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Nicene and Ante-Nicene Fathers, Ser. II, Vol I:
The Church History of Eusebius.: Chapter XL

Early Church Fathers  Index     

Chapter XL.—The Events which happened to Dionysius. 2069

1. I shall quote from the epistle of Dionysius to Germanus 2070 an account of what befell the former. Speaking of himself, he writes as follows: p. 282 “I speak before God, and he knows that I do not lie. I did not flee on my own impulse nor without divine direction.

2. But even before this, at the very hour when the Decian persecution was commanded, Sabinus 2071 sent a frumentarius 2072 to search for me, and I remained at home four days awaiting his arrival.

3. But he went about examining all places,—roads, rivers, and fields,—where he thought I might be concealed or on the way. But he was smitten with blindness, and did not find the house, 2073 for he did not suppose, that being pursued, I would remain at home. And after the fourth day God commanded me to depart, and made a way for me in a wonderful manner; and I and my attendants 2074 and many of the brethren went away together. And that this occurred through the providence of God was made manifest by what followed, in which perhaps we were useful to some.”

4. Farther on he relates in this manner what happened to him after his flight:

“For about sunset, having been seized with those that were with me, I was taken by the soldiers to Taposiris, 2075 but in the providence of God, Timothy 2076 was not present and was not captured. But coming later, he found the house deserted and guarded by soldiers, and ourselves reduced to slavery.” 2077

5. After a little he says:

“And what was the manner of his admirable management? for the truth shall be told. One of the country people met Timothy fleeing and disturbed, and inquired the cause of his haste. And he told him the truth.

6. And when the man heard it (he was on his way to a marriage feast, for it was customary to spend the entire night in such gatherings), he entered and announced it to those at the table. And they, as if on a preconcerted signal, arose with one impulse, and rushed out quickly and came and burst in upon us with a shout. Immediately the soldiers who were guarding us fled, and they came to us lying as we were upon the bare couches.

7. But I, God knows, thought at first that they were robbers who had come for spoil and plunder. So I remained upon the bed on which I was, clothed only in a linen garment, and offered them the rest of my clothing which was lying beside me. But they directed me to rise and come away quickly.

8. Then I understood why they were come, and I cried out, beseeching and entreating them to depart and leave us alone. And I requested them, if they desired to benefit me in any way, to anticipate those who were carrying me off, and cut off my head themselves. And when I had cried out in this manner, as my companions and partners in everything know, they raised me by force. But I threw myself on my back on the ground; and they seized me by the hands and feet and dragged me away.

9. And the witnesses of all these occurrences followed: Gaius, Faustus, Peter, and Paul. 2078 But they who had seized me carried me out of the village hastily, and placing me on an ass without a saddle, bore me away.” 2079

Dionysius relates these things respecting himself.



Dionysius the Great (Eusebius in the preface to Bk. VII. calls him μέγας ᾽Αλεξανδρέων ἐπίσκοπος) was born toward the close of the second century (he was an aged man, between 260 and 265, as we learn from Bk. VII. chap 27), studied under Origen, and succeeded Heraclas as principal of the catechetical school in Alexandria (see above, chap. 29) in the year 231 or 231 (see chap. 3, note 2). In the third year of Philip’s reign (246–247) he succeeded Heraclas as bishop of Alexandria, according to chap. 35, above. Whether he continued to preside over the catechetical school after he became bishop we do not know. Dittrich (p. 4 sq.) gives reasons for thinking that he did, which render it at least probable. He was still living when the earlier synods, in which the case of Paul of Samosata was considered, were held (i.e. between 260 and 264; see Bk. VII. chap. 27, note 4), but he was dead before the last one met, i.e. before 265 a.d. (see Bk. VII. chap. 29, note 1). Dionysius is one of the most prominent, and at the same time pleasing, figures of his age. He seems to have been interested less in speculative than in practical questions, and yet he wrote an important work On Nature, which shows that he possessed philosophical ability, and one of his epistles contains a discussion of the authorship of the Apocalypse, which is unsurpassed in the early centuries as an example of keen and yet judicious and well-balanced literary criticism (see Bk. VII. chap. 25). His intellectual abilities must, therefore, not be underrated, but it is as a practical theologian that he is best known. He took an active part in all the controversies of his time, in the Novatian difficulty in which the re-admission of the lapsed was the burning question; in the controversy as to the re-baptism of heretics; and in the case of Paul of Samosata. In all he played a prominent part, and in all he seems to have acted with great wisdom and moderation (see chaps. 44 sq., Bk. VII. chaps. 5, 7 sq., chap. 27). He was taken prisoner during the persecution of Decius, but made his escape (see the present chapter). In the persecution of Valerian he was banished (see Bk. VII. chap. 11), but returned to Alexandria after the accession of Gallienus (see Bk. VII. chap. 21). His conduct during the persecutions exposed him to adverse criticism, and he defended himself warmly against the accusations of a bishop Germanus, in an epistle, portions of which are quoted in this chapter and in Bk. VII. chap. 11. The writings of Dionysius were chiefly in the form of epistles, written for some practical purpose. Of such epistles he wrote a great many, and numerous fragments are extant, preserved chiefly by Eusebius. Being called forth by particular circumstances, they contain much information in regard to contemporary events, and are thus an important historical source, as Eusebius wisely perceived. Such epistles are quoted, or mentioned, in chaps. 41, 44, 45, and 46 of this book, and in Bk. VII. chaps. 1, 2, 4, 5, 6, 7, 9, 10, 11, 20, 21, 22, 23, 26. For particulars in regard to them, see the notes on those chapters. In addition to his epistles a work, On Promises, is referred to by Eusebius in Bk. VII. chap. 28, and in Bk. VII. chaps. 24 and 25, where extracts from it are quoted (see Bk. VII. chap. 24, note 1); also a commentary on the beginning of Ecclesiastes in Bk. VII. chap. 26, and in the same chapter a work in four books against Sabellius, addressed to Dionysius, bishop of Rome, in which he defends himself against the charge of tritheism, brought by some Sabellian adversaries. He was able to clear himself of all suspicion of heresy in the matter, though it is quite clear that he had carried the subordinationism of Origen to a dangerous extreme. The attack upon him led him to be more careful in his statements, some of which were such as in part to justify the suspicions of his adversaries. Athanasius defended his orthodoxy in a special work, De Sententiis Dionysii, and there can be no doubt that Dionysius was honestly concerned to preserve the divinity of the Son; but as in the case of Eusebius of Cæsarea, and of all those who were called upon to face Sabellianism, his tendency was to lay an over-emphasis upon the subordination of the Son (see above, p. 11 sq.). For further particulars in regard to this work, see the chapter referred to, note 4. Upon Dionysius’ views of the Trinity, see Dittrich, p. 91 sq. Besides the writings referred to, or quoted by Eusebius, there should be mentioned an important canonical epistle addressed to Basilides, in which the exact time of the expiration of the lenten fast is the chief subject of discussion (still extant, and printed by Pitra, Routh, and others, and translated in the Ante-Nicene Fathers; see Dittrich, p. 46 sq.). There are yet a few other fragments of Dionysius’ writings, extant in various mss., which it is not necessary to mention here. See Dittrich, p. 130. The most complete collection of the extant fragments of his writings is that of Migne, Patr. Gr. X. 1233 sq., to which must be added Pitra’s Spic. Solesm. I. 15 sq. English translation in the Ante-Nicene Fathers, VI. p. 87–120. The most complete work upon Dionysius is the monograph of Dietrich, Dionysius der Grosse, Freiburg, i. Br. 1867.


This Germanus, as we learn from Bk. VII. chap. 11, was a bishop of some see, unknown to us, who had accused Dionysius of cowardice in the face of persecution. In the present instance Dionysius undertakes to refute his calumnies, by recounting accurately his conduct during the persecutions. It must be remembered that the letter is a defense against accusations actually made, or we shall misunderstand it, and misinterpret Dionysius’ motives in dwelling at such length upon the details of his own sufferings. The epistle, a part of which is quoted in this chapter, and a part in Bk. VII. chap. 11, was written, as we learn from the latter chapter, §18, while the persecution of Valerian was still in progress, and recounts his experiences during the persecutions of Decius and of Valerian. The fragment quoted in the present chapter is devoted to the persecution of Decius, the other fragment to the persecution of Valerian. The letter is said to have been written πρὸς Γερμανόν. This might be translated either to or against Germanus. Analogy would lead us to think the former translation correct, for all the epistles mentioned are said to have been written πρὸς one or another person, and it is natural, of course, to expect the name of the person addressed to be given. I have therefore translated the word thus, as is done in all the versions. At the same time it must be noticed that Germanus is spoken of in the epistle (especially in §18 sq. of the other chapter) not as if he were the person addressed, but as he were the person complained of to others; and, moreover, a letter of defense sent to him alone would probably have little effect, and would fail to put an end to the calumnies which must have found many ready ears. It seems, in fact, quite probable that the epistle was rather a public than a private one, and that while it was nominally addressed to Germanus, it was yet intended for a larger public, and was written with that public in view. This will explain the peculiar manner in which Germanus is referred to. Certainly it is hard to think he would have been thus mentioned in a personal letter.


Sabinus, an otherwise unknown personage, seems to have been prefect of Egypt at this time, as Æmilianus was during the persecution of Valerian, according to Bk. VII. chap. 11.


One of the frumentarii milites, or military commissaries, who were employed for various kinds of business, and under the emperors especially as detectives or secret spies.


μὴ εὑρίσκων. It is not meant that the frumentarius could not find the house, but that he did not think to go to the house at all, through an error of judgment (“being smitten with blindness”), supposing that Dionysius would certainly be elsewhere.


οἱ παῖδες. This is taken by many scholars to mean “children,” and the conclusion is drawn by them that Dionysius was a married man. Dittrich translates it “pupils,” supposing that Dionysius was still at the head of the catechetical school, and that some of his scholars lived with him, as was quite common. Others translate “servants,” or “domestics.” I have used the indefinite word“ attendants” simply, because the παῖδες may well have included children, scholars, servants, and others who made up his family and constituted, any or all of them, his attendants. As shown in note 8, the word at any rate cannot be confined in the present case to servants.


Strabo (Bk. XVII. chap. 1) mentions a small town called Taposiris, situated in the neighborhood of Alexandria.


We know nothing about this Timothy, except that Dionysius addressed to him his work On Nature, as reported by Eusebius in VII. 26. He is there called Τιμώθεος ὁ παῖς. Dionysius can hardly have addressed a book to one of his servants, and hence we may conclude that Timothy was either Dionysius’ son (as Westcott holds) or scholar (as Dittrich believes). It is reasonable to think him one of the παῖδες, with others of whom Dionysius was arrested, as recorded just above. It is in that case of course necessary to give the word as used there some other, or at least some broader sense than “servants.”


Greek ξηνδραποδισμένους, meaning literally “reduced to slavery.” The context, however, does not seem to justify such a rendering, for the reference is apparently only to the fact that they were captured. Their capture, had they not been released, would have resulted probably in death rather than in slavery.


These four men are known to us only as companions of Dionysius during the persecution of Decius, as recorded here and in Bk. VII. chap. 11. From that chapter, §23, we learn that Caius and Peter were alone with Dionysius in a desert place in Libya, after being carried away by the rescuing party mentioned here. From §3 of the same chapter we learn that Faustus was a deacon, and that he was with Dionysius also during the persecution of Valerian, and from §26 that he suffered martyrdom at a great age in the Diocletian persecution. See also Bk. VIII. chap. 13, note 11.


As we learn from Bk. VII. chap. 11, §23, this rescuing party carried Dionysius to a desert place in Libya, where he was left with only two companions until the persecution ceased.

Next: Chapter XLI

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