Lent: Day 13 of 40 - Dionysius Vs Dionysius

What do our fights look like from the outside?

After Valerian, persecution paused, not by the principles but in the practices of Emperors. Some were weak. Others were preoccupied with East/West tensions in the empire and barbarian pressures on their frontiers. The church grew, with more time for internal disputes while external pressures came off. They also had time for flirtations with Manichaean and other ‘new age’ cults of the day.

Dionysius was a bishop of Alexandria, the powerful and sophisticated Egyptian African city of Origen. Against the ‘one God’ heresies of Sabellius (coming up tomorrow), Dionysius cited Origen: “The Son is subordinated to the Father”. So the Sabellians within Dionysius’ diocese appealed over his head, for help as dissenters, to the Bishop of Rome – who was also named Dionysius, by chance.

Fault lines between African, Coptic, and the emergent Roman and Byzantine parts of the movement (not to mention the original Semitic core of the movement) were becoming evident. These alternative futures would be realized, and are reflected in the churches of our region of 21st century North America – not simply defined by dogma, but by origins.

Dionysius of Rome didn’t share diction with Dionysius of Alexandria, from another subculture. The language of an ‘unbegotten’ Father, an ‘only begotten or ‘first begotten’ Son, are related to the claims of one God, and Origen’s vision of pre-existent souls. The fight was more one of one Dionysius asserting his power over another.

‘Dionysius v Dionysius’ reminds me of Mad magazine’s ‘spy v spy’ cartoons, where the gamesmanship seems ridiculous from the outside. Is it all ego and power? Is it always ‘nuanced local leadership or insensitive centralization’?

When people observe our heresies, how we deal with one another, what do they see? Is it individual egos of leaders, or ethnic or political or economic determinacy?

What’s worth fighting for, and how?

What do our fights look like from the outside?