- Mystagogy: A Monastic Reading of Dionysius Areopagita ed. by Alexander Golitzin and Bogdan G. Bucur
Mystagogy: A Monastic Reading of Dionysius Areopagita
Collegeville, MN: Cistercian Publications and Liturgical Press, 2014.
xxxviii + 457 pages. Paperback. $39.95.
The present exacting monograph is an outgrowth with extensive revisions of a prior major work by the author, Et introibo ad altare Dei: The Mystagogy of Dionysius Areopagita (Thessaloniki, Greece: George Dedousis Publishing Co., 1994), which represents his serious engagement with more recent scholarly literature on the Corpus Dionysiacum. Throughout this work a basic thesis is defended. The anonymous author of this corpus, who wrote under the name of St. Paul’s Athenian convert Dionysius mentioned in Acts 17:34, is maintained to be a scholarly monk from Syria-Palestine whose personal asceticism won him favor among the monks there as well as the esteem of hierarchs for his defense of the hierarchical order and the authority of the clergy in particular in stark opposition to monastic circles steeped in Messalianism whose adherents denied that the sacraments give grace and who declared that the sole spiritual power is constant prayer that ultimately leads to possession by the Holy Spirit. Undeniably [End Page 223] influenced by Neoplatonist philosophy, the Areopagite is, nonetheless, affirmed to be a genuine Christian thinker steeped in ecclesial tradition whose fundamental goal, according to the author, was “the reconciliation of ascetics, especially of ascetic visionaries, to the liturgy and sacraments of the Church” (21).
In chapter 1 of his study the author provides an overview of the entire Corpus Dionysiacum, beginning, oddly enough, with the last work in this body of writings, his Epistle X, “To the Apostle John at Patmos,” arguing that in this brief work one finds a summary confirmation of his basic thesis about the Areopagite. After this he proceeds on to outline the salient points in the Celestial Hierarchy, the Ecclesiastical Hierarchy, the Divine Names, the Mystical Theology, returning to the Epistles. Of special note is his stress on the Areopagite’s “coordination between the interior hierarchy of the soul and the liturgy” (17), the Areopagite’s elaboration of the “architecture” of the Church at worship, there being three triads, the foundational one being the sacraments of Baptism, Eucharist, and the consecration of the Myron, the holy oil, mediated by the triad of sacred ministers (bishops, priests, and deacons) for the triad of the laity (monks, baptized laity, and catechumens/penitents) (see 25), and the Areopagite’s insight that the Divine Names are sacramental in character in that “they carry the divine presence” (29).
Chapter 2 of this monograph is dedicated to an analysis of the Mystical Theology and the Divine Names. Even though the author finds these two works the least original in the Corpus Dionysiacum, he still brings out the richness of thought in these works. For one, in describing the process of union (henosis) with God, the moment of apex is utterly mystical whereby the “wholly speechless”—man in ecstasy—becomes “united with the unutterable”—the Transcendent One beyond all discourse and intuition (61). Speaking of God in the Divine Names and specifically of God ad extra in his processions in the acts of creation and salvation, these are grasped to be gifts of God himself to humankind (75), their constituting a penumbra about his transcendent essence (76), ultimately identifying God ad extra, that is God as “Love in Motion,” as precisely Providence (83). Indeed, it is a real contribution of the Areopagite to identify the exact “motor” of Providence as eros, according to the author (89–91), maintaining this dimension of love is equivalent to agape, an insightful point also stressed by Pope Benedict XVI in his reference to the Areopagite in his first encyclical letter Deus Caritas Est (n. 9). [End Page 224]
These themes are only reiterated in chapter 3 of this study with the appropriate title “The Mystery of the Creature: Toward the Divine Likeness and Union,” only to be followed in chapter 4 with a complementary essay “The Mystery of the Worlds: Hierarchy and Hierarchies” detailing the interrelation between the celestial and mundane worlds. The Ecclesiastical Hierarchy...