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Dionysius The Great

d. c.264. Bishop of Alexandria. After having been a pupil of Origen, he became head of the famous Alexandrian Catechetical School for about fourteen years. In 247 he was elected bishop of Alexandria. During the Decian persecution he was arrested but managed to escape to the Libyan desert, where he remained until the death of Decius. On his return he was faced with the problem of how to treat those church members who had apostatized. He advocated lenient treatment of them. He also sought to mediate in the heated dispute over heretical baptism between Cyprian and Pope Stephen. In the persecution under Valerian (257-58) he was again banished, but returned to his church in 260. During his last years he was much involved in combating Sabellianism.* Though he wrote much, his writings exist only in fragments, mainly in the extracts preserved by Eusebius, Athanasius, and others. Some of his writings date from his period in the Catechetical School, while others—e.g., his Easter Letters (the earliest Paschal Letters)-come from his period as bishop. Of his theological writings the most important is his letter to Pope Dionysius of Rome on the doctrine of the Godhead, prompted by the Sabellian controversy. In some aspects his theology anticipated that of Arius, but much later Athanasius expressed the opinion that Dionysius had an orthodox doctrine of God.