Sunday, 22 March 2015

DIMITRIOS VASILAKIS: Dionysius versus Proclus on Undefiled Providence

In the past it has been tempting for scholars to present (pseudo-) Dionysius the Areopagite more or less as a Christian plagiarizer of Proclus.  Recent literature has defied this uncharitable verdict and the present paper aims to give further support to a reading of Dionysius that shows his innovations against the Neoplatonic background due to his Christian presuppositions.  More specifically I attempt a comparison between Dionysius and Proclus, and the topic in question is the juxtaposition between undefiled providence and incarnation. I illustrate undefiled providence from Proclus’ Elements of Theology, according to which the divine principles exercise providence without any intermingling with or embodiment in the recipient of providence.  As is evident from Proclus’ Commentary on the First Alcibiades the best exemplification of undefiled providence in our intramundane realm is Socrates, who thereby forms the counterpoint to Dionysius’ Christ, who is incarnated due to his manic philanthropy.  Although, as acknowledged by Dionysius, Christ is perfect God and perfect man (cf. e.g. DN §2.10), while Socrates is not a God, but lower in the scala of being, Dionysius’ enunciations of God’s undefiled providence may lead one to underestimate the importance of Christ’s incarnation for Dionysius, a conclusion that make the latter an imitator of Proclus.  In this paper I show how an attentive reader can opt for an alternative interpretation that helps us understand the subtle but crucial distinction between undefiled providence and incarnation within a Christian framework and can thus feature Dionysius’ dynamic and critical relation with his Neoplatonic milieu.

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