St. Dionysius on the Reception of Heretics

St. Dionysius the Great died ca. 265

…[I]ndeed, (Pope Stephen of Rome) had written letters about Helanus and Firmilianus, and about all who were established throughout Cilicia and Cappadocia, and all the neighboring provinces, giving them to understand that for that same reason he would depart from their communion, because they rebaptized heretics. And consider the seriousness of the matter. For, indeed, in the most considerable councils of the bishops, as I hear, it has been decreed that they who come from heresy should first be trained in Catholic doctrine, and then should be cleansed by baptism from the filth of the old and impure leaven.Asking and  calling him to witness on all these matters, I sent letters. (Fragments: Epistle 6)


  1. Was Pope Stepen right or wrong in this matter?

  2. Alex,

    Thanks for commenting!

    The answer to your question depends on who you ask. To this day both of these traditions exist in the Church. In the West, the tradition of Pope St. Stephen was upheld, especially due to St. Augustine’s influence. However, the East held to the tradition of Sts. Dionysius of Alexandria, Cyprian of Catharge, Firmilian of Caesarea as it was formulated by St. Basil the Great in the first canon of his Letter 188. I’ll quote St. Hilarion Troitsky on this:

    “Very often Church historians and pathologists express the thought, as it were, that the Bishop of Rome turned out to be right, and not St. Cyprian. I think that in history the rigorism of St. Cyprian was somewhat softened, but that his dogmatic teaching of the unity of the Church was not at all changed. To be convinced of this, one must cross over into the fourth century. Here, first of all, we must pause carefully on the words of St. Basil thenGreat from his first canonical letter to St. Amphilochius, Bishop of Iconium. In this epistle, which has canonical dignity and irreproachable authority, it is impossible not to notice the image of the thought of St. Cyprian and of those of like mind. St. Basil only puts the opinion of St. Cyprian into precise canonical formulation.”(The unity of the Church and the World Conference of Christian Communities)

    Go to our heterodoxy section and look for any posts on reception or heterodox sacraments for more info on this subject.

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