45 of 47 people found the following review helpful
Dionysius the Great,
This review is from: Pseudo Dionysius: The Complete Works (Classics of Western Spirituality) (Paperback)
"It would be a challenging project, but a fascinating one, to write the history of Western Christian spirituality in the late patristic and medieval periods primarily or even exclusively on the basis of those neglected writings that are identified in successive volumes of J. P. Migne's Patrologia Latina and Patrologia Graeca as 'spurious' or as 'dubious,' together with the purportedly authentic writings that in fact belong in the same categories." So Jaroslav Pelikan begins his introduction - it is the first of three introductions - to the complete works of Pseudo-Dionysius. That there should be three introductory essays detailing the history and reception of the Dionysian corpus simply goes to show how utterly important these writings are, despite the fact that we do not know (or perhaps we simply do not believe?) who wrote them. It is perfectly accurate to write that above any other writings of the Patristic period, these writings are the most influential mystical writings of not only the early Church, but of all Christian history.
It is currently believed that the writer who called himself Dionysius the Aeropagite (St. Paul's first convert) was a monk from Syria in the fifth or sixth century. Most of his writings have been lost (or, if one wishes to be suspicious about it, were never really written in the first place), but those that remain - The Divine Names, The Mystical Theology, The Celestial Hierarchy, The Ecclesiastical Hierarchy and ten Letters - have all been translated and copiously annotated in the present volume.
Dionysius is best known for his understanding that theological language exists to be surpassed by "a mystical silence" that is at the height of all theological contemplation: union with God. The belief that doxology is overflown by the God that our language points and reaches out to is central to Dionysius' worldview. However, there is are two essential connections that one must make here. First, because our language - which is "cataphatic" (that is, it affirms something) - is surpassed by God, apophaticism (language that denies something) is truer of God than cataphaticism. Second - and this is the more important point - God is also beyond apophaticism. Thus, cataphatically I say "God is good", apophatically I follow with "God is not good", and find myself pushed to affirm that "God is beyond goodness as I understand goodness to be". Dionysius refuses to allow us to drown in apophatic quietism and pushes us to let God "overflow" our theological language (and he uses the image of overflowing frequently).
Central to Dionysius' paradigm is the liturgy as a participation with the heavenly choirs of angels; in short, liturgy as mystical. Such liturgy is inspired by God - the theologian is the one who is given inspired visions of God - and the purpose of worship is ascent to Christ. Some have claimed that Dionysius is fundamentally deficient in his trinitarian theology, but if one understands his understanding of Jesus as the divine mediatory and the Holy Spirit as the one who inspire (as in St. Paul), then what emerges is not an underveloped theology, but a theology that sees that activity of the whole Trinity as foundational to our experience of God in worship, lifting us to see God's own face in a "dazzling darkness" - not because of absence, but because of the overflowing light of the Godhead which blinds our natural eyes just as it inspires desire within us.
These writings are theologically dense, to put it simply. Yet, they are profound. For those that are well-versed in the doctrines of the Incarnation and Trinity, they will find these writings to be a helpful next step in understanding better the functions of theological language, especially within the liturgical context.
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Initial post: Aug 2, 2007 10:50:12 PM PDT
A compelling review for the great(est) mystical theologian, since the great is reserved for his synonym, anothor Neoplatonist Christian, the head of the catechetical school and Bishop of Alexandria. Amazingly his impact on Western mysticism surpassed all other masters of the art, Issac the Syrian, Ephrem and the mystical Abbot John.
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