Introductory Note to Dionysius, Bishop of Alexandria.
[a.d. 200-265.] The great Origen had twin children in Gregory and Dionysius. Their lives ran in parallel lines, and are said to have ended on the same day; and nobly did they sustain the dignity and orthodoxy of the pre-eminent school which was soon to see its bright peculiar star in Athanasius. Dionysius is supposed to have been a native of Alexandria, of heathen parentage, and of a family possessed of wealth and honourable rank. Early in life he seems to have been brought under the influence of certain presbyters; and a voice seemed to speak to him in a vision 1 encouraging him to "prove all things, and hold fast that which is good." We find him at the feet of Origen a diligent pupil, and afterwards, as a presbyter, succeeding Heraclas (a.d. 232) as the head of the school, sitting in Origen's seat. For about fifteen years he further illuminated this illustrious chair; and then, in ripe years, about a.d. 246, he succeeded Heraclas again as bishop of Alexandria, at that time, beyond all comparison, the greatest and the most powerful See of Christendom.
For a year or two he fed his flock in peace; but then troubles broke in upon his people, even under the kindly reign of Philip. Things grew worse, till under Decius the eighth persecution was let loose throughout the empire. Like Cyprian, Dionysius retired for a season, upon like considerations, but not until he had been arrested and providentially delivered from death in a singular manner. On returning to his work, he found the Church greatly disturbed by the questions concerning the lapsed, with which Cyprian's history has made us acquainted. In the letter to Fabius will be found details of the earlier persecution, and in that against Germanus are interesting facts of his own experience. The Epistle to the Alexandrians contains very full particulars of the pestilence which succeeded these calamities; and it is especially noteworthy as contrasting the humanity and benevolence of Christians with the cruel and cowardly indifference of the pagans towards the dying and the dead. Seditions and tumults followed, on which we have our author's reflections in the Epistle to Hierax, with not a few animated touches of description concerning the condition of Alexandria after such desolations. In the affair of Cyprian with Stephen he stood by the great Carthaginian doctor, and maintained the positions expressed in the letter of Firmilian. 2 Wars, pestilences, and the irruptions of barbarians, make up the history of the residue of the period, through which Dionysius was found a "burning and a shining light" to the Church; his great influence extending throughout the East, and to the West also. I may leave the residue of his story to the introductory remarks of the translator, and to his valuable annotations, to which it will not be necessary for me to add many of my own. But I must find room to express my admiration for his character, which was never found wanting amid many terrible trials of character and of faith itself. His pen was never idle; his learning and knowledge of the Scriptures are apparent, even in the fragments that have come down to us; his fidelity to the traditions received from Origen and Heraclas are not less conspicuous; and in all his dealings with his brethren of the East and West there reigns over his conduct that pure spirit of the Gospel which proves that the virgin-age of the Church was not yet of the past. A beautiful moderation and breadth of sympathy distinguish his episcopal utterances; and, great as was his diocese, he seems equally devoid of prelatic pride and of that wicked ambition which too soon after the martyr-ages proved the bane of the Church's existence. The following is the