The first half of our treatment on Ullmann can be found here, and the prelude to this two-part series can be found here (and the forerunner to the prelude [!] is here); in the six (a through e) parts of this second post, we’ll cover the way that his students, admirers and critics have presented the outline of his thought, and the faults they have found with it.
I began to draft this over two years ago, but let it go, pursuing other projects; I release it here roughly as it has been sitting for the past two years, with the full admission that, as it stands, it is little more than an obscenely bloated compilation of the opinions of others — Ullmann’s direct or indirect students, for the most part, but all the leading English-language scholars in the field of medieval thought and politics. I have an entire box of notes and books and articles that make what is represented here look like a mere sampling of post-it notes on a manuscript compared to what I have (post-it notes which themselves need trimming!), but, knowing that I won’t get to it soon, it needs to be released as-is. I hope that it will be helpful, as a long list of extracts, for individuals who are preparing to read Ullmann, so that they will have a sense of how his students and professional historians who were indebted to him (and who hold sway within the field) read him; this should give readers of Ullmann a sense of what to gather, and what to leave behind as they read him. Looking back, it seems that a collection-of-the-opinions-of-others approach was my intention two years ago, so I hope this cut-up post, while it certainly falls egregiously far short of the high watermark I had intended for it, nonetheless has, basically, enough of the material any interested party could wish for to gain a foothold.
Finally, I also hope that the impression it leaves is not uncharitable, and that people will not deny Ullmann a generous and open-minded reading on account of it.
Here is a parallel of all of the English translations I’ve found of Book One (or “Chapter One”, if the reader prefers) of Pseudo-Dionysius’ On the Divine Names.
The formatting here is eccentric — there are several hymns throughout Book One, and I have homogenized the formatting across translations, in part to make all translations somewhat sensitive to their hymnic character. Although the formatting here began by being authentic to the original formatting of each English text, it has entirely strayed from that in the interests of facilitating easier comparison.
I may add Suchla’s Greek text for Book One in footnotes, eventually. (I’ve tried to add a column for Suchla, but it throws the formatting off completely in WordPress.)
We do not often reflect extensively on the nature of authority in the modern world; at least, we do not entertain public discourse about it. We cede authority to people all the time, however, and with alarming frequency in consumer environments or business settings. In most cases, we cede it to individuals who, or institutions which, are expert in a subject or topic; we also cede it to corporations which specialize in a certain kind of product, and who have a reputation for excellence in it.
We might leave matters on that meritocratic note, and banish further questions about authority from our mind. More than this could be quite disruptive. After all, there cannot be any institutional life without order, and there is no order without some kind of authority — but that should not stop us from seeking authority’s proper grounds, especially in a liberal environment where we are expected to be sufficiently cultured to have mature consciences which can responsibly dissent, on the basis of a higher principle, from the authorities who govern, or from the proposals of our fellow citizens. Finally, this should also extend into religious life and institutions.
While the following cannot claim comprehensiveness, it certainly aims at addressing universal concerns. Continue reading
The late-5th- or early-6th-century figure Pseudo-Dionysios (or simply the Latin “Dionysius” or the French equivalent “Denys”) is a cardinal figure in the history of Western thought and civilization. Given his high importance for Christian theology East and West, one would think that he would be more read, or at least better-understood by specialists. Unfortunately, he is not well-understood, not even by the most prominent name in Denys studies, Paul Rorem. Alas, the most easily-available translation of Denys’ works are marked by the massive anachronistic distortions of Rorem’s Lutheran confessional bias (a topic for another time). There are also specialist biases in play from other Athenian-Pagan-Hellenistic directions, as the scholarship of Ronald F. Hathaway shows (Hathaway I have read with much more profit than Rorem, however). Eric Perl has the best introduction to Denys. Hieromonk (now bishop?) Golitzin wrote a necessary, complementary second. John D. Jones’ translation of the Divine Names is still the best English-translation text to begin digging into Denys himself.
I’ll be posting about Denys in the future, given my love for him and his value and importance (which needs much more articulation than I can possibly give it here). In the meantime, I thought that a good place to start would be to publish a comparative list of three translations of Denys’ Epistle 9, mostly about scriptural language. The Luibheid/Rorem translation is sadly the most easily accessible, the Parker translation unfortunately forgotten or unread, and the Hathaway translation is, lamentably, mostly gathering dust on university libraries (or in professors’ shelves). Given these injustices, this columned, comparative translation seemed worth sharing. I may offer more such in the future — a chapter or two each from the Divine Names, the Celestial Hierarchy, and the Ecclesiastical Hierarchy. (Denys coined the term “hierarchy”, and it does not mean for him what it means for us.)
Denys’ approach to scriptural figures for God –or any figures for God at all– is markedly unlike any modern confessional theology. Such confessional theologies are dogmatically committed to the existence of secret truths about God that are simply unknowable to us until we are told them, and which reason –any model of reason or rationality– has no capacity to verify. This is idolatry, and Denys shows us the beginnings of seeing why and how this is so. (It also leads to atrocious psychological, social and political configurations, but I shouldn’t run too far, too fast.)