Image: Dionysius the Areopagite

Dionysius the Areopagite (flourished 1st

Dionysius the Areopagite (flourished 1st century), member of the Areopagus in Athens and convert to Christianity through the preaching of Saint Paul, as related in Acts 17:34. Nothing more is definitely known about him. He is reputed to have been the first bishop of Athens and to have been martyred there in the reign of Domitian, emperor of Rome. Another tradition confuses him with the apostle to France, Saint Denis.

Throughout the Middle Ages a body of Greek

Throughout the Middle Ages a body of Greek writings that modern scholars identify as the work of a 6th-century Neoplatonist (known as the Pseudo-Dionysius) was ascribed to Dionysius. These writings include "The Celestial Hierarchy" and "The Ecclesiastical Hierarchy," works dealing respectively with the three triads of orders of angelic beings and with their earthly counterparts; "The Divine Names," a treatise on what biblical appelations of the Deity can teach respecting his nature and attributes; and "Mystic Theology," in which the author expounds a form of intuitive mysticism.

These pseudo-Dionysiac writings

These pseudo-Dionysiac writings, which may have been written in Syria or Egypt, were first cited in 553 at the second Council of Constantinople. Their influence is apparent in the theological system of the 8th-century Doctor of the Eastern church John of Damascus. In the West they were unknown until early in the 7th century, but later they exerted a vast influence upon the thought of Christian Europe. In the 9th century they were translated into Latin by the Scottish theologian John Scotus Erigena, and in this more accessible form they furnished inspiration to the Scholastic theologians, notably St. Thomas Aquinas, and to the English humanists John Colet and William Grocyn. From them, theologians and artists derived a conception of angels and were introduced to the ideas of Neoplatonism. The influence of these writings is plainly discernible in "The Divine Comedy" of Dante and in the works of the English poet John Milton. The Dutch humanist Desiderius Erasmus was among those who first cast doubt upon the assumption that Dionysius was the author of these writings.

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