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Bible penngrovechurchofchristorgThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy have omitted — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Acts 17:32-34

32 Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked. But others said, “We will hear you again about this.” 33 So Paul went out from their midst. 34 But some men joined him and believed, among whom also were Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris and others with them.

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Yesterday’s post discussed Paul’s address about Christ and the Resurrection at the Areopagus — Mars Hill — in Athens. That passage is in the Lectionary but provides the context for today’s verses.

The philosophers and learned people listening to Paul could not wrap their heads around the resurrection of the dead (verse 32). Some made fun of Paul and his message. Others told him that they would listen to him discuss it again. Some in this group were procrastinators and not that interested, while others probably were sincere in wishing to hear more but wanted to think about what he had said first.

So, Paul left the Areopagus (verse 33). Matthew Henry’s commentary states that for those who did want to learn more:

it is likely, with a promise to those that were willing to hear him again that he would meet them whenever they pleased.

However, Paul did make some converts that day who joined him and believed (verse 34). Older translations use the verb ‘cleaved’ or ‘clave’. John MacArthur explains the Greek verb (emphases mine):

I love this, verse 34, “Nevertheless certain men joined him.” There’s a Greek word kollao and it means glue. The word join here is kollao, it’s the verb. They just glued themselves to Paul. They were curious, they wanted to know more. They followed Paul out of there and then it says, “The ones who were the curious ones believed.”

Luke, the author of Acts, thought it fitting to mention two of the converts.

The first, Dionysius the Areopagite, was a most learned man. Henry gives us a summary of what the ancients, including Eusebius, wrote about him:

Dionysius the Areopagite, one of that high court or great council that sat in Areopagus, or Mars’ Hill–a judge, a senator, one of those before whom Paul was summoned to appear; his judge becomes his convert. The account which the ancients give of this Dionysius is that he was bred at Athens, had studied astrology in Egypt, where he took notice of the miraculous eclipse at our Saviour’s passion,–that, returning to Athens, he became a senator, disputed with Paul, and was by him converted from his error and idolatry; and, being by him thoroughly instructed, was made the first bishop of Athens. So Eusebius, lib. 5, cap. 4; lib. 4, cap. 22.

Dionysius the Areopagite lived and died in the 1st century AD. (Image courtesy of Wikipedia.)

That is important, because Dionysius — present day Den(n)is — was a common name for centuries. As such, it led to confusion through the ages, particularly during the first Millennium.

Wikipedia tells us:

In the early 6th century, a series of writings of a mystical nature, employing Neoplatonic language to elucidate Christian theological and mystical ideas, was ascribed to the Areopagite.[2] They have long been recognized as pseudepigrapha, and their author is now called “Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite.

Dionysius has been misidentified with the martyr of Gaul, Dionysius, the first Bishop of Paris, Saint Denis. However, this mistake by a ninth century writer is ignored and each saint is commemorated on his respective day.[3]

The Talk page for that entry explains that the men handing down the Areopagite’s teachings through the ages were also called Dionysius. The last entry says:

Instruction about the Gods was first systematised by Dionysius the Areopagite, the pupil of the apostle Paul. It was however not written down until the 6th century. This is why scholars deny the existence of Dionysius the Areopagite and speak about the writings of the Pseudo-Dionysius, as though it was in the 6th century that old traditions were first put together. The truth of the matter can only be substantiated by reading in the Akashic Chronicle. The Akashic Chronicle does however teach that Dionysius actually lived in Athens, that he was initiated by Paul and was commissioned by him to lay the foundation of the teaching about the higher spiritual beings and to impart this knowledge to special initiates. At that time certain lofty teachings were never written down but only communicated as tradition by word of mouth. The teaching about the [g]ods was also given in this way by Dionysius to his pupils, who then passed it on further. These pupils in direct succession were intentionally called Dionysius, so that the last of these, who wrote down this teaching was one of those who was given this name.

Denis, the Bishop of Paris, lived during the 3rd century AD. He was born in what is now Italy. His Wikipedia entry also discusses the confusion with Dionysius the Areopagite. (Image courtesy of Wikipedia)

This is the first mix-up between the two:

Saint Denis was a legendary 3rd-century Christian martyr and saint. According to his hagiographies, he was bishop of Paris in the third century and, together with his companions Rusticus and Eleutherius, was martyred for his faith by decapitation. Some accounts placed this during Domitian‘s persecution and identified St Denis of Paris with the Areopagite who was converted by St Paul and who served as the first bishop of Athens. Assuming Denis’s historicity, it is now considered more likely that he suffered under the persecution of the emperor Decius shortly after AD 250. Denis is the most famous cephalophore in Christian legend, with a popular story claiming that the decapitated bishop picked up his head and walked several miles while preaching a sermon on repentance. He is venerated in the Catholic Church as the patron saint of France and Paris and is accounted one of the Fourteen Holy Helpers. A chapel was raised at the site of his burial by a local Christian woman; it was later expanded into an abbey and basilica, around which grew up the French city of Saint-Denis, now a suburb of Paris.

This is the second, which will make your head spin. Interestingly, even Pierre Abelard got involved in the controversy and brought a fourth Dionysius into the mix:

Since at least the ninth century, the legends of Dionysius the Areopagite and Denis of Paris have often been confused. Around 814, Louis the Pious brought certain writings attributed to Dionysius the Areopagite to France, and since then it became common among the French legendary writers to argue that Denis of Paris was the same Dionysius who was a famous convert and disciple of Saint Paul.[8] The confusion of the personalities of Saint Denis, Dionysius the Areopagite, and pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite, the author of the writings ascribed to Dionysius brought to France by Louis, was initiated through an Areopagitica written in 836 by Hilduin, Abbot of Saint-Denis, at the request of Louis the Pious. “Hilduin was anxious to promote the dignity of his church, and it is to him that the quite unfounded identification of the patron saint with Dionysius the Areopagite and his consequent connexion with the apostolic age are due.”[14] Hilduin’s attribution had been supported for centuries by the monastic community at Abbey of Saint-Denis and one of origins of their pride. In Historia calamitatum, Pierre Abelard gives a short account of the strength of this belief and the monastery’s harsh opposition to challenges to their claim. Abelard jokingly pointed out a possibility that the founder of the Abbey could have been another Dionysius, who is mentioned as Dionysius of Corinth by Eusebius. This irritated the community so much that eventually Abelard left in bitterness. As late as the sixteenth century, scholars might still argue for an Eastern origin of the Basilica of Saint-Denis: one was Godefroi Tillman, in a long preface to a paraphrase of the Letters of the Areopagite, printed in Paris in 1538 by Charlotte Guillard.[15] Most historiographers agree that this conflated legend is completely erroneous.[5]

Orthodox Wiki has this about Dionysius the Areopagite. Note the similarities between his story and that of Denis of Paris, including their deaths and a woman finding the head/burying the body. Also note the mention of Gaul:

Prior to his baptism, Dionysius grew up in a notable family in Athens, attended philosophical school at home and abroad, was married and had several children, and was a member of the highest court in Greece, the Areopagus. After his conversion to the True Faith, St. Paul made him Bishop of Athens. Eventually he left his wife and children for Christ and went with St. Paul in missionary travel. He travelled to Jerusalem specifically to see the Most Holy Theotokos [Mary] and writes of his encounter in one of his books. He was also present at her Dormition.

Seeing St. Paul martyred in Rome, St. Dionysius desired to be a martyr as well. He went to Gaul, along with his presbyter Rusticus and the deacon Eleutherius, to preach the Gospel to the barbarians. There his suffering was equalled only by his success in converting many pagans to Christianity.

In the year 96, St. Dionysius was seized and tortured for Christ, along with Rusticus and Eleutherius, and all three were beheaded under the reign of the Emperor Domitian. St. Dionysius’ head rolled a rather long way until it came to the feet of Catula, a Christian. She honorably buried it along with his body.

The Orthodox Wiki entry also talks about Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite with no distinction made between him and the original. Someone on the Talk page wisely suggested:

It might be easiest just to create a new page for the Dionysian Corpus, or for Pseudo-Dionysius.

Pseudo-Dionysius is not a saint.

Dionysius the Areopagite is a saint in the Orthodox and Catholic Churches. He is the patron saint of lawyers, and his feast day is October 3 or October 9.

Denis’s feast day is also October 9. However, he is not connected with lawyers but rather:

France; Paris; against frenzy, strife, headaches, hydrophobia, San Dionisio (Parañaque City), possessed people.

Returning to today’s passage, the second convert Luke thought it important to mention was Damaris.

I researched her, too. Only John MacArthur says she was a woman of common birth:

a woman by the name of Damaris who was given no title or credentials indicating a common woman. Here we see the beauty of the gospel it reaches the highest level of Athens and the lowest level, the common woman in town. Isn’t that beautiful that two people at those ends of the post got saved on the same sermon? That’s the power of the gospel to bridge the gaps.

Matthew Henry says:

The woman named Damaris was, as some think, the wife of Dionysius; but, rather, some other person of quality

Wikipedia puts forward all the theories about her identity:

As usually women were not present in Areopagus meetings, Damaris has traditionally been assumed to have been a hetaera (courtesan, high-status prostitute);[1] modern commentators have alternatively suggested she might also have been a follower of the Stoics (who welcomed women among their ranks)[2] or a foreigner visiting Athens.[3] The Georgian text of Acts makes Damaris the wife of Dionysius.[4]

Damaris is a saint in the Orthodox Church. Her feast day is the same as that of Dionysius the Areopagite or, alternatively, October 2.

She is also a saint in the Catholic Church, where she is known as Damaris of Athens. Her feast day is October 4. Catholics believe she was Dionysius the Areopagite’s wife.

Bible Gateway tells us that Damaris means ‘heifer’:

This female convert of Paul’s witness at Mars Hill (Acts 17:34), must have been a well-known Athenian. Her name is from the form of Damalis, meaning a “heifer,” and in use signified a young girl. Singled out with Dionysius the Areopagite, one of the court judges, indicates personal or social distinction (Acts 17:12). There is no evidence that she was the wife of Dionysius, as some writers affirm.

I hope this adds to our knowledge about Dionysius the Areopagite and Damaris.

Acts 17 is the last chapter with Lectionary readings. From here on out, all being well, every verse in every chapter from Acts 18 through Acts 28 will feature in Forbidden Bible Verses.

Next time — Acts 18:1-4

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