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Dionysius the Areopagite

The higher we soar in contemplation, the more limited become our expressions of that which is purely intelligible

(Dionysius the Areopagite) 




  • Aquinas on ‘The Good’ as the Principal Name of God: An Aristotelian Reading of Dionysius
    Gregory T. Doolan (read abstract)
    Associate Professor in the School of Philosophy,
    The Catholic University of America

     On a number of occasions, when considering the names that can properly be said of God, Aquinas notably holds that the most proper name is ‘He Who Is’. In this way, Aquinas’s account of divine naming could be seen to stand in contrast to the Platonic tradition of favoring the name of ‘Good’ for the first principle since, in that tradition, the Good is beyond being. With that said, it is important to note that Aquinas himself at times speaks in terms similar to the Platonists, observing both that God is beyond being (supra ens) and that the name of ‘Good’ should, in a respect, be seen as the ‘principal name of God’ (principale nomen dei), namely, inasmuch as he is a cause. This paper offers clarification on how Aquinas reconciles this claim about ‘Good’ as the principal name of God with his position that ‘He Who Is’ is the most proper name of God. Fundamental to this investigation is a consideration of Aquinas’s treatment of as he presents them in his commentary The Divine Names of Ps.-Dionysius.


    On a number of occasions, when considering the names that can properly be said of God, Aquinas notably holds that the most proper name is ‘He Who Is’.{1} In this way, Aquinas’s account of divine naming could be seen to stand in contrast to the Platonic tradition of favoring the name of ‘Good’ for the first principle since, in that tradition, the Good is beyond being.{2} 



    See, e.g., Scriptum super libros Sententiarum magistri Petri Lombardi episcopi Parisiensis I (hereafter Super Sententiis I), ed. P. Mandonnet, vol. 1 (Paris: Lethielleux, 1929), d. 8, q. 1, a. 1 (Mandonnet 1.194–97); Super Sententiis I, d. 8, q. 1, a. 3 (Mandonnet 1.199–201); Liber de veritate catholicae Fidei contra errores infidelium seu Summa contra Gentiles (hereafter SCG), ed. C. Pera and P. Caramello, vols. 2–3 (Turin-Rome: Marietti, 1961), I, c. 22 (Marietti 2.33:211); Contra errores Graecorum ad Urbanum papam (hereafter Contra errores Graecorum), vol. 40 A in Sancti Thomae de Aquino Opera Omnia (Rome: Commissio Leonina, 1967), c. 1 (Leon. 40A.72:55–67); In librum Beati Dionysii De divinis nominibus expositio (hereafter In De div. nom.), ed. C. Pera, P. Caramello, and C. Mazzantini (Turin-Rome: Marietti, 1950), c. 5, lect. 1 (Marietti 236:635); Quaestiones disputatae de potentia (hereafter De potentia), in Quaestiones disputatae, ed. P.M. Pession, 8th rev. ed., vol. 2 (Turin-Rome: Marietti, 1949), q. 7, a. 5 co. (Marietti 2.199); Thomas Aquinas, Pars prima Summae theologiae (hereafter ST I), vol. 4–5 in Sancti Thomae de Aquino Opera Omnia (Rome: Commissio Leonina, 1888, 1889), q. 13, a. 11 (Leon. 4.162).
    For an excellent overview of Aquinas’s treatment of the divine name Qui est, see Brian T. Carl, ‘The Kataphatic and Apophatic Propriety of “Qui Est”’ in Summa Metaphysicae ad Mentem Sancti Thomae: Essays in Honor of John F. Wippel, The Catholic University of America Press, forthcoming.




    Here, and in what follows, I will follow the convention of italicizing words when they refer to notions, concepts, natures, or forms.

  • Gothic Fireflies: The Trinitarian Grammar of Analogy in Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite
    Ryan Haecker (read abstract)
    Assistant Professor of Theology, University of Austin
    Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Rome Prize Research Fellow

     Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite should be celebrated as the Doctor of Darkness (Doctor Tenebrarum). In a Gothic style that reflects the depth of his many masks, his enduring achievement has been to have conceived of a theological grammar to speak of God beyond the haunting spectre of both ancient and modern nihilism. His Christian theological grammar is distinguished by speaking in the sense of a hyperbola (ὑπερβολή) or excess of signification, which signifies beyond yet within the world: first in the positive or cataphatic grammar, a positive judgment speaks of God; second in the negative or apophatic grammar, a higher or hyper-negative judgment annuls the positive, even as it speaks of God ‘beyond being’, and ‘beyond intellect’, as the absolutely originary source of any such positive judgment; and, third in the proportionate or analogical grammar, this procession of divine Power reciprocally annuls the infinite repetition of all such negative judgments, even as, from the centre of this cycle, it constitutes the absolutely higher ground from which alone speech of God is warranted. At the centre of this cycle, Christ can be acknowledged by faith to descend into the depths of the negative so as to shine from within the essentially proportioned and hyperbolic grammar of analogy. The elements of the Latin Scholastic analogy of being can, as this commentary will show, be reconstructed from Pseudo-Dionysius’s hyperbolic grammar. In these hyperbolic arcs, the infinite repetition of hyper-negative judgments is annulled, and yet, in a reciprocal determination, equally constituted to virtually proceed from a higher ground in the essential proportions of analogy. Like fireflies that carry the torch of the Sun before the doors of night, the theological grammar of Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite can be shown to be radically shaped by a Christian and Trinitarian theology, in which Christ the Logos is the originary ground and source, not only of the hyper-negative, but of the essential proportions of the analogia entis. 

    Introduction: The Gothic Style

    Darkness is the oldest depth of light. As a firefly dances upon the air, its light shines, not simply from, but through the punctuated intervals of this veil of night. Like the birth of a star, it shines, not from without, but radically from within the hidden chambers of its exploding heart. The firefly can, in this way, be distinguished from woodland fairies, sprites, and will-o’-wisps by the bio-luminescent incandescence of the fire that shines from within its abdomen. 

  • A Transformation of Mediation: Procline Hypostases as Dionysian Processions
    Daniel Heide (read abstract)
    PhD, McGill University

     Recently, I have argued that both Dionysius and Maximos Confessor subscribe to a doctrine of creation ex deo, or creation as divine self-impartation, such that all things are grounded in, and hence derived from, the One God as the ultimate archē of existence. This raises a crucial problem: if all things are derived from God in what sense can they be affirmed to be genuinely other than God? Proclus accounts for this otherness through the proliferation of mediating terms. Dionysius transforms this pagan approach into a more ‘immediate’, energeic model of mediation. For Dionysius, creation ex deo is not creation from the divine ousia but from the uncreated energies, or grace, of God. This view is not pantheism but panentheism. 


    Recently, I have argued that both Dionysius and Maximos the Confessor subscribe to a doctrine of creation ex deo, or creation as divine self-impartation, such that all things are grounded in, and hence derived from, the One as the ultimate archē of existence. In this, they are in continuity with pagan Neoplatonists such as Plotinus and Proclus who affirm the necessity of a unifying principle of reality without which multiplicity itself could not exist. 

  • Being and Cosmic Hierarchy in Pseudo-Dionysius’ De Divinis Nominibus
    Marcus Hines (read abstract)
    PhD, University of Georgia

     Dionysius’ ordering of the processions being, life, and wisdom in De Divinis Nominibus book 5 seems to conflict with the structure of his cosmology. He argues that the procession being extends further than life and wisdom, while intellects are closer to God than things that have only life or being. His reply in 5.3 to the objection that if being is first among processions, then mere beings rather than intellects should be first in the cosmic hierarchy paradoxically reinforces the problem insofar as it implies that the cause of intellects, namely wisdom, must be most complete among processions. I will first spell out the apparent conflict between the orderings of the processions and the cosmic hierarchy, and then offer a solution by drawing a parallel between Dionysius’ conception of love and the procession being. I will show that, by the nature of love, as illustrated by the image of the circle whose beginning and end is God, all beings depend in their essence on other beings, and therefore neither intellects nor wisdom are simply complete, thus defusing the apparent contradiction between the processions and the hierarchy. 


    In De Divinis Nominibus 1.1-3, Pseudo-Dionysius (whom I will henceforth refer to simply as ‘Dionysius’) argues that the procession being is prior to life and wisdom. This priority seems contrary to Dionysius’ ranking of natures in his cosmic hierarchy, according to which angelic intellects, not inanimate beings, hold the highest place. 

  • As in God’s Eye It Is How Thomas Aquinas and Dionysius Resolve the Greatest Difficulty
    Conor Stark (read abstract)
    Graduate Fellow, School of Philosophy, The Catholic University of America, Washington D.C.

     In this paper, I compare Dionysius’s and Aquinas’s strategies of solving the problem of the One and the Many. That is, I examine how they reconcile the simplicity of the Divine Essence with the multiplicity of the Divine Ideas. I claim that they posit a perfect conceptual overlap between the ‘contents’ of certain Exemplar Ideas and the creatures fashioned in their likeness. My argument proceeds in two steps. First, I analyze the analogous significations of the Divine Names and how these senses facilitate Dionysius’s and Thomas’s metaphysical reductions of created esse to Ipsum Esse. Second, I develop the implications of these accounts of exemplar causality by contrasting them with a form of Platonism. Such Platonism reifies the Divine Names, turning them into separate hypostases and exemplar causes, which creatures only imperfectly participate. For Thomas and Dionysius, by contrast, creatures perfectly resemble God’s Ideas. Given this perfect resemblance, I conclude that, in some sense, one can know the ‘contents’ of God’s creative intentions simply by coming to know creatures. However, I conclude by adding several, important caveats to our knowledge of the Divine Exemplars.

    “‘The greatest difficulty,’ Parmenides said, ‘is the following.’”{1} So begins Plato’s most challenging critique of exemplarism in Parmenides. The elderly philosopher asks Socrates how knowledge of the Ideas is possible if individuals only partly resemble them. For Socrates is a man rather than the fullness of ‘what it is to be man’. The latter signifies or ‘holds back’ more perfections than those captured by this or that man. 


    Plato, Opera: Volume II: Parmenides, Philebus, Symposium, Phaedrus, Alcibiades I and II, Hipparchus, Amatores, ed. J. Burnet, 2nd edition (Oxonii: Clarendon Press, 1922) 133b–c.

  • The divine ‘processions’ in Dionysius the Areopagite and the ‘henads’ in Proclus: as two expressions of the transition from the divine transcendence to the divine immanence
    Christos Terezis & Lydia Petridou (read abstract)
    Professor of Ancient Greek and Byzantine Philosophy at the Department of Philosophy at the University of Patras, Greece, and Course Director of the Orthodox Theology Studies M.A.
    at the Hellenic Open University
    Dr of Ancient Greek and Byzantine Philosophy, Academic Staff at the Department of Greek Civilization at the Hellenic Open University

     In this article, bearing in mind the impressive relations between the Neoplatonist Proclus and the Christian Dionysius the Areopagite in all the theoretical philosophical branches, we focus on one of their central points in common, which is found in Proclus’s theory of divine henads and Dionysius’s theory of the divine ‘processions’. Specifically, based on the third book of Proclus’ treatise Theologia Platonica and Dionysius’ De divinis nominibus, we attempt to investigate the way in which they interpret the transition from the metaphysics of transcendence to the metaphysics of immanence. In this path, the explanation of the concept of ‘multitude’ is important. Hence, based on their common acceptance that the supreme Principle does not remain in the transcendent state but also manifests productively, the major question that concerns us is what each of the two philosopher-theologians means by ‘multitude’ and, by extension, how they define the relationship of the One-Good with this ‘multitude’ in order to prove on an objective basis the way of manifestation and the products of Henology. The theoretical approach of the relevant texts of both leads us to the concept and function of the intermediate realities. Therefore, we discuss how we could explain and interpret these intermediate realities, under the explicit term that Dionysius supports monotheistic monism while Proclus adopts polytheistic monism.


    In the fifth century AD, genuine philosophical reflection, under the criterion that was formed mainly during the fourth century BC, is in a dialectical reciprocity with the treatment of theological and metaphysical issues, or in other words, rationality with religiosity respectively. So, it has undergone transformations internally and in terms of its expressions. 

  • The Birth of an Idea: How Bonaventure Reformulates Dionysian Procession as Eternal Wisdom Birthing the Divine Ideas on the Cross Part I: Virtual Procession from the Sentences Commentary to the Disputed Questions on the Knowledge of Christ
    Luke V. Togni (read abstract)
    Franciscan Institute, St. Bonaventure University

     Bonaventure is among the most Dionysian thinkers of his age, heartily embracing the diffusivity of the Good, hierarchy as the worshipful participation in God’s distribution of divine life, and the excessive nature of divine union beyond intellect. It is therefore curious that he neither employs nor even discusses Dionysius’ creative proodoi—aside from one instance in the De Mysterio Trinitatis—despite an abundance of citations from the Dionysian Corpus, and especially the Divine Names across his career. Nevertheless, what Bonaventure read of these proodoi or processus (in Latin), and Dionysius’ account of divine egress can be detected in his corpus. This two-part article will argue that Bonaventure’s use of rationes, an equivalent for the Dionysian logoi, present the best avenue for assessing how the substance of Dionysian proodoi enters his thought. Furthermore, it will argue that by following Bonaventure’s use of the rationes a development can be traced through a remarkable trajectory, from an early reticence to admit a divine egress in the Sentences Commentary through to a profound integration of that egress in Trinitarian life under the image of the rationes birth from eternal Wisdom on the cross.

    Part I of this article will address Bonaventure’s early use of the rationes aeternae from the Sentences Commentary to the more robust entry of the substance of Dionysius proodoi in Disputed Questions on the Knowledge of Christ, which develops into a virtual account of divine procession unto creatures in Bonaventure’s articulation of ‘causal knowing’. 

  • Ontological Prayer in Part 3 of On the Divine Names and the early Syriac tradition, with especial respect to ’Aphrahaṭ, the Book of Steps, and St Ephrem’s Hymns on Prayer
    Miklos Vassanyi (read abstract)
    Karoli Gaspar University, Budapest

     In this paper, I depart from a philosophical analysis of the opening chapter of part 3 of On the Divine Names, which encapsulates a theory of prayer that has been pegged as ‘ontological’. On account of this chapter I first look into how it specifies the relationship between the divine facet designated as the Good and the other processions or energies. Then I proceed to search for potential prefigurations of an ontological theory of prayer among relevant early Syriac source texts, in search of further evidence for the thesis that Denys’ cultural and ecclesiastic background is a bilingual Greek and Syriac Christian community. In so doing, I look over some of ’Aphrahaṭ’s discourses, then the so-called Book of Steps, and, finally, St Ephrem’s Hymns on Faith. I conclude that although several significant momenta of what has been labelled as the ontological prayer are found in these sources—thus certainly foreshadowing Denys’ idea of prayer—they are nevertheless probably only second to the influence of the Desert Father Evagrius Ponticus, a grand theoretician of prayer.

     Chapter 1 of Part 3 of On the Divine Names opens with the compound imperative that 1. research into the divine names must start with the ‘Good’ because as a kind of universal revelatory term it best uncovers all the rest of the divine outpourings; and that 2. before embarking upon that investigation, a prayer must be addressed to the Trinity because it is the highest ranking source of revelation of all the processions, including even the Good.