Pope Dionysius of Alexandria
Dionysius the Great
|14th Pope of Alexandria & Patriarch of the See of St. Mark|
Pope Dionysius of Alexandria
|Papacy began||28 December 248|
|Papacy ended||8 March 264|
|Died||8 March 264
|Buried||Church of the Cave, Alexandria|
|Denomination||Coptic Orthodox Christian|
|Residence||Saint Mark's Church|
Saint Dionysius of Alexandria, named "the Great," 14th Pope of Alexandria & Patriarch of the See of St. Mark from December 28th, 248 until his death on March 8th, 264 after seventeen years as a bishop. He was the first Pope to hold the title "the Great" (before a Bishop of Rome even). We have information on Dionysius because during his lifetime, Dionysius wrote many correspondence letters. Only one original letter survives to this day; the remaining letters are found re-written in the works of Eusebius.
Dionysius was born to a wealthy pagan family sometime in the late 2nd, early 3rd century. Dionysius spent most of his life reading books and carefully studying the traditions of heretics. He converted to Christianity at a mature age and discussed his conversion experience with Philemon, Presbyter of Sixtus. 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, Dionysius joined the Catechetical School of Alexandria and was a student of Origen and Heraclas. Dionysius later became leader of the school and presbyter of the Christian church, succeeding Heraclas in 231. Dionysius later became Bishop of Alexandria (Pope of the church that became the Coptic Orthodox Church and the Greek Orthodox Church of Alexandria) in 248 succeeding a deceased Heraclas.
Work as Bishop of Alexandria
Dionysius was less a great theologian than a great administrator. Information on Dionysius’ work as the Bishop of Alexandria is evidenced in Dionysius' correspondence with other bishops and clergymen of the 3rd-century Christian Church. Dionysius’ correspondences included interpretations on the Book of Luke, the Book of John and the Book of Revelation.
During 249, a major persecution was carried out in Alexandria by a pagan mob, and hundreds were assaulted, stoned, burned or cut down on account of their refusal to deny their faith. Although Dionysius managed to survive this persecution and the civil war that followed, the new Emperor Decius issued a decree for a legal persecution in January 250. Dionysius also describes the period where the city of Alexandria was subject to the legal persecution instituted by Emperor Decius against Christians. Many Christians sacrificed their faith in fear, others attempted to obtain false documents affirming their sacrifice. Others who would not sacrifice their faith faced public ridicule and shame among their family and friends, and if they were found by the authorities, they faced brutal torture and all manner of martyrdoms. The vast majority of those who managed to flee the city would die within days, of exposure, hunger, thirst, or attacks by bandits or wild animals.
Dionysius himself was hunted 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 loyal members of his brethren. After a short 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.
He supported Pope Cornelius in the controversy of 251, arising when Novatian, the Archdeacon of Rome, refused to accept Cornelius and proclaimed himself a rival Pope. To oppose the heresy of Novatian, who denied in the church the power of remitting certain sins, he ordered that the communion should be refused to no one who asked it at the hour of death.
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. The heathens threw the putrid carcasses into the highways, and often put their dying friends out of doors, and left them to perish in the streets, hoping, by their caution, to avoid the contagion, but only exposed them the more.
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 the Patriarch Dionysius and the bishops a letter to assure their safety in opening the churches.
Dionysius was involved in the controversies regarding the restoration of those who had lapsed during the Decian persecution. For the rest we are dependent on the many citations by Eusebius, and, for one phase, to the works of his great successor St. Athanasius.
St. Basil writes to Pope Damasus speaking of aid sent by Pope St. Dionysius, to the church at Caesarea. This correspondence if cited by Pope Pius IX in his encyclical Praedecessores Nostros (On Aid For Ireland) of 25 March 1847.
- Chapman, John. "Dionysius of Alexandria." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 5. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1909. 6 Apr. 2013
- "Saint Dionysius", The College of Saint Dionysius
- Butler, Alban. Lives of the Saints, Vol. XI, 1866
- "The Story of Abba Dionysius", Coptic Orthodox Church
- Pope Pius IX, Praedecessors Nostros, 25 March 1847
- The works of Gregory Thaumaturgus, Dionysius of Alexandria and Archelaus, trans. S. D. F. Salmond, Edinburgh, T. & T. Clark, 1871: Google Books, archive.org
- Letters of Dionysius of Alexandria to the Popes Stephen and Xystus (tertullian.org)
- Bishop of Alexandria, Saint Dionysius, "St. Dionysius of Alexandria Letters and Treatises", edited by Charles Lett Feltoe, The MacMillin Company, London, 1918
|Pope of Alexandria