Archive for the ‘Dionysius of Alexandria’ Category

Dionysius of Alexandria Resolves a Schism

June 30, 2011

In leafing through St. Dionysius of Alexandria, Letters and Treatises, I came across this interesting fragment of Dionysius’ “On the Promises,” preserved in Eusebius’ Church History. Dionysius (d. 265) wrote:

So being in the district of Arsenoe, where, as you know, this teaching prevailed long before, so that both schisms and the defection of whole churches have occurred, I called together the presbyters and teachers among the brethren in the villages, such of the brethren as wished being also present, and invited them publicly to make an examination of the matter. And when some brought forward against me this book as an impregnable weapon and bulwark, I sat with them three days in succession from dawn till evening and tried to correct the statements made. During which time I was much struck with the steadiness, the desire for truth, the aptness in following an argument and the intelligence displayed by the brethren, whilst we put our questions and difficulties and points of agreement in an orderly and reasonable manner, avoiding the mistake of holding jealously at any cost to what we had once thought, even though it should now be shown to be wrong, and yet not suppressing what we had to say on the other side, but, as far as possible, attempting to grapple with and master the propositions in hand without being ashamed to change one’s opinion and yield assent if the argument convinced us; conscientiously and unfeignedly, with hearts spread open before God, accepting what was established by the exposition and teaching of the holy Scriptures.

At last the champion and mouthpiece of this doctrine, the man called Coracion, in the hearing of all the brethren that were present agreed and testified to us that he would no longer adhere to it nor discourse upon it nor yet mention nor teach it, on the ground that he had been convinced by what had been said against it. And of the rest of the brethren some rejoiced at the conference and the reconciliation and harmonious arrangement which was brought about by it between all parties.

I found this interesting mostly because of the contrast between Scripture and tradition that Dionysius praises.

Now, admittedly, he has more reverence for tradition than some “Protestants” would:

I have learnt this also, that the brethren in Africa did not introduce this practice (of re-baptism) now for the first time, but it was also adopted some time ago among our predecessors as Bishops, in the most populous churches and well-attended synods of the brethren, viz. in Iconium and Synnada, and I cannot bring myself to reverse their decisions and involve them in strife and controversy. For “thou shalt not remove,” it says, “thy neighbour’s boundaries, which thy fathers set.”

But even that sentiment is a far cry from anything like elevating tradition to the level of Scripture. It’s just a willingness not to create needless controversy.


%d bloggers like this: