Dionysius, Pope, St.

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Pontificate: July 22, 259 to Dec. 26, 268. Both Eusebius and Jerome gave these dates for his pontificate, while E. Caspar and modern authors give 260 to 267. His origin is unknown. Dionysius (Denis), while still a Roman priest, received an appeal from Dionysius of Alexandria for aid in reconciling Eastern practice, condemned by Pope Stephen I, with the Roman bishops' stand on the validity of Baptism performed by heretics (Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 7.5). Athanasius cites two of his letters as pope to Dionysius of Alexandria in which he condemned Sabellianism and Subordinationism. Reports reached Rome from Egypt that, in his denunciation of the Sabellian heresy among the monks, the Alexandrian bishop used expressions that emphasized the distinction between Father and Son so as to approach the subordinationist teaching attributed to Origen. Dionysius then held a Roman Synod in 260, issued a summary of the Church's Christological teaching (Athanasius, De decretis Nic. Syn. 26), and respectfully requested information concerning the Alexandrian bishop's orthodoxy. He received in reply a Refutation and Apology in which Dionysius of Alexandria used the homoousios formula and demonstrated that any charges of Tritheism against him were untrue (Athanasius, De Sent. Dion. 13). In 340 Pope Julius I referred to this interchange as a precedent for Roman supervision over Alexandrian doctrine.

In 261 the Emperor Gallienus emancipated the Christian community and restored its confiscated property (Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 7.13). The Liber pontificalis records that Dionysius reorganized the Roman Church, assigned cemeteries to different parishes, and arranged new episcopal administrative units in the metropolitan area, which were necessary after the dislocation of the emperor Valerian's persecution and particuarly after the martyrdom of Pope Sixtus II and his deacons.

St. Basil (Ep. 70) praised the orthodoxy of Dionysius and his charity in sending funds to redeem Christian captives in Cappodocia. Eusebius related that a Council of Antioch (c. 268) addressed a circular letter to Dionysius and Maximus of Alexandria; the letter announced the deposition of Paul of Samosata for his adoptionist leanings. This report reached Rome about the time of Dionysius's death (Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 7.7). He was buried in the cemetery of St. Callistus.

Feast: Dec. 30.

Bibliography: eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 7.5, 26, 27,30. a. clerval, Dictionnaire de théology catholique, ed. a. vacant et al. (Paris 190350) 4.1:423425. j. shotwell and l. loomis, The See of Peter (New York 1927) 429438. l. abramowski, "Dionys von Rom (d. 258) und Dionys von Alexandria (d. 264/5) in den arianischen Streitigkeiten des 4. Jahrhunderts," Zeitschrift für Kirchengeschichte 93 (1982), 240272. j. n. d. kelly, Oxford Dictionary of Popes (New York 1986) 2223. e. ferguson, Encyclopedia of Early Christianity (New York 1997) 1:334. l. abramowsky, "Dionysius of Rome (d. 268) and Dionysius of Alexandria (d. 264/5) in the Arian Controversies of the Fourth Century," in Formula and Context: Studies in Early Christian Thought (London 1992). g. schwaiger, Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, 3d. ed. (Freiburg 1995). b. sodaro, Santi e beati di Calabria (Rosarno 1996) 2937.

[e. g. weltin]