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Re-Thinking Dionysius the Areopagite.

Re-Thinking Dionysius the Areopagite. Edited by Sarah Coakley and Charles M. Stang. Directions in Modern Theology. Chichester, U.K.: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009. vi + 234 pp. $30.20 paper.

The figure of Dionysius the Areopagite pervades boundless scholarship that never seems to assuage itself or its subject. Re-Thinking Dionysius the Areopagite is a helpful tool in navigating the great tidal wave of Dionysian-inspired literature; it is a volume dedicated to the reception and interpretation of the Corpus Dionysiacum (CD) at different times in history, from the earliest Syriac readers of Dionysius to the contemporary reading of Jean-Luc Marion. Although each article stands on its own as a fine and, for the most part, general introduction to the influence of Dionysius, the volume as a whole is important because it traces the prioritization of various texts of the CD over each other, as well as trends in reading the CD. This volume will be most useful for those who need a starting point for the study of a particular area of Dionysian reception. The articles provide a nice survey of problems in their area of reception, and each article has a useful bibliography.

The articles, with an introduction by co-editor Sarah Coakley, are arranged chronologically: (1) "Dionysius, Paul, and the Significance of the Pseudonym" by Charles M. Stang; (2) "The Earliest Syriac Reception of Dionysius" by Istvan Perczel; (3) "The Reception of Dionysius up to Maximus the Confessor" by Andrew Louth; (4) "The Reception of Dionysius in the Byzantine World: Maximus to Palamas" by Andrew Louth; (5) "The Early Latin Dionysius: Eriugena and Hugh of St. Victor" by Paul Rorem; (6) "The Medieval Affective Dionysian Traditon" by Boyd Taylor Coolman; (7) "Albert, Aquinas, and Dionysius" by David Burrell and Isabelle Moulin; (8) "Dionysius and Some Late Medieval Mystical Theologians of Northern Europe" by Denys Turner; (9) "Cusanus on Dionysius: The Turn to Speculative Theology" by Peter Casarella; (10) "Luther and Dionysius: Beyond Mere Negations" by Piotr J. Malysz; (11) "Dionysian Though in Sixteenth-Century Spanish Mystical Theology" by Luis M. Giron-Negron; (12) "The Reception of Dionysius in Twentieth-Century Eastern Orthodoxy" by Paul L. Gavrilyuk; (13) "Dionysius, Derrida, and the Critique of 'Onthotheology'" by Mary-Jane Rubenstein; and (14) "Dionysius in Hans Urs von Balthasar and Jean-Luc Marion" by Tamsin Jones.

While all of the articles are quite useful, several chapters are especially interesting. Perczel's "The Earliest Syriac Reception of Dionysius" is a fascinating examination into Dionysius's identity based on the Syriac translation of the corpus. Based on the dating of the Syriac translations (which is somewhat earlier than the Greek edition variorum from which all the known Greek manuscripts derive) Perczel, rightly argues that the Syriac translations of the Greek are likely truer to Dionysius's writings, as the Greek possibly suffered much redaction by John of Scythopolis in his introduction to and commentaries on the CD. As Perczel explains, John's glosses of questionable passages influenced later understanding of the work. Further, Perczel boldly argues that John possibly redacted many passages that may have had an Origenist position, something found in the earlier Syriac translations but often lacking in the Greek. It is Perczel's position that Dionysius's work had originally been intended as an esoteric text for an Origenist community, and John's intention was to make it orthodox. Of particular interest is Perczel's evidence that the Syriac translation of Sergius Reshaina offers a more fluid reading and ordering of the text, and that chapter headings and references from Proclus's Platonic Theology are lacking in the Greek tradition. This is a most fascinating claim, and the scholarly community will gain a great deal from Perczel's findings, particularly his ability to work with the Syriac texts. He ends the article with a discussion of the Book of the Holy Hierotheus and its author's relationship to the same school of Syriac-speaking Origenists.

Andrew Louth two articles, "The Reception of Dionysius up to Maximus Confessor" and "The Reception of Dionysius in the Byzantine World: Maximus to Palamas," concern the reception of Dionysius. Louth discusses the tendency of some scholars to underestimate the importance of Dionysius by describing his work as an eccentric and atypical for Greek theology. Others, he argues, treat Dionysian thought as pervasive in the Byzantine world--from aesthetic ideals to hierarchy in the political realm--which is also an erroneous assumption. He traces the reception of Dionysius, who, although he was known throughout the Byzantine world by the end of the sixth century, curiously was not quoted by later fathers, or Michael Psellus, or Photius in the Byzantine humanist theological tradition. It seems that Dionysius expressed tendencies already characteristic in the Byzantine tradition. Louth's second article contains an interesting look at Maximus's use of Dionysius, particularly his adaptation of the cosmic in Mystagogia and Maximus's concept of the logoi in creation.

Paul Rorem describes in "The Early Latin Dionysius: Eriugena and Hugh of St. Victor" how the Latin transmission of Dionysius greatly influenced subsequent readings of the CD. The Latin CD circulated with Eriugena's Expositiones and Hugh's Commentary attached to it, and translators commented on the text prior to their own. While it is fairly clear to see Eriugena's use of Dionysius, Hugh's relationship to Dionysius is a bit more difficult to articulate, as he does not seem to use Dionysius in his overall corpus.

David Burrell and Isabelle Moulin examine Albert and Aquinas's use of Dionysius in their metaphysics, particularly the MT. The authors outline Albert's Dionysian language of exitus and reditus and its influence over his student, Aquinas. Particularly interesting is the article's focus on Aquinas's formulation of the essence/existing distinction, which Burrell and Moulin argue is rooted in Aquinas's reading of Dionysius.

Piotr Malysz traces Luther's reception of the CD in "Luther and Dionysius: Beyond Mere Negations." This article tackles Luther's rejection of Dionysian thought, which was traditionally assumed to be rooted in the Areopagite's perceived lack of Christology. Instead, Malysz argues that ideas exist in Luther's writings that suggest Dionysian influence and that these ideas can even be viewed as Luther's contribution to a more Christocentric interpretation of Dionysius. Malysz points specifically to the concept of the hidden God in Luther's The Bondage of the Will as Dionysian and, more generally, to Luther's doctrine of justification, which the author argues displays a procession-return structure.

In the final article, Tamsin Jones questions the relation between Derridean negative theology and Dionysius, which Jones argues is primarily based on the linguistic implications of Dionysius. Rather, Jones suggests that Jean-Luc Marion, and his predecessor Hans Urs yon Balthasar, better serve the contemporary reading of Dionysius; both are influenced by the resurgence of patristics and have phenomenological and ecclesial audiences that affect their readings of the CD.

doi: 10.1017/S0009640710000697

Sarah Klitenic Wear

Franciscan University of Steubenville
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Author:Wear, Sarah Klitenic
Publication:Church History
Article Type:Book review
Date:Sep 1, 2010
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