Pope Dionysius of Alexandria

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Saint

Dionysius the Great
Pope of Alexandria & Patriarch of the See of St. Mark
Dionisii alek.jpg
Pope Dionysius the Great
Archdiocese Alexandria
See Alexandria
Papacy began28 December 248
Papacy ended22 March 264
Predecessor Heraclas
Successor Maximus
Personal details
Born Alexandria, Egypt
Died22 March 264
Egypt
Buried Church of the Cave, Alexandria
Nationality Egyptian
Denomination Coptic [1] (Before the Split from the rest of the Catholic Church.)
Alma mater Catechetical School of Alexandria
Sainthood
Feast day13 Paremhat (Coptic Christianity) [2]
17 November[ citation needed ]
Venerated in Roman Catholicism
Eastern Orthodoxy
Oriental Orthodoxy

Saint Dionysius the Great was the 14th Pope and Patriarch of Alexandria from 28 December 248 until his death on 22 March 264. Most information known about him comes from his large surviving correspondence. Only one original letter survives to this day; the remaining letters are excerpted in the works of Eusebius.

Eusebius Greek church historian

Eusebius of Caesarea, also known as Eusebius Pamphili, was a historian of Christianity, exegete, and Christian polemicist. He became the bishop of Caesarea Maritima about 314 AD. Together with Pamphilus, he was a scholar of the Biblical canon and is regarded as an extremely learned Christian of his time. He wrote Demonstrations of the Gospel, Preparations for the Gospel, and On Discrepancies between the Gospels, studies of the Biblical text. As "Father of Church History", he produced the Ecclesiastical History, On the Life of Pamphilus, the Chronicle and On the Martyrs. He also produced a biographical work on the first Christian Emperor, Constantine the Great, who ruled between 306 and 337 AD.

Contents

Called "the Great" by Eusebius, Basil of Caesarea and others, he was characterized by the Catholic Encyclopedia as "undoubtedly, after St. Cyprian, the most eminent bishop of the third century... like St. Cyprian, less a great theologian than a great administrator." [3]

Basil of Caesarea 4th-century Christian bishop, theologian, and saint

Basil of Caesarea, also called Saint Basil the Great, was the bishop of Caesarea Mazaca in Cappadocia, Asia Minor. He was an influential theologian who supported the Nicene Creed and opposed the heresies of the early Christian church, fighting against both Arianism and the followers of Apollinaris of Laodicea. His ability to balance his theological convictions with his political connections made Basil a powerful advocate for the Nicene position.

<i>Catholic Encyclopedia</i> English-language encyclopedia

The Catholic Encyclopedia: An International Work of Reference on the Constitution, Doctrine, Discipline, and History of the Catholic Church, also referred to as the Old Catholic Encyclopedia and the Original Catholic Encyclopedia, is an English-language encyclopedia published in the United States and designed to serve the Roman Catholic Church. The first volume appeared in March 1907 and the last three volumes appeared in 1912, followed by a master index volume in 1914 and later supplementary volumes. It was designed "to give its readers full and authoritative information on the entire cycle of Catholic interests, action and doctrine".

Early life

Dionysius was born to a wealthy polytheistic family sometime in the late 2nd, or early 3rd century. He spent most of his life reading books and carefully studying the traditions of polytheists. He converted to Christianity at a mature age and discussed his conversion experience with Philemon, a presbyter of Pope Sixtus II. [3] Dionysius converted to Christianity when he received a vision sent from God; in it he was commanded to vigorously study the heresies facing the Christian Church so that he could refute them through doctrinal study. After his conversion, he joined the Catechetical School of Alexandria and was a student of Origen and Pope Heraclas. He eventually became leader of the school and presbyter of the Christian church, succeeding Pope Heraclas in 231. Later he became Pope of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria & Patriarch of the See of St. Mark in 248 after the death of Pope Heraclas. [3]

Pope Sixtus II pope

Pope Sixtus II was the Pope or Bishop of Rome from 31 August 257 until his death on 6 August 258. He was martyred along with seven deacons, including Lawrence of Rome during the persecution of the Catholic Church by Emperor Valerian. According to the Liber Pontificalis, he was born in Greece and was a philosopher; however, this is uncertain, and is disputed by modern western historians arguing that the authors of Liber Pontificalis confused him with that of the contemporary author Xystus, who was a Greek student of Pythagoreanism. He restored the relations with the African and Eastern churches which had been broken off by his predecessor on the question of heretical baptism raised by the heresy Novatianism.

Catechetical School of Alexandria

The Catechetical School of Alexandria was a school of Christian theologians and priests in Alexandria. The teachers and students of the school were influential in many of the early theological controversies of the Christian church. It was one of the two major centers of the study of biblical exegesis and theology during Late Antiquity, the other being the School of Antioch.

Origen 3rd-century Christian scholar from Alexandria

Origen of Alexandria, also known as Origen Adamantius, was an early Christian scholar, ascetic, and theologian who was born and spent the first half of his career in Alexandria. He was a prolific writer who wrote roughly 2,000 treatises in multiple branches of theology, including textual criticism, biblical exegesis and biblical hermeneutics, homiletics, and spirituality. He was one of the most influential figures in early Christian theology, apologetics, and asceticism. He has been described as "the greatest genius the early church ever produced".

Work as Bishop of Alexandria

Dionysius was more an able administrator than a great theologian. [3] Information on his work as Bishop of Alexandria is found in Dionysius' correspondence with other bishops and clergymen of the third century Christian Church. Dionysius’ correspondences included interpretations on the Gospel of Luke, the Gospel of John and the Book of Revelation.

Gospel of Luke Book of the New Testament

The Gospel According to Luke, also called the Gospel of Luke, or simply Luke, is the third of the four canonical Gospels. It tells of the origins, birth, ministry, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ.

Gospel of John Book of the New Testament

The Gospel of John is the fourth of the canonical gospels. The work is anonymous, although it identifies an unnamed "disciple whom Jesus loved" as the source of its traditions. It is closely related in style and content to the three Johannine epistles, and most scholars treat the four books, along with the Book of Revelation, as a single corpus of Johannine literature, albeit not from the same author.

Book of Revelation Final book of the New Testament

The Book of Revelation, often called the Book of Revelations, Revelation to John, the Apocalypse of John, The Revelation, or simply Revelation, the Revelation of Jesus Christ or the Apocalypse, is the final book of the New Testament, and therefore also the final book of the Christian Bible. It occupies a central place in Christian eschatology. Its title is derived from the first word of the text, written in Koine Greek: apokalypsis, meaning "unveiling" or "revelation". The Book of Revelation is the only apocalyptic document in the New Testament canon. The only extended apocalyptic passage in the Old Testament is in the Book of Daniel.

During 249, a major persecution was carried out in Alexandria by a polytheist mob, and hundreds were assaulted, stoned, burned or cut down on account of their refusal to deny their faith. Dionysius managed to survive this persecution and the civil war that followed. In January 250 the new emperor Decius issued a decree of legal persecution. Out of fear many Christians denied their faith by offering a token polytheist sacrifice, while others attempted to obtain false documents affirming their sacrifice. Others who refused to sacrifice faced public ridicule and shame among their family and friends, and, if found by the authorities, brutal torture and execution. Many fled from the city into the desert, where most succumbed to exposure, hunger, thirst, or attacks by bandits or wild animals. [4]

Decius Roman Emperor

Decius, also known as Trajan Decius, was Roman Emperor from 249 to 251.

Decian persecution

The Decian persecution resulted from an edict issued in 250 by the Emperor Decius ordering everyone in the Roman Empire to perform a sacrifice to the Roman gods and the well-being of the Emperor. The edict ordered that the sacrifices be performed in the presence of a Roman magistrate, and a signed and witnessed certificate be issued to that effect. It was the first time that Christians had faced legislation forcing them to choose between their religious beliefs and death, although there is no evidence that Decius' edict was specifically intended to target Christians. The edict appears to have been designed more as an Empire-wide loyalty oath. Nevertheless, a number of Christians were put to death for refusing to perform the sacrifices, many others apostatized and performed the ceremonies, and others went into hiding. The effects were long-lasting and caused tension between Christians who had performed the sacrifices or fled and those who had not, and left bitter memories of persecution.

Dionysius himself was pursued by the prefect Sabinus, who had sent out an assassin to murder him on sight. Dionysius spent three days in hiding before departing on the fourth night of the Decian decree with his servants and other loyal brethren. After a brush with a group of soldiers, he managed to escape with two of his followers, and set up a residence in the Libyan desert until the end of the persecution the following year. [4]

He supported Pope Cornelius in the controversy of 251, arising when Novatian, a learned presbyter of the Church at Rome, set up a schismatic church with a rigorist position on the readmittance of Christians who had apostasized during the persecution. In opposition to Novatian's teaching, Dionysius ordered that the Eucharist should be refused to no one who asked it at the hour of death, even those who had previously lapsed. [5]

In 252 an outbreak of plague ravaged Alexandria, and Dionysius, along with other priests and deacons, took it upon themselves to assist the sick and dying. [4]

The persecutions subsided somewhat under Trebonianus Gallus, but were renewed under Valerian who replaced Gallus. Dionysius was imprisoned and then exiled. When Gallienus, took over the empire he released all the believers who were in prison and brought back those in exile. Gallienus wrote to Dionysius and the bishops a letter to assure their safety in opening the churches. [6]

Prophetic exegesis

About AD 255 a dispute arose concerning the millennialist views taught in Refutation of Allegorists , by Nepos, a bishop in Egypt, which insisted on the interpretation of Revelation Chapter 20 as denoting a literal "millennium of bodily luxury" on earth. Because he was taught by Origen, Dionysius succeeded through his oral and written efforts in checking this Egyptian revival of millennialism. He offered some critical grounds to reject the Book of Revelation, such as an alleged difference in style and diction from John's Gospel and Epistles. Dionysius main position was to claim it was not written by John: " 'I could not venture to reject the book, as many brethren hold it in high esteem,' " yet he ascribed it to another John - some "holy and inspired man" - but not the apostle John. [7]

His impact was felt in later years concerning the canonicity of the Apocalypse, causing much dialogue in the church, lingering in the East for several centuries. Thus it was that certain leaders began to retreat from millennialism in precisely the same quantity as philosophical theology became influential. [8]

Legacy

St. Basil writes to Pope Damasus speaking of aid sent by Pope St. Dionysius, to the church at Caesarea. This correspondence is cited by Pope Pius IX in his encyclical Praedecessores Nostros (On Aid For Ireland) of 25 March 1847. [9]

Footnotes

  1. Eusebius of Caesarea, the author of Ecclesiastical History in the 4th century, states that Saint Mark came to Egypt in the first or third year of the reign of Emperor Claudius, i.e. 41 or 43 A.D. "Two Thousand years of Coptic Christianity" Otto F. A. Meinardus p28.
  2. http://www.copticchurch.net/synaxarium/7_13.html#1
  3. 1 2 3 4 Chapman, John. "Dionysius of Alexandria." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 5. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1909. 6 Apr. 2013
  4. 1 2 3 "Saint Dionysius", The College of Saint Dionysius
  5. Butler, Alban. Lives of the Saints, Vol. XI, 1866
  6. "The Story of Abba Dionysius", Coptic Orthodox Church
  7. Eusebius. "25". Church History. 7. p. 309.
  8. Froom 1950, pp. 325–326.
  9. Pope Pius IX, Praedecessors Nostros, 25 March 1847

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References

Titles of the Great Christian Church
Preceded by
Heraclas
Pope and Patriarch of Alexandria
248—264
Succeeded by
Maximus