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St. Dionysius of Alexandria
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To Hermammon
(Eus., H. E. vii. 1, 10, 23)
(Part of another Easter Letter)

(1) Even Gallus124124Gallus succeeded to the empire on the death of Decius and his sons in 251, and reigned till 253, when it was wrested from him by Æmilian, who was in turn ousted by Valerian after four months’ rule. Dionysius makes no mention of this episode, though he does of Macrian’s attempt later. did not know the flaw in Decius’s policy, nor did he foresee what it was that upset him, but stumbled over the same stone that was right before his eyes. For, though his reign was prospering and things were going according to his mind, he drove into exile the holy men who were interceding with God for his peace and health, with the effect that with them he drove out also their prayers on his behalf.

So far on that point, and then again he discourses about Valerian in the same letter—

(2) To John also it is revealed in like manner, when he says: “There was given him a mouth speaking great things and blasphemy, and there was given him authority and forty-two months.”125125The quotation is from Rev. xiii. 5, but the last words follow a reading which has no support in the MSS. It should also be noticed that Dionysius does not think it at all certain that the author of the Revelation is the Evangelist: see p. 86. And both these things are to be wondered at in the case of Valerian,126126Valerian reigned from 253 till his disappearance in 260. The duration of the persecution was forty-two months, from before midsummer 257 till late in 260. and of them it is especially to be observed how his prosperity lasted so long as he was gentle and well-disposed towards the men of God.127127Here the expression means Christians generally, not prophets or clergy as often. For none of the Emperors before him were so kindly and favourably affected towards them, not even those who were said to have been openly Christians,128128Alexander Severus and Philip the Arabian are no doubt meant. as he manifestly was, receiving them at the beginning in a most familiar and friendly spirit: indeed, his whole house was filled with devout persons and was a veritable Church of God.129129Compare such expressions in S. Paul’s letters as Rom. xvi. 5, 1 Cor. xvi. 11, etc. But he was persuaded to abandon this treatment by that tutor and chief ruler of Egyptian magicians,130130No doubt Macrianus is meant, who is mentioned further on, but it is difficult to account for the exact epithets which Dionysius here applies to him. Apparently he had been Valerian’s tutor in some kind of magic, and had allied himself somehow with the Jewish colony in Alexandria (hence ἀρχισυνάγωγος), who would, of course, be hostile to the Christians. who instructed him to slay or persecute, as adversaries and hinderers of his vile and detestable sorcerers, the pure and holy persons, who are and were able to confound the devices of accursed demons by being present and seen and merely breathing on them and uttering words,131131Christian exorcists must be meant, though the claim to supernatural powers which Dionysius makes for them is sufficiently remarkable. while he also incited him to perform unholy rites and detestable juggleries and abominable sacrifices such as the killing of wretched boys and the slaying of unhappy fathers’ children and the dividing of new-born entrails asunder and the cutting up and mutilating of bodies which are God’s creation,132132This was a frequent charge against the Christians themselves. Here Dionysius turns it against their persecutors in Egypt. in the hope that such doings would bring them Divine favour.

And to this he adds as follows—

(3) Fine offerings at all events did Macrianus make to them (sc. the demons) to propitiate them for the Empire which he hoped for, when, in his former position as so-called officer in charge of the Emperor’s general (καθόλου) accounts he entertained no reasonable (εὔλογον) nor catholic (καθολικόν) sentiments,133133It is very difficult, without a knowledge of Latin and Greek, to understand Dionysius’s play on words throughout this section. The office which Macrianus held was that of, in Latin, Rationalis or Procurator summæ rei, in Greek ὁ ἐπὶ τῶν καθόλου λόγων (something like our Chancellor of the Exchequer): hence Dionysius says he was not rational (or reasonable) in his treatment of the Christians and showed no catholic spirit towards them. but fell under the prophet’s curse, who says: “Woe to those who prophesy out of their own heart and see not the general (τὸ καθόλου) view.”134134Ezek. xiii. 3. Dionysius takes the last phrase (τὸ καθόλου), as if it was the object of the verb, not an adverb, in order to suit his argument. For he did not understand the workings of Universal (καθόλου) Providence,135135This may perhaps mean that besides his other faults Macrianus was tainted with the atheistic views of the Epicureans, while Dionysius also alludes in this sentence to the accounts which Macrianus would have to present to the Emperor of his own administration. nor suspect the approach of Judgment on the part of Him who is before all things and through all things and over all things.136136Cf. Eph. iv. 6 and Col. i. 17. Wherefore he has become also the enemy of His universal (καθολικῆς) Church and has alienated and estranged himself from God’s mercy and banished himself as far as possible from his own salvation, verifying in this his personal name.137137Another play on words, as if Macrianus was derived from the Greek μακρός (far off), which is somewhat doubtful.

And again further on he says—

(4) For Valerian, through being persuaded to this policy by him, exposed himself to insults and injuries according to that which was said to Isaiah: “And these men chose their ways and their abominations which their soul desired, and I will choose their mockings and will recompense them their sins.”138138Is. lxvi. 3, 4 (LXX). Here the reference is to Valerian falling into the hands of Sapor, the Persian King, who inflicted grievous insults upon him, and kept him in captivity till his death.

But this man (Macrianus) in his mad lust after imperial power for which he had no qualifications, being unable to deck his own crippled body with the imperial robes, put forward his two sons, who thus became liable for their father’s sins.139139Macrianus was lame of one leg. After Valerian’s defeat and disappearance (in 260), for which he was himself largely responsible, Macrianus and his two sons, Macrianus junior and Quietus, made an abortive attempt to seize the throne, which was soon defeated. For the prophecy clearly applies to them which God spake: “visiting the sins of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me.”140140Ex. xx. 5. For he brought upon his sons’ heads his own evil desires in which he had succeeded and involved them in the consequences of his own wickedness and hatred of God.141141The two Macriani were defeated and slain by Aureolus, another usurper, in Illyricum, and Quietus was put to death in the East.

Then there is a section in which he refers to the peaceful times under Gallienus—

(5) So after thus inciting one of the Emperors before him and attacking the other, he speedily vanished with all his family, root and branch,142142Dionysius is still speaking of Macrianus, who had incited Valerian to attack the Persians, and then had himself attacked Gallienus and tried to usurp the throne. whilst Gallienus was proclaimed and acknowledged by all, being at once the old and the new Emperor, having preceded the usurpers and remaining after them. For, in accordance with that which was spoken to the prophet Isaiah, “behold the things predicted from the beginning have come to pass, and new things which will now arise.”143143Is. xlii. 9, but Dionysius has substituted, for the last phrase, a phrase from xliii. 19. The original prophecy applies to the triumph of Cyrus and the conversion of the world to the worship of Jehovah. Its application in the text strikes us to-day as too fanciful. For as a cloud having overcast the sun’s rays and screened them for a while shades it and shows itself in its stead, and then when the cloud has passed off or been dissipated the sun which was shining before emerges and shines forth again, so it is with Macrianus; after coming forward and gaining access for himself to the imperial power which belonged to Gallienus, he ceases to be, since he was of no account, and the other resumes the position he had before. And the Empire, having cast off, as it were, its old age and purged itself of its former badness, now bursts into greater splendour, is seen and heard from afar and pervades the whole world.

Then in due order he indicates the date of this letter in these words—

(6) And once more it occurs to me to consider the days and years of this period of the Empire. For I observe that the ungodly persons (I have mentioned) after a short period of honourable mention have lost their good name, but (Gallienus) who was more righteous and loved God better,144144Whether Gallienus himself was really a Christian is very doubtful, but his wife, Cornelia Salonina, seems to have been. having completed the seven years’ period, is now passing through his ninth year:145145This is a very obscure calculation, but the upshot of it may be as follows: Gallienus was associated with his father Valerian as Emperor seven years (253-60), then Macrianus usurped the power (in Egypt) for one year, or rather more; thus Gallienus regained the power in his ninth year (i. e. after midsummer 261). Gallienus’s original Edict of Peace was issued in Oct. 260, but the Rescript applying it to Egypt was delayed for some time. The Easter festival for which this letter was written, therefore, must have been that of 262. therefore let us keep the Feast.146146Cf. 1 Cor. v. 8.


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