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12 - Pseudo-Dionysius: the mediation of sacred traditions

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  22 September 2009

Kevin Corrigan
Professor of the Liberal Arts Graduate Institute of the Liberal Arts Emory University Atlanta Georgia
Michael Harrington
Assistant Professor of Philosophy University of Dallas
James R. Lewis
University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee
Olav Hammer
University of Southern Denmark
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Dionysius, or Pseudo-Dionysius, as he has come to be called, was an unknown person who wrote in the late fifth or early sixth century ce and who transposed in a thoroughly original way the whole of Pagan Neoplatonism from Plotinus to Proclus into a distinctively new Christian context. Since he represented himself as St. Dionysius the Areopagite, an Athenian member of the judicial council, the Areopagus, who was converted instantly by St. Paul, his work, strictly speaking, might be regarded as a successful “forgery,” providing him with impeccable Christian credentials that conveniently antedated Plotinus by over 200 years. Dionysius' fictitious identity was first seriously called into question by Lorenzo Valla in 1457 and John Grocyn in 1501, a critical viewpoint later accepted and publicized by Erasmus from 1504 onward. But only in modern times has it become generally accepted that instead of being the disciple of St. Paul, Dionysius must have lived in the time of Proclus, and was perhaps of Syrian origin, someone who knew enough of Platonism and the Christian tradition to transform them both. So he has come to be known as Pseudo-Dionysius, that is, a kind of counterfeit representation or forgery of a supposed original.

“Forgery,” however, is a modern notion, from the Anglo-French verb forger, “to falsify or counterfeit” (and more distant still from the Latin fabricari), whose usage is first attested in 1574.

Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2007

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