Albert & Thomas: Selected Writings

By Simon Tugwell | Go to book overview

the late fifteenth century. 290 Early in the sixteenth century Alberto di Castello commented that Albert was "a very famous teacher" and that "the number of his writings is almost infinite and they are very well-known." 291


II. ALBERT AND THE DIONYSIAN TRADITION

By the middle of the thirteenth century, when Albert began to lecture on the Dionysian writings, "Dionysius the Areopagite" was well-established as an important source for Western theologians. His books were available to scholars in Paris in large volumes containing more than one translation and a rich abundance of glosses and commentaries. 1 His assumption of the persona of St. Paul's Athenian convert went unchallenged, 2 with the result that he enjoyed almost apostolic authority. It is not surprising that, after lecturing on the standard textbook of Latin theology, as he was obliged to do as Bachelor of the Sentences, Albert should turn his attention to this outstanding monument of Greek theology.

The first significant appearance of Dionysius in the West occurred in 827 when the Byzantine emperor Michael the Stammerer presented a copy of the Dionysian corpus to Louis the Pious. 3 "Dionysius" the author was promptly identified with St. Denis of France and, on the eve of the latter's feast day, the manuscript was solemnly deposited in the abbey of St. Denis, a few miles from Paris, where we are told it immediately yielded a good crop of miracles. In about 832-35 the abbot of St. Denis, Hilduin, produced the first Latin translation. Abbot Hilduin's knowledge of Greek was rather inadequate to the task and his translation was decidedly opaque. 4

Later in the century Charles the Bald commissioned a new translation from an eccentric Irish scholar who had been at his court since about 850, John the Scot, generally known by the rather Homeric name he gave himself, Eriugena. He completed his version in about 862. He also composed a commentary on the Celestial Hierarchy. The discovery of Greek theology made a deep impression on him, and he proceeded to translate other works, including the very Dionysian Ambigua of St. Maximus. He also wrote a book of his own, Periphyseon, in which he tried to synthesize the Augustinian tradition with that of the Greeks. 5

-39-

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