Dionysius the Areopagite

A member of the council of the Areopagus, he came to believe during Paul's visit to Athens (Acts 17:34). One early source states he became bishop of Athens, and later writers claim his martyrdom. The tradition that he became bishop of Paris has been rejected.


DIONYSIUS THE AREOPAGITE dī’ ə nĭ shəs (Διονύσιος, G1477, related to Dionysus, god of vegetation). By his title prob. a member of the council of the Areopagus and a convert of Paul at Athens (Acts 17:34).

He is one of a number of prominent men who are mentioned by Luke as converts (13:12; 19:31; 26:32; 28:7). Little else is known about him except by tradition. According to Suidas he was born at Athens and studied there and in Egypt. While he was in Egypt he observed the eclipse which took place at the time of the crucifixion and theorized that God was suffering. He then returned to Athens and became a person of influence. Eusebius (HE III. iv. 10; IV. xxiii. 3), quoting Dionysius of Corinth, states that he was the first bishop of Athens. Accounts vary concerning his death. One tradition is that he was martyred at Athens under Domitian. Another indicates that he came to Rome and was then sent to Paris by Clemens I, where he was beheaded on the martyr’s mount (Montmatre). He is often identified with St. Dennis, the patron of France.

Christian and Neoplatonic writings of three or four centuries later were attributed to him. On the Celestial Hierarchy, On the Ecclesiastical Hierarchy, On the Divine Names, On the Mystical Theology were widely read and influential throughout the Middle Ages. Many commentaries were written on them from the 9th cent. on. The real author may have been the monophysite Peter the Iberian, 411-491.

Bibliography

J. P. Migne, ed., Patrologia graeca III-V (1857); E. Honigmann, Pierre l’ Ibérien et les écrits du Pseudo-Denys l’ Aréopagite (1952); W. Volker, Kontemplation und Ekstase bei Ps.-Dionysius Areopagita (1958).