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
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
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
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.