Dionysius the Areopagite

Dionysius the Areopagite was the Bishop of Athens in the first century. An eminent Athenian by birth, Dionysius converted to Christianity through the preaching of Paul up on Mar's Hill. Areopagus is Greek for Mars' Hill. Acts 17:34
Howbeit certain men cleaved unto him (Paul), and believed: among the which was Dionysius the Areopagite, and a woman named Damaris, and others with them.

Dionysius first studied at Athens and a member of the court of the Areopagus. He then travelled at Helipolis in Egypt to study astronomy where he made very particular observations on the great and supernatural eclipse, which happened at the time of Jesus' crucifixion. Dionysius was educated in all the useful and ornamental literature of Greece. The sanctity of his conversion and the purity of his manners recommended him so strongly to the Christians in general, that he was appointed the first Bishop of Athens. At the request of Paul, Dionysius left Athens to meet him there at Rome, for the purpose of being sent by him to Gaul. After many labors and trials, Dionysius suffered martyrdom by fire in Paris. His Feast day is October 9th in the west and October 3rd in the east.

During the Middle Ages Dionysius was credited with writing some philosophical material that may have been actually from the 5th or 6th century. They are the "Celestial Hierarchy, The Ecclesiastical Hierarchy, The Divine Names, Mystical Theology" among others, written in Greek from perhaps Palestine. Whatever the source, they were taken serious and had an effect on the mystical philosophy of the Mediaeval period. They are now known as the writings of Pseudo-Dionysius.


Translated by Rev. John Parker, 1897.

Letter I

To Gaius Therapeutes:

Darkness becomes invisible by light, and specially by much light. Varied knowledge [ai gnoseis], and especially much varied knowledge, makes the Agnosia [Unknowing] to vanish. Take this in a superlative, but not in a defective sense, and reply with superlative truth, that the Agnosia, respecting God, escapes those who possess existing light, and knowledge of things being; and His pre-eminent darkness is both concealed by every light, and is hidden from every knowledge. And, if any one, having seen God, understood what he saw, he did not see Him, but some of His creatures that are existing and known. But He Himself, highly established above mind, and above essence, by the very fact of His being wholly unknown, and not being, both "is" super-essentially, and is known above mind. And the all-perfect Agnosia, in its superior sense, is a knowledge of Him, Who is above all known things.

Letter II

To Gaius Therapeutes:

How is He, Who is beyond all, both above "source of Divinity" and above "source of Good"? [It is possible] provided you understand Deity and Goodness as the very Actuality of the Good-making and God-making gift, and the inimitable imitation of the super-divine and super-good (gift), by aid of which we are deified and made good. For, moreover, if this becomes source of the deification and making good of those who are being deified and made good, He, -- Who is super-source of every source, even of the so-called Deity and Goodness, seeing He is beyond source of Divinity and source of Goodness, in so far as He is inimitable, and not to be retained -- excels the imitations and retentions, and the things which are imitated and those participating.

Letter III

To Gaius Therapeutes:

"Sudden" is that which, contrary to expectation, and out of the, as yet, unmanifest, is brought into the manifest. But with regard to Christ's love of man, I think that the Word of God suggests even this, that the Superessential proceeded forth out of the hidden, into the manifestation amongst us, by having taken substance as man. But, He is hidden, even after the manifestation, or to speak more divinely, even in the manifestation, for in truth this of Jesus has been kept hidden, and the mystery with respect to Him has been reached by no word nor mind, but even when spoken, remains unsaid, and when conceived unknown.

Letter IV

To Gaius Therapeutes

[EDITOR'S NOTE: This letter, with its reference to "theandric energies", has been taken by some readers both in ancient and modern times as evidence that the author was a Monophysite or Monothelite. St. Maximus the Confessor, however, wrote a detailed commentary showing that the text is fully in agreement with the definition of Chalcedon.]

How, you ask, is Jesus, Who is beyond all, ranked essentially with all men? For, not as Author of men is he here called man, but as being in absolute whole essence truly man. But we do not define the Lord Jesus, humanly, for He is not man only, (neither superessential nor man only), but truly man, He Who is pre-eminently a lover of man, the Superessential, taking substance, above men and after men, from the substance of men. And it is nothing less, the ever Superessential, superfull of superessentiality, disregards the excess [ te tautes periousia ] of this, and having come truly into substance, took substance above substance, and above man works things of man. And a virgin supernaturally conceiving, and unstable water, holding up weight of material and earthly feet, and not giving way, but, by a supernatural power standing together so as not to be divided, demonstrate this. Why should anyone go through the rest, which are very many? Through which, he who looks with a divine vision, will know beyond mind, even the things affirmed regarding the love towards man, of (the Lord) Jesus, -- things which possess a force of superlative negation. For, even, to speak summarily, He was not a man, not as "not being man", but as "being from men was beyond men", and was above man, having truly been born man; and for the rest, not having done things Divine as God, nor things human as man, but exercising for us a certain new God-incarnate energy of God having become man.

Letter V

To Dorotheus, Leitourgos:

The Divine gloom is the unapproachable light in which God is said to dwell [1 Tim. 6:6]. And in this gloom, invisible indeed, on account of the surpassing brightness, and unapproachable on account of the excess of the superessential stream of light, enters every one deemed worthy to know and to see God -- by the very fact of neither seeing nor knowing, really entering in Him, Who is above vision and knowledge, knowing this very thing, that He is after all the object of sensible and intelligent perception, and saying in the words of the Prophet, "Thy knowledge was regarded as wonderful by me; It was confirmed; I can by no means attain unto it," [Ps. 138 (139):6]; even as the Divine Paul is said to have known Almighty God, by having known Him as being above all conception and knowledge. Wherefore also, he says, "His ways are past finding out and His Judgements inscrutable," [Rom. 11:33], and His gifts "indescribable", [2 Cor. 9:15], and that His peace surpasses every mind [Phil. 4:7], as having found Him Who is above all, and having known this which is above conception, that, by being Cause of all, He is beyond all.

Letter VI

To Sopatros, Priest

Do not imagine this a victory, holy Sopatros, to have denounced a devotion, or an opinion, which apparently is not good. For neither -- even if you should have convicted it accurately -- are the (teachings) of Sopatros consequently good. For it is possible, both that you and others, whilst occupied in many things that are false and apparent, should overlook the true, which is One and hidden. For neither, if anything is not red, is it therefore white, nor if something is not a horse, is it necessarily a man. But thus will you do, if you follow my advice, you will cease indeed to speak against others, but will so speak on behalf of truth, that every thing said is altogether unquestionable.

Letter VII

To Polycarp -- Hierarch:

  • The Law of Truth (the proclamation of which is more important than the refutation of Greek errors)
  • Response to Sophists, (especially Apollophanes, who was with Dionysius on the Day of the Crucifixion)
  • To Apollophanes, (in hopes of his conversion)
  • Section I.

    I, at any rate, am not conscious, when speaking in reply to Greeks or others, of fancying to assist good men, in case they should be able to know and speak the very truth, as it really is in itself. For, when this is correctly demonstrated in its essential nature, according to a law of truth, and has been established without flaw, every thing which is otherwise, and simulates the truth, will be convicted of being other than the reality, and dissimilar, and that which is seeming rather than real. It is superfluous then, that the expounder of truth should contend with these or those [i.e. Greeks or others]. For each affirms himself to have the royal coin, and perchance has some deceptive image of a certain portion of the true. And, if you refute this, first the one, and then the other, will contend concerning the same. But, when the true statement itself has been correctly laid down, and has remained unrefuted by all the rest, every thing which is not so in every respect is cast down of itself, by the impregnable stability of the really true. Having then as I think well understood this, I have not been over zealous to speak in reply to Greeks or to others; but it is sufficient for me (and may God grant this), first to know about truth, then, having known, to speak as it is fitting to speak.


    But you say, the Sophist Apollophanes rails at me, and calls me parricide, as using, not piously, the writings of Greeks against the Greeks. Yet, in reply to him, it were more true for us to say, that Greeks use, not piously, things Divine against things Divine, attempting through the wisdom of Almighty God to eject the Divine Worship. And I am not speaking of the opinion of the multitude, who cling tenaciously to the writings of the poets, with earthly and impassioned proclivities, and worship the creature rather than the Creator [1 Cor. 2: 7]; but even Apollophanes himself uses not piously things Divine against things Divine; for by the knowledge of things created, well called Philosophy by him and by the divine Paul named Wisdom of God, the true philosophers ought to have been elevated to the Cause of the things created and of the knowledge of them. And in order that he may not improperly impute to me the opinion of others, or that of himself, Apollophanes, being a wise man, ought to recognise that nothing could otherwise be removed from its heavenly course and movement, if it had not the Sustainer and Cause of its being moving it thereto, who forms all things, and "transforms them" according to the sacred text [Amos 5:8 LXX].

    How then does he not worship Him, known to us even from this, and verily being God of the whole, admiring Him for His all causative and super-inexpressible power, when sun and moon together with the universe, by a power and stability most supernatural, were fixed by them to entire immobility and, for a measure of a whole day, all the constellations stood in the same places [Josh. 10:12-14; Ecclus. 46:4; Isaiah 28:21], or (which is greater than even this), if when the whole and the greater and embracing were thus carried along, those embraced did not follow in their course; and when a certain other day was almost tripled in duration, even in twenty whole hours, either the universe retraced contrary routes for so long a time, and (was) turned back by the thus very most supernatural backward revolutions; or the sun, in its own course, having contracted its five-fold motion in ten hours, retrogressively again retraced it in the other ten hours, by traversing a sort of new route. This thing indeed naturally astounded even Babylonians, and, without battle, brought them into subjection to Hezekiah, as though he were a somebody equal to God, and superior to ordinary men. And, by no means do I allege the great works in Egypt, or certain other Divine portents, which took place elsewhere, but the well-known and celestial ones, which were renowned in every place and by all persons [Isaiah 39:1; 4 Kings 20:9-12; 2 Chron. 32:31].

    But Apollophanes is ever saying that these things are not true. At any rate then, this is reported by the Persian sacerdotal legends, and to this day, Magi celebrate the memorials of the threefold Mithras. But let him disbelieve these things, by reason of his ignorance or his inexperience.

    Say to him however, "What do you affirm concerning the eclipse, which took place at the time of the saving Cross?" For both of us at that time, at Heliopolis, being present, and standing together, saw the moon approaching the sun, to our surprise (for it was not appointed time for conjunction); and again, from the ninth hour to the evening, supernaturally placed back again into a line opposite the sun. And remind him also of something further. For he knows that we saw, to our surprise, the contact itself beginning from the east, and going towards the edge of the sun's disc, then receding back, and again, both the contact and the re-clearing, not taking place from the same point, but from that diametrically opposite. So great are the supernatural things of that appointed time, and possible to Christ alone, the Cause of all, Who worketh great things and marvellous, of which there is not number [Mark 15:33; Luke 23:44].

    Section III.

    These things say, if occasion serves, and if possible, O Apollophanes, refute them, and to me, who was then both present with thee, and saw and judged and wondered with thee at them all. And in truth Apollophanes begins prophesying at that time, I know not whence, and to me he said, as of conjecturing the things taking place, "these things, O excellent Dionysius, are requitals of Divine deeds." Let so much be said by us by letter; but you are capable, both to supply the deficiency, and to bring eventually to God that distinguished man, who is wise in many things, and who perhaps will not disdain to meekly learn the truth, which is above wisdom, of our religion.

    Letter X

    To John, Theologos, Apostle and Evangelist, imprisoned in the Isle of Patmos.

    I salute thee, the holy soul! O beloved one! and this for me is more appropriate than for most. Hail! O truly beloved! And to the truly Loveable and Desired, very beloved! Why should it be a marvel, if Christ speaks truly, and the unjust banish His disciples from their cities [Matt. 23:34], themselves bringing upon themselves their due, and the accursed severing themselves, and departing from the holy. Truly things seen are manifest images of things unseen. For, neither in the ages which are approaching, will Almighty God be Cause of the just separations from Himself, but they by having separated themselves entirely from Almighty God; even as we observe the others, becoming here already with Almighty God, since being lovers of truth, they depart from the proclivities of things material, and love peace in a complete freedom from all things evil, and a Divine love of all things good; and start their purification, even from the present life, by living, in the midst of mankind, the life which is to come, in a manner suitable to angels, with complete cessation of passion, and deification and goodness, and the other good attributes. As for you then, I would never be so crazy as to imagine that you feel any suffering; but I am persuaded that you are sensible of the bodily sufferings merely to appraise them. But, as for those who are unjustly treating you, and fancying to imprison, not correctly, the sun of the Gospel, whilst fairly blaming them, I pray that by separating themselves from those things which they are bringing upon themselves they may be turned to the good, and may draw you to themselves, and may participate in the light. But for ourselves, the contrary will not deprive us of the all-luminous ray of John, who are even now about to read the record, and the renewal of this, thy true theology: but shortly after (for I will say it, even though it be rash), about to be united to you yourself. For, I am altogether trustworthy, from having learned, and reading the things made foreknown to you by God, that you will both be liberated from your imprisonment in Patmos, and will return to the Asiatic coast, and will perform there imitations of the good God, and will transmit them to those after you.


    Downloaded from the St. Pachomius Orthodox Library

    Liturgy of St. Dionysius

    [18, BD, 380]

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