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Dionysius the Areopagite

Works and Western literature

Works and Western literature

Dionysius the Areopagite : Works and Western literature

The works of Dionysius, thus introduced into Western literature, were readily accepted by the medieval Scholastics. The great masters of Saint-Victor at Paris, foremost among them the much admired Hugh, based their teaching on the doctrine of Dionysius. Peter Lombard and the great Dominican and Franciscan scholars, Alexander of Hales, Albertus Magnus, Thomas Aquinas, Bonaventure, adopted his theses and arguments. Master poets, e.g. Dante, and historians, e.g. Otto of Freising, built on his foundations. Scholars as renowned as Robert Grosseteste of Lincoln and Vincent of Beauvais drew upon him freely. Popular religious books, such as the "Legenda aurea" of Giacommo da Varagine and the "Life of Mary" by Brother Philip, gave him a cordial welcome. The great mystics, Eckhadt, Tauler, Suso, and others, entered the mysterious obscurity of Dionysius with holy reverence. In rapid succession there appeared a number of translations: Latin translations by Joannes Sarrazenus (1170), Robert Grosseteste (about 1220), Thomas Vercellensis (1400), Ambrosius Camaldulensis (1436), Marsilius Ficinus (1492); in the sixteenth century those of Faber Stapulensis, Perionius, etc. Among the commentaries that of Hugh of Saint-Victor is notable for its warmth, that of Albertus Magnus for its extent, that of St. Thomas for its accuracy, that of Denys the Carthusian for its pious spirit and its masterly inclusion of all previous commentaries.

It was reserved for the period of the Renaissance to break with the time-honoured tradition. True, some of the older Humanists, as Pico della Mirandola, Marsilius Ficinus, and the Englishmen John Colet, were still convinced of the genuineness of the writings; but the keen and daring critic, Laurentius Valla (1407-1457) in his glosses to the New Testament, expressed his doubts quite openly and thereby gave the impulse, at first for the scholarly Erasmus (1504), and later on for the entire scientific world, to take sides either with or against Dionysius. The consequence was the formation of two camps; among the adversaries were not only Protestants (Luther, Scultetus, Dallaeus, etc.) but also prominent Catholic theologians (Beatus Rhenanus, Cajetan, Morinus, Sirmond, Petavius, Lequien, Le Nourry); among the defenders of Dionysius were Baronius, Bellarmine, Lansselius, Corderius, Halloix, Delario, de Rubeis, Lessius, Alexander Netalis, and others. The literary controversy assumed such dimensions and was carried on so vehemently that it can only be compared to the dispute concerning the Pseudo-Isidorian decretals and the pseudo-Constantinian donation. In the nineteenth century the general opinion inclined more and more towards the opposition; the Germans especially, Mohler, Fessler, Dollinger, Hergenrother, Alzog, Funk, and others made no reserve of their decision for the negative. At this juncture the scholarly professor Franz Hipler came forward and attempted to save the honor of Dionysius. He finds in Dionysius not a flasifier, but a prominent theologian of the fourth century who, through no fault of his own, but owing to the misinterpretation of some passages, was confounded with the Areopagite. Many Catholics, and many Protestants as well, voiced their approval. Finally, in 1895 there appeared almost simultaneously two independent researches, by Hugo Koch and by Joseph Stiglmayr, both of whom started from the same point and arrived at the same goal. The conclusion reached was that extracts from the treatise of the neo-Platonist Proclus, "De malorum subsistentia" (handed down in the Latin translation of Morbeka, Cousin ed., Paris, 1864), had been used by Dionysius in the treatise "De div. Nom." (c. iv, sections 19-35) A careful analysis brought to light an astonishing agreement of both works in arrangement, sequence of thought, examples, figures, and expressions. It is easy to point out many parallelisms from other and later writings of Proclus, e.g. from his "Institutio theologica", "theologia Platonica", and his commentary on Plato's "Parmenides", "Alcibiades I", and "Timaeus" (these five having been written after 462).

Accordingly, the long-standing problem seem to be solved in its most important phase. As a matter of fact, this is the decision pronounced by the most competent judges, such as Bardenhewer, Erhard, Funk, Diekamp, Rauschen, De Smedt, S.J., Duchesne, Battifol,; and the Protestant scholars of early Christian literature, Gelzer, Harnack, Kruger, Bonwetsch. The chronology being thus determined, an explanation was readily found for the various objections hitherto alleged, viz. The silence of the early Fathers, the later dogmatic terminology, a developed monastic, ceremonial, and penitential system, the echo of neo-Platonism, etc. On the other hand it sets at rest many hypotheses which had been advanced concerning the author and his times and various discussions---whether, eg., a certain Apollinaris, or Synesius, or Dionysius Alexandrinus, or a bishop of Ptolemais, or a pagan hierophant was the writer.

A critical edition of the text of the Areopagite is urgently needed. The Juntina (1516), that of Basle (1539), of Paris (1562 and 1615), and lastly the principal edition of Antwerp (1634) by Corderius, S.J., which was frequently reprinted (Paris, 1644, 1755, 1854) and was included in the Migne collection (P.G., III and IV with Lat. trans. And additions), are insufficient because they make use of only a few of the numerous Greek manuscripts and take no account of the Syriac, Armenian, and Arabic translations. The following translations have thus far appeared in modern languages: English, by Lupton (London, 1869) and Parker (London, 1894), both of which contain only the "Cael. Hierarchia" and the "Eccles. Hier."; German, by Engelhardt (Sulzbach, 1823) and Storf, "Kirkliche Hierarchie" (Kempten, 1877); French, by Darboy (Paris, 1845) and Dulac (Paris, 1865).

For the older literature, cf. CHEVALIER, Bio. Bibl. (Paris, 1905). Recent works treating of Dionysius: HIPLER, Dionysius der Areopagite, Untersuchungen (Ratisbon, 1861); IDEM in Kirkchenlex., s.v.; SCHNEIDER, Areopagitica, Verteiligung ihrer Echteit (Ratisbon, 1886); FROTHINGHAM, Stephen Bar Sudaili (Leyden, 1886); STIGLMAYR, Der Neuplatoniker Proklus als Vorlage des sog. Dionysius Areopagita in der Lehre vom Uebel in Hist. Jahrb. Der Gorres-Gesellschaft (1895), pp. 253-273 and 721-748: IDEM, Das Aufkommen der pseudo-dionysischen Scriften und ihr Eindringen in die christliche Literatur bis zum Laterankonzil (Feldkirch, Austria, 1895); KOCH, Der pseudepigraphische Charakter der dionysischen Schriften in Theol. Quartalscrift (Tubingen, 1895), pp. 353-420; IDEM, Proklus, als Quelle des Pseudo-Dionysius, Areop. In der Lehrer vom Bosen in Philologus (1895), pp. 438-454; STIGLMAYR, Controversy with DRASEKE, LANGEN, and NIRSCHL in Byzantinische Zeitschrift (1898), pp. 91-110, and (1899), pp. 263-301, and Histor.-polit. Blatter (1900), CXXV, pp. 541-550 and 613-627; IDEM, Die Lehrer von den Sakramenten und der Kirche nach Pseudo-Dionysius in Zeitschrift fur kath. Theol. (Innsbruck, 1898), pp. 246-303; IDEM, Die Eschatologie des Pseudo-Dionysius, ibid. (1899), pp. 1-21; KOCH, Ps.-Dionysius Areop. In seinen Beziehungen zum Neoplatonismus und Mysterienwesen (Mainz, 1900). See also the articles on Dionysius in the Patrologie of BARDENHEWER (Freiburg, 1901), in the Realencyk. Fur prot. Theol., and in the Dict. of Christian Biography.


Source : JOS. STIGLMAYR, Transcribed by Geoffrey K. Mondello in


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