AN ABSOLUTELY SIMPLE GOD?FRAMEWORKS FOR READING PSEUDO-DIONYSIUS AREOPAGITE
John D. Jones
Marquette University Milwaukee, Wisconsin
ALTHOUGH LARGELY NEGLECTED in the West during recent centuries as formative for philosophy and theology, the writings attributed to Dionysius the Areopagite, the
), exercised substantial influence during the Western Christian medieval and Renaissance periods. John Scotus Eriugena, John Sarracen, Robert Grosseteste, and Marsilio Ficino produced some of the major Latin translations of the corpus. Albert the Great wrote commentaries on all the major works of Dionysius; Robert Grosseteste wrote commentaries on several of them. Aquinas wrote a commentary on the
and in addition refers directly to Dionysius in nearly 2200 texts--more references than to any other authors except Aristotle and Augustine. Dionysius's influence continued to be felt through the Renaissance period among thinkers such as Marsilio Ficino, Nicholas of Cusa, Meister Eckhart, and Dante.The writings of Dionysius have enjoyed an enduring formative status in the Eastern Orthodox Church. Dionysius's writings are central to the Byzantine tradition that runs through the Cappadocian fathers, Maximus the Confessor, John Damascene, Gregory Palamas, and into the twentieth century among thinkers such as Vladimir Lossky and Christoph Yannaras. A stichera or verse for vespers for the feast day of St. Dionysius Areopagite (Oct. 3) reflects the honor still accorded these writings and their author.
As a friend of wisdom to the point of coming to resemble God as closely as possible, O blessed Dionysius, you mystically explained the divine names. Initiated as you were by union with God in the mysteries that surpass all understanding, you taught them to the ends of the earth.
Moreover, during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, when the dependence of the
on Neoplatonic authors such as Proclus was firmly established, a number of scholars came to view the
as fundamentally Neoplatonic in spirit: in some cases compatible with the Christian teachings it contained, while in other cases using the Christian teachings as a "front" to promulgate a Neoplatonic view of the world.
In this paper I will sketch three frameworks for reading the texts of Dionysius: Neoplatonic, Scholastic,
and Byzantine. Of course, each of the historical traditions associated with these