« Dionysius (2), St., apostle of France Dionysius (3), bp. of Corinth Dionysius of Alexandria »

Dionysius (3), bp. of Corinth

Dionysius (3), bp. of Corinth, probably the successor of Primus, placed by Eusebius in his Chronicle under a.d. 171, (see also Eus. H. E. ii. 25, iii. 4, iv. 21, 23, 35; Hieron. Catal. 27). He was the writer of certain pastoral letters, which gained so much authority in his own lifetime that heretics (probably the followers of Marcion) found it worth while, as he complains, to circulate copies falsified by interpolations and omissions. Eusebius mentions having met with 8 of these letters—viz. seven which he calls "Catholic Epistles," addressed to Lacedemon, Athens, Nicomedia, Gortyna and other churches in Crete, Amastris and other churches in Pontus, Cnossus and Rome; and one to "his most faithful sister Chrysophora." Probably the letters were already collected into a volume and enumerated by Eusebius in the order they occurred there, or he would probably have mentioned the two Cretan letters consecutively. Nothing remains of them, except the short account of their contents given by Eusebius, and a few fragments of the letter to the Roman church which, though very scanty, throw considerable light on the state of the church at the time. Eusebius praises Dionysius for having given a share in his "inspired industry" to those in foreign lands. A bp. of Corinth might consider Lacedaemon and Athens as under his metropolitan superintendence, but that he should send letters of admonition to Crete, Bithynia, and Paphlagonia not only proves the reputation of the writer, but indicates the unity of the Christian community. A still more interesting proof of this is furnished by the letter to the Roman church, which would seem to be one of thanks for a gift of money, and in which he speaks of it as a custom of that church from the earliest times to send supplies to churches in every city to relieve poverty, and to support the brethren condemned to work in the mines, "a custom not only preserved, but increased by the blessed bp. Soter, who administered their bounty to the saints, and with blessed words exhorted the brethren that came up as an affectionate father his children." The epithet here applied to Soter is usually used of those deceased in Christ; but there are instances of its application to living persons, and Eusebius speaks of him as still bishop when the letter of Dionysius was written. This letter is remarkable also as containing the earliest testimony that St. Peter suffered martyrdom in Italy at the same time as St. Paul. The letters indicate the general prevalence of episcopal government when they were written. In most of them the bishop of the church addressed is mentioned with honour; Palmas in Pontus, Philip and Pinytus in Crete, Soter at Rome. That to the Athenians reminds them of a former bp. Publius, who had suffered martyrdom during persecutions which reduced that church very low, from which condition it was revived by the zeal of Quadratus, the successor of Publius. This form of government was then supposed to date from apostolic times, for in the same letter Dionysius the Areopagite is counted as the first bp. of Athens; but the importance of the bishop seems to be still subordinate to that of his church. The letters, including that to Rome, are each addressed to the church, not to the bishop; and Soter's own letter, like Clement's former one, was written not in his own name, but that of his church (ὑμῶν τὴν ἐπιστολὴν). The letters, indeed, of Dionysius himself were written in his own name, and he uses the 1st pers. sing. in speaking of them, but adds that they were written at the request of brethren. Eusebius mentions two, Bacchylides and Elpistus, at whose instance that to the churches of Pontus was written.

The letters also illustrate the value attached by Christians to their sacred literature. Dionysius informs the church of Rome that the day on which he wrote, being the Lord's day, had been kept holy, and that they had then read the letter of the Roman church, and would continue from time to time to read it for their instruction, as they were in the habit of reading the letter formerly written from the same church by the hand of Clement; and speaking of the falsification of his own letters, he adds, "No marvel, then, that some have 263attempted to tamper with the Scriptures of the Lord, since they have attempted it on writings not comparable to them (οὐ τοιαύταις)." Thus we learn that it was then customary to read sacred books in the Christian assemblies; that this practice was not limited to our canonical books; that attempts were made by men regarded as heretics to corrupt these writings, and that such attempts were jealously guarded against. The value attached by Christians to writings was regulated rather by the character of their contents than by the dignity of the writer; for while there is no trace that the letter of Soter thus honoured at Corinth passed beyond that church, the letter of Dionysius himself became the property of the whole Christian community. But we learn the preeminent authority enjoyed by certain books, called the Scriptures of the Lord, which we cannot be wrong in identifying with some of the writings of our N.T.  Dionysius, in the very brief fragments remaining, shews signs of acquaintance with the St. Matt., the Acts, I. Thess., and the Apocalypse. There is, therefore, no reason for limiting to the O.T. the "expositions of the divine Scriptures," which Eusebius tells us were contained in the letter of Dionysius to the churches of Pontus. In speaking of attempts to corrupt the Scriptures, Dionysius probably refers to the heresy of Marcion, against which, we are told, he wrote in his letter to the church of Nicomedia, "defending the rule of truth." We cannot lay much stress on a rhetorical passage where Jerome (Ep. ad Magnum, 83) includes Dionysius among those who had applied secular learning to the refutation of heresy, tracing each heresy to its source in the writings of the philosophers. Dionysius had probably also Marcionism in view, when he exhorted the church of Gortyna "to beware of the perversion of heretics," for we are told that its bp. Philip had found it necessary to compose a treatise against Marcion. We may see traces of the same heresy in the subjects treated of in the letter to the churches of Pontus (the home of Marcion), to which Dionysius gave instructions concerning marriage and chastity (marriage having been proscribed by Marcion), and which he also exhorted to receive back those who returned after any fall, whether into irregularity of living or into heretical error. But the rigorist tendencies here combated were exhibited also, not only among the then rising sects of the Encratites and Montanists, but by men of undoubted orthodoxy. Writing to the Cnossians Dionysius exhorts Pinytus the bp., a man highly commended by Eusebius for piety, orthodoxy, and learning, not to impose on the brethren too heavy a burden of chastity, but to regard the weakness of the many. Eusebius reports Pinytus as replying with expressions of high respect for Dionysius, which were understood by Rufinus to imply an adoption of his views. But he apparently persevered in his own opinion, for he exhorts Dionysius to impart to his people some more advanced instruction, lest if he fed them always with milk instead of with more solid food, they should continue in the state of children.

We are not told anything of the time or manner of the death of Dionysius. It must have been before the Paschal disputes in a.d. 198, when we find Palmas of Pontus still alive, but a new bishop (Bacchylus) at Corinth. The Greek church counts Dionysius among martyrs, and the Menaea name the sword as the instrument of his death; but there is no authority for his martyrdom earlier than Cedrenus, i.e. the end of the 11th cent. The Roman church only counts him among confessors. The abbey of St. Denis in France claimed to be in possession of the body of Dionysius of Corinth, alleged to have been brought from Greece to Rome, and given them in 1215 by Innocent III. The pope's bull is given by the Bollandists under April 8. See Routh, Rel. Sac. (2nd ed.), i. 178-201.


« Dionysius (2), St., apostle of France Dionysius (3), bp. of Corinth Dionysius of Alexandria »
VIEWNAME is workSection