Dionysius the Areopagite

Dionysius the Areopagite
Saint Dionysius the Areopagite

Greek icon of St. Dionysius
Born unknown
Died unknown
Honored in Roman Catholicism
Eastern Orthodox
Feast 9 October (Roman Catholicism),
3 October (Eastern Orthodox)
Attributes Vested as a bishop, holding a Gospel Book
Patronage Lawyers

Dionysius the Areopagite (Greek Διονύσιος ὁ Ἀρεοπαγίτης) was a judge of the Areopagus who, as related in the Acts of the Apostles, (Acts 17:34), was converted to Christianity by the preaching of the Apostle Paul during the Areopagus sermon. According to Dionysius of Corinth, quoted by Eusebius, this Dionysius then became the second Bishop of Athens.[1]


Historic confusions

In the early 6th century, a series of famous writings of a mystical nature, employing Neoplatonic language to elucidate Christian theological and mystical ideas, was ascribed to the Areopagite.[2] They have long been recognized as pseudepigrapha and are now attributed to "Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite".

Dionysius was also popularly mis-identified with the martyr of Gaul, Dionysius, the first Bishop of Paris, Saint Denis.

In the Eastern Orthodox Church, Dionysius the Areopagite and Saint Denis of Paris are celebrated as one commemoration on 3 October.

Astronomical fresco

On pages 190 and 191 of Owen Gingerich's monograph on Copernicus The Book Nobody Read, reference is made to an astronomical fresco in the main gallery of the Escorial Library, near Madrid, Spain, built 1567-84, which shows Dionysius the Areopagite observing an eclipse at the time of Christ's crucifixion. In a footnote Gingerich mentions that an eclipse (of the sun by the moon) could not have happened at that time because Passover is a full moon event, and solar eclipses always happen at new moon.

The legend is based on a claim made by Pseudo-Dionysius in a letter addressed to Polycarp: "What have you to say about the solar eclipse which occurred when the Savior was put on the cross? At the time the two of us were in Heliopolis and we both witnessed the extraordinary phenomenon of the moon hiding the sun at the time that was out of season for their coming together... We saw the moon begin to hide the sun from the east, travel across to the other side of the sun, and return on its path so that the hiding and the restoration of the light did not take place in the same direction but rather in diametrically opposite directions..."[3]

Pseudo-Dionysius had apparently read the Alexandrinus variant of Lk 23:44f where the darkness said to have accompanied the crucifixion is attributed to an eclipse.[4]

In 1457 the Italian humanist Lorenzo Valla wrote: "...the claim of 'Dionysius'... that he observed the eclipse of the sun at the hour of the Saviour's death... is as blatant a fiction as the epistolary form of the report." [5]

See also


  1. ^ Eusebius, Historia Ecclesiae III: iv
  2. ^ Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy on the confusion between Dionysius and Pseudo-Dionysius
  3. ^ Pseudo-Dionysius: The Complete Works, tr. Colm Luibheid (Paulist Press: New York) 1987, p. 268.
  4. ^ Pseudo-Dionysius, p. 268f
  5. ^ Pseudo-Dionysius, Introduction by Karlfried Froehlich, p. 38.


  • Corrigan & Harrington: Ps.-Dionysius Areopagita: Persona, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy 2004
  • Owen Gingerich, The Book Nobody Read, Penguin Books, 2004, pp. 190–191

External links

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Look at other dictionaries:

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  • Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite — Full name Pseudo Dionysius the Areopagite Other names Pseudo Dionysius , Pseudo Denys , mistakenly identified as Dionysius the Areopagite Born unknown, 5th to 6th century AD Died unknown, 5th to 6th century AD Era Ancient philosop …   Wikipedia

  • Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite — flourished с 500 Probably a Syrian monk. Under the pseudonym Dionysius the Areopagite, he wrote a series of treatises that united Neoplatonic philosophy (see Neoplatonism), Christian theology, and mystical experience. Their doctrinal content… …   Universalium

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  • Dionysius the Pseudo-Areopagite — (c. AD 500) Also known as Pseudo Dionysius, and Pseudo Denys or Denis. A mystical theologian, confusedly identified in the early Middle Ages with Dionysius the Areopagite whose conversion is described by St Paul (Acts 17: 34). The Pseudo… …   Philosophy dictionary

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  • Dionysius — The Graeco Roman name Dionysius, deriving from the name of the Thracian god Dionysus, was exceedingly common, and many ancient people, famous and otherwise, bore it. It remains a common name today in the form Dennis (Denys, Denis, Denise). The… …   Wikipedia

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