"Pseudo?" Dionysius the Areopagite

 The Celestial Hierarchy, which discusses the 9 choirs of angels, is under the name of Dionysius the Areopagite, who was a convert of Paul in Athens (Acts 17:34).  Paul described his vision of Heaven in 2 Corinthians (12:1 - 4): 

    "If I must glory (it is not expedient indeed): but I will come to visions and revelations of the Lord.  I know a man in Christ above fourteen years ago (whether in the body, I know not, or out of the body, I know not; God knoweth), such a one caught up to the third heaven.  And I know such a man (whether in the body, or out of the body, I know not: God knoweth): That he was caught up into paradise, and heard secret words, which it is not granted to man to utter."  

    Thus, it could have been thought that Paul told Dionysius what he had seen and Dionysius then wrote it down.  I do not actually think this because Paul said he could not say what he had heard.  So, he would likely have kept his revelation secret except for special people, such as the original apostles.  Also, the Celestial Hierarchy is a very philosophical work that does not read like a description of personal experience.  

    The other thing about Dionysius's writings is that modern scholars consider The Celestial Hierarchy and other writings to be from a much later date and not actually composed by Dionysius at all.  One reason for this is the writing style and usage of Greek vocabulary.  I am not a scholar of Greek, so I cannot speak to that.  But, everyone knows that modern scholarship has a reflexive skepticism towards anything mystical or anything being genuine, so the question is, is there any evidence that Dionysius could have written The Celestial Hierarchy or that it was part of a tradition which he was participated in?  

    The answer is yes.  Saint Ignatius was the Bishop of Antioch during the second half of the first century and was eventually martyred in Rome.  During his travel to Rome, Ignatius wrote seven letters and in one of them, the Letter to the Trallians, Ignatius says the following: 

"So, though I could, no doubt, write to you on high and heavenly topics, I fear it might only be to your detriment seeing that you are still in your infancy.  Forgive me, then; for they might well be beyond your power to assimilate, and would only stick in your throats.  Even I myself, for all my chains and my ability to comprehend celestial secrets and angelic hierarchies and the dispositions of the heavenly powers, and much else both seen and unseen, am not yet on that account a real disciple.  For there is much that we must still fall short of, if we are not to fall short of God."

    It's a commonplace of modernists that any sort of speculative or unusual beliefs must have developed over a long period of time and could never have been present early on.  And yet, here we see Ignatius who definitely lived in the first century referring to knowledge of angelic hierarchies.  This shows that there was a tradition of and speculation about such matters, so The Celestial Hierarchy could well be the product of Dionysius. 


  1. Although I am not a fan of the via negativa, nor do I regard angels as a separate creation from Men - I see no reason at all why Dionysius should be called 'pseudo' merely on the basis that the earliest surviving text is written in a later style or shares features with later philosophy.

    Indeed, this just shows gross ignorance of the way in which ancient manuscripts were transmitted, 'copied' by sequences of scribes. The practice was often for copyists to make stylistic and other changes, including additions, when 'copying'. In addition to which, the original MS may well have been dictated and taken-on features of the scribe - who, again, would not nececcarily write down exactly the words spoken.

    This is the flaw in supposing Revelations to be from a different author than the Fourth Gospel on the basis that its use of language is very different. I believe Revelations is indeed by a different author from John! - but major stylistic differences could easily arise from different scribes, or different conditions of composition, or different sequences of copyists.

    In sum, the past 200plus years of Biblical 'Scholarship' (since Strauss) has contributed very little of value, and done a great deal of harm!

    Also, there is an illegitimate assumption that analytic methods designed for secular texts can be applied validly to texts that are supposed to be divinely inspired - to do so is begging the question: making a built in assumption that the texts are not really divinely inspired, are not qualitatively different from ordinary texts - and that , of course, is what such analyses almost always conclude.

    1. Great points. I used to just assume that modern scholarship should be taken seriously, but after reading your post and several other articles which believed the ancient views, I started to doubt modern scholarship. And then after reading many of the ancient sources themselves, I saw that even by the standards of basic common sense, the ancient assumptions were more justified.

      As you pointed out about the practices of ancient scribes, Eusebius said something similar about the Epistle to the Hebrews, that Paul originally wrote the letter in Aramaic, but then someone, possibly Luke, translated it into Greek, which accounts for the change in style. That makes much more sense than that it was forged under Paul's name.


The real AI agenda

    On a post  by Wm Briggs, about artificial intelligence, a commenter with the monniker "ItsAllBullshit" writes:           "...