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The "On the Divine Names" of Ps. Denys the Areopagite Alexopoulos, Lampros


The treatise “On the Divine Names” is written by Psedo Denys (Dionysius) the Areopagite. The treatise extends to thirteen chapters which, when completed, leaves the reader intrigued and fascinated from the beautiful “spectacles” it contains: the infinite manifestation of God's providence; the silent reconciling effect of divine peace; the connecting power of divine eros; the undisputed dominance of the good that pervades everything; the unity of everything in the absolute one, God. Its author presents himself as Dionysius the Areopagite, originally a member of the Athenian judicial council (known as ‘the Areopagus’) in the 1st century C.E. who was converted by Paul and became his disciple (mentioned in “Acts” 17:34). For this reason, Dionysius’s writings retained the status of apostolic authority until the 19th century, when studies proved that the author was deeply influenced by the Athenian Neoplatonic school of Proclus. Hence, the treatise was written in the time of Proclus (ca. 500, since Proclus died in 485 CE and since Severus of Antioch explicitly cites Dionysius’s writings between the years 518-528) by one of his pupils, perhaps of Syrian origin, who knew enough of Platonism and the Christian tradition. The treatise is Dionysius’s longest work. It consists of thirteen chapters and deals with affirmative theology, namely, the names attributed to God in the Scripture. It furthermore explores the limits and the capacities of human language, also involving negative theology. Dionysius deals particularly with the distinction into the multiple attributes of the godhead as a whole. Although the names applied to the godhead refer to it as a unity, each name however is different and it therefore differentiates the godhead. Dionysius’s use of the prefix “over-” indicates the self-multiplication of the godhead, while the use of the prefix “pre-” indicates that God has the attributes of creatures in such a way that he transcends both creature and attribute. The so-called “Corpus Areopagiticum” became extremely popular in the Latin West when the Byzantine emperor Michael II the Stammerer (770-829) sent a copy as a gift to king Louis the Pious in 827. The first translation, made in 838 by the abbot Hilduin of the monastery of Saint Denys near Paris, was so incomprehensible that Charles II the Bald asked John Scottus Eriugena to make a new translation, completed in 862 and revised in 875. The influence of Dionysius in Eriugena’s thought is profound. Dionysius’s writings also had a profound effect in the Franciscan tradition, especially in Robert Grosseteste and Bonaventure. Dionysius’s ideas pervade not only the Italian and English Renaissance, but also the German mystical writers (Mystique rhénane; Rheinländische Mystik), such as Meister Eckhart, Jean Tauler, John van Ruysbroeck, Jean Charlier de Gerson, not to mention Nicholas of Cusa and the Spanish mystics, such as St. John of the Cross.

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