By having answered the criticisms put forward against Honigmann, van Esbroeck smoothed the way for himself. His own investigations were concentrated on two different fields: the first appearance of the Corpus and its further reshaping that resulted into the actually known collection of the 14 epistles, four long and ten short, patterned after the 14 epistles of Paul. The very idea that the Corpus has passed through different editions until appearing in its present shape was established before van Esbroeck (cf. especially Brons 1975) and now is out of doubts (cf. especially van Esbroeck 1997 and Perczel 2008).
van Esbroeck’s “hagiographical argument”
The main van Esbroeck’s argument could be called “hagiographical” one. Indeed, the Corpus Areopagiticum contains a hagiographical legend and served to establish a new cult (at least, a specific cult of Dionysius and Hierotheos). Therefore, apart from other equally legitimated viewpoints, the Corpus could be analysed by the methods of critical hagiography. I share van Esbroeck’s conviction that such an approach is the best way to reach the Sitz im Leben of the collection. I will consider van Esbroeck’s “hagiographical argument” at length in the final part of the present study. It is sufficient now to state that, according to van Esbroeck, the vision of John the Eunuch took place on the very day of the feast of Dormition of the Virgin, when the heavens opened and Christ descended to receive the soul of Theotokos, and the feast of Dormition itself subsequently was the major point in Peter Iberian’s personal piety. Thus, after the death of John in about 464, Peter wrote the core of the future Corpus Areopagiticum considering himself as a mere interpreter, if not a simply scribe of the teaching of his cell-mate.
The “hagiographical argument” has been immediately attacked by Ritter (1994: 16–17) who reacted to the first unpublished communication of van Esbroeck at the Oxford Patristic Conference in 1991 (thus, without the full text of the article, he simply misunderstood him in several other points). Ritter pointed out that it is only a scholion of John of Scythopolis that is the earliest explanation of the scene in DN 3:2 as Dormition, and so, we simply do not know what was meant by the author. We will return to this argument later.
Early editorial history of the Corpus Areopagiticum
The names of Dionysius and Hierotheos appeared in the text of the Corpus at a later stage, when also the “Dormition account” in DN 3:2 was added (this account was pointed out among the “secondary parts” of the text already by Brons 1975) as well as the most (if not all) of short letters. At least, the 10th letter (to John the Theologian) must be considered as an attempt to explain an “anachronistic” quotation from Ignatius of Antioch in DN 4:12: a reaction to an objection posterior even to the Preface of John of Scythopolis (van Esbroeck 1997: 180). It is very likely that the scholies of John were added to a recension that did not contain most (if not all) of short letters.
John of Scythopolis, according to van Esbroeck (1997), has had a hand in the early distribution, if not an early reshaping of the Corpus. Thus, van Esbroeck established a chronology of his life in contrast with the commonly accepted one (and then accepted in Rorem and Lamoreaux 1998).
The purpose for the radical reshaping of Peter Iberian’s work that resulted in our Corpus Areopagiticum was, according to van Esbroeck (1993), the need to answer the Palestinian monastic origenism as it was formulated in the so-called Book of Hierotheos in the 490s. Of course, this time, once more, van Esbroeck goes against the scholarly consensus considering the Book of Hierotheos as exploiting already established reputation of the teacher of the author of the Corpus Areopagiticum (cf. Pinggéra 2002: 25). However, van Esbroeck appreciation of the Book of Hierotheos could be reconciled with different hypotheses of its provenance, including the authorship of Stephen bar Sudaili. There is here a lot of room for further research.
Note: John of Scythopolis’ chronology
Van Esbroeck published his study (1997) almost simultaneously with Rorem and Lamoreaux (1998: 28–32), and so, there was no reference to each other in their analyses. Rorem and Lamoreaux repeated the arguments of Honigmann (in a work with no relation to his thesis on Dionysius: 1951: 81; cf. Perrone 1980: 244) allowing situating the start of John of Scythopolis’ literary activity not earlier than in the early 6th century. The difference is in the interpretation of the same documents: Photius, Bibliotheca, codd. 95 and 107.
Cod. 107 is a detailed summary of the work Against John of Scythopolis written by some Basil of Cilicia. Photius said that he was writing under the patriarch of Antioch Flavian (498—518). Rorem and Lamoreaux rightly observe that his own attitude was not Nestorianism but some sort of strict Chalcedonism (1998:31–32). However, following Honigmann and Perrone, they think that the date under Flavian is fictive: the author was writing much later, during the theopaschite controversy that started at 519. “...Basil was attempting to arrogate to himself the authority of Flavian, the resolute opponent of Philoxenus, the same Flavian who was eventually exiled (512) to Petra for his defence of Chalcedon” (Rorem and Lamoreaux 1998: 31, n.42).
Now we know, and not last of all due to the studies of van Esbroeck, that the strict Chalcedonian party continued to exist in the epoch of Henotikon (cf. Lourié 2007), and thus, such polemics as we see in the Against John of Scythopolis would be at place even then. Moreover, Rorem and Lamoreaux themselves have made a precious observation: “Neo-Chalcedonian objections to the theology of Basil and others like him may perhaps explain two peculiar passages in the Scholia (SchEH 181. 10, SchCH 72. 5) which mention a sect associated with the Nestorians and called 'Basileans'” (1998: 31, n. 46). Such a sect, if it was Chalcedonian, would be especially probable before the abrogation of the Henotikon under Justin I.
Thus, the arguments against the date stated explicitly in our source are too stretched. And so, van Ebroeck is right taking the data of Cod. 107 at face value. Moreover, it is important to him that only the patriarch of Antioch is mentioned: this suggests that the polemics between Basil of Cilicia and John of Scythopolis took place in Antioch.
Cod. 95 is John of Scythopolis’ own work (Against the Aposchists) written as a reply to an anonymous author who entitled his treatise Against Nestorius but, in fact, according to John, aimed the doctrine of the Council of Chalcedon. John wrote a detailed refutation of the followers of Eutychius and Dioscorus in twelve books. This work has been commissioned to him by a bishop (ἀρχιερεύς) named Julian. Indeed, to van Esbroeck, this Julian is the patriarch of Antioch (471—475) alternative to Peter the Fuller who was certainly in need of such an antimonophysite works. Honigmann, Perrone, and Rorem and Lamoreaux are forced to opt for either some Julian of Bostra (opposed to Severus’ consecration in 512, fled to Palestine in 515, and restored to his see in 518) or a completely unknown person. Needless to say that it is only van Esbroeck’s solution that I consider natural and verisimilar. Rorem and Lamoreaux seem to me missing the point, in particular, because they pose an irrelevant question whether “Photius meant the patriarch of Antioch” or rather somebody else (1998: 29–30), while we need to know what was meant in the source of Photius, regardless to what meant Photius.
The chronology of John of Scythopolis’ life is important for dating his Scholies to the Corpus Areopagiticum, even if the decisive argument for their dating is the date of John’s Preface whose genuine recension is preserved only in Syriac (van Esbroeck 1997). This Preface was added to a recension earlier than that we know in Greek. Its date is presumably the same as the date of the scholies of John and it must be very close to the date of the first publication of the Corpus after its pseudonymisation. While van Esbroeck was reluctant to propose a specific date of the scholies, we can to apply his approach to the data collected by Rorem and Lamoreaux (1998: 37–38). Thus, we have to accept their first terminus post quem 518 as the date of beginning of the schism between Severus and Julian of Halicarnassus (mentioned two times in the scholies) but reject their second terminus post quem 532 (beginning of the Origenist quarrels in the Laura of St Sabbas) taking into account another Origenist quarrel in Palestine in about 500 connected to the appearance of the Book of Hierotheos. Their third terminus post quem seems to me equally unsubstantiated, John’s quotation from the anti-Origenist works of Antipater of Bostra (fl ca 460): “This makes it possible to be even more precise, for at the beginning of the hegumenate of Gelasius (537/8) Antipater’s anti-Origenist treatises first appear in the sixth century fight against Origen, being supported by the monks of monastery of St Sabas” (p. 38). Their reference here to the Life of Sabbas, 84, by Cyril of Scythopolis says nothing about any rediscovering of Antipater’s works but simply about reading of them. Nothing is mentioned in this source that would prevent John to read them earlier.
Therefore, we have to date the scholies to the period shortly after 518, most probably, somewhere in the 520s, but not in between 537 and 543, as Rorem and Lamoreaux thought.