The Writings of St. Dionysius the Areopagite

Originally posted 3/17/2010.

Popular but Faulty Arguments Against Genuineness
1. Most articles on “Pseudo-” Dionysius the Areopagite state that the Monophysite Patriarch Severus of Antioch was the first person to allude to or quote the Corpus Areopagitum. Because the writers of those articles date the Dionysian Corpus to around the time of Severus, they assume that it was the Areopagite who plagiarized from Proclus (412-485) and Plotinus (204-270), not the other way around. They make the author to be writing after the Fourth Ecumenical Council, Chalcedon (451) just because he uses one eminently Chalcedonian term to describe the union of the two natures. They also accuse him of the heresy of Monoenergism, when in fact the expressions of the Areopagite about the “new theandric operation” are in perfect harmony with the Catholic faith, and were treated as such by many Fathers, Doctors, and saints.

Exhibit A: St. Jerome the Great
2. It is not hard to dismiss most of the arguments against the genuineness of the writings, but do we have any positive evidence that the Dionysian Corpus was known before the time of the impious Severus? Indeed we do have two pieces of positive evidence. In the first place, the great hieromonk St. Jerome of Strido, a Doctor of the Church, writes in his 381 Letter 18:9 to Pope St. Damasus I of Rome (I thank John Sanidopoulos of the Mystagogy blog for pointing me to this translation):

One of the Greeks, a man particularly learned in the Scriptures, has explained that the Seraphim are certain powers in the heavens which, standing before the tribunal of God, praise Him and are sent on various errands and particularly to those who are in need of cleansing and (by reason of former sins) in some measure need purification.

The best match of St. Jerome’s description is, beyond any reasonable doubt, the writer of the Dionysian Corpus, for that wonderful man says in On the Celestial Hierarchy 13:2:

Some, then, affirm that, according to the definition already given of the mutual relation of all the Minds, the Logion does not name one of the highest around God, as having come for the cleansing of the Theologian, but that some one of the Angels, placed over us as a sacred Minister of the Prophet’s cleansing, is called by the same name as the Seraphim, on the ground that the removal of the faults spoken of, and the restoration of him who was cleansed for the Divine mission, was through fire; and they say that the Logion speaks simply of one of the Seraphim, not one of those who are established around God, but one of the Powers set over us for the purpose of cleansing.

Even greater parallels can be found in section 4 of Chapter 13.

Exhibit B: St. Dionysius the Great of Alexandria
3. Secondly, the valiant monk St. Maximus the Confessor of Constantinople wrote in his Scholium on Chapter 5 of On the Celestial Hierarchy that Archbishop St. Dionysius I the Great of Alexandria (200-265) mentioned St. Dionysius the Areopagite by name in his letter to Pope St. Sixtus II the Martyr of Rome (my gratitude again to John Sanidopoulos for pointing me to this quotation):

Why, since the Church says that all the holy angels are of the same being, does the divine Dionysius call the Powers many? The great Dionysius, the bishop of Alexandria, the Rhetor, says in his “Scholia” to the blessed Dionysius, his namesake, that the external philosophy came into the habit to call “not born” (agenneton) all the unseen Being and the hypostaseis of the Being; that is why it is said that St. Dionysius used abusively these words, according to those from outside.

Unfair Dismissal of the Latter Evidence
4. Footnote 39 on page 11 of Ronald F. Hathaway’s 1969 Hierarchy and the Definition of Order in the Letters of Pseudo-Dionysius says, “It is known that George of Scythopolis, John’s successor, wrote the Ps.-Dionysius of Alexandria, Letter to Pope Sixtus II, in defense of the Corpus’ authenticity. Cf. P. Sherwood, ‘Denys l’Aréopagite (Histoire),’ Dictionnaire de Spiritualité, op. cit, col. 287.” I expected conclusive proof from Polycarp Sherwood’s article in the third tome of Dictionnaire de Spiritualité that George of Scythopolis forged the letter of St. Dionysius the Great of Alexandria to Pope St. Sixtus II the Martyr of Rome; instead, the closest the article comes to doing that is its reference to other words to consult in column 289: Hans Urs von Balthasar, Das Scholienwerk des Johannes von Scythopolis, in Scholastik, t. 15, 1940, p. 19 note; O. Bardenhewer, Geschichte., t. 4, p. 296-297. I am grateful to patristics scholar Fr. Stefan Zara of Romania for granting me access to Sherwood’s article. Are these scholars merely begging the question? I won’t know for sure until I look at these references in the university library when I get back from spring break. In the meantime, I maintain the old tradition of many saints that St. Dionysius the Areopagite, the martyred second bishop of Athens who reposed in the Lord in 96, is the author of the profound and marvelous works attributed to him.

Prayers to St. Dionysius the Areopagite
Troparion – Tone 4
Having learned goodness and maintaining continence in all things,
you were arrayed with a good conscience as befits a priest.
From the chosen Vessel you drew ineffable mysteries;
you kept the faith, and finished a course equal to His.
Bishop martyr Dionysius, entreat Christ God that our souls may be saved.

Kontakion – Tone 8
As a disciple of the apostle caught up to the third heaven,
you spiritually entered the gate of Heaven, Dionysius.
You were enriched with understanding of ineffable mysteries
and enlightened those who sat in the darkness of ignorance.
Therefore we cry to you: Rejoice, universal Father!

One Response to The Writings of St. Dionysius the Areopagite

  1. […] and subjected to tortuous exegesis by Palamas and his followers; several passages from St. Maximus, Pseudo-Dionysius, and others, which Nicephorus Gregoras assembled in his discussion with Nilus Cabasilas, Hist. […]

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