Göttingen Academy of Sciences and Humanities

Patristics: Dionysius Areopagita Edition

The theological work of the most important Christian Neo-Platonist of Late Antiquity

Even though the name "Dionysius Areopagita" does not ring a bell with everyone, the oeuvre of this Christian thinker of Late Antiquity had an impact that continues to this day. His writings were read and reflected by every generation: passed on by John Scotus, Albertus Magnus and Thomas Aquinas, Meister Eckart, Nicholas of Cusa and Marsilio Ficino, he has influenced philosophy and theology until today. The author, who remained anonymous, gave the impression of being associated with the early Christian apostles by using the pseudonym "Dionysius Areopagita". Actually his works were probably written between 476 and 528. We know almost nothing about the details of his life.

The research institute "Patristics: Dionysius Areopagita-Edition" of the Goettingen Academy of Sciences and Humanities has undertaken to make the works of this theologian of Late Antiquity accessible in the form of a modern critical edition. This includes the texts belonging to the so-called Corpus Dionysiacum, including early commentaries, as well as those texts that survived under his name but were not part of the Corpus. The Corpus Dionysiacum consists of four single treatisies and ten letters, constituting as it were the sum total of his philosophical theology. Immediately after they had been written, they were translated into Syrian and subsequently into Armenian, Georgian, Latin and Old̶̶ Slavonic. Roughly thousand manuscripts, to be found in libraries all over the world, constitute the textual basis of this edition and are at the disposition of the project team on microfilms and in digitalized form. Thus the extension of the manuscript tradition roughly corresponds to that of Plato's writings. For a text critical edition, all of the manuscripts have to be collected, deciphered, collated and evaluated according to formal categorizations, in the attempt to reconstruct the most authentic form of the text.

The main significance of this oeuvre lies in the timeless nature of its contents. "Dionysius Areopagita" has raised fundamental questions, still relevant for many people today; he dealt with the question of truth and reflected about the possibilities of knowing God. Therefore - against the prevailing trend of the time - he took a stand for a peaceful dialogue between Christians and none-Christians. In this sense, "Dionysius Areopagita" is one of the great figures of the European history of thought who helped to develop the idea of tolerance. Well trained in philosophical thinking, he was able to integrate Platonism into Christian theology. The continuation of Platonism in its Christian transformation is due, more than to anyone else, to this thinker of Late Antiquity with the complicated (pseudo-) name.

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