Dionysius the Pseudo-Areopagite

(c. 500)

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mystical theologian. The name given to the author of a body of theological writings to which the supporters of Severus, Patr. of Antioch, appealed in 533, attributing them to Dionysius (1) of Athens. The author is thought to have written in the early 6th cent., probably in Syria. His extant writings are: the ‘Celestial Hierarchy’, which explains how the nine orders of angels mediate God to humanity; the ‘Ecclesiastical Hierarchy’, which deals with the sacraments and the orders of clergy and laity; the ‘Divine Names’, which examines the being and attributes of God; the ‘Mystical Theology’, which describes the ascent of the soul to God; and ten letters.

The aim of Dionysius' works is the union of the whole created order with God, which union is the final stage of a threefold process of purification, illumination, and perfection or union. One aspect of the way to such union or deification is concerned with the use of the sensible created order; this embraces both the use of images as metaphors in theology (e.g. ‘God is a consuming fire’) and the use of material elements in sacramental action. Another aspect concerns the perfecting of our intellectual concepts in their application to God. Both of these reveal that God is beyond symbols and concepts, and this discovery points to ‘apophatic’ theology, in which the soul, passing beyond the perceptions of the senses as well as the reasoning of the intellect, is united with the ‘ray of divine darkness’ and comes to know God through unknowing. Because of their supposed apostolic authority, as well as their intrinsic value, these writings exerted a profound influence on medieval theology in both E. and W.

Subjects: Medieval and Renaissance History (500 to 1500) — Christianity.

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