Ambivalence in Dionysius the Areopagite: The Limitations of a Liturgical Reading

In J. Baun, A. Cameron, M. Edwards & M. Vinzent (eds.), Studia Patristica XLVIII. Peeters (2010)
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Abstract

A growing number of scholars claim that the significance of the Corpus Areopagiticum is determined by an ecclesiastical context. When Dionysius demands the negation of every symbol in The Mystical Theology, Andrew Louth and Alexander Golitzin argue that this simply refers to the Christian liturgy. Yet although this reading has helped correct the tendency to reduce the Corpus to a manual for abstracted dogmatics, it obscures Dionysius's often radical negativity. On the one hand, Dionysius sometimes suggests that union with God may be achieved through liturgical ceremonies, and the language of liturgy resonates throughout the Corpus. On the other hand, however, he states that divine transcendence requires "an undivided and absolute abandonment of yourself and everything," which implies that even ecclesial life is not ultimate. Since nothing can capture the transcendent God, Dionysius argues that all theology must fail, and yet his argument is itself theological. It is this paradoxical ambivalence which ensures that the significance of the Corpus is not exhausted by a liturgical reading: Although Dionysius advocates liturgical practice and a robustly affirmative theology, he indicates that "the brilliant darkness of a hidden silence" wherein lies union with God is an eschatological reality which remains yet to come.

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David Newheiser
Australian Catholic University

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