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Demetrius, Saint

Bishop of Alexandria from 188 to 231

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Demetrius, Saint, Bishop of Alexandria from 188 to 231. Julius Africanus, who visited Alexandria in the time of Demetrius, places his accession as eleventh bishop after St. Mark in the tenth year of Commodus (tenth of Severus, Eus. His. Eccl., VI, ii, is a slip). A legendary history of him is given in the Coptic “Synaxaria”, in an Abyssinian poem cited by the Bollandists, and in the “Chronicon Orientale” of Abraham Ecchellensis the Maronite. Three of their statements, however, may have some truth: one that he died at the age of 105 (born, therefore, in 126); another, found also in the Melchite Patriarch Eutychius [Sa’id Ib i Batrik, (d. about 940), Migne, P.G., CXI, 999], that he wrote about the calculation of Easter to Victor of Rome, Maximus (i.e. Maximinus) of Antioch and txabius or Agapius (?) of Jerusalem (cf. Eus., H. E., V, xxv). Eutychius relates that from Mark to Demetrius there was but one see in Egypt, that Demetrius was the first to establish three other bishoprics, and that his successor Heraclas made twenty more.

At all events Demetrius is the first Alexandrian bishop of whom anything is known. St. Jerome has it that he sent Pantaenus on a mission to India, but it is likely that Clement had succeeded Pantnus as the head of the famous Catechetical School before the accession of Demetrius. When Clement retired (c. 203-4), Demetrius appointed the young Origen, who was in his eighteenth year, in Clement’s place. Demetrius encouraged Origen when blamed for his too literal execution of an allegorical counsel of our Lord, and is said to have shown him great favor. He sent Origen to the governor of Arabia, who had requested his presence in letters to the prefect of Egypt as well as to the bishop. In 215-16 Origen was obliged to take refuge in Caesarea from the cruelty of Caracalla. There he preached at the request of the bishops present. Demetrius wrote to him complaining that this was unheard of presumption in a layman. Alexander of Jerusalem and Theoctistus of Caesarea wrote to defend the invitation they had given, mentioning precedents; but Demetrius recalled Origen. In 230 Demetrius gave Origen a recommendation to take with him on his journey to Athens. But Origen was ordained priest at Caesarea without leave, and Demetrius with a synod of some bishops and a few priests condemned him to banishment, then from another synod sent a formal condemnation of him to all the churches. It is impossible to doubt that heresy, and not merely unauthorized ordination, must have been alleged by Demetrius for such a course. Rome accepted the decision, but Palestine, Phoenicia, Arabia, Achaia rejected it, and Origen retired to Caesarea, whence he sent forth letters in his own defense, and attacked Demetrius. The latter placed at the head of the Catechetical School the first pupil of Origen, Heraclas, who had long been his assistant. But the bishop died very soon, and Heraclas succeeding him, Origen returned to Alexandria.

JOHN CHAPMAN


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