Saints of the Day – Dionysius of Alexandria

Saint Dionysius of AlexandriaArticle

(also known as Dionysius the Great)

Died at Alexandria in 265. A native of Alexandria, Egypt, Saint Dionysius was converted to Christianity by a vision. He became a pupil of Origen in the Alexandria catechetical school and succeeded him in 232 as its head, which he directed for about 14 years. In 247-48 he was made patriarch (bishop) of Alexandria. Persecution soon broke out there, and Dionysius was arrested; but he was enabled to escape, and directed his church from a hiding- place in the Libyan desert until the death of the persecuting Emperor Decius in 251. In the controversy that followed about those who had lapsed under persecution and then repented, Dionysius was a zealous supporter of lenient treatment for them. He upheld Pope Saint Cornelius against the antipope Novatian, and denounced and fought Novatianism.

Dionysius was reproved by Pope Saint Stephen I for his mistaken view in supporting Cyprian that baptism by heretics was invalid and by Pope Saint Dionysius for his view on the Trinity, which Dionysius explained in an apologia to the Pope. Nevertheless, he is considered an indefatigable defender of the faith.

At the beginning of Valerian’s persecution in 257, Dionysius was again arrested, and was exiled from Alexandria to Kephro in Libya by Emilian, prefect of Egypt. Restored under Gallienus in 261, he returned to a city that was demoralized by civil strife, plague, and famine: it was as dangerous for a man to stay at home as to go out, wrote the bishop, easier to go from East to West than from one street in Alexandria to another. He devoted himself to aiding the persecuted Christians and the victims of the plague. He died in Egypt in 265.

Despite all the disturbances of his 17 years as bishop, Saint Dionysius took an active part in church affairs and wrote extensively, but few of his writings have been preserved. He was a student of pagan as well as Christian literature, but he is best known as an outstanding theologian and Biblical scholar.

His virtues and learning were widely recognized; Saint Athanasius styles him “the teacher of the whole Church” and Saint Basil referred to as Dionysius “the Great.” Several of his works, Extant Fragments, Exegetical Fragments, Letter to Basilides, are available on the Internet (Attwater, Benedictines, Delaney, Encyclopedia).

MLA Citation

  • Katherine I Rabenstein. Saints of the Day, 1998. CatholicSaints.Info. 12 August 2020. Web. 2 December 2020. <>