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Divine Light: The Theology of Denys the Areopagite [Paperback]

William K. Riordan
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Product details

  • Paperback: 293 pages
  • Publisher: Ignatius Press (May 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1586171208
  • ISBN-13: 978-1586171209
  • Product Dimensions: 20.5 x 14.4 x 1.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,241,175 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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First Sentence
In his Summa Theologiae (ST), Saint Thomas says that we cannot know what God is.1 Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A fabulous overview 2 Dec 2010
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
The anonymous writer under the pseudonym of one of St Paul's converts, Dionysius (or Denys) the Areopagite, is an important figure in Christian theology, drawing from Neoplationism as well as from earlier church fathers such as Clement of Alexandria, Origen and the Cappadocians (Gregory of Nyssa and Gregory of Nazianzus), and influencing in his turn figures like Maximus the Confessor and John Scottus Eriugena.

Riordan's book on Dionysius divides into four main sections. The first provides a general overview of the theology of Dionysisu along with a consideration of the historical background and the lasting influence of his work right down to the modern day. The second chapter analyses the debt to the Neoplatonism of figures such as Plotinus and Proclus, displaying the similarities as well as the stark contrasts. Chapter three discusses the relationship between God and his cosmos and the role of Christ, and after that the final section is on the divinization of the soul and the ascent towards God.
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Amazon.com: 2.5 out of 5 stars  2 reviews
36 of 49 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Obsolete 29 Jan 2010
By Scholar - Published on Amazon.com
This book was obsolete before it was put to print. The author claims to be providing an introduction to the theology of Dionysius by means of a careful reading of Dionysius. What the author does not say - and this is one place where he is disingenuous - is that he is reading Dionysius carefully through the lens of Gilsonian Thomism. This is nowhere more evident than in his constant reference to knowledge of the Divine Being as the ultimate goal of Dionysius' theology (Being not even being the highest name which needs to be abandoned in he return to God according to Dionysius) and in his anachronistic revision of the meaning of the Greek preposition/prefix "hyper". He translates "hyperousios" as "super-is", following Thomas of Aquinas' use of "eminentia". This is clearly not what Dionysius meant: when he used the preposition/prefix "hyper" he meant, as all writers of Greek did, "beyond essence/being" as in, "on the other side of" or "above". What is beyond, on the other side of, or above, something is not that thing.

Another major subject on which the author is entirely disingenuous is his treatment of Neoplatonism. First point: the author ignores all recent scholarship on Neoplatonism and Dionysius' relationship to it. He makes use of the work of Stephen Gersh, publsihed in 1978, and takes no account of the advances which have been made in this field since then by Christians and non-Christians alike (e.g. Perl, Butler, Wear and Dillon). Furthermore, the author ignores those aspects of Gersh's work which do not support his thesis and misreads Gersh in at least one passage which he cites (P.74). Thus, he is not aware that to characterize theurgy as magic which intends to influence the gods is not only false but insupportable by the Neoplatonic theurgist's own discussions on the subject.

This brings me to the second point: the author relies on 100-year-old books on Neoplatonism, which are severely outdated in regard to understanding of Neoplatonism and in regard to the Neoplatonic content which was available to them, for his representation of Neoplatonism. He gives no indication that he has actually read any Neoplatonic writing other than what he found in those books. This is evidenced by the fact that only three Neoplatonic works are found in his bibliography. His representation of Neoplatonism cannot even claim the authority of a thorough investigation. Thus, this book offers nothing to learn about Neoplatonism and Dionysius' relationship to it.

Third point: the author has no ability to discern the significance of the differences between strands of Neoplatonic thought - again, a function of his evasion of modern scholarship. Thus, he sophistically reduces Iamblichean-Proclean Neoplatonism to a shadow of that of Plotinus, manifesting only minor changes. This leads the author to compare one (only one) of Plotinus' descriptions of mystical ascent to Dionysius' to highlight the differences. Well, the differences he ascribes to Dionysius are already present in Iamblichus and Proclus as is Dionysius' description of the operation of the sacraments. The authors' use of Plotinus (with whose doctrine on the partially descent of the soul into body all of the succeeding Neoplatonists - after his student Porphyry - broke) is wholly irrelevant.

Add to these points a highly selective reading of Neoplatonism which ignores all of the nuance and qualification to the statements to which the author objects, and what you get is an "introduction" which can do nothing but ensure that those who are learning about Neoplatonism and its difference from Christianity from it are unable to understand neoplatonism and, thus, unable to engage seriously with scholarship. Finally, there are more problems with this book, but these are the most significant and enough to demonstrate that it is of little use.

Those who are introduced to Dionysius via this book will mistakenly absorb the notion that Dionysius is a pre-Vatican I Thomist. This is manifestly not the case. There are many difficulties and ambiguities in the text of the Dionysian Corpus (a fact which even Thomas recognized) and which the author of Divine Light disingenuously evades.
13 of 17 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Denys the p-Areopagite, from Western Eyes point of view 15 Nov 2009
By Didaskalex - Published on Amazon.com
"My Dionysius belongs and contributes to a continuum. ...the long tradition of Christian Platonism, beginning as early as, say, the Epistle to the Hebrews and continuing through Christian Alexandria to the Asia Minor of the Cappadocians, and then going on through Dionysius to Maximus Confessor,..." Alexander Golitzin

Denys person and writings:
The texts of Denys the pseudo-areopagite writings articulate a majestic and profound metaphysical perspective of Eastern Church conception of salvation by divine grace. Deeply informed by the Divine Liturgy and the Sacred Scriptures, this mysterious Assyrian author uses the great insights of Alexandrine Neo-Platonism, expressing the profoundest of mystical faith in amazingly beautiful ecclesiastic and theological writings. The compelling brilliance of his original texts, has been in no way compromised by the intricate and metaphysical issues exposed in a novel way of theological deliberation. His mystical theology is written in metaphysical Neoplatonic philosophic language of Alexandria, and based on Cyril firm biblical and sacramental teachings, expounded by Severus of Antioch. Dionysius was the Church's mystical intellect, following pioneer master Origen. The Alexandrians used the metaphor of deification to indicate the glorious destiny awaiting human nature in accordance with the divine plan of salvation, as expressed by Norman Russell, the great patristic theologian.

Denys Theology and Philosophy:
Research on the mysterious theologian during the twentieth century, explored his own identification, and how far was he a Neo-Platonist and how deep was his Christian identity. Riordan thesis convincingly demonstrates that Deny's theology is not just a Christian version of Neo-Platonism dressed up in ecclesiastic clothing, but rather that Denys makes use of categories drawn from Neo-Platonism to express a truly biblical and liturgical Christian theology. beginning with Maximus the Confessor and continuing through Thomas Aquinas and Bonaventure.

Denys from Western Eyes:
This book with a wide band search exposed Denys' theological understanding from a Roman Catholic point of view, while balanced with an attention to the illuminating metaphysical depth of his insight. In this multilingual written essay, William Riordan offers a model of scholarly theology, that promised but did not deliver to a reader who knows neither Greek nor German. A novice on the subject, that strives not merely to get the concepts right, but to get the mystical theology deciphered from its arcane philosophic language. Inspired by his long search for Denys, Riordan tells us how to re-form our staggering from the hangover of the history of Western epistemology, a call to get beyond post modernity and to move to more insightful modes of theological knowledge, so as to discover anew the universal cosmic, liturgical, and Christological orthodox way by which God the Father makes us his children.

Enlightening Review:
"Divine Light is more than just a scholarly study of a noted theologian. It is a work of spiritual theology itself, elevating the reader to see the great beauty and harmony of God and the cosmos through the eyes of Denys the Areopagite." Daniel Keating, Sacred Heart Prof. of Theology.
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