restricted access The Philosophy of Dionysius the Areopagite: An Introduction to the Structure and the Contents of theTreatise On the Divine Names (review)
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Journal of Early Christian Studies 16.1 (2008) 118-120

Reviewed by
Charles Marshall
Harvard University
Christian Schäfer; The Philosophy of Dionysius the Areopagite: An Introduction to the Structure and the Contents of the Treatise On the Divine Names; Philosophia Antiqua 99; Leiden: Brill, 2006; Pp. xvi + 212. $139.

The order and coherence of the Corpus Dionysiacum (hereafter CD) have been hotly debated in twentieth-century scholarship; the barely reigning consensus is that the four treatises form a coherent whole which the ten letters then buttress and that the most attested order in the manuscript tradition (Celestial Hierarchy [CH], Ecclesiastical Hierarchy [EH], Divine Names [DN], Mystical Theology [MT]) reflects the order in which we are meant to read the corpus. Beyond this, however, the overall structure of the CD remains difficult to infer. This difficulty is repeated on the level of the single treatise DN, the longest of the four, which offers meditations on an array of divine names from "Good" to "Peace" to "Perfect." Paul Rorem speaks for most scholars when he admits that, besides the first three chapters that offer the reader an "interpretive methodology," the choice and order of divine names in the subsequent chapters (4 through 13) remain something of a mystery (Rorem 1993, 133; cf. Rorem, foreword, xiv). [End Page 118]

Christian Schäfer's book addresses this interpretive impasse and aims to lay bare the structure of these chapters. In Part I, he acknowledges his debt to the work of two previous scholars, Endre von Ivánka and Hans Urs von Balthasar, both of whom discern a deeper structure within DN. In Part II, Schäfer refines the insights of these two scholars and delivers a "structural analysis" of DN that everywhere reflects Dionysius's overarching concern for the simultaneous divine operations of procession, rest, and return greek text - text replacement character and their echo in all of creation. The heart of Schäfer's argument is to be found in chapter 5, where he divides DN into four units. The first three chapters, Schäfer contends, not only provide an "interpretive methodology," but in fact anticipate the triadic operations upon which the subsequent three groupings of divine names are meditations. The first meditation is on divine procession into manifold creation and includes in chapters 4 through 7 the divine names "Good," "Being," "Life," and "Wisdom." The third meditation is on our unifying return to the divine and includes in chapters 12 and 13 a series of biblical "all-in-one" names ("Holy of Holies," "King of Kings," etc.) and the names "Perfect" and "One."

Schäfer's greatest contribution in Part II is his treatment of the divine names in chapters 8 through 11, which on his reading constitute a meditation on the ontological "halt," "the pivot between exitus and reditus" (Rorem, foreword, xiv), the "dynamic steadying" wherein creatures are "settled" into their proper place in creation. The achievement of the author's interpretation here is that he makes sense of these middle chapters by reading them as dedicated to the momentary pause between the divine exhalation (procession) and inhalation (return). My only complaint is that Schäfer seems to understand rest as something that happens between procession and return—hence his preferred translation of greek text - text replacement character is "halt." But greek text - text replacement character can also be understood as the condition in which the divine procession and return and the creaturely participation therein flow without obstruction, whereupon the entire cosmos finds "rest" in deifying union with the unknown God. This would seem a better fit with some of the more striking divine names from these chapters, notably "Justice" and "Peace," which do not so much connote the "dynamic steadying" of creatures here and now as they do an earthly foretaste of the eschatological deification of the cosmos.

In Part III, Schäfer faces a vexing problem for any interpreter of DN: the fact that much of chapter 4, ostensibly devoted to the divine name "Good," is, in fact, a sustained treatment of...