Peri Pascha

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Peri Pascha (English title On the Pascha) is a 2nd-century homily of Melito of Sardis written between A.D.160 and 170 in Asia Minor. It describes Christian doctrine on the Paschal mystery in the style of Second Sophistic period. It is likely that it was recited with the kind of cantillation customary in scripture reading.[1] Its first editor, Campbell Bonner, entitled it mistakenly On the Passion.[2][3] It was corrected to On the Pascha, thanks to the title found in the Papyrus Bodmer XIII, one of the Bodmer Papyri.[4][5]

Meditation on the Paschal mystery[edit]

The homily was initially pronounced during Easter festival night celebrated, according to the custom of Quartodecimans, together with Jewish Passover on the 14th of Nissan. It revealed the meaning of Christ's Paschal mystery. The very first known use of the term Paschal mystery (literally Mystery of the Pascha) is found in this early homily:[6]

Understand, therefore, beloved,

how it is new and old,
eternal and temporary,
perishable and imperishable,
mortal and immortal, this mystery of the Pascha:
old as regards the Law,
but new as regards the Word;
temporary as regards the model (gr. typos),
eternal because of grace;
perishable because of the slaughter of the sheep,
imperishable because of the life of the Lord;
mortal because of the burial in earth,
immortal because of the rising from the dead.

— On the Pascha, 2-3

The text is inspired by Jewish Haggadah of Pesach, especially the following antitheses:[7]

It is he /Jesus/ that delivered us from slavery to liberty,

from darkness to light,
from death to life,
from tyranny to eternal royalty.

— On the Pascha, 68

Eusebius writes about Melito in his Historia Ecclesiastica that he celebrates Passover on the fourteenth of Nisan, rather than the Sunday following,[8] hence he was a Quartodeciman.[9]

Remains of the Sardis Synagogue. Near present-day Sart in the Manisa province of Turkey.

Charges against the Jews[edit]

In this homily, Melito formulated the charge of deicide, namely that Jews were responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus. He proclaimed that

The God has been murdered,

the king of Israel has been put to death by an Israelite right hand.

— On the Pascha, 96[10]

Some believe his preaching later inspired pogroms against the Jews,[11] though any such connections are historically tenuous. Scholars have pointed out this modern misreading of the text, and do not consider that Melito encouraged any form of anti-semitism, especially since he advocated Quartodeciman beliefs. As Hanneken stated, "In conclusion, we find Melito to be closer to the Prophets and the Sages than modern anti-Judaism. Melito identifies himself within the same tradition as those he criticizes, and he calls them to repentance with compassion."[12] He preaches the victory over death achieved by Jesus having been himself led as a lamb. He clothed death with shame because he arose from the dead, and raised up mortals from the grave below (n. 67-68, cf. 100). In the context of Jesus' death and resurrection, Melito preaches forgiveness. Christ speaks of himself as of the one who is forgiveness itself:

I am the one that destroyed death (...)

Come then, all you families of men
who are permeated with sins
and get forgiveness of sins (cf. Ac 10:43, 26:10)
For I am your forgiveness,
I am the Pascha of salvation
I am the lamb slain for you,
I am your ransom,

I am your life
— On the Pascha, 102-103[13]

The text is styled on the Gospel of John. Typical for Johannine eschatology is to assert that the salvation is already realized. The formula I am (Gr. Ego eimi) is borrowed from that Gospel e.g.: Jn 8:12; 11:25; 14:26.[14]


  1. ^ Wellesz E.J. "Journal of Theological Studies", 44 (1943), pp. 41-52
  2. ^ Cf. Bonner, C. (1936) The Homily on the Passion by Melito, Bishop of Sardis, pp. 107-119.
  3. ^ Floyd V. Filson, "More Bodmer Papyri" The Biblical Archaeologist 25.2 (May 1962, pp. 50-57) p 5
  4. ^ Ed. M. Testuz, Geneva 1960
  5. ^ Hall, S.G., The Melito Papyri, 476-508; idem, Melito, Peri Pascha 1 and 2: Text and Interpretation, 236-248
  6. ^ Cantalamessa R. OFMCap, (1993) Easter in the Early Church, p. 41, endnote d. Cf. Eph3:4; Col 4:3.
  7. ^ Cantalamessa (1993), Easter in the Early Church, p. 44 endnote "e"
  8. ^ Eusebius, Historia Ecclesiastica 5.24.
  9. ^ Cantalamessa R. OFMCap, (1993) Easter in the Early Church, p. 35, endnote l. Cf. Idem, Questioni melitoniane, "Rivista di storia e letteratura religiosa" 6 (1970), pp. 245-267.
  10. ^ Melito of Sardis. On Pascha and fragments, ed. S.G. Hall (1979), p. 55.
  11. ^ Perry, Marvin and Schweitzer, Frederick (2002), Anti-Semitism: Myth and Hate from Antiquity to the Present, p. 18. Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN 0-312-16561-7
  12. ^ “A Completely Different Reading of Melito’s Peri Pascha.” Meqorot: The University of Chicago Journal of Jewish Studies 3 (1997), 26-33.
  13. ^ Translation: Hall S.G., Melito, Peri Pascha 1 and 2: Text and Interpretation, pp. 56-59.
  14. ^ Cantalamessa, R. (1993), Easter in the Early Church, p. 45 endnote "e".


  • Bonner, Campbell, The Homily on the Passion by Melito, Bishop of Sardis, in: "Mélanges Franz Cumont = Annuaire de l'Institut de philologie et d'histoire orientales et slaves" 4 (1936), pp. 107–119.
  • Cantalamessa, Raniero OFMCap, (1993) Easter in the Early Church. An Anthology of Jewish and Early Christian Texts, J.M. Quigley SJ, J.T. Lienhard SJ (translators & editors), Collegeville, Minnesota: The Liturgical Press, pp. 254. - ISBN 0-8146-2164-3
  • Floyd V. Filson, "More Bodmer Papyri", The Biblical Archaeologist 25 (1962), pp. 50–57.
  • Melito of Sardis. On Pascha and fragments (1979), Texts (Greek) and translation edits by S.G. Hall, Oxford, Clarendon Press, p. 99.
  • Hall, S.G., The Melito Papyri,"Journal of Theological Studies" 19 (1968), pp. 476–508.
  • Hall, S.G., (1970), Melito, Peri Pascha 1 and 2: Text and Interpretation, in: Kyriakon. Festschrift Johannes Quasten. Eds. Patrick Granfield and Josef A. Jungmann, 1:236-248, Münster, Aschendorff.

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