Chapter XLII.—Others of whom Dionysius gives an Account.
1. “Many others, in cities and villages, were torn asunder by the heathen, of whom I will mention one as an illustration. Ischyrion 2098 was employed as a steward by one of the rulers. His employer commanded him to sacrifice, and on his refusal insulted him, and as he remained firm, abused him. And as he still held out he seized a long staff and thrust it through his bowels 2099 and slew him.
2. “Why need I speak of the multitude that wandered in the deserts and mountains, and perished by hunger, and thirst, and cold, and sickness, and robbers, and wild beasts? Those of them who survived are witnesses of their election and victory.
3. But I will relate one occurrence as an example. Chæremon, 2100 who was very old, was bishop of the city called Nilus. He fled with his wife 2101 to the Arabian mountain 2102 and did not return. And though the brethren searched diligently they could not find either them or their bodies.
4. And many who fled to the same Arabian mountain were carried into slavery by the barbarian Saracens. Some of them were ransomed with difficulty and at a large price; others have not been to the present time. I have related these things, my brother, not without an object, but that you may understand how many and great distresses came upon us. Those indeed will understand them the best who have had the largest experience of them.”
5. A little further on he adds: “These divine martyrs among us, who now are seated with Christ, and are sharers in his kingdom, partakers of his judgment and judges with him, received some of the brethren who had fallen away and become chargeable with the guilt of sacrificing. When they perceived that their conversion and repentance were sufficient to be acceptable with him who by no means desires the death of the sinner, but his repentance, having proved them they received them back and brought them together, and met with them and had fellowship with them in prayers and feasts. 2103
6. What counsel then, p. 286 brethren, do you give us concerning such persons? What should we do? Shall we have the same judgment and rule as theirs, and observe their decision and charity, and show mercy to those whom they pitied? Or, shall we declare their decision unrighteous, and set ourselves as judges of their opinion, and grieve mercy and overturn order?” 2104 These words Dionysius very properly added when making mention of those who had been weak in the time of persecution.
Ischyrion is known to us only from this passage.285:2099
ἐντέρων καὶ σπλ€γχνων285:2100
Of the bishop Chæremon of Nilus we know only what is told us here. The city Nilus or Nilopolis was situated on an island in the Nile, in middle Egypt, some distance south of Memphis.285:2101
τῇ συμβί& 251· ἑαυτοῦ. The word σύμβιος, which means a “companion” or “partner,” can signify nothing else than “wife” as used here in the feminine.285:2102
τὸ ᾽Αρ€βιον ὄρος. The name Arabicus mons, τὸ ᾽Αρ€βιον οὖρος, was given by Herodotus to the range of mountains which separated that part of Arabia lying west of the Arabian Gulf from the Nile valley (see Smiths Dict. of Greek and Rom. Geography).285:2103
εἰσεδέξαντο καὶ συνήγαγον καὶ συνέστησαν καὶ προσευχῶν αὐτοῖς καὶ ἑστι€σεων ἐκοινώνησαν. It will be observed that nothing is said here about joining with these persons in celebrating the eucharist, or about admitting them to that service, and hence Valesius is quite right in distinguishing the kind of communion spoken of here from official communion in the church, around the Lords table. Dionysius does not imply that these confessors had the power given them to receive the lapsed back again into the Church, and to dispense the eucharist to them. That was the prerogative of the bishop, and evidently Dionysius has no thought of its being otherwise. The communion of which he speaks was private fellowship merely, and implied a recognition on the part of these confessors that the persons in question had truly repented of their sin, and could be recommended for readmission into the Church. As we see from chap. 44, §2, the recommendation of these persons or of the people in general was quite necessary, before the bishop would consent to absolve the fallen person and receive him back again into the Church. And Dionysius words in this passage show that he felt that the judgment of these confessors in regard to the fitness of the lapsed for readmission ought to be received with consideration, and have influence upon the final decision. Dionysius thus shows great respect to the confessors, but does not accord them the privileges which they claimed in some places (as we learn from Tertullians de Pudicitia, 22, and from a number of Cyprians Epistles) of themselves absolving the lapsed and readmitting them to church communion. In this he showed again his agreement with Cyprian and with the principles finally adopted in the Roman and Carthaginian churches (cf. e.g. Cyprians Epistles, 9 sq., al. 15; see also Dittrich, p. 51 sq.).286:2104
The object of the letter is clearly revealed in these sentences (see chap. 41, note 1).