Tuesday, March 10, 2020
Eusebius, EH.6.45-46: Dionysius' Letter to Novatus
This is an occasional series of readings from and brief notes and commentary upon Eusebius of Caesarea’s The Ecclesiastical History: Book 6, chapters 45-46. Listen here.
Notes and Commentary:
These chapters describe some of the pastoral letters written by Dionysius of Alexandria during the Novatian Schism.
Chapter 45 concerns Dionysius’s letter to Novatus (Novatianus) himself.
In this letter which begins with Dionysius addressing Novatus as “brother,” he urges unity at all costs, exhorting, “For a man ought to suffer anything and everything rather than divide the church of God….” He says it is better to be a martyr over schism than idolatry, since refusal to have unity hurts many souls but martyrdom due to idolatry costs only one’s own soul. His final word is a call to cleave to peace.
Chapter 46 describes various other letters written by Dionysius regarding the Novatian Controversy, including letters to churches and individuals on repentance, a key theme in the aftermath of those who had fallen away during the Decian persecution, and to Origen on martyrdom.
Note is also made to his letter to Cornelius of Rome regarding a synod to be held in Antioch by some who were sympathetic to Novatus. He also mentions in this the death of Fabius and his replacement by Demetrian as bishop of Antioch, as well as the death while in prison of Alexander of Jerusalem, whom he calls “that wonderful man.”
Finally, note is made of letters to the church at Rome including a letter on peace and one on repentance, as well as letters to individuals.
These chapters note the role of Dionysius in exhortation and peace-making in the various Christian communities during the Novatian disruption. He expresses a charitable but firm spirit in addressing Novatian and makes plain that unity should be preserved above all. His work and that of others, no doubt, contained and lessened the schism brought about by Novatus.
This ends book 6.