Dionysius the Areopagite

By the end of the fifth century Christian mysticism was beginning to be profoundly moulded by Neoplatonism, an influence which has persisted into our own day. Very potent were the writings ascribed to Dionysius the Areopagite, mentioned in The Acts of the Apostles as a convert of Paul at Athens. Dionysius was not their author, for they seem to have been composed either in the last quarter of the fifth century or the first half of the sixth century, perhaps by a monk or a bishop. Some of the terminology is Christian, but the basic conceptions are primarily Neoplatonic. God, Who is suprapersonal, supra-essential Essence, above either time or eternity, Who is the source of the universe and Who pervades it, from Whom constantly issue emanations, exercises His power through nine orders of celestial beings and does so on earth through the hierarchy of the Church, which corresponds to the celestial hierarchy and which begins with bishops as the highest rank, has priests in the second rank, and deacons in the third and lowest rank. Every hierarchy culminates in Jesus Christ. The sacraments, administered by the ecclesiastical hierarchy, are the channel of the divine operation of grace. Perhaps in an effort to escape the extreme dualism in the widely prevalent Manichsism, the PseudoDionysius, stressing what had come down from Platonism and Neoplatonism, held that sin is largely negative, that there is nothing that is inherently evil, and that in all evil is some good. Salvation is regarded as the deification of the saved, and deification is the highest possible resemblance to God and union with Him. It is to be sought in moral and intellectual discipline, with the sacraments as an aid and a means, and through contemplation which carries one outside of oneself, above reason, to the vision which realizes that the individual is never really separated from God. Yet the self continues to exist, even when merged with God.

Here were views which either did not emphasize or were contrary to such basic Christian convictions as the creation of the world by the will of God, the corruption of man through man's voluntary rebellion against God, the redemption of man through the self-giving of God in the incarnation, the sacrifice on the cross, and the new birth through the Holy Spirit. The writings of the Pseudo-Dionysius carried great weight, and were to be a handbook of Christian mysticism in both the East and the West.

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