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Chapter VII.—The Abominable Error of the Heretics; the Divine Vision of Dionysius; and the Ecclesiastical Canon which he received.

1. In the third epistle on baptism which this same Dionysius wrote to Philemon,21862186    Of this Philemon we know no more than we can gather from this chapter. Upon Dionysius’ position on the re-baptism of heretics, see above, chap. 2, note 4, and upon his other epistles on that subject, see chap. 5, note 6. the Roman presbyter, he relates the following: “But I examined the works and traditions of the heretics, defiling my mind for a little time with their abominable opinions, but receiving this benefit from them, that I refuted them by myself, and detested them all the more.

2. And when a certain brother among the presbyters restrained me, fearing that I should be carried away with the filth of their wickedness (for it would defile my soul),—in which also, as I perceived, he spoke the truth,296—a vision sent from God came and strengthened me.

3. And the word which came to me commanded me, saying distinctly, ‘Read everything which thou canst take in hand,21872187    Dionysius, in following this vision, was but showing himself a genuine disciple of his master Origen, and exhibiting the true spirit of the earlier Alexandrian school. for thou art able to correct and prove all; and this has been to thee from the beginning the cause of thy faith.’ I received the vision as agreeing with the apostolic word, which says to them that are stronger, ‘Be skillful money-changers.’”21882188    ὡς ἀποστολικῇ φωνῇ συντρέχονγίνεσθε δόκιμοι τραπεζιται. This saying, sometimes in the brief form given here, sometimes as part of a longer sentence (e.g. in Clement of Alex. Strom. I. 28, γίνεσθε δὲ δόκιμοι τραπεζιται, τὰ μὲν ἀποδοκιμ€ζοντες, τὸ δὲ καλὸν κατέχοντες), appears very frequently in the writings of the Fathers. In some cases it is cited (in connection with 1 Thess. v. 21, 22) on the authority of Paul (in the present case as an “apostolic word”), in other cases on the authority of “Scripture” (ᾑ γραφή, or γέγραπται, or θεῖος λόγος), in still more cases as an utterance of Christ himself. There can be little doubt that Christ really did utter these words, and that the words used by Paul in 1 Thess. v. 21, 22, were likewise spoken by Christ in the same connection. We may, in fact, with considerable confidence recognize in these words part of a genuine extra-canonical saying of Christ, which was widely current in the early Church. We are to explain the words then not as so many have done, as merely based upon the words of Christ, reported in Matt. xxv. 12 sq., or upon the words of Paul already referred to, but as an actual utterance of the Master. Moreover, we may, since Resch’s careful discussion of the whole subject of the Agrapha (or extra-canonical sayings of Christ), with considerable confidence assume that these words were handed down to post-apostolic times not in an apocryphal gospel, nor by mere oral tradition, but in the original Hebrew Matthew, of which Papias and many others tell us, and which is probably to be looked upon as a pre-canonical gospel, with the “Ur-Marcus” the main source of our present gospels of Matthew and Luke, and through the “Ur-Marcus” one of the sources of our present Gospel of Mark. Looked upon in this light these words quoted by Dionysius become of great interest to us. They (or a part of the same saying) are quoted more frequently by the Fathers than any other of the Agrapha (Resch, on p. 116 sq. gives 69 instances). Their interpretation, in connection with the words of Paul in 1 Thess. v. 21, 22, has been very satisfactorily discussed by Hänsel in the Studien und Kritiken, 1836, p. 170 sq. They undoubtedly mean that we are to test and to distinguish between the true and the false, the good and the bad, as a skillful money-changer distinguishes good and bad coins. For a full discussion of this utterance, and for an exhibition of the many other patristic passages in which it occurs, see the magnificent work of Alfred Resch, Agrapha: Aussercanonische Evangelienfragmente, in Gebhardt and Harnack’s Texte und Untersuchungen, Bd. V. Heft 4, Leipzig, 1889; the most complete and satisfactory discussion of the whole subject of the Agrapha which we have.

4. Then after saying some things concerning all the heresies he adds: “I received this rule and ordinance from our blessed father,21892189    π€πα. According to Suicer (Thesaurus) all bishops in the Occident as late as the fifth century were called Papæ as a mark of honor and though the term by that time had begun to be used in a distinctive sense of the bishop of Rome, the older usage continued in parts of the West outside of Italy, until Gregory VII. (a.d. 1075) forbade the use of the name for any other than the pope. In the East the word was used for a long time as the especial title of the bishops of Alexandria and of Rome (see Suicer’s Thesaurus and Gieseler’s Church Hist. Harper’s edition, I. p. 499). Heraclas.21902190    On Heraclas, see Bk. VI. chap. 3, note 2. For those who came over from heresies, although they had apostatized from the Church,—or rather had not apostatized, but seemed to meet with them, yet were charged with resorting to some false teacher,—when he had expelled them from the Church he did not receive them back, though they entreated for it, until they had publicly reported all things which they had heard from their adversaries; but then he received them without requiring of them another baptism.21912191    Compare Cyprian’s epistle to Quintus concerning the baptism of heretics (Ep. 70, al. 71). Cyprian there takes the position stated here, that those who have been baptized in the Church and have afterward gone over to heresy and then returned again to the Church are not to be re-baptized, but to be received with the laying on of hands only. This of course does not at all invalidate the position of Cyprian and the others who re-baptized heretics, for they baptized heretics not because they had been heretics, but because they had not received true baptism, nor indeed any baptism at all, which it was impossible, in their view, for a heretic to give. They therefore repudiated (as Cyprian does in the epistle referred to) the term re-baptism, denying that they re-baptized anybody. For they had formerly received the Holy Spirit from him.”

5. Again, after treating the question thoroughly, he adds: “I have learned also that this21922192    Namely the re-baptism (or, as they would say, the baptism) of those who had received baptism only at the hands of heretics standing without the communion of the Church. is not a novel practice introduced in Africa alone, but that even long ago in the times of the bishops before us this opinion has been adopted in the most populous churches, and in synods of the brethren in Iconium and Synnada,21932193    Iconium was the principal city of Lycaonia, and Synnada a city of Phrygia. The synod of Iconium referred to here is mentioned also by Firmilian in his epistle to Cyprian, §§7 and 19 (Cypriani Ep. 74, al. 75). From that epistle we learn that the synod was attended by bishops from Phrygia, Cilicia, Galatia, and other countries, and that heretical baptism was entirely rejected by it. Moreover, we learn that Firmilian himself was present at the synod, and that it was held a considerable time before the writing of his epistle. This leads us to place the synod between 230 (on Firmilian’s dates, see above, Bk. VI. chap. 26, note 3) and 240 or 250. Since it took place a considerable time before Firmilian wrote, it can hardly have been held much later than 240. Of the synod of Synnada, we know nothing. It very likely took place about the same time. See Hefele’s Conciliengesch. I. p. 107 sq. Dionysius was undoubtedly correct in appealing to ancient custom for the practice which he supported (see above, chap. 2, note 3). and by many others. To overturn their counsels and throw them into strife and contention, I cannot endure. For it is said,21942194    φησί, i.e. “The Scripture saith.” ‘Thou shalt not remove thy neighbor’s landmark, which thy fathers have set.’”21952195    Deut. xix. 14.

6. His fourth epistle on baptism21962196    On Dionysius’ other epistles on baptism, see above, chap. 5, note 6. was written to Dionysius21972197    On Dionysius of Rome, see below, chap. 27, note 2. of Rome, who was then a presbyter, but not long after received the episcopate of that church. It is evident from what is stated of him by Dionysius of Alexandria, that he also was a learned and admirable man. Among other things he writes to him as follows concerning Novatus:


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