Meletius of Antioch

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Saint Meletius of Antioch (Μελέτιος) (died 381) was a Christian bishop, or Patriarch of Antioch, from 360 until his death. There were contrasting views about his theological position: on the one hand, he was exiled three times under Arian emperors; on the other, he was strongly opposed by those faithful to the memory of the staunchly pro-Nicene Eustathius of Antioch, whom the synod of Melitene deposed for his Homousianism (Nicene trinitarianism), which they considered a heresy, and by Saint Athanasius of Alexandria, the firm opponent of Arianism. One of his last acts was to preside over the First Council of Constantinople in 381.

He was born at Melitene in Lesser Armenia of wealthy and noble parents. He first appears (c. 357) as a supporter of Acacius, bishop of Caesarea, the leader of that party in the episcopate which supported the Homoean formula by which the emperor Constantius II sought for a compromise between the Homoiousian and the Homoousian. The Homoiousians held that God and Jesus Christ are of like essence, the Homoousians that they are, as stated in the Nicene Creed, of the same essence (see ousia and hypostasis). Meletius thus makes his debut as an ecclesiastic of the court party, and as such became bishop of Sebaste in succession to the Arian Eustathius of Sebaste. The appointment was resented by the Homoousian clergy, and Meletius retired to Beroea.[1]

According to Socrates Scholasticus he attended the synod of Seleucia in the autumn of 359, and then subscribed to the Acacian formula. Early in 360 he became bishop of Antioch, succeeding Eudoxius, who had been translated to the see of Constantinople. Early the following year, 361, he was in exile. According to an old tradition, supported by evidence drawn from Epiphanius of Cyprus and John Chrysostom, this was due to a sermon preached before the emperor Constantius, in which he revealed Homousian views. This explanation, however, is rejected by G. F. Loofs - the sermon contains nothing inconsistent with the Acacian position favoured by the court party; on the other hand, there is evidence of conflicts with the clergy, quite apart from any questions of orthodoxy, which may have led to the bishop's deposition.

The successor of Meletius was Euzoeus, who had fallen with Arius under the ban of Athanasius; and Loofs explains the sub fidei mutajio which Saint Jerome ascribes to Meletius to the dogmatic opposition of the deposed bishop to his successor. In Antioch itself Meletius continued to have adherents, who held separate services in the Apostolic church in the old town. The Meletian schism was complicated, moreover, by the presence in the city of another anti-Arian sect, stricter adherents of the Homousian formula, maintaining the tradition of the deposed bishop Eustathius and governed at this time by the presbyter Paulinus. The synod of Alexandria sent deputies to attempt an arrangement between the two anti-Arian Churches; but before they arrived Paulinus had been consecrated bishop by Lucifer of Calaris. When in consequence of the emperor Julian's contemptuous policy Meletius returned, he found himself as one of three rival bishops. Meletius was now between two stools. The orthodox Nicene party, notably Athanasius himself, held communion with Paulinus only; twice, in 365 and 371 or 372, Meletius was exiled by decree of the Arian emperor Valens. A further complication was added when, in 375, Vitalius, one of Meletius' prebyters, was consecrated bishop by the heretical bishop Apollinaris of Laodicea.

At that time there were several and rival claimants to be the proper patriarch in Antioch. Paulinus was the man favoured by Rome and Alexandria. Meletius was favoured by others. Jerome accompanied Paulinus back to Rome in order to get more support for him. Ambrose hoped that a general council would be called in support of his friend. He hoped that the Pope would be the influence to make this happen. "Ambrose was agitating for a general council to bring matters to a head, and succeeded in persuading the western emperor, Gratian, to convoke one in Rome. A number of western metropolitans assembled there in the summer of 382, but the east declined to cooperate. In fact Theodosius had no wish to see the settlement he was establishing upset by western meddling, and had already re-convened the council of the previous year at Constantinople. When the belated western summons reached them, the eastern bishops gathered there sent a courteous but firm reply, excusing themselves from attending, apart from a token delegation of three, but not yielding an inch on the disputed issues."[2]

Paulinus was recognised by Alexandria and Rome, but Meletius was recognised by others. Meletius continued to hold church services (outside the city walls) during this time. And the two continued in 'office'. Since the two factions which divided the Antiochene Church were orthodox there remained but to unite them actually, a difficult move, but easy when the death of either bishop made it possible for the survivor to exercise full authority without hurting pride or discipline. [3]

John Chrysostom, who was ordained a deacon by Meletius, later separated from his group without joining in communion with Paulinus, but later accepted ordination to the priesthood at the hands of Paulinus's successor, Evagrius.[4]

"About this period Meletius, bishop of Antioch, fell sick and died: in whose praise Gregory, the brother of Basil, pronounced a funeral oration. The body of the deceased bishop was by his friends conveyed to Antioch; where those who had identified themselves with his interests again refused subjection to Paulinus, but caused Flavian to be substituted in the place of Meletius, and the people began to quarrel anew. Thus again the Antiochian church was divided into rival factions, not grounded on any difference of faith, but simply on a preference of bishops.[5]

Meletius' most famous protégée John Chrysostom took further orders from Flavian (after Meletius' death). Flavian was not also not in favour with Alexandria nor Rome. Flavian then sent messengers to Alexandria AND Rome to work out peace.[6][not in citation given]

There was bitterness between the Meletians and the Eustathians under Paulinus. At the urging of Basil of Caesarea, Meletius wrote to Saint Athanasius, who however continued to support the Eustathians, and whose successor, Saint Peter of Alexandria, together with Pope Damasus I suspected Meletius of Arianism. In 378, Gratian became ruler of the whole empire and removed Euzoeus from Antioch, handing over the churches to Meletius. A temporary pacification between the followers of Meletius and Paulinus ensued, when six of the leading presbyters took an oath not to seek episcopal consecration themselves but to accept as bishop of Antioch whichever of the two rivals outlived the other. When Meletius died at the First Council of Constantinople in 381, Paulinus should have been accepted as the one bishop, but the Meletians secured the appointment of Flavian I of Antioch and the schism endured for some time longer,[7] until John Chrysostom secured reconciliation between Flavian and the sees of Alexandria and Rome, and the Eustathians at Antioch accepted Flavian.[8]

Meletius had been more and more approximating to the views of the Nicene Creed. Basil of Caesarea, throwing over the cause of Eustathius, championed that of Meletius who, returning in triumph to Antioch after the death of Valens, was hailed as the leader of Eastern orthodoxy. As such he presided in October 379 over the great synod of Antioch, in which the dogmatic agreement of East and West was established. He helped Gregory Nazianzus to the see of Constantinople and consecrated him and also presided over the Second Ecumenical Council at Constantinople in 381.

He died soon after the opening of the council and the emperor Theodosius I, who had received him with special distinction, ordered his body to be carried to Antioch and buried with the honours of a saint. The Meletian schism, however, did not end with his death. In spite of the advice of Gregory Nazianzus and of the Western Church, the recognition of Paulinus' sole episcopate was refused, and Flavian was consecrated as Meletius' successor. The Eustathians, on the other hand, elected Evagrius as bishop on Paulinus' death, and it was not until 415 that Flavian succeeded in re-uniting them to the Church.

Meletius ascetic life was remarkable in view of his great private wealth. He is venerated as a saint and confessor in both the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Eastern Churches.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

Public Domain This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. 

Orthodox Church titles
Preceded by
Eustathius
Patriarch of Antioch
361–381
with Paulinus (362–381)
Succeeded by
Flavian I