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Chapter XXIII.—Dionysius, Bishop
of Corinth, and the Epistles which he wrote.12451245 Eusebius speaks, in this chapter, of seven Catholic epistles, and
of one addressed to an individual. None of these epistles are now
extant, though Eusebius here, and in Bk. II. chap. 25, gives us four
brief but interesting fragments from the Epistle to the Romans. We know
of the other epistles only what Eusebius tells us in this chapter. That
Dionysius was held in high esteem as a writer of epistles to the
churches is clear, not only from Eusebius’ statement, but also
from the fact that heretics thought it worth while to circulate
interpolated and mutilated copies of them, as stated below. The fact
that he wrote epistles to churches so widely scattered shows that he
possessed an extended reputation.
Of Dionysius himself (who is, without foundation, called a martyr by the Greek Church, and a confessor by the Latin Church) we know only what we are told by Eusebius, for Jerome (de vir ill. 27) adds nothing to the account given in this chapter. In his Chron. Eusebius mentions Dionysius in connection with the eleventh year of Marcus Aurelius. According to Eusebius’ statement in this same chapter, Dionysius’ Epistle to the Romans was addressed to the bishop Soter, and as Eusebius had the epistle before him, there is no reason for doubting his report. Soter was bishop from about 167 to 175 (see above, chap. 19, note 4), and therefore the statements of the Chron. and the History are in accord. When Dionysius died we do not know, but he was no longer living in 199, for Bacchylus was bishop of Corinth at that time (see Bk. V. chap. 22). It is commonly said that Dionysius was the immediate successor of Primus, bishop of Corinth. This may be true, but we have no ground for the assumption. We know only that Primus’ episcopate was synchronous, at least in part, with that of Pius of Rome (see the previous chapter, note 2), who was bishop from about 139 or 141 to 154 or 156, and that Dionysius’ episcopate was synchronous at least an part with that of Soter of Rome (about 167 to 175).
1. And first we must speak of Dionysius, who was appointed bishop of the church in Corinth, and communicated freely of his inspired labors not only to his own people, but also to those in foreign lands, and rendered the greatest service to all in the catholic epistles which he wrote to the churches.
2. Among these is the one addressed to the Lacedæmonians,12461246 This is, so far as I am aware, the earliest mention of a church at Lacedæmon or Sparta. The bishop of Sparta is mentioned in the synodical letter of the province of Hellas to the emperor Leo (457–477 a.d.), and also still later in the Acts of the Sixth and Eighth General Synods, according to Wiltsch’s Geography and Statistics of the Church (London ed. p. 134 and 466). containing instruction in the orthodox faith and an admonition to peace and unity; the one also addressed to the Athenians, exciting them to faith and to the life prescribed by the Gospel, which he accuses them of esteeming lightly, as if they had almost apostatized from the faith since the martyrdom of their ruler Publius,12471247 Of this Publius we know only what Eusebius tells us here. What particular persecution is referred to we cannot tell, but Publius’ martyrdom seems to have occurred in the reign of Antoninus Pius or Marcus Aurelius; for he was the immediate predecessor of Quadratus, who was apparently bishop at the time Dionysius was writing. which had taken place during the persecutions of those days.
3. He mentions Quadratus12481248 We know nothing more about this Quadratus, for he is to be distinguished from the prophet and from the apologist (see chap. 3, note 2). Eusebius’ words seem to imply that he was bishop at the time Dionysius was writing. also, stating that he was appointed their bishop after the martyrdom of Publius, and testifying that through his zeal they were brought together again and their faith revived. He records, moreover, that Dionysius the Areopagite,12491249 On Dionysius the Areopagite, see Bk. III. chap. 4, note 20. 201who was converted to the faith by the apostle Paul, according to the statement in the Acts of the Apostles,12501250 See Acts xvii. 34. first obtained the episcopate of the church at Athens.
4. And there is extant another epistle of his addressed to the Nicomedians,12511251 The extent of Dionysius’ influence is shown by his writing an epistle to so distant a church as that of Nicomedia in Bithynia, and also to the churches of Pontus (see below). The fact that he considers it necessary to attack Marcionism in this epistle to the Nicomedians is an indication of the wide and rapid spread of that sect,—which indeed is known to us from many sources. in which he attacks the heresy of Marcion, and stands fast by the canon of the truth.
5. Writing also to the church that is in Gortyna,12521252 Gortyna was an important city in Crete, which was early the seat of a bishop. Tradition, indeed, makes Titus the first bishop of the church there. together with the other parishes in Crete, he commends their bishop Philip,12531253 Of this Philip, bishop of Gortyna, and a contemporary of Dionysius, we know only what Eusebius tells us here and in chap. 25. because of the many acts of fortitude which are testified to as performed by the church under him, and he warns them to be on their guard against the aberrations of the heretics.
6. And writing to the church that is in Amastris,12541254 Amastris was a city of Pontus, which is here mentioned for the first time as the seat of a Christian church. Its bishop is referred to frequently in the Acts of Councils during the next few centuries (see also note 12, below). together with those in Pontus, he refers to Bacchylides12551255 This Bacchylides is perhaps identical with the Bacchylus who was afterward bishop of Corinth (Bk. V. chap. 22). Elpistus is an otherwise unknown personage. and Elpistus, as having urged him to write, and he adds explanations of passages of the divine Scriptures, and mentions their bishop Palmas12561256 This Palmas, bishop of Amastris in Pontus, presided as senior bishop over a council of the bishops of Pontus held toward the close of the century on the paschal question (see Bk. V. chap. 23). Nothing more is known of him. by name. He gives them much advice also in regard to marriage and chastity, and commands them to receive those who come back again after any fall, whether it be delinquency or heresy.12571257 It is quite likely, as Salmon suggests (in the Dict. of Christ. Biog.), that Dionysius, who wrote against Marcion in this epistle to the Nicomedians, also had Marcionism in view in writing on life and discipline to the churches of Pontus and Crete. It was probably in consequence of reaction against their strict discipline that he advocated the readmission to the Church of excommunicated offenders, in this anticipating the later practice of the Roman church, which was introduced by Callixtus and soon afterward became general, though not without bitter opposition from many quarters. Harnack (Dogmengeschichte, p. 332, note 4) throws doubt upon the correctness of this report of Eusebius; but such doubt is unwarranted, for Eusebius had Dionysius’ epistle before him, and the position which he represents him as taking is quite in accord with the mildness which he recommends to Pinytus, and is therefore just what we should expect. The fact that Callixtus’ principle is looked upon by Tertullian and Hippolytus as an innovation does not militate at all against the possibility that Dionysius in Corinth, or other individuals in other minor churches, held the same principles some time before.
7. Among these is inserted also
another epistle addressed to the Cnosians,12581258 Cnossus, or Cnosus, was the capital city of Crete.
This epistle is no longer extant, nor do we know anything about Pinytus himself except what is told us here and in chap. 21, above, where he is mentioned among the ecclesiastical writers of the day. Jerome (de vir. ill. 28) only repeats what Eusebius says, and Rufinus, in stating that Pinytus was convinced by the epistle of Dionysius and changed his course, seems simply to have misunderstood what Eusebius says about his admiration for and praise of Dionysius. It is evident from the tone of his reply that Pinytus was not led by Dionysius’ epistle to agree with him. in which he exhorts Pinytus, bishop of the parish, not to lay upon the brethren a grievous and compulsory burden in regard to chastity, but to have regard to the weakness of the multitude.
8. Pinytus, replying to this epistle, admires and commends Dionysius, but exhorts him in turn to impart some time more solid food, and to feed the people under him, when he wrote again, with more advanced teaching, that they might not be fed continually on these milky doctrines and imperceptibly grow old under a training calculated for children. In this epistle also Pinytus’ orthodoxy in the faith and his care for the welfare of those placed under him, his learning and his comprehension of divine things, are revealed as in a most perfect image.
9. There is extant also another
epistle written by Dionysius to the Romans, and addressed to Soter,12591259 On
Soter, see chap. 19, note 2.
This practice of the Roman church combined with other causes to secure it that position of influence and prominence which resulted in the primacy of its bishop, and finally in the papacy. The position of the Roman church, as well as its prosperity and numerical strength, gave it early a feeling that it was called upon in an especial way to exercise oversight and to care for weaker sister churches, and thus its own good offices helped to promote its influence and its power. who was bishop at that time. We cannot do better than to subjoin some passages from this epistle, in which he commends the practice of the Romans which has been retained down to the persecution in our own days. His words are as follows:
10. “For from the beginning it has been your practice to do good to all the brethren in various ways, and to send contributions to many churches in every city. Thus relieving the want of the needy, and making provision for the brethren in the mines by the gifts which you have sent from the beginning, you Romans keep up the hereditary customs of the Romans, which your blessed bishop Soter has not only maintained, but also added to, furnishing an abundance of supplies to the saints, and encouraging the brethren from abroad with blessed words, as a loving father his children.”
11. In this same epistle he makes mention also of Clement’s epistle to the Corinthians,12601260 On Clement’s Epistle to the Corinthians, see Bk. III. chap. 16. showing that it had been the custom from the beginning to read it in the church. His words are as follows: “To-day we have passed the Lord’s holy day, in which we have read your epistle. From it, whenever we read it, we shall always be able to draw advice, as also from the former epistle, which was written to us through Clement.”
12. The same writer also speaks as follows concerning his own epistles, alleging that they had been mutilated: “As the brethren desired me to write epistles, I wrote. And these epistles the apostles of the devil have filled with tares, cutting out some things and adding others.12611261 See above, note 1. For them a woe is reserved.12621262 Compare Rev. xxii. 18. It is, therefore, not to be wondered 202at if some have attempted to adulterate the Lord’s writings also,12631263 A probable, though not exclusive, reference to Marcion, for he was by no means the only one of that age that interpolated and mutilated the works of the apostles to fit his theories. Apostolic works—true and false—circulated in great numbers, and were made the basis for the speculations and moral requirements of many of the heretical schools of the second century. since they have formed designs even against writings which are of less account.”12641264 οὐ τοιαύταις
There is extant, in addition to these, another epistle of Dionysius, written to Chrysophora,12651265 Chrysophora is an otherwise unknown person. a most faithful sister. In it he writes what is suitable, and imparts to her also the proper spiritual food. So much concerning Dionysius.
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