- Apophasis and Pseudonymity in Dionysius the Areopagite: "No Longer I" by Charles M. Stang
The interpretative space around the sixth-century Dionysian corpus is densely occupied, with no shortage of critical issues to be engaged: the author's identity; his understanding of history, particularly late ancient Christian history and its relationship to other traditions and times; and the type of mysticism encouraged by the corpus. Charles M. Stang's elegant and thoughtful book opens a new space of interpretation in this crowded field, nimbly engaging critical historical questions as well as theological ones. The thesis of the book is best summarized in a memorable phrase, meant to be broadly figurative as well as argumentative: Paul, Stang argues, "animates the entire corpus" of Dionysian texts (3).
Two threads of argument play out from the animation thesis. They are intertwined in the book, but here I summarize them separately, because they deserve to be teased apart and considered individually. The first is a historical argument about the motivations of the author of the corpus. Stang places himself in a constellation of other Dionysian critics—Hans Urs von Balthasar, and later, Alexander Golitzen, Andrew Louth, and Christian Schäfer—building on their arguments to create a new and different option for envisioning Dionysius's project. For these scholars, the central question regarding the author of the corpus and his apparent desire to adopt an apostolic identity draws its answer from the position of the author with respect to others in his social environment. In the case of Golitzen, Dionysius wrote pseudonymically to strengthen his rhetorical plea to rebellious monks; in Louth's work and in Schäfer's, the adoption of the pseudonym adds to the intellectual case Dionysius made in favor of a union between revealed Christian knowledge and philosophical tradition. For all three, the aim of adopting the pseudonym was outward, in that Dionysius's primary motivation was to leverage a different authorial identity to better persuade others. Stang ultimately agrees with the position of Louth and Schäfer with respect to the merging of Christian and philosophical horizons, but his larger interest with the pseudonym lies not with the persuasive effect the author seeks in his social or intellectual context. Instead, he considers what the use of the pseudonym might entail for the author who adopted it, and, furthermore, what sort of religious experience it might model for the readers of the corpus. Based on Dionysius's inventive reading of the Areopagus speech in Acts 17 and Paul's exclamation in Galatians 2 that "it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me," Stang depicts his adoption of pseudonymity as a practice, one that reveals "what it is to be properly human in relation to God—namely, no longer an 'I,' neither yourself nor someone else, because you are now both yourself and Christ." The pseudonymous author of the corpus, "in the very telling . . . performs an exercise aiming to render his own self cleft open, split, doubled, and thereby deified" (205) (emphasis in original). Thus Paul's suggestion of losing himself in Christ is the heart that gives life to [End Page 144] the corpus of Dionysian texts as a whole; on this apostolic foundation, Dionysius advocates writing in the identity of another as a way to clear the particulars of the self in order to make room for a state of unknowing—a necessary stage in a mystic's progress toward union with the unknown God.
A second thread of argument in the book is tied to this historical argument about the practice of pseudonymity and the inspiration Paul offered to the author of the corpus, but it is different enough to warrant its own space: Stang also argues that Paul, as a character portrayed in Acts and as a writer, provides a productive lens through which to view and to interpret the corpus, and this independent of the author's motivation to imitate Paul in his adoption of another identity. Though parts of the...