Authored by: Kevin Corrigan , Michael Harrington

Ancient Philosophy of Religion

Print publication date:  July  2013
Online publication date:  September  2014

Print ISBN: 9781844652204
eBook ISBN: 9781315729633
Adobe ISBN: 9781317546511


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For many centuries the four major works and ten letters that form the Corpus Dionysiacum 1 1.

Hereafter abbreviated as follows: On the Divine Names (DN), Mystical Theology (MT), Ecclesiastical Hierarchy (EH), Celestial Hierarchy (CH), and Letters. For Greek text (page and line numbers) see Dionysius (1990, 1991). For translation, see Dionysius (1987). For the ordering of the works and letters, see Hathaway (1969).

were thought to be by St Denys the Areopagite, a member of the Athenian Areopagus converted by St Paul (Acts 17:34), just as their author represents them to be. Doubts about the authorship were raised as early as 532 by a Synod in Constantinople after a pro-monophysite group had claimed support for their views in the corpus, and later still by Peter Abelard (1121), Lorenzo Valla (1457) and John Grocyn (1501), but they were first widely published by Erasmus in 1504. Hardly anyone doubted a generally Platonic background to the corpus, although some, like Luther, thought it “pernicious”: Dionysius “Platonizes more than he Christianizes” (1888: 562). The Neoplatonic character of parts of the corpus was definitively demonstrated in 1895 by Hugo Koch and Josef Stiglmayr (independently): Denys’ presentation of evil as a parhypostasis, or by-product of reality without genuine existence on its own account, was dependent on Proclus’ De malorum subsistentia. 2 2.

See DN 713D–736B.

In fact, the corpus employs language and quotations from Hellenic authors stretching back through Proclus, Iamblichus and Plotinus to Aristotle, Plato and Parmenides. We will probably never know the identity – or gender – of the real author (although many candidates have been proposed 3 3.

See Hathaway (1969: 31–5), for a survey.

), but we can date the public circulation of the corpus approximately to 518–28 since there are references to it in the treatises written by Severus of Antioch in his dispute with Julian of Halicarnassos (which were translated into Syriac in 528 by Paul of Callinicus), since these important works by such a resourceful and mysterious author would hardly have gone uncommented on for long, and since the corpus reveals a thorough knowledge of Athenian Neoplatonism and of elements of Christian liturgy thought to be current in the late fifth century. 4 4.

See Rorem & Lamoreaux (1998: 9ff.).

So St Denys or Dionysius the Areopagite, the supposedly ancient apostolic authority, became the modern Pseudo-Dionysius, perhaps of Syrian birth, misleadingly – and wrongly – labelled as late as 1997 as a ‘ruthless’ usurper of late Neoplatonic philosophy.

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