Pseudo-Dionysius and the Negation of Models of God

  • Nancy J. Shaffer


Pseudo-Dionysius, the pseudonymous fifth or sixth century philosopher and theologian, holds that God is unknowable and that people do not have the capacity to describe God. The doctrine of divine transcendence, and the resulting mystery of God, is rooted in Neoplatonistism and is called apophatic theology. Deeply suspicious of the limitations of human thought, it maintains that the only absolutely true statements about God are negative ones. But Dionysius’ understanding of mystical union with God is clearly distinct from a Neoplatonic intellectual ascent. The created order is validated, rather than negated, and the return to the divine is achieved through grace instead of intellectual ascent. In light of both his creative use of Neoplatonic philosophy and his essential orthodoxy, it is no wonder that Pseudo-Dionysius has enjoyed such influence. His unique model of God stands at the beginning of a significant branch of Christian theology, the via negativa.


Christian Theology Negative Theology Divine Essence Mystical Union Ontological Substance 
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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyCalifornia University of PennsylvaniaCaliforniaUSA

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