St. Dionysius - A Short-Lived Peace

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The storm of persecution which had slain St. Sixtus and St. Lawrence blew throughout Rome with such violence that for some time the Christians could not elect a new pope. But by July of 259 Emperor Valerian was too busy worrying about Persians to pay much attention to Christians. On July 22, 259, the priest Dionysius was elected pope.

St. Dionysius was to have a peaceful pontificate. In 260 Valerian was defeated by Sapor the Persian. He was made prisoner and then skinned. His son and successor, Gallienus, though an incapable ruler, was well-disposed to the Christians. Salonina, his wife, may well have been a Christian herself. Gallienus issued a decree of toleration which not only gave the Christians a breathing spell but even restored confiscated Church property. It is interesting to note that the decree dealt directly with the heads of the churches.

While there was peace at Rome, there was trouble in the East. The Persians had ravaged Cappadocia, and the Christians had shared in the general agony. Pope Dionysius sent the sufferers a letter of consolation and a large sum of money to redeem such of the faithful as had been captured and enslaved.

The Pope was on guard to defend the purity of Christian doctrine. His namesake, Dionysius, bishop of Alexandria, had gone astray in his speculations on the Trinity. The Pope, alarmed, held a synod at Rome, then sent a letter condemning the doctrinal vagaries of the good Alexandrian. This letter is important for its dogmatic content. It is a prelude to Nicaea. In it the Pope defends the true doctrine of the Three Persons in one divine nature. Dionysius of Alexandria was less than exact in his phraseology, but he was no heretic. The good old man died at peace with the Church.

A real heretic, however, was troubling the Church in Asia at this time. Paul of Samosata, who incongruously combined the offices of bishop of Antioch and treasurer of the civil government, taught that Jesus was not true God. To meet this threat, the Asiatic bishops held a council at Antioch in 264 and condemned Paul's teaching. This council sent a circular letter addressed to Dionysius and Maximus, bishop of Alexandria, to inform the Christian world of its doings.

Pope Dionysius also seems to have done some organizing of new parishes around Rome. Dionysius died in December 268 and was buried in the Cemetery of Calixtus. His feast is kept on December 26.

Excerpted from "Popes Through the Ages" by Joseph Brusher, S.J.

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