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His Family and Earlier Life

2. The references to his family and early years are extremely scanty and vague. In the Chronicon 10 Orientale, p. 94, he is stated to have been a Sabaita and sprung from “the chiefs and nobles of that race”: and several writers speak as if he had been a rhetorician before his conversion (as Cyprian of Carthage had been). The exact meaning of the term “Sabaita” above is doubtful. Strictly used, it should mean a member of the Sabaite convent near Jerusalem, and the Chronicon may be claiming Dionysius as that, though, of course, without any ground for the claim. If it is equivalent, however, to “Sabæan” here, it implies an Arab descent for him, which is hardly probable, as he seems always to consider himself connected by education and residence, if not by birth, with the city-folk of Alexandria, whom he distinguishes from the Coptic inhabitants of Egypt (Αἰγύπτιοι); so that it would be rather surprising to find that his family came from the remoter parts of Arabia, where the Sabæans dwelt. The other tradition of his having been a rhetorician may be due to some confusion between our Dionysius and a much later Alexandrian writer of the same name, who edited the works of the Areopagite with notes and wrote other treatises. On the other hand, Dionysius’s literary style is such that it might very well have been formed by the study and practice of rhetoric, while he has been thought himself to corroborate the statement of the Chronicon Orientale, as to the high position of his family, in his reply to Germanus (p. 49), where he refers to the “losses of dignities” which he has suffered for the Faith.

3. He was probably a priest, and not less than thirty, when he became head of the Catechetical School in 231, and in 264 he excused himself from attendance at the Council of Antioch on the ground of age and infirmity; and so it is a safe inference that he was 11 born about or before 200, being thus nearly of an age with Cyprian of Carthage, and only ten or fifteen years younger than Origen, his master.

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