Friday, April 8, 2011

Dionysius of Corinth

Today, we commemorate Dionysius of Corinth. According to the Catholic Encyclopedia:

Bishop of Corinth about 170. The date is fixed by the fact that he wrote to Pope Soter (c. 168 to 176; Harnack gives 165-67 to 173-5). Eusebius in his Chronicle placed his "floruit" in the eleventh year of Marcus Aurelius (171). When Hegesippus was at Corinth in the time of Pope Anicetus, Primus was bishop (about 150-5), while Bacchyllus was Bishop of Corinth at the time of the Paschal controversy (about 190-8). Dionysius is only known to use through Eusebius, for St. Jerome (Illustrious Men 27) has used no other authority. Eusebius knew a collection of seven of the "Catholic Letters to the Churches" of Dionysius, together with a letter to him from Pinytus, Bishop of Cnossus, and a private letter of spiritual advice to a lady named Chrysophora, who had written to him.

Eusebius first mentions a letter to the Lacedaemonians, teaching orthodoxy, and enjoining peace and union. A second was to the Athenians, stirring up their faith exhorting them to live according to the Gospel, since they were not far from apostasy. Dionysius spoke of the recent martyrdom of their bishop, Publius (in the persecution of Marcus Aurelius), and says that Dionysius the Areopagite was the first Bishop of Athens. To the Nicomedians he wrote against Marcionism. Writing to Gortyna and the other dioceses of Crete, he praised the bishop, Philip, for his aversion to heresy. To the Church of Amastris in Pontus he wrote at the instance of Bacchylides and Elpistus (otherwise unknown), mentioning the bishop's name as Palmas; he spoke in this letter of marriage and continence, and recommended the charitable treatment of those who had fallen away into sin or heresy. Writing to the Cnossians, he recommended their bishop, Pinytus, not to lay the yoke of continence too heavily on the brethren, but to consider the weakness of most. Pinytus replied, after polite words, that he hoped Dionysius would send strong meat next time, that his people might not grow up on the milk of babes. This severe prelate is mentioned by Eusebius (IV, xxi) as an ecclesiastical writer, and the historian praises the tone of his letter.

But the most important letter is that to the Romans, the only one from which extracts have been preserved. Pope Soter had sent alms and a letter to the Corinthians:

For this has been your custom from the beginning, to do good to all the brethren in many ways, and to send alms to many Churches in different cities, now relieving the poverty of those who asked aid, now assisting the brethren in the mines by the alms you send, Romans keeping up the traditional custom of Romans, which your blessed bishop, Soter, has not only maintained, but has even increased, by affording to the brethren the abundance which he has supplied, and by comforting with blessed words the brethren who came to him, as a father his children.

You also by this instruction have mingled together the Romans and Corinthians who are the planting of Peter and Paul. For they both came to our Corinth and planted us, and taught alike; and alike going to Italy and teaching there, were martyred at the same time.

Today we have kept the holy Lord's day, on which we have read your letter, which we shall ever possess to read and to be admonished, even as the former one written to us through Clement.
The testimony to the generosity of the Roman Church is carried on by the witness of Dionysius of Alexandria in the third century; and Eusebius in the fourth declares that it was still seen in his own day in the great persecution. The witness to the martyrdom of Sts. Peter and Paul, kata ton auton kairon, is of first-rate importance, and so is the mention of the Epistle of Clement and the public reading of it. The letter of the pope was written "as a father to his children".

Dionysius's own letters were evidently much prized, for in the last extract he says that he wrote them by request, and that they have been falsified "by the apostles of the devil". No wonder, he adds, that the Scriptures are falsified by such persons.

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