Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite: His Metaphysics and Medieval Reception

Franziska van Buren, Fordham University


In this thesis, I provide an interpretation and exposition of the thought of Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite which places great importance upon the foundations of Dionysius’ thought in Neoplatonic metaphysics. Additionally, I seek to justify this approach to Dionysius by examining other interpretations of Dionysius’s thought. In doing so, I show that Dionysius is not merely a mystic and poet, only vaguely influenced by the more rigorous philosophy of the Neoplatonists, but a metaphysician in his own right who transformed the pagan Neoplatonic account of the cosmos found in Plotinus and Proclus into a Christian philosophy. Thus, I divide my thesis into two sections. In the first section, after a brief preliminary chapter devoted to historical context, I explore two different medieval readings of the thought of Pseudo-Dionysius, one given by St. Thomas Aquinas and the other by St. Bonaventure of Bagnoregio. I show that the interpretation of Dionysius found in the thought of Aquinas, which removes Dionysius from his Neoplatonic foundations, renders much of Dionysius’ thought incoherent, while Bonaventure’s reading, which preserves Dionysius’ thought within a Neoplatonic context, better shows the coherence of Dionysius’ metaphysics. In the second section, I give a systematic overview of Dionysius’ own thought. By looking beyond the interpretation provided by Aquinas (and Thomistic scholars) to the true intentions of Dionysius, I aim to show the internal coherence and originality of Dionysius’s thought. Indeed, I show that one cannot thomistisize Dionysius without turning him into a philosophically incoherent albeit eloquent poet, for in doing so we lose the rigorous metaphysics, founded in Neoplatonism, which ultimately gives his rhetoric its force and meaning. In writing this thesis, I hope better to explain the reasons for which the metaphysics of Dionysius have been more or less overlooked in modern scholarship until quite recently, and to show how we may begin to unravel the complexities of Dionysius’ thought by looking to him as a Neoplatonist and as a metaphysician of exemplary standing in his own right.

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Recommended Citation

van Buren, Franziska, "Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite: His Metaphysics and Medieval Reception" (2018). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI10752055.