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ON THE "READING METHOD" IN ROREM'S PSEUDO-DIONYSIUS* PETER}. CASARELLA The Catholic University ofAmerica Washington, D.C. LIKE A MEDIEVAL palimpsest, the persona of the one whom modern scholars call Dionysius the PseudoAreopagite has been scraped away many times only to reveal a new mask hitlden underneath each time. For almost nine centuries most Western Christian theologians looked upon him as an Athenian (sometimes confused with a bishop of Corinth of the same name) whom St. Paul converted in Acts 17. Along with this assumed identity went the claim that the Areopagite influenced Platonism in the post-Christian era, especially that of Proclus. Modern scholarship, following the lead of skeptics who arose in the East as early as the ninth century and in the West among humanists in the quattrocento, was able to prove that the relationship between Dionysius and Proclus was exactly the opposite. The view that he was simply a Neoplatonist posing in the garb of Christian doctrine goes back to Martin Luther and has proven even harder to dispel since his definitive unmasking by modern historians. Today scholars in the history of Christian thought are often more eager to elaborate upon his pseudonymous identity than to decipher the obscure style of his theological treatises and letters. The same cannot be said about Paul Rorem, a professor at Princeton Seminary, for he showed in an earlier work, Biblical and Liturgical Symbols within the Pseudo-Dionysian Synthesis,1 that the texts of Dionysius were, pace Luther, *Paul Rorem, Pseudo-Dionysius: A Commentary on the Texts and an Introduction to Their Influence (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993). 1 In the series Studies and Texts 71 (Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Medieval Studies, 1984). 633 634 PETER J. CASARELLA detailed anagogical exegeses of traditional Christian symbols. The present work supplements his earlier study by attempting to make the Dionysian corpus accessible to a broader audience. In Pseudo-Dionysius Rorem aims to avoid a narrowly focused, technical argument and instead "present the contents of the corpus , both in their details and as a whole" (3). The subtitle of the book neatly summarizes its dual aim: to provide a running commentary on the texts and to introduce the reader to the history of their reception in the Christian tradition, particularly the medieval tradition, which is the subject of the book's own afterword. The five parts of the book are divided up according to the extant corpus: the letters, The Celestial Hierarchy, The Ecclesiastical Hierarchy, The Divine Names, and The Mystical Theology. Each part takes the reader by the hand through the text explicating Dionysius's notoriously and sometimes deliberately cryptic writing, noting his frequent play on words, highlighting possible inconsistencies, and drawing connections between the texts of the extant corpus as well as to works by Dionysius that are alluded to in the corpus but have never been discovered. The Wirkungsgeschichte which comprises the second part of each chapter examines the varied interpretation of Dionysian notions of hierarchy, allegorical interpretation, angelology, aesthetics , liturgical commentary, procession and return, and apophaticism. Even those who consider themselves knowledgeable in the history of medieval theology are still going to be educated by these sections of the book. Not nearly enough attention has been paid to the considerable influence of the Dionysian corpus in the medieval West (it is cited by St. Thomas over 1700 times!), and Rorem's history of its reception delineates lines of influence that have often been overlooked, e.g., Dionysius's role in bestowing apostolic authority on the story of the dormition of the virgin. If I could suggest one small but not insignificant addendum, I would amplify Rorem's claim that "there was no significant doubt about the apostolicity and therefore the authority of the corpus until the sixteenth century" when Erasmus circulated READING METHOD IN ROREM'S PSEUDO-DIONYSIUS 635 "some brief, stray comments" that Lorenzo Valla had made in 1457 (16). In fact, Erasmus cites not only Valla as one of his predecessors in the discovery of the forgery but also the English scholar William Grocyn. More significantly, Rorem seems not to be aware of the fact that Valla's discovery was not sui generis in the fifteenth...


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