Chapter XXII.—The Pestilence which came upon them.
1. After these events a pestilential disease followed the war, and at the approach of the feast he wrote again to the brethren, describing the sufferings consequent upon this calamity. 2317
2. “To other men 2318 the present might not seem to be a suitable time for a festival. Nor indeed is this or any other time suitable for them; neither sorrowful times, nor even such as might be thought especially cheerful. 2319 Now, indeed, everything is tears and every one is mourning, and wailings resound daily through the city because of the multitude of the dead and dying.
3. For as it was written of the firstborn of the Egyptians, so now there has arisen a great cry, for there is not a house where there is not one dead. 2320 And would that this were all! 2321
4. For many terrible things have happened already. First, they drove us out; and when alone, and persecuted, and put to death by all, even then we kept the feast. And every place of affliction was to us a place of festival: field, desert, ship, inn, prison; but the perfected martyrs kept the most joyous festival of all, feasting in heaven.
5. After these things war and famine followed, which we endured in common with the heathen. But we bore alone those things with which they afflicted us, and at the same time we experienced also the effects of what they inflicted upon and suffered from one another; and again, we rejoiced in the peace of Christ, which he gave to us alone.
6. “But after both we and they had enjoyed a very brief season of rest this pestilence assailed us; to them more dreadful than any dread, and more intolerable than any other calamity; and, as one of their own writers has said, the only thing which prevails over all hope. p. 307 But to us this was not so, but no less than the other things was it an exercise and probation. For it did not keep aloof even from us, but the heathen it assailed more severely.”
7. Farther on he adds:
“The most of our brethren were unsparing in their exceeding love and brotherly kindness. They held fast to each other and visited the sick fearlessly, and ministered to them continually, serving them in Christ. And they died with them most joyfully, taking the affliction of others, and drawing the sickness from their neighbors to themselves and willingly receiving their pains. And many who cared for the sick and gave strength to others died themselves having transferred to themselves their death. And the popular saying which always seems a mere expression of courtesy, they then made real in action, taking their departure as the others offscouring. 2322
8. “Truly the best of our brethren departed from life in this manner, including some presbyters and deacons and those of the people who had the highest reputation; so that this form of death, through the great piety and strong faith it exhibited, seemed to lack nothing of martyrdom.
9. And they took the bodies of the saints in their open hands and in their bosoms, and closed their eyes and their mouths; and they bore them away on their shoulders and laid them out; and they clung to them and embraced them; and they prepared them suitably with washings and garments. And after a little they received like treatment themselves, for the survivors were continually following those who had gone before them.
10. “But with the heathen everything was quite otherwise. They deserted those who began to be sick, and fled from their dearest friends. And they cast them out into the streets when they were half dead, and left the dead like refuse, unburied. They shunned any participation or fellowship with death; which yet, with all their precautions, it was not easy for them to escape.”
11. After this epistle, when peace had been restored to the city, he wrote another festal letter 2323 to the brethren in Egypt, and again several others besides this. And there is also a certain one extant On the Sabbath, 2324 and another On Exercise.
12. Moreover, he wrote again an epistle to Hermammon 2325 and the brethren in Egypt, describing at length the wickedness of Decius and his successors, and mentioning the peace under Gallienus.
This letter seems to have been written shortly before Easter of the year 263; for the festal epistle to Hierax, quoted in the last chapter, was written while the war was still in progress (i.e. in 262), this one after its close. It does not seem to have been a regular festal epistle so-called, for in §11, below, we are told that Dionysius wrote a regular festal letter (ἑορταστικὴν γραφήν) to the brethren in Egypt, and that apparently in connection with this same Easter of the year 263.306:2318
i.e. to the heathen.306:2319
i.e. there is no time when heathen can fitly rejoice.306:2320
Ex. xii. 30.306:2321
καὶ ὄφελόν γε, with the majority of the mss., followed by Valesius, Schwegler, and Heinichen. Stroth, Burton, and Zimmermann, upon the authority of two mss., read καὶ ὄφελόν γε εἷς (“and would that there were but one!”), a reading which Valesius approves in his notes. The weight of ms. authority, however, is with the former, and it alone justifies the γ€ρ of the following sentence.307:2322
περίψημα; cf. 1 Cor. iv. 13. Valesius suggests that this may have been a humble and complimentary form of salutation among the Alexandrians: ἐγὼ εἰμὶ περίψημ€ σου (cf. our words, “Your humble servant”); or, as he thinks more probable, that the expression had come to be habitually applied to the Christians by the heathen. The former interpretation seems to me the only possible one in view of the words immediately preceding: “which always seems a mere expression of courtesy.” Certainly these words rule out the second interpretation suggested by Valesius.307:2323
The connection into which this festal epistle is brought with the letter just quoted would seem to indicate that it was written not a whole year, but very soon after that one. We may, therefore, look upon it as Dionysius festal epistle of the year 263 (see above, note 1). Neither this nor the “several others” spoken of just below is now extant.307:2324
This and the next epistle are no longer extant, and we know neither the time of their composition nor the persons to whom they were addressed.307:2325
On Hermammon and the epistle addressed to him, see above, chap. 1, note 3. An extract from this same epistle is given in that chapter and also in chap. 10.