Sacred Texts  Christianity  Early Church Fathers  Index  Previous  Next 

Chapter XLVI.—Other Epistles of Dionysius.

1. He wrote also an epistle to the brethren in Egypt on Repentance. 2143 In this he sets forth what seemed proper to him in regard to those who had fallen, and he describes the classes of transgressions.

2. There is extant also a private letter on Repentance, which he wrote to Conon, 2144 bishop of the parish of Hermopolis, and another of an admonitory 2145 character, to his flock at Alexandria. Among them also is the one written to Origen on Martyrdom 2146 and to the brethren at Laodicea, 2147 of whom Thelymidres was bishop. He likewise sent one on Repentance to the brethren in Armenia, 2148 of whom Merozanes was bishop.

3. Besides all these, he wrote to Cornelius of Rome, when he had received from him an epistle against Novatus. 2149 He states in this that he had been invited by Helenus, 2150 bishop of Tarsus, in Cilicia, and the others who were with him, Firmilianus, 2151 bishop in Cappadocia, and Theoctistus, 2152 of Palestine, to meet them at the synod in Antioch, where some persons were endeavoring to establish the schism of Novatus.

4. Besides this he writes that he had been informed that Fabius 2153 had fallen asleep, and that Demetrianus 2154 had been appointed his successor in the episcopate of Antioch. He writes also in these words concerning the bishop of Jerusalem: “For the blessed Alexander 2155 having been confined in prison, passed away happily.”

5. In addition to this there is extant also a certain other diaconal epistle of Dionysius, sent to those in Rome through Hippolytus. 2156 And he wrote p. 292 another to them on Peace, and likewise on Repentance; 2157 and yet another to the confessors there who still held to the opinion of Novatus. 2158 He sent two more to the same persons after they had returned to the Church. And he communicated with many others by letters, which he has left behind him as a benefit in various ways to those who now diligently study his writings. 2159



This epistle on the subject of repentance or penance, which was the burning one just at this time in connection with the lapsed, was doubtless written at about the same time with those to Fabius and Novatian, already referred to. No fragments of it have been preserved.


This work (πρὸς Κόνωνα ἰδία τις περὶ μετανοίας γραφή), which was probably written at about this same time, is mentioned also by Jerome (de vir. ill. 69). Eusebius preserves no extract from it, but extended fragments have been preserved in various mss., and have been published by Pitra (Spic. Solesm. I. p. 15 sq.), though it is questionable whether all that he gives are genuine. The translation of Dionysius’ works in the Ante-Nicene Fathers omits all of these fragments, though they are interesting and valuable. For further particulars, see Dittrich, p. 62. The general character of the letter must have been the same as that of the preceding.


πιστρεπτική; literally, “calculated to turn.” Musculus and Christophorsonus translate hortatoria; Valesius, objurgatoria; Stroth and Closs, “Ermahnungsschrift”; Crusè, “epistle of reproof.” The word does not necessarily carry the idea of reproof with it, but it is natural to suppose in the present case that it was written while Dionysius was absent from Alexandria, during the persecution of Decius, and if so, may well have contained an admonition to steadfastness, and at the same time, possibly, an argument against rigoristic measures which some of the people may have been advocating in reference to the lapsed. At least, the connection in which Eusebius mentions it might lead us to think that it had something to do with that question, though, as the epistle is no longer extant, we can reach no certainty in the matter.


This epistle was doubtless written while Origen was suffering imprisonment in the persecution of Decius (see above, chap. 39, and below, p. 394), and was for the purpose of comforting and encouraging him (cf. Origen’s own work on martyrdom, referred to in chap. 28, above). The epistle is no longer extant. Numerous fragments are given by Gallandi, Migne, and others, which they assign to this work; but Dittrich has shown (p. 35 sq.) that they are to be ascribed to some one else, perhaps to another Dionysius who lived much later than the great bishop.


This epistle to the Laodiceans, which is no longer extant, very likely dealt, like so many of the others, with the question of discipline. Of Thelymidres, bishop of Laodicea, we know nothing.


We know no more about this epistle to the Armenians than is told us here. The character of the letter must have been similar to the two upon the same subject mentioned above. Of the bishop Merozanes nothing is known.


On Cornelius, see above, chap. 39, note. 3. His epistle to Dionysius is no longer extant. Dionysius’ epistle to him is likewise lost, and is known to us only from what Eusebius tells us here. It was written after the death of Fabius of Antioch (see below, §4), and therefore probably in 253 (see above, chap. 39, note 7). It has been questioned whether this synod of Antioch to which, according to Eusebius, Dionysius referred, was really held, or only projected. The Libellus Synodicus records it as an actual synod, but its authority is of no weight. On the other hand, Eusebius’ words seem plainly to indicate that he believed that the council was really held, for he speaks of it as “the synod at Antioch”; had he thought of it only as projected, he could hardly have referred to it in such definite terms. In spite, therefore, of the doubts of Dittrich, Hefele, and others, I am inclined to believe that Eusebius supposed that the synod had actually been held in Antioch. Whether the epistle of Dionysius warranted him in drawing that conclusion is another question, which cannot be decided. I look upon it, however, as probable that, had the synod been simply projected and failed to convene, some indication of that fact would have been given by Dionysius, and would have caused a modification of Eusebius’ statement.


Helenus, bishop of Tarsus, played a prominent part in the controversy concerning the re-baptism of heretics, maintaining, like most of the Oriental bishops, the necessity of re-baptizing them (see below, Bk. VII. chap. 5), and also in the controversy which arose about Paul of Samosata (see Bk. VII. chaps. 28 and 30). From the latter chapter we should gather that he presided at the final council in Antioch, which passed condemnation upon Paul, Firmilian, who seems to have presided at the previous councils, having died on his way to the last one. Of Helenus’ dates we know only what we can gather from the facts here stated. He must have been bishop as early as 252; and he cannot have died until after 265 (on the date of the Antiochian synod at which Paul was condemned, see Bk. VII. chap. 29, note 1).


On Firmilian, see above, chap. 26, note 3.


On Theoctistus, see above, chap. 19, note 27.


On Fabius, bishop of Antioch, see above, chap. 39, note 7.


Demetrianus, the successor of Fabius, and predecessor of Paul in the bishopric of Antioch, is mentioned also in Bk. VII. chaps. 5, 14, 27, and 30. The date of his accession is uncertain; but as Fabius died probably in 253 (possibly in 252), we can fix approximately the beginning of his episcopate. In Bk. VII. chaps. 5 and 14, he is said to have survived Gallienus’ edict of toleration (260 a.d.); but as Harnack has shown (Zeit des Ignatius, p. 51), this notice is quite unreliable, as are also the notices in the Chronicle. We can only say that his successor, Paul, became bishop between the years 257 and 260.


On Alexander, bishop of Jerusalem, see above, chap. 8, note 6.


The interpretation of this sentence is very difficult. The Greek runs ξῆς ταύτῃ καὶ ἑτέρα τις ἐπιστολὴ τοῖς ἐν ῾Ρώμῃ τοῦ Διονυσίου φέρεται διακονικὴ διὰ ῾Ιππολύτου. The φέρεται, according to the usage of Eusebius, must mean “is extant,” and some participle (e.g. “written” or “sent”) must then be supplied before διὰ ῾Ιππολύτου. Whether Eusebius means that the letter was written by Hippolytus or was carried by him to Rome cannot be determined. The latter is more probable and is the commonly accepted interpretation. That Eusebius should name a messenger in this particular case and in no other seems peculiar, unless it be supposed that Hippolytus was so prominent a character as to merit especial mention. Who he was we do not know, for chronology will not permit us (as was formerly done by some scholars) to identify him with the great writer of the Roman church (see above, chaps. 20 and 22), and no other Hippolytus of prominence is known to us. In view of Eusebius’ mention of the name at this point, I am inclined, however, to think that he, knowing so little about the Roman Hippolytus, fancied that this was the same man. If he did, he had good reason to mention him. The word “diaconal” (διακονικὴ) in this sentence has caused much dispute. Rufinus translates epistola de ministeriis; Valesius, epistola de officio diaconi, that is, “concerning the office (or duties) of the diaconate,” and it seems out of the question to understand the word in any other way. Why Dionysius should address an epistle on this subject to the Roman church it is impossible to say. Magistris supposed that it was called “diaconal” because it was to be read in church by a deacon, and concluded that it was an exhortation to peace, since it was customary for the deacons to offer the εἰρηνικ€, or prayers for peace. The supposition is attractive, for it is natural to think that this epistle, like the others, discussed the Novatian schism and contained an exhortation to peace. But we cannot without further evidence adopt Magistris’ explanation, nor indeed can we assume that a diaconal epistle as such (whether the word is a technical one or not, and though it might seem such we have no other trace of such a use of it) had to do with the unity or peace of the Church. We must, in fact, leave the matter quite undetermined. Compare Dittrich, ibid. p. 55.


Of these two epistles to the Romans we know only the titles, as given here by Eusebius.


On these confessors, and their return to the Church, see above, chap. 43, note 9. Dionysius’ epistles to them are known to us only from Eusebius’ reference to them in this passage.


Besides the epistles mentioned by Eusebius in this and the previous chapter we know at least the titles of a number of others. In Bk. VII. many are referred to, and extracts from some are quoted by Eusebius. See especially Bk. VII. chap. 26, where another partial list of them is given. Eusebius does not pretend to mention all of Dionysius’ epistles; indeed, he states that he wrote many besides those mentioned. For further particulars in regard to all the epistles known to us, see Dittrich’s monograph.

Next: Book VII