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Pope Dionysius of Alexandria, named 'the Great', was the Pope of Alexandria from 248 until his death on November 17, 265 after seventeen years as a bishop. He was the first Pope to have the title "the Great" attached to his name (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. St. Dionysius' feast day is November 17 [1] and his saint prayer is:

O God, who hast enlightened thy Church by the teaching of thy servant Dionysius: Enrich us evermore with thy heavenly grace, and raise up faithful witnesses who by their life and doctrine will set forth the truth of thy salvation; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and ever [2].

Early life

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[3]. 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 Church and the Orthodox Church of Alexandria) in 248 succeeding a deceased Heraclas [4].

Work as Bishop of Alexandria

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. Dionysius also describes the period where the city of Alexandria was subject to the legal persecution instituted by Emperor Decius against Christians. Many Alexandrians faced extreme horrors during the persecution; they included, being stoned to death, the gouging of eyes, being dragged through the streets as well as being burnt alive. Dionysius himself was captured during the persecution, but was later freed by a mob of Christian's passerby's and fled into the desert.

Dionysius and the Controversies

Murder of Dionysius

Dionysius spent his life as Pope of Alexandria, focused on the Heretical controversies facing the Church during the 3rd century. He wrote letters regarding Novatianism, a controversy which involved questions on when and how to allow people who had not held to faith during the persecution under Emperor Decius to be involved with the church. Dionysius favoured readmission to the church instead of excluding them permanently. However, Dionysius did insist that rebaptizing the former converts was not the proper way to allow them back into the church. Dionysius also denied that the Book of Revelation was written by John the Apostle, as well as denounced the Millenarians, who believed that Jesus Christ would return and establish a kingdom on Earth for 1,000 years. However, Dionysius contributed to heretical debates when he used language that made Jesus not as divine as the father. Dionysius had said that Jesus had flown from God, like a river flowing from a spring or a plant growing from a seed, which implied that Jesus had not always lived with God and was begotten from him. Although Dionysius wrote to correct himself, many within the Christian Church deemed his language to be heretical.

External links


Roberts, Rev. Alexander, and James Donaldson, eds. The Writings of Gregory Thaumaturgus, Dionysius of Alexandria and Archelaus. Vol. Xx. Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1871.

Preceded by
Pope of Alexandria
Succeeded by

ar:ديونيسيوس (بابا الإسكندرية) ca:Dionís d'Alexandria (bisbe) cs:Dionýsios Alexandrijský ka:დიონისე (ალექსანდრიის პატრიარქი) hu:Alexandriai Dionüsziosz pt:Dionísio de Alexandria ru:Дионисий Александрийский sv:Dionysios av Alexandria