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Dionysius of Alexandria defends his theology - Greek Text with English translation

From Athanasius De Sententia Dionysii, 14 - 18.
Responding to charges of "separating" the Trinity and teaching that the Son was "created".

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J.N.D. Kelly

Early Christian Doctrines



14....Most of what he said, whether in the form of investigations, or collective inferences, or interrogatory refutations, or charges against his accusers, I omit because of the length of his discourses, inserting only what is strictly relevant to the charges against him. In answer to these, he writes after certain prefatory matter, in the first book inscribed ‘Refutation and Defence’ in the following terms.

15. Extracts from the ‘Refutation and Defence.’
‘For never was there a time when God was not a father.’ And this he acknowledges in what follows, ‘that Christ is for ever, being Word and Wisdom and Power. For it is not to be supposed that God, having at first no such issue, afterwards begat a Son, but that the Son has His being not of Himself but of the Father.’ And a little way on he adds on the same subject, ‘But being the brightness of light eternal, certainly He is Himself eternal; for as the light exists always, it is evident that the brightness must exist always as well. For it is by the fact of its shining that the existence of light is perceived, and there cannot be light that does not give light. For let us come back to our examples. If there is sun, there is sunlight, there is day. If there is none of these things, it is quite impossible for there to be sun. If then the sun were eternal, the day also would be unceasing. But in fact, as that is not so, the day begins and ceases with the sun. But God is light eternal, never beginning nor ceasing. The brightness then lies before Him eternally, and is with Him without beginning and ever-begotten, shining in His Presence, being that Wisdom which said, “I was that wherein he rejoiced, and daily I was glad in his presence at all times”.’ And again after a little he resumes the same subject with the words, ‘The Father then being eternal, the Son is eternal, being Light of Light: for if there is a parent there is also a child. But if there were not a child, how and of whom can there be a parent? But there are both, and that eternally.’ Then again he adds, ‘God then being light, Christ is brightness; and being Spirit, for “God is a Spirit”,—in like manner Christ is called the breath, for He is the “breath of the power of God”.’ And again, to quote the second book, he says, ‘But only the Son, who always is with the Father and is filled of Him that IS, Himself also IS from the Father.’

16. Contrast of the language of Dionysius with that of Arius.
Now if the sense of the above statements were doubtful, there would be need of an interpreter. But since he wrote plainly and repeatedly on the same subject, let Arius gnash his teeth when he sees his own heresy subverted by Dionysius, and hears him say what he does not wish to hear: ‘God was always Father, and the Son is not absolutely eternal, but His eternity flows from the eternity of the Father, and He coexists with Him as brightness with the light.’ But let these, who have so much as imagined that Dionysius held with Arius, lay aside such a slander against him. For what have they in common, when Arius says, ‘The Son was not before He was begotten, but there was once a time when He was not,’ whereas Dionysius teaches, ‘Now God is Light eternal, neither beginning, nor ever to end: accordingly the brightness lies before Him eternally, and coexists with Him, shining before Him without beginning and ever-begotten.’ For in fact to meet the suspicion of others who allege that Dionysius in speaking of the Father does not name the Son, and again in speaking of the Son does not name the Father, but divides, removes, and separates the Son from the Father, he replies and puts them to shame in the second book, as follows.

17. Dionysius did not separate the Persons of the Holy Trinity.
‘Each of the names I have mentioned is inseparable and indivisible from that next to it. I spoke of the Father, and before referring to the Son I designated Him too in the Father. I referred to the Son,—and even if I did not also expressly mention the Father, certainly He was to be understood beforehand in the Son. I added the Holy Spirit, but at the same time I further added both whence and through whom He proceeded. But they are ignorant that neither is the Father, qua Father, separated from the Son,—for the name carries that relationship with it,—nor is the Son expatriated from the Father. For the title Father denotes the common bond. But in their hands is the Spirit, who cannot be parted either from Him that sent or from Him that conveyed Him: How then can I, who use these names, imagine that they are sundered and utterly separated from one another?’ And after a little he goes on, ‘Thus then we extend the Monad indivisibly into the Triad, and conversely gather together the Triad without diminution into the Monad.’

18. Dionysius did not hold that the Son was not of one essence with the Father.
Next he confutes them upon their charge that he called the Son one of the things originated, and not of one essence with the Father (once more in the first book) as follows: ‘Only in saying that certain things were perceived to be originated and created, I gave them as examples cursorily, as being less adequate, saying that neither was the plant [of one essence] with the husbandman, nor the boat with its builder. Then I dwelt more upon more apposite and suitable comparisons, and went at greater length into those nearer the truth, making out various proofs, which I wrote to you in another letter, by means of which proofs I shewed also that the charge they allege against me is untrue, namely, that I denied Christ to be of one essence with God. For even if I argue that I have not found this word (ὁμοούσιον) nor read it anywhere in the Holy Scriptures, yet my subsequent reasonings, which they have suppressed, do not discord with its meaning. For I gave the example of human birth evidently as being homogeneous, and saying that certainly the parents only differed from their children in not being themselves the children, else it would follow that there was no such thing as parents or children. And the letter, as I said before, I am prevented by circumstances from producing, else I would have sent you the exact words I then used, or rather a copy of all the letter: which I will do if I have an opportunity. But I know, and recollect, that I added several similitudes from kindred relations. For I said that a plant, sprung from a seed or root, was different from that whence it sprung, and at the same time entirely of one nature with it: and that a stream flowing from a well receives another form and name,—for the well is not called a river, nor the river a well,—and that both existed, and that the well was as it were a father, while the river was water from the well. But they pretend not to see these and the like written statements, but to be as it were blind, while they try to pelt me with two unconnected expressions like stones, from a distance, not knowing that in matters beyond our knowledge, and which require training to apprehend, frequently not only foreign, but even contrary examples serve to illustrate the problem in hand.’ And in the third book he says, ‘Life was begotten of Life, and flowed as a river from a well, and from Light unquenchable bright Light was kindled.’


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Debate with Dionysius of Rome
Pope Dionysius
Dionysius of Alexandria
Dionysius of Rome
Separation in Trinity
Subordination of Son
Son Created
three Godheads
God divided
plant and its seed or root
river and source
Vine and vinedresser
Ship and Shipwright
Boat and Boatmaker
Two Dionysii
in Greek
Greek text with English translation



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