he explained dubious passages of Dionysius in an orthodox sense, he contributed greatly towards the recognition of Dionysius in the Middle Ages. Another equally indefatigable of Dyophysitism was Anastasias, a monk from the monastery of Sinai, who in 640 began his chequered career as a wandering preacher. Not only in his "Guide" (hodegos), but also in the "Quaestiones" and in the seventh book of the "Mediations on the Hexaemeron", he unhesitatingly makes use of different passages from Dionysius (P.G. LXXXIX). By this time a point had been reached at which the official seal, so to speak, could be put on the Dionysian writings. The Lateran Council of 649 solemnly rejected the Monothelite heresy (Hardouin III, 699 sq.). Pope Martin I quotes from D.D.N., ii, 9; iv, 20 and 23; and the "Ep. ad Caium"; speaks of the author as "beatae memoriae Dionysius", "Dionysius egregius, sanctus, beatus," and vigorously objects to the perversion of the text: una instead of nova Dei et viri operatio. The influence which Maximus exerted by his personal appearance at the council and by his above-mentioned explanation of theandrike energeia is easily recognized ("Dionysius duplicem [operationem] duplicis naturae compositivo sermone abusus est" — Hardouin, III, 787). Two of the testimonies of the Fathers which were read in the fifth session are taken from Dionysius. Little wonder, then, that thenceforth no doubt was expressed concerning the genuineness of the Areopagitica. Pope Agatho, in a dogmatic epistle directed to the Emperor Constantine (680) cites among other passages from the Fathers also the D.D.N., ii, 6. The Sixth Ecumenical Council of Constantinople (680) followed in the footsteps of the Lateran Synod, again defended "Eph. iv ad. Caium" against the falsification of Pyrrhus, and rejected the meaning which the Monothelite Patriarch Macarius assigned to the passage (Hardouin III, 1099, 1346, 1066). In the second Council of Nicaea (787) we find the "Celestial Hierarchy" of the "deifer Dionysius" cited against the Iconoclasts (Hardouin IV, 362). This finishes the first and darkest period in the history of the Areopagitica; and it may be summarized as follows. The Dionysian writings appeared in public for the first time in the Monophysite controversies. The Severians made use of them first and were followed by the orthodox. After the religious debate at Constantinople in 533 witnesses for the genuineness of the Areopagitica began to increase among the different heretics. Despite the opposition of Hypatias, Dionysius did not altogether lose his authority even among Catholics, which was due chiefly to Leontius and Ephraem of Antioch. The number of orthodox Christians who defended him grew steadily, comprising high ecclesiastical dignitaries who had come from monasteries. Finally, under the influence of Maximus, the Lateran Council (649) cited him as a competent witness against Monothelism.

As to the second period, universal recognition of the Areopagitic writings in the Middle Ages, we need not mention the Greek Church, which is especially proud of him; but neither in the West was a voice raised in challenge down to the first half of the fifteenth century; on the contrary, his works were regarded as exceedingly valuable and even as sacred. It was believed that St. Paul, who had communicated his revelations to his disciple in Athens, spoke through these writings (Histor.-polit. Blatter, CXXV, 1900, p. 541). As there is no doubt concerning the fact itself, a glance at the main divisions of the tradition may suffice. Rome received the original text of the Areopagitica undoubtedly through Greek monks. The oppressions on the part of Islam during the sixth and seventh centuries compelled many Greek and Oriental monks to abandon their homes and settle in Italy. In Rome itself, a monastery for Greek monks was built under Stephen II and Paul I. It was also Paul I (757-767) who in 757 sent the writings of Dionysius together with other books, to Pepin in France. Adrian I (772-795) also mentioned Dionysius as a testis gravissimus in a letter accompanying the Latin translation of the Acts of the Nicaean Council (787) which he sent to Charlemagne. During the first half of the ninth century the facts concerning Dionysius are mainly grouped around the Abbot Hilduin of Saint-Denys at Paris. Through the latter the false idea that the Gallic martyr Dionysius of the third century, whose relics were preserved in the monastery of Saint-Denys, was identical with the Areopagite rose to an undoubted certainty, while the works ascribed to Dionysius gained in repute. Through a legation from Constantinople, Michael II had sent several gifts to the Frankish Emperor Louis the Pious (827), and among them were the writings of the Areopagite, which gave particular joy and honour to Hilduin, the influential arch-chaplain of Louis. Hilduin took care to have them translated into Latin and he himself wrote a life of the saint (P.L., CVI, 13 sq.). About the year 858 Scotus Eriugena, who was versed in Greek, made a new Latin translation of the Areopagite, which became the main source from which the Middle Ages obtained a knowledge of Dionysius and his doctrines. The work was undertaken at the instance of Charles the Bald, at whose court Scotus enjoyed great influence (P.L., CXXII, 1026 sq.; cf. Traube, "Poet. lat. aev. Carol.", II, 520, 859 sq.). Compared with Hilduin's, this second translation marks a decided step in advance. Scotus, with his keen dialectical skill and his soaring speculative mind, found in the Areopagite a kindred spirit. Hence, despite many errors of translation due to the obscurity of the Greek original, he was able to grasp the connections of thought and to penetrate the problems. As he accompanied his translations with explanatory notes and as, in his philosophical and theological writings, particularly in the work "De divisione naturae", (P.L., CXXII), he recurs again and again to Dionysius, it is readily seen how much he did towards securing recognition for the Areopagite.

The works of Dionysius, thus introduced into Western literature, were readily accepted by the medieval Scholastics. The great masters of Saint-Victor at Paris, foremost among them the much admired Hugh, based their teaching on the doctrine of Dionysius. Peter Lombard and the great Dominican and Franciscan scholars, Alexander of Hales, Albertus Magnus, Thomas Aquinas, Bonaventure, adopted his theses and arguments. Master poets, e.g. Dante, and historians, e.g. Otto of Freising, built on his foundations. Scholars as renowned as Robert Grosseteste of Lincoln and Vincent of Beauvais drew upon him freely. Popular religious books, such as the "Legenda aurea" of Giacomo da Voragine and the "Life of Mary" by Brother Philip, gave him a cordial welcome. The great mystics, Eckhardt, Tauler, Suso, and others, entered the mysterious obscurity of Dionysius with holy reverence. In rapid succession there appeared a number of translations: Latin translations by Joannes Sarrazenus (1170), Robert Grosseteste (about 1220), Thomas Vercellensis (1400), Ambrosius Camaldulensis (1436), Marsilius Ficinus (1492); in the sixteenth century those of Faber Stapulensis, Perionius, etc. Among the commentaries that of Hugh of Saint-Victor is notable for its warmth, that of Albertus Magnus for its extent, that of St. Thomas for its accuracy, that of Denys the Carthusian for its pious spirit and its masterly inclusion of all previous commentaries.

It was reserved for the period of the Renaissance to break with the time-honoured tradition. True, some of the older Humanists, as Pico della Mirandola, Marsilius Ficinus, and the Englishmen John Colet, were still convinced of the genuineness of the writings; but the keen and daring critic, Laurentius Valla (1407-1457) in his glosses to the New Testament, expressed his doubts quite openly and thereby gave the impulse, at first for the scholarly Erasmus (1504), and later on for the entire scientific world, to take sides either with or against Dionysius. The consequence was the formation of two camps; among the adversaries were not only Protestants (Luther, Scultetus, Dallaeus, etc.) but also prominent Catholic theologians (Beatus Rhenanus, Cajetan, Morinus, Sirmond, Petavius, Lequien, Le Nourry); among the defenders of Dionysius were Baronius, Bellarmine, Lansselius, Corderius, Halloix, Delario, de Rubeis, Lessius, Alexander Netalis, and others. The literary controversy assumed such dimensions and was carried on so vehemently that it can only be compared to the dispute concerning the Pseudo-Isidorian decretals and the pseudo-Constantinian donation. In the nineteenth century the general opinion inclined more and more towards the opposition; the Germans especially, Möhler, Fessler, Döllinger, Hergenröther, Alzog, Funk, and others made no reserve of their decision for the negative. At this juncture the scholarly professor Franz Hipler came forward and attempted to save the honor of Dionysius. He finds in Dionysius not a falsifier, but a prominent theologian of the fourth century who, through no fault of his own, but owing to the misinterpretation of some passages, was confounded with the Areopagite. Many Catholics, and many Protestants as well, voiced their approval. Finally, in 1895 there appeared almost simultaneously two independent researches, by Hugo Koch and by Joseph Stiglmayr, both of whom started from the same point and arrived at the same goal. The conclusion reached was that extracts from the treatise of the neo-Platonist Proclus, "De malorum subsistentia" (handed down in the Latin translation of Morbeka, Cousin ed., Paris, 1864), had been used by Dionysius in the treatise "De div. nom." (c. iv, sections 19-35) A careful analysis brought to light an astonishing agreement of both works in arrangement, sequence of thought, examples, figures, and expressions. It is easy to point out many parallelisms from other and later writings of Proclus, e.g. from his "Institutio theologica", "theologia Platonica", and his commentary on Plato's "Parmenides", "Alcibiades I", and "Timaeus" (these five having been written after 462).

Accordingly, the long-standing problem seems to be solved in its most important phase. As a matter of fact, this is the decision pronounced by the most competent judges, such as Bardenhewer, Erhard, Funk, Diekamp, Rauschen, De Smedt, S.J., Duchesne, Battifol; and the Protestant scholars of early Christian literature, Gelzer, Harnack, Kruger, Bonwetsch. The chronology being thus determined, an explanation was readily found for the various objections hitherto alleged, viz. the silence of the early Fathers, the later dogmatic terminology, a developed monastic, ceremonial, and penitential system, the echo of neo-Platonism, etc. On the other hand it sets at rest many hypotheses which had been advanced concerning the author and his times and various discussions---whether, e.g., a certain Apollinaris, or Synesius, or Dionysius Alexandrinus, or a bishop of Ptolemais, or a pagan hierophant was the writer.

A critical edition of the text of the Areopagite is urgently needed. The Juntina (1516), that of Basle (1539), of Paris (1562 and 1615), and lastly the principal edition of Antwerp (1634) by Corderius, S.J., which was frequently reprinted (Paris, 1644, 1755, 1854) and was included in the Migne collection (P.G., III and IV with Lat. trans. and additions), are insufficient because they make use of only a few of the numerous Greek manuscripts and take no account of the Syriac, Armenian, and Arabic translations. The following translations have thus far appeared in modern languages: English, by Lupton (London, 1869) and Parker (London, 1894), both of which contain only the "Cael. Hierarchia" and the "Eccles. Hier."; German, by Engelhardt (Sulzbach, 1823) and Storf, "Kirkliche Hierarchie" (Kempten, 1877); French, by Darboy (Paris, 1845) and Dulac (Paris, 1865).


For the older literature, cf. CHEVALIER, Bio. bibl. (Paris, 1905). Recent works treating of Dionysius: HIPLER, Dionysius der Areopagite, Untersuchungen (Ratisbon, 1861); IDEM in Kirkchenlex., s.v.; SCHNEIDER, Areopagitica, Verteiligung ihrer Echteit (Ratisbon, 1886); FROTHINGHAM, Stephen Bar Sudaili (Leyden, 1886); STIGLMAYR, Der Neuplatoniker Proklus als Vorlage des sog. Dionysius Areopagita in der Lehre vom Uebel in Hist. Jahrb. der Gorres-Gesellschaft (1895), pp. 253-273 and 721-748: IDEM, Das Aufkommen der pseudo-dionysischen Schriften und ihr Eindringen in die christliche Literatur bis zum Laterankonzil (Feldkirch, Austria, 1895); KOCH, Der pseudepigraphische Charakter der dionysischen Schriften in Theol. Quartalscrift (Tübingen, 1895), pp. 353-420; IDEM, Proklus, als Quelle des Pseudo-Dionysius, Areop. in der Lehrer vom Bosen in Philologus (1895), pp. 438-454; STIGLMAYR, Controversy with DRASEKE, LANGEN, and NIRSCHL in Byzantinische Zeitschrift (1898), pp. 91-110, and (1899), pp. 263-301, and Histor.-polit. Blatter (1900), CXXV, pp. 541-550 and 613-627; IDEM, Die Lehrer von den Sakramenten und der Kirche nach Pseudo-Dionysius in Zeitschrift fur kath. Theol. (Innsbruck, 1898), pp. 246-303; IDEM, Die Eschatologie des Pseudo-Dionysius, ibid. (1899), pp. 1-21; KOCH, Ps.-Dionysius Areop. in seinen Beziehungen zum Neoplatonismus und Mysterienwesen (Mainz, 1900). See also the articles on Dionysius in the Patrologie of BARDENHEWER (Freiburg, 1901), in the Realencyk. fur prot. Theol., and in the Dict. of Christian Biography.

About this page

APA citation. Stiglmayr, J. (1909). Dionysius the Pseudo-Areopagite. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.

MLA citation. Stiglmayr, Joseph. "Dionysius the Pseudo-Areopagite." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 5. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1909. <>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Geoffrey K. Mondello.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. May 1, 1909. Remy Lafort, Censor. Imprimatur. +John M. Farley, Archbishop of New York.

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