Pseudo-Dionysius’ The Divine Names: Summary to end of Chapter 1

He was a neo-platonist. Get it?

The end of chapter 1 leading into chapter 2 of the divine names spends some still hasn’t begun the bulk of the inquiry.  Really, most of chapters 1 and 2 are devoted to a defense of the project in general.  Pseudo-Dionysius is grappling with a problem that all Neo-Platonists have to grapple with.  The Neo-Platonists had a view of God that deeply raises the question of whether God-talk can even be coherent or meaningful.

The crux of this problem is the extreme transcendence that the Neo-Platonists attribute to God.  God, for the classical neoPlatonist view, is the One beyond all being or differentiation.  He transcends everything, except perhaps unity.  He even transcends being, which brings up its own host of issues.  So, understandably, our author feels the desire to justify attributing things to a God that seems so beyond human comprehension.

In the beginning of Chapter 1 he primarily appeals to the need, for Christians, to reconcile this view of God with the fact that scripture attributes all sorts of things to God.  Scripture makes all sorts of claims about God, so we should figure out how to understand these claims as true without giving up this incredibly trascendent view of God that we hold.

But starting toward the end of chapter 1 there is a bit of a shift in tone and a different line of defense.  He argues that there are things we can attribute to God in virtue of God’s having caused all created things.  This is a natural way to go, and is deeply influential in the history of theological thought.  Attributing things to God in virtue of His having created the world allows one to attribute things to God in terms of how things are related to Him.  This will allow us to avoid attributing anything intrinsically to God, and thus will be easy to square some true God-talk with a God which is fairly radically unknowable.

P.S. The pic above is Plato in matrix-code.  Because Pseudo-Dionysius was a Neo Platonist?  Get it? Neo?  Platonist?  I’ll just end this article now so as not to get in the way of your guffaws.

Tune in every MWF for more interesting stuff on Catholicism, philosophy, society, and pop culture.

Peace be with you.
-JS

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