Summarizing Pseudo-Dionysius’ The Divine Names: Part 1

I’ve recently started reading Pseudo-Dionysius'(PD) The Divine Names with the intent of including him in a history of philosophy syllabus.  What I have read and known regarding PD has all been either through quotes from Thomas Aquinas and from secondary source describing his views and influences.  What I found was very interesting.  PD’s work is at once insightful into the deep hiddenness of the divine while also very beautifully written in a poetic style.  It smacks of the style of the Consolation of Philosophy by Boethius.

The first portion of The Divine Names is devoted to establishing PD’s approach to philosophical theology.  PD holds a very neo-Platonic view of the deity.  The deity, for PD is wholly other and nigh completely inaccessible to human reasoning.  He expresses deep gratitude for the scriptures in giving we mere human beings something to go on in understanding the divine.  The idea is, if it hadn’t been for scripture, we wouldn’t be able to even say anything true about the deity.

So Pseudo-Dionysius sets up the problem of the work as follows:

  1. All we can (naturally) know about God is that he is beyond human conceptualization.
  2. But the scriptures say true things about God, which inform us about the divine nature.

The puzzle to be considered in the rest of the work is how to make sense of all the true statements the scriptures make about God when we are in such a state of poverty with respect to knowledge of the divine.

So how do we make sense of useful (and true) talk of a deity that is radically beyond natural human cognition?  Hopefully PD will inform us as we journey through his work.

Click back every Monday Wednesday and Friday for more discussion!
Peace be with you!
-JS

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