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§ 190. Dionysius the Great.


(I.) S. Dionysii Episcopi Alexandrini quae supersunt Operum et Episto larum fragmenta, in Migne’s "Patrol. Gr." Tom. X. Col. 1237–1344 and Addenda, Col. 1575–1602. Older collections of the fragments by Simon de Magistris, Rom. 1796, and Routh, Rel. Sacr., vol. IV. 393–454. Add Pitra, Spicil. Solesm. I. 15 sqq.—English translation by Salmond in Clark’s "Ante-Nicene Library," vol. xx. (1871), p. 161–266.

(II.) Eusebius: H. E. III. 28; VI. 41, 45, 46; VII. 2, 4, 7, 9, 11, 22, 24, 26, 27, 28. Athanasius: De Sent. Dionys. Hieronym.: De Fir. ill. 69.

(III.) Th. Förster: De Doctrina et Sententiis Dionysii Magni Episcopi Alex. Berl. 1865. And in the "Zeitschrift für hist. Theol." 1871. Dr. Dittrich (R.C.): Dionysius der Grosse von Alexandrien. Freib. i. Breisg. 1867 (130 pages). Weizsäcker in Herzog2 III. 61, 5 sq. Westcott in Smith and Wace I. 850 sqq.


Dionysius Of Alexandria —so distinguished from the contemporary Dionysius of Rome—surnamed "the Great,"14851485    First by Eusebius in the ProŒem. to Bk. VII: ὁ μέγασ Ἀλεξανδρέων ἐπίσκοπος Διονύσιος. Athanasius (De Seut. Dion. 6) calls him " teacher of the Catholic church "(τῆς καθολ. ἐκκλησίας διδάσκαλος).486 was born about a.d. 190,14861486    When invited in 265 to attend the Synod of Antioch, he declined on account of the infirmities of old age. Eus. VII. 27.487 of Gentile parents, and brought up to a secular profession with bright prospects of wealth and renown, but be examined the claims of Christianity and was won to the faith by Origen, to whom he ever remained faithful. He disputes with Gregory Thaumaturgus the honor of being the chief disciple of that great teacher; but while Gregory was supposed to have anticipated the Nicene dogma of the trinity, the orthodoxy of Dionysius was disputed. He became Origen’s assistant in the Catechetical School (233), and after the death of Heraclas bishop of Alexandria (248). During the violent persecution under Decius (249–251) he fled, and thus exposed himself, like Cyprian, to the suspicion of cowardice. In the persecution under Valerian (247), he was brought before the praefect and banished, but he continued to direct his church from exile. On the accession of Gallienus he was allowed to return (260). He died in the year 265.

His last years were disturbed by war, famine and pestilence, of which he gives a lively account in the Easter encyclical of the year 263.14871487    Preserved by Eusebius VII. 22.488 "The present time," he writes, "does not appear a fit season for a festival ... All things are filled with tears, all are mourning, and on account of the multitudes already dead and still dying, groans are daily heard throughout the city ... There is not a house in which there is not one dead ... After this, war and famine succeeded which we endured with the heathen, but we bore alone those miseries with which they afflicted us ... But we rejoiced in the peace of Christ which he gave to us alone ... Most of our brethren by their exceeding great love and affection not sparing themselves and adhering to one another, were constantly superintending the sick, ministering to their wants without fear and cessation, and healing them in Christ." The heathen, on the contrary, repelled the sick or cast them half-dead into the street. The same self-denying charity in contrast with heathen selfishness manifested itself at Carthage during the raging of a pestilence, under the persecuting reign of Gallus (252), as we learn from Cyprian.

Dionysius took an active part in the christological, chiliastic, and disciplinary controversies of his time, and showed in them moderation, an amiable spirit of concession, and practical churchly tact, but also a want of independence and consistency. He opposed Sabellianism, and ran to the brink of tritheism, but in his correspondence with the more firm and orthodox Dionysius of Rome he modified his view, and Athanasius vindicated his orthodoxy against the charge of having sowed the seeds of Arianism. He wished to adhere to Origen’s christology, but the church pressed towards the Nicene formula. There is nothing, however, in the narrative of Athanasius which implies a recognition of Roman supremacy. His last christological utterance was a letter concerning the heresy of Paul of Samosata; he was prevented from attending the Synod of Antioch in 264, which condemned and deposed Paul. He rejected, with Origen, the chiliastic notions, and induced Nepos and his adherents to abandon them, but he denied the apostolic origin of the Apocalypse and ascribed it to the "Presbyter John," of doubtful existence. He held mild views on discipline and urged the Novatians to deal gently with the lapsed and to preserve the peace of the church. He also counselled moderation in the controversy between Stephen and Cyprian on the validity of heretical baptism, though he sided with the more liberal Roman theory.

Dionysius wrote many letters and treatises on exegetic, polemic, and ascetic topics, but only short fragments remain, mostly in Eusebius. The chief books were Commentaries on Ecclesiastes, and Luke; Against Sabellius (christological); On Nature (philosophical); On the Promises (against Chiliasm): On Martyrdom. He compared the style of the fourth Gospel and of the Apocalypse to deny the identity of authorship, but he saw only the difference and not the underlying unity.14881488    In Euseb. VII. 25. Dionysius concludes the comparison with praising the pure Greek of the Gospel and contrasting with it "the barbarous idioms and solecisms" of the Apocalypse; yet the style of the Gospel is thoroughly Hebrew in the inspiring soul and mode of construction. He admits however, that the author of the Apocalypse "saw a revelation and received knowledge and prophecy," and disclaims the intention of depreciating the book only he cannot conceive that it is the product of the same pen as the fourth Gospel. He anticipated the theory of the Schleiermacher school of critics who defend the Johannean origin of the Gospel and surrender the Apocalypse; while the Tübingen critics and Renan reverse the case. See on this subject vol. I. 716 sq.489 "All the fragments of Dionysius," says Westcott, "repay careful perusal. They are uniformly inspired by the sympathy and large-heartedness which he showed in practice."

Dionysius is commemorated in the Greek church on October 3, in the Roman on November 17.



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