THE great apostle of the Gentiles, esteeming himself equally a debtor to th e
learned and to the unlearned, arrived at Athens about the year 51, seventeen years
after our Lord's crucifixion, and boldly preached the faith in that city, which had
been for many ages the chief seat of the muses, where the chief studies of
philosophy, oratory, and polite literature flourished.
All matters belonging to religion were, by an ancient law of that state, to be
determined by the great council of the Areopagites, which was still observed; for,
though the Athenians were fallen under the Roman yoke, yet, out of regard to their
learning, and to the ancient dignity of their republic, the Romans restored to them
many of their ancient privileges, with the name and title at least of their liberty. St.
Paul, therefore, was summoned to give an account of his doctrine in the Areopagus.
The apostle appeared undaunted in that august and severe assembly of proud
sages, though Plato so much dreaded a like examination at this tribunal, that he on
no other account dissembled his sentiments of the unity of God, and other like
truths, of which he was himself perfectly satisfied, especially after his travels into
Egypt, as St. Justin Martyr testifies. St. Paul explained before these learned
senators the Christian maxims of repentance, purity of manners, the unity and
omnipresence of God, his judgments, and the resurrection of the dead.
The divine unction with which he delivered these great truths was an eloquence with
which these masters of philosophy and oratory were unacquainted. The doctrine of
the resurrection of the dead shocked many, and was a great stumbling-block,
though Plato and other eminent philosophers among them had established many
sublime sentiments with regard to the immortality of the soul, and the rewards and
punishments of a life to come; but that our flesh, which putrefies in the earth, and
perishes to all our senses, shall, by the power of God, be raised again the same
that dies, was what many of these wise men of the world looked upon as a dream,
rather than a certain truth.
Many, however, among them were exceedingly moved with the sanctity and
sublimity of this new doctrine, and with the marks of a divine mission with which
the preacher delivered himself; and they said to him they would hear him again
upon that subject on some other day. Some whose hearts were touched by a
powerful grace, and who with simplicity sought after the truth, not the idle
gratification of curiosity, pride, or vanity without delay addressed themselves to the
apostle, and received from him full satisfaction of the evidence of the divine
revelation which he preached to them.
Among them was a woman named Damaris, but the most remarkable among these
converts was Dionysius, one of the honorable members or judges of this most
venerable and illustrious senate. We are assured by the testimony of St. Dionysius
of Corinth, that St. Dionysius the Areopagite was afterwards constituted bishop of
Athens; and that this was done by St. Paul himself we are informed by the
Apostolical Constitutions by Aristides cited by Usuard, and by several ancient
martyrologists. Aristides quoted by Usuard, and St. Sophronius of Jerusalem, styled
him a martyr. The Greeks, in their menologies, tells us that he was burnt alive for
the faith at Athens. His name occurs in ancient calendars on the 3rd of October. The
cathedral of Soissons is in possession of his head, which we brought thither from
Constantinople, in 1205. Pope Innocent III. sent to the abbey of St. Denis, near
Paris, the body of this saint, which had been translated from Greece to Rome.
We admire in this glorious saint, and other illustrious primitive converts, the
wonderful change which faith produced in their souls. It not only enlightened their
understandings, discovering to them new fields of the most sublime and important
knowledge, and opening to their meditation the boundless range of eternity, and of
the infinite riches of the divine goodness, justice, and mercy; but it also exerted the
most powerful influence upon their wills.
A spirit of the most sincere and profound compunction and humility was created in
them, with a perfect contempt of the world, and all earthly things, and an entire
disengagement of their hearts from all inordinate attachment to creatures. The fire
of pure and ardent charity was also kindled in their hearts, which consumed all the
rust of their passions, and purged their affections.
From these virtues of humility and charity, which Christ declares to be the
foundation of his spirit in a soul, arose an unalterable meekness, peace, fortitude,
and constancy, with the whole train of virtues. Thus, by their conversion to the
faith, they were interiorly changed, and became quite new men, endued with a
temper truly heavenly, and animated with the spirit of Christ. The light of faith
spreads its beams upon our souls.
Why then has it not produced the same reformation and change in our wills and
affections? This it cannot do while we refuse to open our hearts to this grace, and
earnestly set ourselves to remove all obstacles of self-love and the passions. Yet,
till this change be wrought in our affections, we are earthly, strangers to the spirit
of Christ and want the mark of meekness and charity, by which those are to be
known that belong to him. A Christian is not a mere name, or empty procession; it
is a great and noble work; a work of difficulty which requires assiduous application,
and continual pains; and in which the greater our endeavors and advances have
been, with the greater ardor do we continually strive to advance higher towards
perfection, saying with St. Paul, Not as though I had already attained, or were
already perfect; out I follow after. I count not myself to have apprehended; but this
one thing I do: forgetting the things that are behind, and stretching forth myself to
those that are before, I press towards the mark, to the prize of the high calling of
God in Christ Jesus.
According to the Acts of the Apostles (17:34), Dionysius and a woman named
Damaris were converted by Saint Paul. His namesake Dionysius, bishop of Corinth
(c. A.D. 170), asserts that he became first bishop of Athens. Later literature tended
to confuse him with another Dionysius, otherwise Saint Denis of Paris (c. A.D. 250),
whose writings in mystical theology are often described as pseudo-Areopagite or
pseudo- Dionysian. This literature aimed at a combination of Christian doctrine and
Neoplatonist philosophy. By such synthesis the author arrived at the creation of
Christian mysticism, which found its way to the Coptic religious discussions of the
later medieval works of Abu al-Barakat IBN KABAR and Abu Ishaq ibn al-‘Assal in
their search for support of their monophysite beliefs in ancient documentary
Sayings of the Saints
|St. Dionysius the Areopagite
Bishop of Athens and Martyr
Butler's Lives of the Saints – October 9
|DIONYSIUS THE AREOPAGITE .
Coptic Encyclopedia, Aziz S. Atiya, (CE:908b-909a)