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The Journal of Late Antique Religion and Culture

Volume 5, 2011


Charles M. Stang

From the Chaldean Oracles to the Corpus Dionysiacum: Theurgy between the Third and Sixth Centuries

Abstract: This essay traces the journey of “theurgy” from its original, pagan associations with the Chaldean Oracles in the second century, to the Christian mystical theology of “Pseudo”-Dionysius the Areopagite in the early sixth century. The essay begins by inquiring into the theory and practice of theurgy as expressed in the fragmentary Oracles, and argues that the surviving sources do not permit us to draw firm conclusions. The essay then moves quickly over the Neoplatonic reception of theurgy, from Plotinus to Porphyry to Iamblichus. Iamblichus’ theory of theurgy is especially significant for the subsequent Christian reception. The essay ends by examining the use of the term “theurgy” in the Corpus Dionysiacum, and argues that while the author inherits the form of Iamblichean theurgy, he freights it with new content by figuring the Incarnation of Christ as the preeminent theurgy or “work of God.”


Tuomo Lankila

The Corpus Areopagiticum as a Crypto-Pagan Project

Abstract: Summing up current discussion this article presents a detailed critique of Carlo Maria Mazzucchi’s suggestion that Damascius, the last head of the pagan Neoplatonist school of Athens, was the author of the enigmatic Pseudo-Dionysian corpus. Mazzuchi’s approach grasps better the probable context of the emergence of the Dionysian Corpus than mainstream interpretation, which accepts the author’s overt claim of Christianity, resorts too easily to rather twisted theories of pseudonymic writing and overrates the autonomy of the Corpus Areopagiticum in relation to Proclus. Contrary to the opinions that dismiss speculation about the identity of the writer as meaningless in the absence of new data this article considers such attempts necessary and useful. The article agrees with Carlo Maria Mazzucchi’s general thesis that the Corpus was a creation of pagan philosophers in the Neoplatonic academy of Athens after Proclus. However, it argues that Mazzucchi misjudged the perspective regarding the future that prevailed in the Athenian school and in particular Damascius’ willingness to accept a compromise with Christianity at the cost of polytheism as articulated in Proclus’ theology of the classes of the gods. As a result a more credible version of the crypto-pagan hypothesis could be developed, namely to see the Corpus Dionysiacum as a purely instrumental stratagem aiming to protect Proclus’ works in order to resurrect more easily the polytheistic religion in better times, which according to the Neoplatonists’ cyclic view of history were destined to return one day.


Book Reviews

Margaret Mitchell, Paul, The Corinthians and the Birth of Christian Hermeneutics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010); xiv + 178 pp. ISBN: 9780521197953. RRP £50. [Thomas Hunt]

Virginia Burrus, Mark D. Jordan, Karmen Mackendrick, Seducing Augustine: Bodies, Desires, Confessions (New York: Fordham University Press, 2010); xi + 174 pp. RRP £22.50. [Josef Lössl]

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