Chapter XLV.—An Epistle of Dionysius to Novatus.
1. But let us see how the same man addressed Novatus 2141 when he was disturbing the Roman brotherhood. As he pretended that some of the brethren were the occasion of his apostasy and schism, as if he had been forced by them to proceed as he had, 2142 observe the manner in which he writes to him:
2. “Dionysius to his brother Novatus, greeting. If, as thou sayest, thou hast been led on unwillingly, thou wilt prove this if thou retirest willingly. For it were better to suffer everything, rather than divide the Church of God. Even martyrdom for the sake of preventing division would not be less glorious than for refusing to worship idols. Nay, to me it seems greater. For in the one case a man suffers martyrdom p. 291 for the sake of his own soul; in the other case in behalf of the entire Church. And now if thou canst persuade or induce the brethren to come to unanimity, thy righteousness will be greater than thine error, and this will not be counted, but that will be praised. But if thou canst not prevail with the disobedient, at least save thine own soul. I pray that thou mayst fare well, maintaining peace in the Lord.” This he wrote to Novatus.
This epistle to Novatian was doubtless written in reply to a letter from him announcing his election to the episcopate of Rome, for we know that Novatian sent such letters, as was customary, to all the prominent bishops of the Church. Dionysius epistle, therefore, must have been written soon after the election of Novatian, which took place in the year 251. We have only the fragment quoted in this chapter.290:2142
Novatian may well have been urged against his will to permit himself to be made opposition bishop; but of course, once having taken the step, so long as he believed in the justice of the cause for which he was contending, he could not turn back, but must maintain his position with vigor and firmness. This, of course, would lead his enemies to believe that he had himself sought the position, as Dionysius evidently believed that he had.