1902 Encyclopedia > Dionysius the Areopagite

Dionysius the Areopagite
Athenian judge who became Bishop of Athens
(fl. 1st century AD)




DIONYSIUS, the Areopagite, according to Suidas, was an Athenian by birth, and eminent for his literary attainments. He studied first at Athens, and afterwards at Heliopolis in Egypt, While in the latter city, he beheld that remarkable eclipse of the sun, as he terms it, which took place at the death of Christ, and exclaimed to his friend Apollophanes, _____, " Either the Divinity suffers, or sympathizes with some sufferer." He further details that, after Dionysius returned to Athens, he was admitted into the Areopagus, and, having embraced Christianity about 50 A.D., was constituted bishop of Athens by the apostle Paul (Acts xvii. 34). Aristides, an Athenian philosopher, asserts that he suffered martyrdom—a fact generally admitted by historians; but the precise period of his death, whether under Domitian, Trajan, or Adrian, is not certain. A writer in later times attempted to personate the Areopagite, and contrived to pass his productions on the Christian world as of the apostolic age, thereby greatly influencing the spirit of both the Eastern and Western Churches. These writings consist of a book called The Celestial Hierarchy; another Of the Ecclesiastical Hierarchy ; A Treatise on the Divine Names; another Of Mystical Divinity ; and Ten Epistles. Different opinions have been held as to the real author of these productions. They were ascribed, at an early period, to Apollinaris, bishop of Laodicea, in the 4th century. The resemblance between the Areopagitica and the writings of Proclus and Plotinus is so great that it is probable the Pseudo-Dionysius did not write much earlier than the 5th century. The first uncontroverted occasion on which these supposi-titious writings are referred to, is in the conference between the Severians (a sect of Eutychians) and the Catholics, held in the emperor Justinian's palace, 532 A.D., in which they are quoted by the heretical party.







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