Dionysios the Areopagite is a enigmatic figure who was highly influential for many of the greatest Church Fathers of the East and West, including St. Maximus the Confessor, St. John of Damascus, St. Bonaventure, St. Thomas Aquinas. He originated the entire conception of Christian Angelology and the structure of the Heavens. He is mentioned as a convert to the faith in Acts 17:34 when Paul is preaching in Athens to the Greek philosophers. Around the 5th century there appears a corpus of writings that were attributed to this original Dionysius Areopagite, companion of St. Paul. These writings were highly influential for many of the most important Church Fathers and hence for Catholic teaching, as the perfect blend of philosophy with orthodox Christian belief. Then in the 19th century, a few protestant theologians found identical passages in the Corpus Dionysiacum and the writings of 6th century neoplatonic Proclus. They argued that the author of the Corpus had used a pseudonym and had copied from Proclus. However, a translator of the corpus, John Parker, argues that the primacy is the other way around- Proclus copied from Dionysius Areopagite, the author of the Corpus is in fact the 1st century companion of St. Paul. Parker presents some pretty compelling evidence which I link to. We’ll probably never know the true answer, but the overwhelming academic consensus is that the Corpus Dionsysiacum was composed in the 6th century, not the 1st century. I think that in either case, Dionysius has very important ideas about the synthesis of philosophy and theology. His writing is, in my view, among the most beautiful in the Christian tradition. The topic of pseudonymity itself is an interesting one given the prevalence of pseudonyms (and MASKS) in the political discourse now.
Does he deserve the appellation “pseudo”? Read his writings yourself.
“For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get.” Matthew 7:2
Resources on Dionysios Areopagite:
- The conclusions of John Parker, translator of the Corpus Dionysiacum (1897):
“We have produced the evidence and leave the reader to adopt that conclusion which appears to him most agreeable to historical criticism and common sense. We claim to have verified that famous dictum of the profound Pearson, who, speaking of the writings of Dionysius, wrote: “No one is so ignorant as not to know that these writings were regarded as genuine by the best judges in the 6th, the 5th, the 4th, and the 3rd centuries.””
- The remarks of Pope Benedict XVI (2008):
“But there are two hypotheses concerning this anonymity and pseudonym. The first hypothesis says that it was a deliberate falsification by which, in dating his works back to the first century, to the time of St Paul, he wished to give his literary opus, a quasi apostolic authority. But there is another better hypothesis than this, which seems to me barely credible: namely that he himself desired to make an act of humility; he did not want to glorify his own name, he did not want to build a monument to himself with his work but rather truly to serve the Gospel, to create an ecclesial theology, neither individual nor based on himself.”
- The book of Charles Stang, Apophasis and Pseudonymity in Dionysius the Areopagite: “No Longer I”(2012):
“I highlight one approach to pseudepigrapha, an approach labeled “religious” or “psychological,” which argues that a pseudonymous author had a special kinship with the ancient sage or seer under whose name he wrote, and that pseudonymous writing served to collapse or “telescope” the past and the present, such that the present author and the past luminary could achieve a kind of contemporaneity.” (Chapter 3)
“… there is a peculiar understanding of time at work… such that the saints of the apostolic and sub‐apostolic ages are widely believed to exist in a “timeless communion” with the present age.” (Chapter 3)
- Eusebius’ Church History (340 AD) chapters on Dionysius the Areopagite (Book IV, Chapter 23):
“And first we must speak of Dionysius, who was appointed bishop of the church in Corinth, and communicated freely of his inspired labors not only to his own people, but also to those in foreign lands, and rendered the greatest service to all in the catholic epistles which he wrote to the churches.”