The Problem of Paradigmatic Causality and Knowledge in Dionysius the Areopagite and His First Commentator

Dissertation, Boston College (2001)

Michael Harrington
Duquesne University
The Neoplatonic philosopher Proclus disagrees with his predecessor Plotinus on the degree to which human souls can liken themselves to the paradigms, the intellectual formal causes of the sensible world. Plotinus claims that a part of the soul is itself an intellect and not just a likeness of an intellect, while Proclus denies that the soul can ever be more than a likeness of intellect. ;This explicit conflict between Proclus and Plotinus repeats itself implicitly in the work of the author who called himself Dionysius the Areopagite after the convert of St. Paul mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles, and Dionysius' first commentator, an anonymous scholiast assumed by many to be John of Scythopolis. Dionysius follows Proclus on the question of how the human soul likens itself to intellect. Human souls and angelic intellects all receive their likeness to this divine intellect as a gift given to them at their own level of thought . The divine intellect is light ; what the human souls and angelic intellects receive is a gift of light . ;The first commentator on Dionysius subverts Dionysius' denial of paradigmatic knowledge to human souls and angelic intellects, probably without realizing it. This commentator had access, if not to a complete copy of Plotinus' Enneads, at least to a set of extensive quotations from various treatises of Plotinus. Not only does he quote Plotinus extensively in his commentary, but his own comments on Dionysius reflect the Plotinian account of how human souls liken themselves to the demiurgic intellect. Dionysius' commentator posits the paradigms both as the intellectual side of God and as the substrate of every intellectual being, which for him includes both human souls and angelic intellects. In the work of this first commentator on Dionysius, we see a tension between the Plotinian and Proclan approaches to human knowledge of the divine intellect which prefigures later treatments of the tension in the medieval reception of Dionysius and Augustine
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