Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite

Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite, also known as pseudo-Denys, is the name scholars have given to an anonymous theologian and philosopher of the 5th century, who wrote a collection of books (Corpus Areopagiticum) falsely ascribed to the Dionysius mentioned in Acts 17:34 ( The author was historically believed to be the Areopagite because he claimed aquaintance with biblical characters. Georgian academician Shalva Nutsubidze and Belgian professor Ernest Honigmann were authors of a theory identitifying pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite with Peter the Iberian.

The author's works currently available include the Divine Names, Celestial Hierarchy, Mystical Theology, Ecclesiastical Hierarchy, and various epistles. He refers in his writings to some other works of his that are no longer extant such as Theological Outlines.

His works are mystical and show strong neo-platonic 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, and others. The liturgical references in his writings also date his corpus after the 4th century.

He appeared to have belonged to the group which attempted to form a compromise position between monophysitism and the orthodox teaching. His writings first appeared in the 5th century, and were used by monophysites to back up parts of their arguments. Gradually however they began to be accepted by other church theologians as well. They grew to be extremely popular amongst theologians in the middle ages, but debates over the authenticity of his works began in the Renaissance.

Pierre Ablard, the 12th century theologian and philosopher, after his unfortunate experience with Heloise, became a Benedictine monk at Saint Denis. Around 1120 he was convicted of teaching Sabellianism and expelled for a short time. Upon his return around 1121, he turned his attention to the story of their patron saint, and disentangled the three Dionysiuses. The monks were offended, and Abelard did not remain long at Saint Denis. The great monastery of Saint Denis just north of Paris claimed to have the relics— the mortal remains— of Dionysius (Dionysius = Denys = Denis = Dennis). However, there are at least three different persons from whom the relics could be:

Two of the three men, of course, actually were named Dionysius, which was not an uncommon Greek name. The monastery of St. Denis cheerfully conflated the three. They had a good Greek edition of pseudo-Dionysius's works given to them by Charles the Bald, which was translated into Latin by John Scotus Eriugena in the late 9th century. This translation widely popularized both pseudo-Dionysius' neo-platonism and his explanation of the angels.

It was around 1500 that Lorenzo Valla did much to establish that the pseudo-Dionysius of the 5th Century could not have been St Paul's convert, though he was unable to identify the actual historical author.

External links

Works available online:

  • Celestial Hierarchy ( (HTML)
  • Mystical Theology ( (Theologica Mystica) (HTML)
  • Works ( (Corpus Areopagiticum) of pseudo-Dionysius including The Divine Names, Mystical Theology, Celestial Hierarchy, Ecclesiatial Hierarchy, and Letters (available in .pdf, HTML, and .txt format)

fr:Pseudo-Denys l'Aropagite it:Pseudo-dionigi ja:偽ディオニシウス・アレオパギタ ru:Дионисий Ареопагит


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