Pseudo-Dionysius and Paul’s Sermon to the Unknown God

  • Timothy D. Knepper
Part of the Comparative Philosophy of Religion book series (COPR, volume 1)


For the sixth-century Christian Neoplatonist known to us as Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite, ineffable does not mean what it means for us—entirely unspeakable and unpredicable. Ineffability is instead a way of correcting misconceptions about who God is: as the cause of all intelligible and perceptible beings, God is not a material idol, not a pagan divinity, not in literal possession of corporeal attributes (e.g., a rock), and not in commensurable possession of conceptual attributes (e.g., wise like us). In all these ways the Dionysian God is “ineffable,” while still being knowable and speakable as the Trinitarian cause of all. The Dionysian God is therefore ineffable much in the same way as the “unknown God” about which Saint Paul preached at the Athenian Areopagus. Just as the Dionysian God is not a being and does not participate in the things of being, so the Pauline God of Acts 17 is not an idol, not corporeal, perhaps not even person-like. Ineffability is in both cases a means of correcting misconceptions about what God is. Thus even though the sixth-century Pseudo-Dionysius was not who he pretended to be—the first-century convert mentioned at the end of Paul’s Athenian sermon (Acts 17:34)—Pseudo-Dionysius’ view and use of God’s “ineffability” are strikingly similar to those of his fictional evangelist.


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Philosophy and ReligionDrake UniversityDes MoinesUSA

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