jeudi 17 novembre 2016

Saint DENYS le Grand d'ALEXANDRIE, évêque et confesseur



Saint Denys d'Alexandrie

Évêque ( 265)

Il connut l'impitoyable persécution de l'empereur Dèce et il fut très affecté par les nombreuses apostasies. Bien qu'il soit resté caché dans sa maison, il fut arrêté à son tour, mais délivré par une troupe de paysans chrétiens qui attaquèrent ses gardes durant un transfert. Quand la paix revint, il eut à défendre l'unité de l'Eglise attaquée par le schisme de Novatien qui refusait le pardon à ceux qui, faibles, avaient apostasié et pour lesquels il était miséricordieux. Il connut, après un temps de paix, la persécution de l'empereur Valérien. Il fut exilé, mais lorsque l'empereur, lui-même, fut fait prisonnier par les Perses, la situation redevint paisible. Il eut de nombreux échanges épistolaires avec le Pape saint Denys de Rome quant à la divinité de Jésus-Christ. Les Églises d'Orient mentionnent tout particulièrement ses disciples diacres les saints Faustus, Gaïus, Eusèbe et Chairemon

Au 3 octobre: À Alexandrie, vers 265, saint Denis, évêque, personnage d’une profonde érudition. Célèbre pour avoir souvent confessé la foi, riche en mérites à cause de la diversité de ses souffrances et de ses tourments, il s’endormit, plein de jours, en confesseur de la foi, au temps des empereurs Valérien et Gallien.

Martyrologe romain

SOURCE : http://nominis.cef.fr/contenus/saint/157/Saint-Denys-d-Alexandrie.html
DENYS D'ALEXANDRIE saint (mort en 265 env.)
Né probablement au début du iiie siècle à Alexandrie de parents païens, disciple d'Origène et successeur de l'évêque Héraclas sur le siège d'Alexandrie (247), Denys — appelé « le Grand » — connaît la persécution sous Philippe l'Arabe (248) ; puis sous Dèce, il se cache en Libye ; pendant la persécution de Valérien, il est exilé dans cette même région jusqu'à sa libération par Gallien (262). À son retour, il doit encore affronter à Alexandrie une révolution et la peste. Invité au synode d'Antioche (264-265), il est empêché d'y assister en raison de sa vieillesse et il meurt durant le synode.
La principale source d'information qu'on ait sur Denys est l'Histoire ecclésiastique d'Eusèbe de Césarée, qui cite un grand nombre de ses Lettres. Les œuvres de Denys sont principalement d'intérêt pastoral. Adversaire du sabellianisme, il fut lui-même soupçonné de trithéisme et dut démontrer son orthodoxie dans un traité intitulé Réfutation et Apologie adressé à Denys de Rome. Les passages cités par Eusèbe concernent notamment le novatianisme, le sabellianisme, le millénarisme (Sur les promesses), l'épicurisme (Sur la nature). Denys refusait d'identifier l'auteur de l'Apocalypse avec l'Apôtre Jean, auteur du quatrième Évangile et des épîtres johanniques.
Richard GOULET

Richard GOULET, « DENYS D'ALEXANDRIE saint (mort en 265 env.)  », Encyclopædia Universalis [en ligne], consulté le 19 novembre 2016. URL : http://www.universalis.fr/encyclopedie/denys-d-alexandrie/

SOURCE : http://www.universalis.fr/encyclopedie/denys-d-alexandrie/

Saint Denys d’Alexandrie

Archevêque d’Alexandrie (247-264)

Fête le 17 novembre

† 265

Autre graphie : Denys d’Alexandrie ou Denys le Grand

Disciple puis successeur d’Origène à la tête de l’école catéchétique d’Alexandrie, il fut évêque d’Alexandrie de 248 à 265. Il prit part aux controverses contre les hérétiques. Il gouverna dix-sept ans, en un temps de fléaux et de persécutions, et fut exilé deux fois.


Saint Denys d'Alexandrie

Publié le 15/02/2016

Le Hiéromartyr Denys, évêque et pape d’Alexandrie, se convertit à l’âge mûr au Christianisme, grâce à la prédication du célèbre enseignant de l’Eglise, Origène, et devint son étudiant. Ensuite, il devint responsable de l’Ecole Catéchétique d’Alexandrie, puis en 247, évêque et pape d’Alexandrie.

Saint Denys œuvra énormément pour défendre l’Orthodoxie contre les hérésies, et il encouragea son troupeau à fermement confesser la Vraie Foi durant les temps de persécutions sous les empereurs Dèce (249-251) et Valérien (253-259).

Le saint évêque endura beaucoup de souffrances. Quand la peste frappa Alexandrie, le saint encouragea son troupeau à prendre soin des malades, sans faire de distinction entre Chrétiens et païens, et d’enterrer les morts. Au sujet du décès de ses enfants spirituels, il écrivait, « De la sorte, les meilleurs de nos frères ont quitté cette vie. Cette génération de morts, tombés par des actes de grande piété et foi ferme, ne sont rien de moins que des martyrs ». Saint Denys illumina son troupeau par ses actes d’amour et de charité. Il mourut en 264 ou 265.


Denys, évêque d'Alexandrie, né dans les dernières années du IIe siècle, mort en 265. Eusèbe l'appelle le grand évéque des Alexandrins; Athanase, le docteur de l'Eglise catholique . Païen converti, il avait eu pour maître Origène, et il lui resta fidèle jusqu'à la fin. Étant déjà prêtre, il fut appelé à la direction de l'école catéchétique d'Alexandrie, pour remplacer Héraclius nommé évêque; lorsque celui-ci mourut, il lui succéda sur le siège épiscopal (247). Pendant dix-huit ans, Denys gouverna, avec autant de courage que de prudence, son Eglise périlleusement éprouvée par les émeutes du peuple, les persécutions des empereurs, la famine et la peste . Il prit part activement; mais avec un grand esprit de modération, à toutes les controverses de son temps, au sujet des lapsi, du baptême des hérétiques, du chiliasme , et de Paul de Samosate

En réfutant les Sabelliens, il émit des propositions que ceux-ci accusèrent de trithéisme. Ils en tirent part à l'évêque de Rome, qui s'appelait aussi Denys. Cet évêque composa un écrit dans lequel il combattait en même temps, mais sans les nommer, et les Sabelliens et Denys d'Alexandrie, qui lui répondit. De là, un débat qu'on a appelé la querelle ou la controverse des deux Denys. Il semble avoir été terminé à la satisfaction des deux adversaires, lorsque Denys d'Alexandrie eut expliqué le sens des expressions qu'on lui reprochait et affirmé, comme l'avait fait Origène, son maître, que le Verbe est éternel, et qu'on peut le dire consubstantiel à Dieu . On a coutume de présenter la défense que Denys d'Alexandrie adressa à l'évêque de Rome comme la reconnaissance de la suprématie du siège de ce dernier; mais l'attitude d'indépendance résolue que l'évêque d'Alexandrie prend dans cette défense contredit péremptoirement cette induction. 

Saint Jérôme (De Scriptoribus eccles.) a donné une liste longue, quoique incomplète, des livres de Denys. Il ne nous en est parvenu que des fragments. Des extraits de ses lettres ont fourni la matière de la plus grande partie des livres VI et VII de l'Histoire ecclésiastique d'Eusèbe. Ce qui reste de lui a été réuni et édité dans la Bibliotheca graeco-latina veterum Patrum de Galland (Venise, 1765-1781, t. III, 14 vol. in-fol.), dans un ouvrage préparé par Simon De Magistris (Rome, 1796), dans la Patrologie graeca de Migne (t. X), et dans le Spicilegium Solesmense de D. Pitra (t. I). (E.-H. Vollet).


MARTYRE DE SAINTE APOLLINE ET DE QUELQUES AUTRES A ALEXANDRIE, EN 249 ET 250

Ce document est d'une authenticité incontestée. Il fut adressé à l'évêque d'Antioche et nous a été conservé par Eusèbe. Les premières victimes dont il parle furent massacrées non en vertu d'un édit de persécution, mais pendant une émeute, sous l'empereur Philippe, auquel succéda Dèce. Alexandrie est une des villes où les chrétiens ont le plus souffert. (EUSÈBE, Hist. eccl., VI, 41.)

FRAGMENTS D'UNE LETTRE DE SAINT DENYS, ÉVÊQUE D'ALEXANDRIE, A FABIEN D'ANTIOCHE, SUR LE MARTYRE DE SAINTE APOLLINE, ET DE PLUSIEURS AUTRES, A ALEXANDRIE.

La persécution ne fut point la conséquence de l'édit des empereurs, car elle le précéda d'une année entière. Un méchant devin et mauvais poète excitait contre nous la populace. Entraînés par lui, les gentils, libres de se livrer à tous les crimes, pensèrent montrer une grande piété envers leurs dieux en égorgeant nos frères.

Ils saisirent d'abord un vieillard nommé Métra, et lui ordonnèrent de prononcer des paroles impies; sur son refus, ils le rouèrent de coups, lui enfoncèrent dans le visage et dans les yeux des roseaux pointus, et l'ayant entraîné dans le faubourg, ils le lapidèrent. Ils voulurent aussi forcer une femme appelée Quinta à adorer les idoles d'un temple où ils l'avaient entraînée; comme elle refusait énergiquement, on la saisit par les pieds et on la traîna dans toute la ville, dont le pavé est formé de cailloux aigus; on meurtrit son corps avec de gros quartiers de meule, on l'accabla de coups de fouets, et on la tua enfin à coups de pierre dans le même faubourg.

Tout le peuple se jeta sur les maisons des chrétiens; fussent-ils des voisins, on les chassait de leur logis, on les dépouillait; les choses les plus précieuses étaient emportées, les objets plus vils ou qui n'étaient que de bois, on les jetait pour être brûlés dans les rues; on eût dit une ville prise d'assaut. Les frères s'enfuyaient ; ils voyaient avec joie, comme ceux dont parle l'apôtre Paul, la perte de leurs biens. De tous ceux dont on s'empara, un seul, à ma connaissance, fut assez malheureux pour renoncer à Jésus-Christ.

L'admirable Apolline, vierge et déjà vieille, fut saisie; on lui fit sauter toutes les dents en la frappant sur la mâchoire. On alluma ensuite un grand feu hors de la ville, et on la menaça de l'y jeter, si elle ne disait des paroles impies. Elle demanda quelques moments; les ayant obtenus, elle sauta dans le foyer et fut consumée. Sérapion, qui avait été pris dans sa maison, fut tourmenté de mille manières, et quand tous ses membres eurent été brisés, on le précipita du dernier étage. Enfin, on n'osait se montrer de jour ou de nuit dans les rues ; car on criait partout : « Celui qui refusera de blasphémer le Christ sera traîné et brûlé ». Ces violences durèrent longtemps; il n'y eut qu'une guerre civile qui put les faire cesser ; car pendant que nos ennemis se déchiraient les uns les autres, et tournaient contre eux-mêmes cette fureur dont nous avions été les victimes, nous pûmes enfin respirer un peu de temps.

Mais bientôt on nous annonça que ce gouvernement plus favorable avait été renversé, et nous nous vîmes exposés à de nouvelles alarmes. Parut alors cet édit terrible de l'empereur Dèce, si cruel et si funeste qu'on pouvait croire que la persécution annoncée par Notre-Seigneur allait sévir contre nous, et devenir même pour les justes un sujet de scandale. L'épouvante se répandit parmi tous les fidèles; et quelques-uns des plus considérables, saisis de terreur, se rendirent aussitôt; les uns, qui géraient les affaires publiques, y furent amenés par une sorte de nécessité de leur administration; les autres, que des parents ou des amis entraînaient, se voyant appelés par leur nom, sacrifiaient aux faux dieux. Quelques-uns y venaient avec un visage pâle et défait; et quoiqu'ils parussent dans' la résolution de ne point sacrifier, elle était toutefois si faible et si chancelante, qu'on aurait plutôt cru qu'ils venaient comme des victimes que l'on va immoler, aussi on ne pouvait s'empêcher de rire en les voyant si peu résolus ou à mourir ou à sacrifier. D'autres se présentaient avec hardiesse devant les autels, et affirmaient hautement qu'ils n'avaient jamais été chrétiens. Ils sont de ces hommes dont le Seigneur a parlé, quand il disait : « Le salut leur sera difficile ». Le grand nombre, enfin, ou suivait l'exemple de ces premiers, ou prenait la fuite ; plusieurs aussi furent arrêtés. Parmi ces derniers, il y en eut qui souffrirent courageusement pendant plusieurs jours la prison et les fers, mais qui faiblirent avant même l'heure du jugement; d'autres supportèrent héroïquement les premières tortures, et manquèrent de force lorsqu'on vint à les redoubler.

Mais enfin il se trouva de ces hommes bienheureux, de ces colonnes fermes et inébranlables, et que la main du Seigneur avait elle-même affermies, qui se sentirent assez de courage et de générosité pour rendre un glorieux hommage à la puissance souveraine de Jésus-Christ. De ce nombre fut Julien. Il était fort tourmenté de la goutte, qui l'empêchait de se tenir debout et de marcher. On l'amena devant le juge, porté par deux hommes, dont un renonça aussitôt; mais l'autre, appelé Cronion, ayant avec le saint vieillard Julien confessé hautement Jésus-Christ, on les fit monter sur des chameaux, et on les promena ainsi dans toute la ville, fort grande, comme on le sait, en les accablant de coups. Ils furent enfin jetés dans un grand feu, en présence d'une multitude immense. Un soldat nommé Bésas, qui assistait à leur supplice, empêchait qu'on les outrageât; les gentils crièrent contre lui, et le conduisirent au juge; ce généreux athlète de Jésus-Christ, ne s'étant point démenti dans ce combat entrepris pour sa gloire, eut la tête tranchée. Un autre, originaire de Libye, nommé Macaire ou Heureux, mais plus heureux encore par les favorables dispositions de la Providence à son égard, n'ayant jamais voulu renoncer Jésus-Christ, malgré tous les efforts du juge, fut brûlé vif. Après eux, Épimaque et Alexandre, après avoir essuyé pendant plusieurs jours toutes les horreurs d'une. prison obscure, les tortures des ongles de fer, les fouets et mille autres tourments, furent jetés dans une fosse pleine de chaux vive, où leurs corps furent consumés et disparurent.

Quatre femmes chrétiennes eurent le même sort. La première se nommait Ammonarium; c'était une vierge très sainte. Le juge la fit longtemps tourmenter pour l'obliger à prononcer certaines paroles de blasphème; elle dit ouvertement qu'elle n'en ferait rien, et, ainsi qu'on l'en avait menacée, on l'envoya au supplice. Les trois autres étaient Mercuria, respectable par sa vieillesse; Denyse, mère de plusieurs enfants, qu'elle n'aimait pas autant que le Seigneur ; et une autre, Ammonarium. Le préfet, honteux d'être vaincu par des femmes, et craignant d'ailleurs l'inutilité des tourments, les fit périr par le glaive, la vierge Ammonarium, à leur tête, ayant eu seule la gloire de souffrir pour ses compagnes.

On présenta ensuite au juge, Héron, Ater, Isidore, tous trois d'Égypte, et un jeune homme âgé seulement de quinze ans, nommé Dioscore. Le préfet s'adressa d'abord à celui-ci, persuadé que par de belles paroles il surprendrait sa jeunesse et son inexpérience, ou que par des tourments il triompherait certainement d'une complexion tendre et délicate; mais ni ses discours artificieux ne purent rien gagner sur ce jeune martyr, ni les tourments l'ébranler. Les autres, cruellement flagellés, supportèrent courageusement ce supplice, et furent jetés dans le feu. Pour Dioscore, le juge, ne pouvant s'empêcher d'admirer la sagesse de ses réponses et le courage dont il avait brillé à tous les yeux, le renvoya, lui donnant à entendre qu'il lui accordait, en faveur de son âge, quelque délai pour revenir à de meilleurs sentiments. Cet admirable jeune homme est avec nous, Dieu le réservant pour un combat plus long et plus glorieux. Un autre Égyptien, nommé Némésion, avait d'abord été faussement accusé de faire partie d'une bande de voleurs. S'étant justifié devant le centurion de cette accusation, dénoncé comme chrétien, il fut amené devant le préfet. Ce juge inique le fit tourmenter deux fois plus que les voleurs, et le condamna ensuite à être brûlé avec ces scélérats. Ainsi fut-il honoré par une ressemblance plus frappante avec le Christ.

Tout un détachement de gardes composé d'Ammon, de Zénon, de Ptolémée, d'Ingénues et du vieillard Théophile, se tenait auprès du tribunal. Un chrétien était alors accusé devant le juge, et déjà l'on voyait qu'il allait renier le Christ; ces généreux soldats qui l'entouraient se mirent alors à l'encourager par des signes de la main, de la tête, de tout le corps. On les remarqua bien vite; mais avant qu'on pensât à les arrêter, ils s'avancèrent eux-mêmes au pied du tribunal, confessant hautement qu'ils étaient chrétiens. Le préfet et les autres juges furent épouvantés de cette manifestation; car ces nouveaux coupables semblaient très décidés à braver tous les tourments. Les juges n'osèrent les faire saisir, ils tremblaient eux-mêmes ; et ces braves soldats sortirent du prétoire pleins de joie, et couverts de gloire par cette généreuse confession, qui avait fait triompher la foi de Jésus-Christ.

Mais dans les autres villes, dans les bourgs, dans les villages, les gentils firent périr encore bon nombre de chrétiens ; je n'en rapporterai qu'un exemple. Ischyrion faisait les affaires d'un magistrat de la province. Son maître, voulant l'obliger de sacrifier aux dieux, et ne pouvant l'y déterminer, l'accabla d'abord d'injures; le voyant persister dans son refus, il le maltraita de toutes manières, sans lasser sa patience; enfin, il saisit un énorme pieu et le lui enfonça dans les entrailles.

Qui pourrait dire maintenant combien de fidèles, durant cette persécution, ont péri dans les déserts, les montagnes, où ils erraient en proie à la faim, à la soif, au froid, à toutes les maladies, aux brigands, aux bêtes féroces? et s'il en est quelques-uns qui aient échappé à tant d'ennemis, ils ont été réservés pour publier partout les victoires de ces généreux combattants. Nous n'ajouterons ici qu'un seul fait pour montrer l'exactitude de ce récit. Le saint vieillard Chérémon était évêque de Nilopolis; s'étant enfui avec sa femme dans les rochers d'une montagne d'Arabie, ni l'un ni l'autre n'ont reparu. En vain les frères ont fait une recherche exacte, l'on n'a même pu trouver leurs corps. Plusieurs autres sont tombés dans cette montagne entre les mains des Sarrasins qui les ont réduits en esclavage; on en a racheté quelques-uns à grand prix ; ' les autres sont encore dans les fers.

Je t'ai rapporté tous ces événements, frère très cher, afin que tu puisses apprécier quels maux nous avons soufferts ; mais ceux qui les ont éprouvés le comprennent mieux encore. Sache aussi que les bienheureux martyrs qui siègent maintenant à côté de Jésus-Christ dans son royaume pour juger avec lui toutes les nations, ont reçu avant leur mort quelques-uns de nos frères qui étaient tombés et avaient sacrifié aux idoles; voyant en effet leur sincère conversion et leur pénitence, ils les ont admis auprès d'eux, ont prié et mangé ensemble, pour imiter Celui qui désire la conversion plutôt que la mort des pécheurs.

LES MARTYRS, TOME II. LE TROISIÈME SIÈCLE. DIOCLÉTIEN. Recueil de pièces authentiques sur les martre depuis les origines du christianisme jusqu'au XXe siècle, traduites et publiées Par le B. P. Dom H. LECLERCQ, Moine bénédictin de Saint-Michel de Farnborough. Imprimi potest FR. Ferdinandus CABROL, Abbas Sancti Michaelis Farnborough. Die 15 Martii 1903. Imprimatur. Pictavii, die 24 Martii 1903. + HENRICUS, Ep. Pictaviensis.


Dionysius of Alexandria B (RM)

(also known as Dionysius the Great)

Died at Alexandria in 265. A native of Alexandria, Egypt, Saint Dionysius was converted to Christianity by a vision. He became a pupil of Origen in the Alexandria catechetical school and succeeded him in 232 as its head, which he directed for about 14 years. In 247-48 he was made patriarch (bishop) of Alexandria. Persecution soon broke out there, and Dionysius was arrested; but he was enabled to escape, and directed his church from a hiding- place in the Libyan desert until the death of the persecuting Emperor Decius in 251. In the controversy that followed about those who had lapsed under persecution and then repented, Dionysius was a zealous supporter of lenient treatment for them. He upheld Pope Saint Cornelius against the antipope Novatian, and denounced and fought Novatianism.


Dionysius was reproved by Pope Saint Stephen I for his mistaken view in supporting Cyprian that baptism by heretics was invalid and by Pope Saint Dionysius for his view on the Trinity, which Dionysius explained in an apologia to the Pope. Nevertheless, he is considered an indefatigable defender of the faith.

At the beginning of Valerian's persecution in 257, Dionysius was again arrested, and was exiled from Alexandria to Kephro in Libya by Emilian, prefect of Egypt. Restored under Gallienus in 261, he returned to a city that was demoralized by civil strife, plague, and famine: it was as dangerous for a man to stay at home as to go out, wrote the bishop, easier to go from East to West than from one street in Alexandria to another. He devoted himself to aiding the persecuted Christians and the victims of the plague. He died in Egypt in 265.

Despite all the disturbances of his 17 years as bishop, Saint Dionysius took an active part in church affairs and wrote extensively, but few of his writings have been preserved. He was a student of pagan as well as Christian literature, but he is best known as an outstanding theologian and Biblical scholar.
His virtues and learning were widely recognized; Saint Athanasius styles him "the teacher of the whole Church" and Saint Basil referred to as Dionysius "the Great." Several of his works, Extant Fragments, Exegetical Fragments, Letter to Basilides, are available on the Internet (Attwater, Benedictines, Delaney, Encyclopedia).

SOURCE : http://www.saintpatrickdc.org/ss/1117.shtml

Dionysius of Alexandria

(Bishop from 247-8 to 264-5.)

Called "the Great" by Eusebius, St. Basil, and others, was undoubtedly, after St. Cyprian, the most eminent bishop of the third century. Like St. Cyprian he was less a great theologian than a great administrator. Like St. Cyprian his writings usually took the form of letters. Both saints were converts from paganism; both were engaged in the controversies as to the restoration of those who had lapsed in the Decian persecution, about Novatian, and with regard to the iteration of heretical baptism; both corresponded with the popes of their day. Yet it is curious that neither mentions the name of the other. A single letter of Dionysius has been preserved in Greek canon law. For the rest we are dependent on the many citations by Eusebius, and, for one phase, to the works of his great successor St. Athanasius.

Dionysius was an old man when he died, so that his birth will fall about 190, or earlier. He is said to have been of distinguished parentage. He became a Christian when still young. At a later period, when he was warned by a priest of the danger he ran in studying the books of heretics, a vision—so he informs us—assured him that he was capable of proving all things, and that this faculty had in fact been the cause of his conversion. He studied under Origen. The latter was banished by Demetrius about 231, and Heraclas took his place at the head of the catechetical school. On the death of Demetrius very soon afterwards, Heraclas became bishop, and Dionysius took the headship of the famous school. It is thought that he retained this office even when he himself had succeeded Heraclas as bishop. In the last year of Philip, 249, although the emperor himself was reported to be a Christian, a riot at Alexandria, roused by a popular prophet and poet, had all the effect of a severe persecution. It is described by Dionysius in a letter to Fabius of Antioch. The mob first seized an old man named Metras, beat him with clubs when he would not deny his faith, pierced his eyes and face with reeds, dragged him out of the city, and stoned him. Then a woman named Quinta, who would not sacrifice, was drawn along the rough pavement by the feet, dashed against millstones, scourged, and finally stoned in the same suburb. The houses of the faithful were plundered. Not one, so far as the bishop knew, apostatized. The aged virgin, Apollonia, after her teeth had been knocked out, sprang of her own accord into the fire prepared for her rather than utter blasphemies. Serapion had all his limbs broken, and was dashed down from the upper story of his own house. It was impossible for any Christian to go into the streets, even at night, for the mob was shouting that all who would not blaspheme should be burnt. The riot was stopped by the civil war, but the new Emperor Decius instituted a legal persecution in January, 250. St. Cyprian describes how at Carthage the Christians rushed to sacrifice, or at least to obtain false certificates of having done so. Similarly Dionysius tells us that at Alexandria many conformed through fear, others on account of official position, or persuaded by friends; some pale and trembling at their act, others boldly asserting that they had never been Christians. Some endured imprisonment for a time; others abjured only at the sight of tortures; others held out until the tortures conquered their resolution. But there were noble instances of constancy. Julian and Kronion were scourged through the city on camels, and then burnt to death. A soldier, Besas, who protected them from the insults of the people, was beheaded. Macar, a Libyan, was burnt alive. Epimachus and Alexander, after long imprisonment and many tortures, were also burnt, with four women. The virgin Ammomarion also was long tortured. The aged Mercuria and Dionysia, a mother of many children, suffered by the sword. Heron, Ater, and Isidore, Egyptians, after many tortures were given to the flames. A boy of fifteen, Dioscorus, who stood firm under torture, was dismissed by the judge for very shame. Nemesion was tortured and scourged, and then burnt between two robbers. A number of soldiers, and with them an old man named Ingenuus, made indignant signs to one who was on his trial and about to apostatize. When called to order they cried out that they were Christians with such boldness that the governor and his assessors were taken aback; they suffered a glorious martyrdom. Numbers were martyred in the cities and villages. A steward named Ischyrion was pierced through the stomach by his master with a large stake because he refused to sacrifice. Many fled, wandered in the deserts and the mountains, and were cut off by hunger, thirst, cold, sickness, robbers, or wild beasts. A bishop named Chæremon escaped with his súmbios (wife?) to the Arabian mountain, and was no more heard of. Many were carried off as slaves by the Saracens and some of these were later ransomed for large sums.

Some of the lapsed had been readmitted to Christian fellowship by the martyrs. Dionysius urged upon Fabius, Bishop of Antioch, who was inclined to join Novatian, that it was right to respect this judgment delivered by blessed martyrs "now seated with Christ, and sharers in His Kingdom and assessors in His judgment". He adds the story of an old man, Serapion, who after a long and blameless life had sacrificed, and could obtain absolution from no one. On his death-bed he sent his grandson to fetch a priest. The priest was ill, but he gave a particle of the Eucharist to the child, telling him to moisten it and place it in the old man's mouth. Serapion received it with joy, and immediately expired. Sabinus, the prefect, sent a frumentarius (detective) to search for Dionysius directly the decree was published; he looked everywhere but in Dionysius's own house, where the saint had quietly remained. On the fourth day he was inspired to depart, and he left at night, with his domestics and certain brethren. But it seems that he was soon made prisoner, for soldiers escorted the whole party to Taposiris in the Mareotis. A certain Timotheus, who had not been taken with the others, informed a passing countryman, who carried the news to a wedding-feast he was attending. All instantly rose up and rushed to release the bishop. The soldiers took to flight, leaving their prisoners on their uncushioned litters. Dionysius, believing his rescuers to be robbers, held out his clothes to them, retaining only his tunic. They urged him to rise and fly. He begged them to leave him, declaring that they might as well cut off his head at once, as the soldiers would shortly do so. He let himself down on the ground on his back; but they seized him by the hands and feet and dragged him away, carrying him out of the little town, and setting him on an ass without a saddle. With two companions, Gaius and Peter, he remained in a desert place in Libya until the persecution ceased in 251. The whole Christian world was then thrown into confusion by the news that Novatian claimed the Bishopric of Rome in opposition to Pope Cornelius. Dionysius at once took the side of the latter, and it was largely by his influence that the whole East, after much disturbance, was brought in a few months into unity and harmony. Novatian wrote to him for support. His curt reply has been preserved entire: Novatian can easily prove the truth of his protestation that he was consecrated against his will by voluntarily retiring; he ought to have suffered martyrdom rather than divide the Church of God; indeed it would have been a particularly glorious martyrdom on behalf of the whole Church (such is the importance attached by Dionysius to a schism at Rome); if he can even now persuade his party to make peace, the past will be forgotten; if not, let him save his own soul. St. Dionysius also wrote many letters on this question to Rome and to the East; some of these were treatises on penance. He took a somewhat milder view than Cyprian, for he gave greater weight to the "indulgences" granted by the martyrs, and refused forgiveness in the hour of death to none.

After the persecution the pestilence. Dionysius describes it more graphically than does St. Cyprian, and he reminds us of Thucydides and Defoe. The heathen thrust away their sick, fled from their own relatives, threw bodies half dead into the streets; yet they suffered more than the Christians, whose heroic acts of mercy are recounted by their bishop. Many priests, deacons, and persons of merit died from succouring others, and this death, writes Dionysius, was in no way inferior to martyrdom. The baptismal controversy spread from Africa throughout the East. Dionysius was far from teaching, like Cyprian, that baptism by a heretic rather befouls than cleanses; but he was impressed by the opinion of many bishops and some councils that repetition of such a baptism was necessary, and it appears that he besought Pope Stephen not to break off communion with the Churches of Asia on this account. He also wrote on the subject to Dionysius of Rome, who was not yet pope, and to a Roman named Philemon, both of whom had written to him. We know seven letters from him on the subject, two being addressed to Pope Sixtus II. In one of these he asks advice in the case of a man who had received baptism a long time before from heretics, and now declared that it had been improperly performed. Dionysius had refused to renew the sacrament after the man had so many years received the Holy Eucharist; he asks the pope's opinion. In this case it is clear that the difficulty was in the nature of the ceremonies used, not in the mere fact of their having been performed by heretics. We gather than Dionysius himself followed the Roman custom, either by the tradition of his Church, or else out of obedience to the decree of Stephen. In 253 Origen died; he had not been at Alexandria for many years. But Dionysius had not forgotten his old master, and wrote a letter in his praise to Theotecnus of Cæsarea.

An Egyptian bishop, Nepos, taught the Chiliastic error that there would be a reign of Christ upon earth for a thousand years, a period of corporal delights; he founded this doctrine upon the Apocalypse in a book entitled "Refutation of the Allegorizers". It was only after the death of Nepos that Dionysius found himself obliged to write two books "On the Promises" to counteract this error. He treats Nepos with great respect, but rejects his doctrine, as indeed the Church has since done, though it was taught by Papias, Justin, Irenæus, Victorinus of Pettau, and others. The diocese proper to Alexandria was still very large (though Heraclas is said to have instituted new bishoprics), and the Arsinoite nome formed a part of it. Here the error was very prevalent, and St. Dionysius went in person to the villages, called together the priests and teachers, and for three days instructed them, refuting the arguments they drew from the book of Nepos. He was much edified by the docile spirit and love of truth which he found. At length Korakion, who had introduced the book and the doctrine, declared himself convinced. The chief interest of the incident is not in the picture it gives of ancient Church life and of the wisdom and gentleness of the bishop, but in the remarkable disquisition, which Dionysius appends, on the authenticity of the Apocalypse. It is a very striking piece of "higher criticism", and for clearness and moderation, keenness and insight, is hardly to be surpassed. Some of the brethren, he tells us, in their zeal against Chiliastic error, repudiated the Apocalypse altogether, and took it chapter by chapter to ridicule it, attributing the authorship of it to Cerinthus (as we know the Roman Gaius did some years earlier). Dionysius treats it with reverence, and declares it to be full of hidden mysteries, and doubtless really by a man called John. (In a passage now lost, he showed that the book must be understood allegorically.) But he found it hard to believe that the writer could be the son of Zebedee, the author of the Gospel and of the Catholic Epistle, on account of the great contrast of character, style and "what is called working out". He shows that the one writer calls himself John, whereas the other only refers to himself by some periphrasis. He adds the famous remark, that "it is said that there are two tombs in Ephesus, both of which are called that of John". He demonstrates the close likeness between the Gospel and the Epistle, and points out the wholly different vocabulary of the Apocalypse; the latter is full of solecisms and barbarisms, while the former are in good Greek. This acute criticism was unfortunate, in that it was largely the cause of the frequent rejection of the Apocalypse in the Greek-speaking Churches, even as late as the Middle Ages. Dionysius's arguments appeared unanswerable to the liberal critics of the nineteenth century. Lately the swing of the pendulum has brought many, guided by Bousset, Harnack, and others, to be impressed rather by the undeniable points of contact between the Gospel and the Apocalypse, than by the differences of style (which can be explained by a different scribe and interpreter, since the author of both books was certainly a Jew), so that even Loisy admits that the opinion of the numerous and learned conservative scholars "no longer appears impossible". But it should be noted that the modern critics have added nothing to the judicious remarks of the third-century patriarch.

The Emperor Valerian, whose accession was in 253, did not persecute until 257. In that year St. Cyprian was banished to Curubis, and St. Dionysius to Kephro in the Mareotis, after being tried together with one priest and two deacons before Æmilianus, the prefect of Egypt. He himself relates the firm answers he made to the prefect, writing to defend himself against a certain Germanus, who had accused him of a disgraceful flight. Cyprian suffered in 258, but Dionysius was spared, and returned to Alexandria directly when toleration was decreed by Gallienus in 260. But not to peace, for in 261-2 the city was in a state of tumult little less dangerous than a persecution. The great thoroughfare which traversed the town was impassable. The bishop had to communicate with his flock by letter, as though they were in different countries. It was easier, he writes, to pass from East to West, than from Alexandria to Alexandria. Famine and pestilence raged anew. The inhabitants of what was still the second city of the world had decreased so that the males between fourteen and eighty were now scarcely so numerous as those between forty and seventy had been not many years before. A controversy arose in the latter years of Dionysius of which the half-Arian Eusebius has been careful to make no mention. All we know is from St. Athanasius. Some bishops of the Pentapolis of Upper Libya fell into Sabellianism and denied the distinctness of the Three Persons of the Blessed Trinity. Dionysius wrote some four letters to condemn their error, and sent copies to Pope Sixtus II (257-8). But he himself fell, so far as words go, into the opposite error, for he said the Son is a poíema (something made) and distinct in substance, xénos kat’ oùsian, from the Father, even as is the husbandman from the vine, or a shipbuilder from a ship. These words were seized upon by the Arians of the fourth century as plain Arianism. But Athanasius defended Dionysius by telling the sequel of the history. Certain brethren of Alexandria, being offended at the words of their bishop, betook themselves to Rome to Pope St. Dionysius (259- 268), who wrote a letter, in which he declared that to teach that the Son was made or was a creature was an impiety equal, though contrary, to that of Sabellius. He also wrote to his namesake of Alexandria informing him of the accusation brought against him. The latter immediately composed books entitled "Refutation" and "Apology"; in these he explicitly declared that there never was a time when God was not Father, that Christ always was, being Word and Wisdom and Power, and coeternal, even as brightness is not posterior to the light from which it proceeds. He teaches the "Trinity in Unity and the Unity in Trinity"; he clearly implies the equality and eternal procession of the Holy Ghost. In these last points he is more explicit than St. Athanasius himself is elsewhere, while in the use of the word consubstantial, ‘omooúsios, he anticipates Nicæa, for he bitterly complains of the calumny that he had rejected the expression. But however he himself and his advocate Athanasius may attempt to explain away his earlier expressions, it is clear that he had been incorrect in thought as well as in words, and that he did not at first grasp the true doctrine with the necessary distinctness. The letter of the pope was evidently explicit and must have been the cause of the Alexandrian's clearer vision. The pope, as Athanasius points out, gave a formal condemnation of Arianism long before that heresy emerged. When we consider the vagueness and incorrectness in the fourth century of even the supporters of orthodoxy in the East, the decision of the Apostolic See will seem a marvellous testimony to the doctrine of the Fathers as to the unfailing faith of Rome.

We find Dionysius issuing yearly, like the later bishops of Alexandria, festal letters announcing the date of Easter and dealing with various matters. When the heresy of Paul of Samosata, Bishop of Antioch, began to trouble the East, Dionysius wrote to the Church of Antioch on the subject, as he was obliged to decline the invitation to attend a synod there, on the score of his age and infirmities. He died soon afterwards. St. Dionysius is in the Roman Martyrology on 17 Nov., but he is also intended, with the companions of his flight in the Decian persecution, by the mistaken notice on 3 Oct.: Dionysius, Faustus, Gaius, Peter, and Paul, Martyrs(!). The same error is found in Greek menologies.

Sources

The principal remains of Dionysius are the citations in EUSEBIUS, Church History VI-VII, a few fragments of the books On Natrure in IDEM, Præp. Evang., xiv, and ;the quotations in ATHANASIUS, De Sententiâ Dionysii, etc. A collection of these and other fragments is in GALLANDI, Bibl. Vett. Patrum, III XIV, reprinted in P.G., X. The fullest ed. is by SIMON DE MAGISTRIS, S. Dion. Al. Opp. omnia (Rome, 1796); also ROUTH, Reliquiæ Sacræ III-IV. Syriac and Armenian fragments in PITRA, Analecta Sacra, IV. A complete list of all the fragments is in HARNACK, Gesch. der altchr. Litt., I, 409-27, but his account of the passages from the Catena on Luke (probably from a letter to Origen, On Martyrdom) needs completing from SICKENBERGER, Die Lucaskatene des Niketas von Heracleia (Leipzig, 1902). For the life of Dionysius see TILLEMONT, IV; Acta SS., 3 Oct.; DITTRICH, Dionysius der Grosse, eine Monographie (Freiburg im Br., 1867); MORIZE, Denys d'Alexandrie (Paris, 1881). DOM MORIN tried unsuccessfully to identify the Canons of Hippolytus with D IONYSIUS" ’Epistóle diokonikè dià ‘Ippolútou (EUSEBIUS, Church History VI.45-46) in Revue Bénédictine (1900), XVII, 241. Also MERCATI, Note di letteratura bibl. et crist. ant.: Due supposte lettere di Dionigi Aless. (Rome, 1901). For chronology see HANACK, Chronol., I, 202, II, 57. A very good account, with full bibliography, is in BARDENHEWER, Gesch. der altkirchl. Litt., II. On the Chiliastic question see GRY, Le Millénarisme (Paris, 1904), 101.

Chapman, John. "Dionysius of Alexandria." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 5. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1909. 19 Nov. 2016 <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/05011a.htm>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by WGKofron. With thanks to St. Mary's Church, Akron, Ohio.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. May 1, 1909. Remy Lafort, Censor. Imprimatur. +John M. Farley, Archbishop of New York.


November 17

St. Dionysius, Archbishop of Alexandria, Confessor

ST. BASIL and other Greeks usually honour this holy prelate with the epithet of The Great: and he is called by St. Athanasius, the Doctor of the Catholic Church. His parents were rich and of high rank in the world: according to the patriarchal chronicle of Alexandria, published by Abraham Echellensis, he was by birth a Sabaite, of one of the principal families of that country in Arabia Felix. Alexandria, which seems to have been the place of his education, was then the centre of the sciences, and Dionysius, whilst yet a heathen, ran through the whole circle of profane learning, and professed oratory. 1 Falling, at length, upon the epistles of St. Paul, he found in them charms which he had not met with in the writings of the philosophers, and opening his heart to the truth, he renounced the errors of idolatry. He assures us, that he was converted to the faith by a vision and a voice which spoke to him, and by diligent reading, and an impartial examination. At the same time that his understanding was opened to the heavenly light, he turned his heart so perfectly to God, that he trampled under his feet all the glory of the world, and the applause which his merit, quality, senatorial dignity, and prefectures, drew upon him from the most honourable persons. He became an humble scholar in the catechetical school of Origen, and made such progress that he was ordained priest; and when Heraclas was made bishop, the care of that school was commited by him to our saint, in 221, who, upon his death, in the beginning of the year 247, the fourth of the Emperor Philip, was chosen archbishop. Though the reign of this prince was favourable to the Christians, soon after the exaltation of St. Dionysius, the populace, stirred up by a certain heathen false prophet, at Alexandria, raised a tumultuary persecution: on which, see the life of St. Appollonia, February the 9th. When Decius had murdered his master, Philip, and usurped the empire, in 249, his violent persecution put arms into the hands of the enraged enemies of the Christian name. Many of all ages, ranks, and professions, were put to the most exquisite tortures: multitudes fled into the mountains and woods, where many perished by hunger, cold, wild beasts, or thieves, and several falling into the hands of the Saracens, were reduced to a state of slavery worse than death itself; but the most dreadful affliction to the holy bishop was the apostacy of several, who, in this terrible time of trial, denied their faith. The scandal, indeed, which these gave, was, in some measure, repaired by the invincible constancy wherewith others of both sexes, and of every age and condition, maintained their faith under the sharpest torments, and most cruel deaths, and by the wonderful conversion of several enemies; for, some who scoffed and insulted the martyrs, were so powerfully overcome by the example of their meekness, and courage in their sufferings, that they suddenly declared themselves Christians, and ready to undergo all torments for that profession. Two did this under the judge’s eyes, with such undaunted resolution that he was strangely surprised, and seized with trembling; and sentence being passed upon them, they went out of the court rejoicing to give so glorious a testimony to Christ. 2

Decius’s sanguinary edict reached Alexandria in the beginning of 250. Dionysius was particularly active in arming and preparing the soldiers of Christ for the combat, and though Sabinus, the prefect of Egypt, despatched a guard in quest of him, he escaped by lying four days concealed in his house; then left it by divine direction, as he assures us, with a view of seeking a safe retreat; but, with several persons who accompanied him, fell into the hands of the persecutors, who, by the prefect’s orders, conducted them to a small town called Taposiris, in the province of Mareotis, about three leagues from Alexandria. A considerable body of peasants taking arms and making their appearance there in defence of the bishop, the guards were alarmed and fled, leaving the prisoners behind them. The bishop, who was every moment waiting for death, was carried off by them by main force, and set at liberty to choose a safe retreat. St. Dionysius, attended by Peter, Caius, Paul, and Faustus, made his way to a desert in the province of Marmarica, in Lybia, where he lay concealed with Peter and Caius, two priests, till the end of the persecution in the middle of the year 251; but, during that interval, often sent priests with directions and letters for the comfort of his flock, especially of those who suffered for the faith. Our saint was returned to Alexandria when he was informed of the schism formed by Novatian against Pope Cornelius. The antipope sent him notice of his election in form. St. Dionysius, in his answer, said to him: “You ought rather to have suffered all things, than have raised a schism in the church. To die in defence of its unity would be as glorious as laying down one’s life rather than to sacrifice to idols; and, in my opinion, more glorious; because, here the safety of the whole church is consulted. If you bring your brethren to union, this will overbalance your fault, which will be forgot, and you will receive commendation. If you cannot gain others, at least save your own soul.” Our saint wrote thrice to the clergy and to those confessors who supported the schism at Rome, and had the satisfaction of seeing the confessors abandon it before the end of the year. To oppose the heresy of Novatian, who denied in the church the power of remitting certain sins, he ordered that the communion should be refused to no one who asked it at the hour of death. Fabian, bishop of Antioch, seemed inclined to favour the rigorism of Novatian towards the lapsed. The great Dionysius wrote to him several letters against that principle; in one of which, he relates that an old man called Serapion, who had offered sacrifice, and had therefore been refused the communion, and detained among the penitents, in his last sickness lay senseless and speechless three days: then, coming to himself, cried out: “Why am I detained here? I beg to be delivered.” And he sent his little grandson to the priest, who, being sick, and not able to come, sent the holy eucharist by the child, directing him to moisten it, and give it to his grandfather: for, during the primitive persecutions, the blessed sacrament was allowed to be so carried and received in domestic communion. When the child entered the room, Serapion cried out: “The priest cannot come: do as he ordered you, and dismiss me immediately.” The old man, expires with a gentle sigh, as soon as he had swallowed it. St. Dionysius observes that his life was miraculously preserved that he might receive the holy communion. In 250, a pestilence began to rage, and made great havoc for several years. By St. Dionysius’s direction, many, in Egypt, died martyrs of charity on that occasion. 3

The opinion that Christ will reign on earth with his elect a thousand years before the day of judgment, was an error founded chiefly on certain mistaken passages of the Apocalypse or Revelations of St. John. Those who, with Cerinthus, understood this of a reign in sensual pleasures, were always deemed abominable heretics. But some Catholics admitted it in spiritual delights; which opinion was for some time tolerated in the church. Nepos, a zealous and learned bishop of Arsinoe, who died in the communion of the church, propagated this mistaken notion in all that part of Egypt, and wrote in defence of it two books entitled, On the Promises. This work St. Dionysius confuted by two books against the Millenarian heresy. He also took a journey to Arsinoe, and held a public conference with Coracion, the chief of the Millenarians, in which he confuted them with no less mildness and charity, than strength of reasoning, and with such advantage, that Coracion publicly revoked that mistaken interpretation, which was exploded out of the whole country, and was unanimously condemned upon examination into the sound constant tradition, which could not be obscured by the disagreement of some few persons or particular churches. When Pope Stephen threatened to excommunicate the Africans for rebaptizing all heretics, St. Dionysius prevailed with him by letters to suspend the execution. St. Jerom was misinformed when he attributed, the opinion of the Africans to St. Dionysius, who, as St. Basil testifies, 4 admitted even the baptism of the Pepuzeni, which was rejected in Asia, because the heretics (who, as it were, by a constant rule, differ from themselves in different ages and countries) in certain places corrupted the essential form of baptism, which the same sect retained in others. 5 The persecution being renewed by Valerian, in 257, Emilian, prefect of Egypt, caused St. Dionysius, with Maximus a priest, Faustus, Eusebius, and Queremon, deacons, and one Marcellus, a Roman, to be apprehended and brought before him, and pressed them to sacrifice to the gods, the conservators of the empire. St. Dionysius replied: “All men adore not the same deities. We adore one only God, the Creator of all things, who hath bestowed the empire on Valerian and Gallien. We offer up prayers to him without ceasing for the peace and prosperity of their reign.” The prefect attempted in vain to persuade them to adore the Roman deities with their own God: and at length sent them into banishment to Kephro, in Lybia. And he forbade the Christians to hold assemblies, or go to the places called Cemeteries; that is, the tombs of martyrs. St. Dionysius converted the pagan savages of the country to which he was sent; but, by an order of the prefect, the saint and his companions were afterwards removed to Collouthion near Mareotis, now called the Lake of Alexandria. The neighbourhood of that city afforded him in this place an opportunity of receiving from and sending thither frequent messages and directions. His exile continued two years, and during it he wrote two paschal letters.

The captivity of Valerian, who was taken prisoner by the Persians in 260, and the peace which Gallien granted to the church by public edicts, restored St. Dionysius to his flock. But the region of this lower world is stormy, and one wave perpetually presses upon the neck of another. The prefect, Emilian, seized upon the public store-houses of Alexandria, which were the granary of Rome, and assumed the imperial dignity. This revolt filled the city and country with the calamities which attend on civil wars, till Emilian was defeated by Theodotus, whom Gallien sent against him; and, being taken, he was sent to Rome, and strangled. A trifling incident gave occasion to another sedition in that populous city. A servant to one of the civil magistrates happening to tell a soldier that his shoes were finer than another man’s, he was taken up, and beaten for this affront. The whole town ran to arms to revenge this quarrel, the streets were filled with dead bodies, and the waters ran with blood. The peaceable demeanour of the Christians could not screen them from violences, as St. Dionysius complains; and, for a long time, a man could neither keep at home nor stir out of doors without danger. The pestilence still continued its havoc, and whilst the Christians attended the sick, with inexpressible pains and charity, the heathens threw the putrid carcasses into the highways, and often put their dying friends out of doors, and left them to perish in the streets, hoping, by their caution, to avoid the contagion, to which the apprehension which seized their imagination, exposed them the more. The heresies, which at that time disturbed the church, also exercised the zeal of our holy pastor. Sabellius of Ptolemais, in Lybia, a disciple of Noetus of Smyrna, renewed the heresy of Praxeas, denying the real distinction of the three Divine Persons. St. Dionysius, to whom belonged the care of the churches of Pentapolis, sent thither to admonish the authors of this error to forsake it; but they defended their impious doctrine with greater impudence. He therefore condemned them in a council at Alexandria, in 261. Before this, by a letter, of which Eusebius has preserved a fragment, he had given information of the blasphemies of Sabellius to St. Sixtus II., bishop of Rome, who sat from 257 to 259. 6 In his letter to Euphranor and Ammonius, against this heresy, he insists much on the proofs of Christ’s human nature, to show that the Father is not the Son. Some persons took offence at his doctrine, and their slanders were carried to St. Dionysius, bishop of Rome, who had succeeded St. Sixtus. That pope wrote to our saint upon the subject, who cleared himself by showing that when he called Christ a creature, and differing in substance from the Father, he spoke only of his human nature. This was the subject of his Apology to Dionysius, bishop of Rome, in which he demonstrated that the Son, as to his divine nature, is of the same substance with the Father, as is clearly shown by St. Athanasius, in his book On the Opinion of Dionysius. In the same work our saint established the divinity of the Holy Ghost, as St. Basil testifies by quotations extracted from it in his book on that subject.

The loss of our saint’s works is extremely regretted; for of them nothing has reached us except some fragments quoted by others, and his canonical epistle to Basilides, which has a place among the canons of the church. In the first canon he mentions a difficulty then often propounded, at what hour on Easter morning the fast of Lent might be lawfully broken; and says, that though midnight was looked upon to close the fast (which is long since certain as to the church precept) yet this being not a natural or usual hour for eating, he thought it could not be excused from intemperance, to eat then, and advised the morning to be waited for, though all Christians spent that whole night in watching at their devotions. He speaks of the fasts of superposition observed in the last week of Lent, and says, that some fasted the whole six days before Easter, without taking any nourishment; others five, three, two, or one day, according to their strength and devotion, this not being a matter of precept as to the superposition of several days. He inculcates, that great purity, both of mind and body, is required in all who approached the holy table, and receive the body and blood of our Lord. 7 St. Dionysius of Alexandria, a little before his death, defended the divinity of Jesus Christ against Paul of Samosata, bishop of Antioch, a man infamous both for his abominable heresies, and also for his intolerable haughtiness, vanity, avarice, extortions, and other crimes. St. Dionysius, being invited to the synod that was held at Antioch against this heretic in 264, and, not being able to go thither, by reason of his old age and infirmities, wrote several letters to the church of Antioch, wherein he refuted the heresiarch’s errors, but would not condescend to salute him. 8 Nevertheless, the crafty fox dissembled his sentiments, and palliated his disorders in this council, renouncing what he could not conceal, so that he continued some time longer in his station. 9 Towards the end of the year 265, soon after the Antiochian synod was over, St. Dionysius died at Alexandria, after he had governed that church with great wisdom and sanctity about seventeen years. 10 His memory, says St. Epiphanius, was preserved at Alexandria by a church dedicated in his honour, but much more by his incomparable virtues and excellent writings. See Eus. Hist. l. 6. and 7. St. Jerom, in Catal. &c. Also Tillemont, t. 4. Cave, Prim. Fathers, t. 2. Ceillier, t. 3. p. 241. Corn, Bie the Bollandist, ad 3 Oct. t. 2. p. 8.

Note 1. S. Maximus, M. in c. 5, l. de Hierarchia cœlesti. [back]

Note 2. See S. Dionysius, ep. ad Fabium Antioch. ap. Eus. l. 6, c. 41, 42. [back]

Note 3. See Feb. vol. 2, pp. 239, 240, and Eus. l. 7, c. 22. [back]

Note 4. S. Basil, ep. Can. 1. [back]

Note 5. S. Dionysius’s orthodox sentiments are also proved from the fragments of his letters in Eusebius, (l. 7, c. 9.) See Fleury, l. 7, c. 35, and Bie the Bollandist, § 9, p. 39, t. 18, Oct. 3, who clears him of all suspicion of Arianism. ib. § 17, 18, 19, 20. [back]
Note 6. Eus. l. 7, c. 9. [back]

Note 7. See Ep. Canon. S. Dion. Alex. inter Canones Eccl. Græc. per Beveregium. [back]

Note 8. Eus. l. 7, c. 27, 29. [back]

Note 9. St. Dionysius was certainly orthodox on the Trinity. See Bie, § 17, p. 56. Nor was he accused of any error by St. Basil. If he allows Christ not to be consubstantial to the Father, he speaks evidently of his human nature. See Bull, Witasse, Tournely, Maran, &c. [back]

Note 10. Bie shows that he never was married, and that boys [Greek], mean only young attendants, scholars or clergy. See Eus. Hist. l. 7, c. 26, Bie, § 3, p. 17. [back]

Rev. Alban Butler (1711–73).  Volume XI: November. The Lives of the Saints.  1866.

The Story of

Abba Dionysius

14th Pope of Alexandria

The parents of Abba Dionysius, the fourteenth Pope of Alexandria, were star worshippers of the Sun (Sabians) and they put emphasis on teaching him all the knowledge of that sect.

One day, a Christian old woman passed by him and offered to sell him some pages of a book containing an Epistle of St. Paul the apostle. When he read it, he was fascinated by the strange sayings and the unusual knowledge in it. He asked her: "For how much will you sell it?" She said: "For one dinar of gold." He gave her three dinars and asked her to find the rest of the pages of the book, and he was willing to pay her double. She went and brought him more pages. Having read them through, he found the book to be still incomplete. He asked her to search for the rest of the book. She told him: "I found these pages among my father's books. If you want to acquire the complete book, go to the church and there you can find it."

He went and asked one of the priests to show him what is called the Epistles of Paul. He gave it to him, read it, and memorized it. Then he went to St. Demetrius, the twelfth Pope, who taught and instructed him in the facts of the Christian faith and baptized him. He became well rehearsed in the doctrine and knowledge of the church, and Anba Demetrius appointed him a teacher for the people.
When Anba Demetrius departed and Anba Heraclas (Yaroklas) was enthroned, he appointed him as a deputy to judge among the believers. He entrusted him to administer the affairs of the Patriarchate. When St. Heraclas departed, all the people agreed to appoint this father Patriarch. He was enthroned on the first of Tubah (December 28th, 246 A.D.), during the reign of Emperor Philip, who was a lover of the Christians. He shepherded his flock with the best of care. Nevertheless, he suffered much tribulations. When Decius rose up against Philip and killed him, he reigned in his place, and incited perse-cution against the Christians. Decius slew many of the patriarchs, bish-ops, and believers. This father endured much suffering during that time. Decius died and Gallus reigned after him, and persecution quieted down during his reign.

When Gallus died and Valerian reigned in his place, he renewed the persecution severely against the Christians, and his men seized Abba Dionysius and imprisoned him. They asked him to worship the idols but he refused saying: "We worship God the Father, and His Son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit the One God." They threatened him, killed few men in front of him to terrify him, but he was not afraid.

They banished him and shortly after, they brought him back and told him: "We have been informed that you consecrate the offering secretly by yourself." He replied: "We do not forsake our prayers day or night," then he turned to the people present around him and told them: "Go and pray and if I am away from you in the body, I shall be with you in spir-it." The governor became raged and returned him to exile. When Sapor king of Persia overcame Emperor Valerian and seized him, his son Gallienus, who was wise and gentle, took over the empire. He released all the believers who were in prison and brought back those. who were in exile. He wrote to the Patriarch and the bishops a letter to assure their safety in opening the churches.

In the days of this father, certain people arose in the Arabian coun-tries saying: "That the soul dies with the body, and on the day of Resurrection, it shall be raised up with it." He gathered against them a council and anathematized them. When Paul of Samosam denied the Son, a Council assembled against him in Antioch. This Saint was not able to attend for his age. He wrote a letter to the council, rich with wisdom, explained in it the corruptive opinion of this heretic, and stated the true Orthodox belief. He finished his good strife and departed in a good old age on (March 8th, 264 A.D.), having sat on the Apostolic Throne seventeen years, two month and ten days.

May his prayers be with us. Amen.


Hieromartyr Dionysius the Bishop of Alexandria

Saint Dionysius, Bishop of Alexandria, was the son of wealthy pagan parents. He converted to Christianity at a mature age, and became a pupil of Origen. Later, he was appointed as the head of Alexandria’s Catechetical School, and then became Bishop of Alexandria in the year 247.

St Dionysius devoted much effort to defend the Church from heresy, and he encouraged his flock in the firm confession of Orthodoxy during the persecution under the emperors Decius (249-251) and Valerian (253-259).

The holy bishop endured much suffering in his lifetime. When the Decian persecution broke out, St Dionysius was forced to flee Alexandria, but returned when the Emperor died. He was later exiled to Libya during the reign of Valerian.

When he was able to resume his duties in Alexandria in 261, St Dionysius had to contend with civil war, famine, plague, and other difficulties. The saint called upon his flock to tend sick Christians and pagans alike, and to bury the dead. Concerning the death of his spiritual children he wrote, “In such a manner the best of our brethren have departed this life. This generation of the dead, a deed of great piety and firm faith, is no less of a martyrdom.”

St Dionysius illumined his flock through his preaching, and with deeds of love and charity. An illness prevented him from attending the Council of Antioch (264- 265), and he fell asleep in the Lord while it was in session.

The influence of St Dionysius extended beyond the limits of his diocese, and his writings dealt with practical as well as theological subjects (“On Nature,” “On Temptations,” “On the Promises,” etc.). He was also familiar with Greek philosophy. Only fragments of his writings survive today, most of them preserved in Eusebius, who mentions him in his CHURCH HISTORY ( Book 7) and calls him “Dionysius the Great.”

Two complete letters of St Dionysius are extant, one addressed to Novatian, and the other to Basilides.


Dionysius (6) of Alexandria. This "great bishop of Alexandria" (Eus. H. E. vi. Praef.) and "teacher of the catholic church" (Athan. de Sent. Dion. 6), was born, apparently, of a wealthy and honourable family (Eus. H. E. vii. 11, and Valesius ad loc.). He was an old man in a.d. 265 (Eus. H. E. vii. 27), and a presbyter in a.d. 233 (Hieron. de Vir. Ill. 69). His parents were Gentiles, and he was led to examine the claims of Christianity by private study (Ep. Dion. ap. Eus. H. E. vii. 7). His conversion cost him the sacrifice of "worldly glory" (Eus. H. E. vii. 11); but he found in Origen an able teacher (ib. vi. 29); and Dionysius remained faithful to his master to the last. In the persecutions of Decius he addressed a letter to him On Persecution (ib. vi. 46), doubtless as an expression of sympathy with his sufferings (c. A.D. 259), and on the death of Origen (a.d. 253) wrote to Theotecnus bp. of Caesarea in his praise (Steph. Gob. ap. Phot. Cod. 232). Dionysius, then a presbyter, succeeded Heraclas as head of the Catechetical School, at the time, as the words of Eusebius imply, when Heraclas was made bp. of Alexandria, a.d. 232-233 (Eus. l.c.). He held this office till he was raised to the bishopric, on the death of Heraclas, a.d. 247-248, and perhaps retained it till his death, a.d. 265. His episcopate was in troubled times. A popular outbreak at Alexandria (a.d. 248-249) anticipated by about a year (Eus. H. E. vi. 41) the persecution under Decius (a.d. 249-251). Dionysius fled from Alexandria, and, being afterwards taken by some soldiers, was rescued by a friend, escaping in an obscure retirement from further attacks. In the persecution of Valerian, a.d. 257, he was banished, but continued to direct and animate the Alexandrian church from the successive places of his exile. His conduct on these occasions exposed him to ungenerous criticism, and Eusebius has preserved several interesting passages of a letter (c. a.d. 258-259), in which he defends himself with great spirit against the accusations of a bp. Germanus (ib. vi. 40, vii. 11). On the accession of Gallienus, a.d. 260, Dionysius was allowed to return to Alexandria (ib. vii. 13, 21), where he had to face war, famine, and pestilence (ib. vii. 22). In a.d. 264-265 he was invited to the synod at Antioch which met to consider the opinions of Paul of Samosata. His age and infirmities did not allow him to go, and he died shortly afterwards (a.d. 265) (ib. vii. 27, 28; Hieron. de Vir. Ill. 69).

Dionysius was active in controversy, but always bore himself with prudence. In this 264spirit he was anxious to deal gently with the "lapsed" (Eus. H. E. vi. 42); he pressed upon Novatian the duty of self-restraint, for the sake of the peace of the church, a.d. 251 (ib. vii. 45; Hieron. l.c.); and with better results counselled moderation in dealing with the rebaptism of heretics, in a correspondence with popes Stephen and Sixtus (a.d. 256-257) (Eus. H. E. vii. 5, 7, 9). His last letter (or letters) regarding Paul of Samosata seem to have been written in a similar strain. He charged the assembled bishops to do their duty, but did not shrink from appealing to Paul also, as still fairly within the reach of honest argument (Theod. Haer. Fab. ii. 8). In one instance Dionysius met with immediate success. In a discussion with a party of Chiliasts he brought his opponents to abandon their error (Eus. H. E. vii. 24.). His own orthodoxy, however, did not always remain unimpeached. When controverting the false teaching of Sabellius, the charge of tritheism was brought against him by some Sabellian adversaries, and entertained at first by his namesake Dionysius of Rome. Discussion shewed that one ground of the misunderstanding was the ambiguity of the words used to describe "essence" and "person," which the two bishops took in different senses. Dionysius of Rome regarded ὑπόστασις as expressing the essence of the divine nature; Dionysius of Alexandria as expressing the essence of each divine person. The former therefore affirmed that to divide the ὑπόστασις was to make separate gods; the latter affirmed with equal justice that there could be no Trinity unless each ὑπόστασις was distinct. The Alexandrine bishop had, however, used other phrases, which were claimed by Arians at a later time as favouring their views. Basil, on hearsay, as it has been supposed (Lumper, Hist. Patrum, xiii. 86 f.), admitted that Dionysius sowed the seeds of the Anomoean heresy (Ep. i. 9), but Athanasius with fuller knowledge vindicated his perfect orthodoxy. Dionysius has been represented as recognizing the supremacy of Rome in the defence which he made. But the fragments of his answer to his namesake (Athan. de Sent. Dionysii, ἐπέστειλε Διονυσίῳ δηλῶσαι . . . for the use of ἐπιστέλλω see Eus. H. E. vi. 46, etc.) shew the most complete and resolute independence; and there is nothing in the narrative of Athanasius which implies that the Alexandrine bishop recognized, or that the Roman bishop claimed, any dogmatic authority as belonging to the imperial see. To say that a synod was held upon the subject at Rome is an incorrect interpretation of the facts.

Dionysius was a prolific writer. Jerome (l.c.) has preserved a long but not exhaustive catalogue of his books. Some important fragments remain of his treatises On Nature (Eus. Praep. Ev. xiv. 23 ff.), and On the Promises, in refutation of the Chiliastic views of Nepos (Eus. H. E. iii. 28, vii. 24, 25); of his Refutation and Defence, addressed to Dionysius of Rome, in reply to the accusation of false teaching on the Holy Trinity (Athan. de Sent. Dionysii; de Synodis, c. 44; de Decr. Syn. Nic. c. 25); of his Commentaries on Ecclesiastes and on St. Luke, and of his books Against Sabellius (Eus. Praep. Ev. vii. 19).

The fragments of his letters are, however, the most interesting extant memorials of his work and character and of his time; and Eusebius, with a true historical instinct, has made them the basis of the sixth and seventh books of his history. The following will shew the wide ground covered:

a.d. 251.—To Domitius and Didymus. Personal experiences during persecution (Eus. H. E. vii. 11).

a.d. 251-252.—To Novatian, to the Roman Confessors, to Cornelius of Rome, Fabius of Antioch, Conon of Hermopolis; and to Christians in Alexandria, Egypt, Laodicaea, Armenia, on discipline and repentance, with pictures from contemporary history (ib. vi. 41, and vii. 45).

a.d. 253-257.—To Stephen of Rome, the Roman presbyters Dionysius and Philemon, Sixtus II. of Rome on Rebaptism (ib. vii. 4, 5, 7, 9).

a.d. 258-263.—To Germanus: incidents in persecution. Against Sabellians. A series of festal letters, with pictures of contemporary history (ib. vii. 11, 22 ff., 26).

a.d. 264.—To Paul of Samosata (vi. 40).

To these, of some of which only the titles remain, must be added an important canonical letter to Basilides, of uncertain date, discussing various questions of discipline, and especially points connected with the Lenten fast (cf. Dittrich, pp. 46 ff.). All the fragments repay careful study. They are uniformly inspired by sympathy and large-heartedness. His criticism on the style of the Apocalypse is perhaps unique among early writings for clearness and scholarly precision (Eus. H. E. vii. 25).

The most accessible and complete collection of his remains is in Migne's Patr. Gk. x. pp. 1233 ff., 1575 ff., to which must be added Pitra, Spicil. Solesm. i. 15 ff. A full monograph on Dionysius by Dittrich (Freiburg, 1867) supplements the arts. in Tillemont, Maréchal, Lumper, Moehler. An Eng. trans. of his works is in the Ante-Nicene Lib., and his Letters, etc., have been ed. by Dr. Feltoe for the Camb. Patristic Texts (1904).

[B.F.W.]


Dionysius of Alexandria, Newly discovered letters to the Popes Stephen and Xystus,

F.C. CONYBEARE, English Historical Review 25 (1910) pp. 111-114

Newly discovered Letters of Dionysius of Alexandria to the Popes Stephen and Xystus.
DURING the years 254-258 there was a controversy between the see of Rome on the one hand and the Asiatic and African churches on the other as to the validity of baptisms administered by heretics. Pope Stephen maintained that those who had, in an heretical medium, been baptised either in the name of Jesus Christ alone, or in the name of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, ought, after a bishop had laid hands on them, to be admitted to communion; whereas Cyprian of Carthage and Firmilian of Caesarea maintained that heresy on the part of the baptiser rendered baptism null and void. The pope accused his antagonists of rebaptising (a)nabapti/zein), thereby to some extent begging the question at issue, and excommunicated them both in Asia and in Africa. In this controversy Dionysius, patriarch of Alexandria, intervened, and wrote, as Euse-bius relates in the seventh book of his Ecclesiastical History, one letter to Pope Stephen and as many as three to his successor Xystus (257-8). Eusebius has also preserved to us brief extracts from the one letter to Stephen, and from the first and second to Xystus.

In the library of Valarshapat in Russian Armenia is preserved a bulky refutation of the Tome of Leo and of the decrees of Chalcedon by Timotheus (called Aelurus), the patriarch of Alexandria. The original was composed by him in exile at Gangra and Cherson about the year 460, and was translated into Armenian some time between the years 506 and 544. This version has just been edited from an old uncial codex which contains it, No. 1945 in the Catalogue of Karinian, by two of the archimandrites of Etshmiadsin, Dr. Karapet Ter-Mekerttshian and Dr. Erwand Ter-Minassiantz. The method of Timotheus is to adduce the Chalcedonian positions, and to confront them first with extracts from orthodox fathers, especially from the works of his own predecessors in the see of Alexandria ; and, secondly, with passages from writers declared by his antagonists (as he assumes) to be heretical, especially Theodoret of Cyrrhus, Nestorius, Paul of Samosata, and Diodore of Tarsus.

Among the former set of extracts we find one long fragment |112 of Dionysius' letter to Stephen, and two from his first and third letters to Xystus, of which the following is a literal translation:

I.  Of the blessed Dionysius, bishop of Alexandria, from the letter to Stephanus, bishop of Rome.

For as the wisdom [which is] according to the gentiles,1 by changing them into holy persons,2 constitutes them friends of God and prophets ; so, conversely, the wickedness by transmuting into unholy persons, manifests them to be 3 enemies of God and false prophets. What one custom ever included these ? For of a custom there is in any case a single period [as cause], whereas of caprices all kinds of ages 4 [are the causes]. And due causes must always pre-exist before the customs of the gentiles and before human laws. I say human, however, because God, as alone knowing all things before they come into being,5 can naturally also arrive at them by from the first enacting them as law. Men, however, when they have beforehand discerned something, and when they have first formed ideas of certain events, then and not before lay down laws, or make a beginning of customs.6 If then it was from the apostles, as we said above, that this custom took its beginning, we must adjust ourselves thereto, whatsoever may have been their reasons and the grounds on which they acted 7 ; to the end that we too may observe the same in accordance with their practice. For as to things which were written afterwards and which are until now still found, they are ignored by us ; and let them be ignored, no matter what they are. How can these comply with the customs of the ancients ? And in a word I have deemed certain disquisitions about these matters superfluous ; and I feel that to pay attention to them is noisy and vain. For as we are told after a first and second admonition to avoid them,8 so must we admonish and converse about them, and after brief inculcation and talk in common we must desist. On points, however, of prime importance and great weight we must insist. For if anyone utters any impiety about God, as do those who say he is without mercy; or if anyone introduces the worship of strange gods, such an one the law has commanded to stone.9 But we with the vigorous words of our faith will stone them unless 10 they approach the mystery of Christ; or [if] anyone alter or destroy [it], or [say] that he was either not God or not man, or that he did not die or rise again, or that he is |113 not coming again to judge the quick and the dead ; or if he preach any other gospel than we have preached, let him be accursed, says Paul.11 But if anyone despises the doctrine of the resurrection of the body, let such an one be at once ranked with the dead. For these reasons, that we may be in accord, church with church and bishop with bishop and elder with elder, let us be careful in our utterances. Moreover in judging of and dealing with particular cases,—as to how it is proper to admit those who come to us from without,12 and how to supervise those who are within,—we give instructions to the local primates 13 who under divine imposition of hands were appointed to discharge these duties ; for they shall give a summary account to the Lord of whatsoever they do.

[This account perfectly accords with what we know from other sources of this controversy. Pope Stephen, as the tract De Rebaptismate alleges, appealed to vetustissima consuetudo ac traditio ecclesiastica. Dionysius meets his appeal by asking how could the orthodox and the heretic have in common any custom? Qualis una istos circumclusit consuetudo? He argues from Tit. iii. 10 that heretics should be left severely alone, and affirms that he has instructed the duly ordained ecclesiastical authorities of his province to treat those who ad ecclesiam advolant—to use the phrase of the De Rebaptismate—as if they came wholly from the outside or pagan world, that is to baptise them, and afterwards to watch them carefully.]

II. Of the same from the first letter to Xystus, chief bishop of Rome.

Inasmuch as you have written thus, setting forth the pious legislation, which we continually read and now have in remembrance—namely that it shall suffice only to lay hands on those who shall have made profession in baptism, whether in pretence or in truth,14 of God Almighty and of Christ and of the Holy Spirit; but those over whom there has not been invoked the name either of Father or of Son or of the Holy Spirit, these we must baptise, but not rebaptise. This is the sure and immovable teaching and tradition, begun by our Lord after his resurrection from the dead, when he gave his apostles the command 15 : Go ye, make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. This then was preserved and fulfilled by his successors, the blessed apostles, and by all the bishops prior to ourselves who have died in the holy church and shared in its life 16; and it has lasted down to us, because it is firmer than the whole world. For, he said, heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.17 |114 

III. Of the same to the same from the third letter.

If then our faith urges us to have zeal for God and with our entire heart love him ; and if we must regard as unclean only those who contemn the really one and only God, and Creator and Lord of heaven and earth and of all things, declaring that he is inferior to and less estimable than some other god ; and they attribute wickedness to the all good, or they do not believe that his Beloved is our Saviour Jesus Christ, whatever else he be; but breaking up the marvellous economy and mighty mystery, they believe some of them that he is not God nor Son of God, but others, that he never became man nor came in the flesh, but say that he was a phantasm and shadow—all these John18 has rightly in his epistle called anti-Christs. Moreover of these the prophet19 also bore witness, saying: Thy hated ones, O Lord, I have hated, and because of thine enemies I have wasted away. With perfect hatred I have hated them; they are become mine enemies. And these are all they that have among us the appellation of heretics. If however we in the least let them have their way or side with them, then no longer will the precept to love God with our whole heart be observed in its entirety, though that it is which it ever profits us to foster and increase.

[In this letter Dionysius protests against the least concession being made to the heretics whose errors he enumerates, in the way of recognising their baptisms as valid. F. C. CONYBEARE.]

[Footnotes have been moved to the end.  Greek text is rendered using the Scholars Press SPIonic font, free from here.]

1. 1 Perhaps cf. Acts x. 35 and Rom. ii. 13.

2. 2 Or souls. 

3. 3 As if the Greek were a)pe/fhnen.

4. 4 Ages in the sense in which we speak of the seven ages of human life. I supply the words in brackets as necessary to the sense.

5. 5 The Armenian has a compound word which means pre-existence ; but probably the Greek read pro_ th~j gene/sewj, which the Armenian translated literally in defiance of his native idiom.

6. 6 The idea of this passage seems to be that which Suidas expresses in the words to_ e1qoj ou_k e1stin eu3rhma a)nqrw&pwn, a)lla_ bi/on kai\ xro&nou. Men first take the drift of events and then inductively establish customs and frame laws on the basis of them. God however enacts facts in advance, as being cognisant of events beforehand. The passage is anyhow obscure.

7. 7 The Greek original must have run somewhat as follows : ta_ kat' au)touj faino&mena kai\ e0c w{n e1pracan.

8. 8 Tit, iii. 10.

9. 9 Deut. xiii. 10.

10. 10 The sense rather requires lest.

11. 11 Loosely quoted from Gal. i. 9.

12. 12 The phrase recalls the words in Euseb. H. E. vii. 5, 4, tou_j prosio&ntaj a)po_ ai9re/sewn.

13. 13 Perhaps xwrepi/skopoi in the original.

14. 14 Phil. i. 18.

15. 15 Matt. xxviii. 19.

16. 16 The Greek may have had the word sumpoliteusame/nwn.

17. 17 Matt. xxiv. 35.

18. 1 John ii. 22, iv. 3

19. Ps. cxxxviii. (cxxxix) 21, 22.