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The person of the Pseudo-Areopagite

Dionysius the Areopagite : The person of the Pseudo-Areopagite

Deep obscurity still hovers about the person of the Pseudo-Areopagite. External evidence as to the time and place of his birth, his education, and latter occupation is entirely wanting. Our only source of information regarding this problematic personage is the writings themselves. The clues furnished by the first appearance and by the character of the writings enable us to conclude that the author belongs at the very earliest to the latter half of the fifth century, and that, in all probability, he was a native of Syria. His thoughts, phrases, and expressions show a great familiarity with the works of the neo-Platonists, especially with Plotinus and Proclus. He is also thoroughly versed in the sacred books of the Old and New Testament, and in the works of the Fathers as far as Cyril of Alexandria. (Passages from the Areopagitic writings are indicated by title and chapter. In this article D.D.N. stands for "De divinus nominibus"; C.H. for "Caelestis hierarchia"; E.H. for "Ecclesiastica hierarchia"; Th.M. for "Theologia mystica", which are all found in Migne, P.G., vol. III) In a letter to Polycarp (Ep. Vii; P.G., III, 1080 A) and in "Cael. Hier." (ix, 3; P.G. III, 260 D) he intimates that he was formerly a pagan, and this seems quite probable, considering the peculiar character of his literary work. But one should be more cautious in regard to certain other personal references, for instance, that he was chosen teacher of the "newly-baptized" (D.D.N., iii, 2; P.G. , III, 681 B); that his spiritual father and guide was a wise and saintly man, Hierotheus by name; that he was advised by the latter and ordered by his own superiors to compose these works (ibid., 681 sq.). And it is plainly for the purpose of deceiving that he tells of having observed the solar eclipse at Christ's Crucifixion (Ep., vii, 2; P.G., III, 1081 A) and of having, with Hierotheus, the Apostles (Peter and James), and other hierarchs, looked upon "the Life-Begetting, God-Receiving body, i.e., of the Blessed Virgin" (D.D.N., iii, 2; P.G., III, 681 C). The former of these accounts is based on Matt., xxvii, 45, and Mark, xv,33; the latter refers to the apocryphal descriptions of the "Dormitio Mariae". For the same purpose, i.e., to create the impression that the author belonged to the times of the Apostles and that he was identical with the Areopagite mentioned in the Acts, different persons, such as John the Evangelist, Paul, Timothy, Titus, Justus, and Carpus, with whom he is supposed to be on intimate terms, figure in his writings.