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Dionysius of Alexandria (greek: Διονύσιος Αλεξανδρείας)

Dionysius of Alexandria (greek: Διονύσιος Αλεξανδρείας)
or Dionysius the Great(greek: Ϫιονύσιος ὁ Μέϒας)

Born: unknown; 
Died:  265; Alexandria

Pope of Alexandria from 248 until his death on November 17, 265.
He was the first Pope to hold the title "the Great".

Mystic-allegorical interpretation of the Holy Scriptures of the Alexandrian School

At the same time, new disputes arose over the interpretation of the promise of the 1000-year kingdom of Christ (see the article Chiliasm). One of the Egyptian Bishops, Nepos of Arsinoe, adhered to a literal understanding, writing on this occasion the essay “The Refutation of the Allegorists” (῎Ελεγχος ἀλληγοριστῶν), directed against the mystical-allegorical interpretation of the Holy Scripture by the Alexandrian school. The number of adherents of Nepos increased after his death, when a certain Corakion became the head of the supporters of his teachings. To combat chiliasm, Dionysius the Great personally went to Arsinoe and for 3 days in the presence of the people talked with presbyters and brothers who shared chiliastic views. As a result, Dionysius the Great, who patiently listened to the objections of his opponents, managed to persuade them to the side of the truth. For the final refutation of chiliasm, Dionysius the Great wrote the essay “On the Promises”.

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Dionysius the Great

Did not understand the meaning of the Apocalypse

4. But I [Dionysius of Alexandria] could not venture to reject the book, as many brethren hold it in high esteem. But I suppose that it is beyond my comprehension, and that there is a certain concealed and more wonderful meaning in every part. For if I do not understand I suspect that a deeper sense lies beneath the words.

5. I do not measure and judge them by my own reason, but leaving the more to faith I regard them as too high for me to grasp. And I do not reject what I cannot comprehend, but rather wonder because I do not understand it.

6. After this he examines the entire Book of Revelation, and having proved that it is impossible to understand it according to the literal sense, proceeds as follows:

Having finished all the prophecy, so to speak, the prophet pronounces those blessed who shall observe it, and also himself. For he says, 'Blessed is he that keeps the words of the prophecy of this book, and I, John, who saw and heard these things.'

7. Therefore that he was called John, and that this book is the work of one John, I do not deny. And I agree also that it is the work of a holy and inspired man. But I cannot readily admit that he was the apostle, the son of Zebedee, the brother of James, by whom the Gospel of John and the Catholic Epistle were written.

8. For I judge from the character of both, and the forms of expression, and the entire execution of the book, that it is not his. For the evangelist nowhere gives his name, or proclaims himself, either in the Gospel or Epistle.

9. Farther on he [Dionysius of Alexandria] adds:

But John never speaks as if referring to himself, or as if referring to another person. But the author of the Apocalypse introduces himself at the very beginning: 'The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which he gave him to show unto his servants quickly; and he sent and signified it by his angel unto his servant John, who bore witness of the word of God and of his testimony, even of all things that he saw.' Rev 1:1-2


14. But I am of the opinion that there were many with the same name as the apostle John, who, on account of their love for him, and because they admired and emulated him, and desired to be loved by the Lord as he was, took to themselves the same surname, as many of the children of the faithful are called Paul or Peter.


26. I do not deny that the other writer saw a revelation and received knowledge and prophecy. I perceive, however, that his dialect and language are not accurate Greek, but that he uses barbarous idioms, and, in some places, solecisms.

Eusebius Pamphili,
Church History. Book VII. Chapter 25

Dionysius's arguments served of the long rejection of the Apocalypse

But he found it hard to believe that the writer could be the son of Zebedee, the author of the Gospel and of the Catholic Epistle, on account of the great contrast of character, style and "what is called working out". He shows that the one writer calls himself John, whereas the other only refers to himself by some periphrasis. He adds the famous remark, that "it is said that there are two tombs in Ephesus, both of which are called that of John". He demonstrates the close likeness between the Gospel and the Epistle, and points out the wholly different vocabulary of the Apocalypse; the latter is full of solecisms and barbarisms, while the former are in good Greek. This acute criticism was unfortunate, in that it was largely the cause of the frequent rejection of the Apocalypse in the Greek-speaking Churches, even as late as the Middle Ages. Dionysius's arguments appeared unanswerable to the liberal critics of the nineteenth century. Lately the swing of the pendulum has brought many, guided by Bousset, Harnack, and others, to be impressed rather by the undeniable points of contact between the Gospel and the Apocalypse, than by the differences of style (which can be explained by a different scribe and interpreter, since the author of both books was certainly a Jew, …

Catholic Encyclopedia
Dionysius of Alexandria

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