« Prev Melito of Sardis Next »

§ 177. Melito of Sardis.


(I.) Euseb. H. E. IV. 13, 26; V. 25. Hieron.: De Vir. ill. 24. The remains Of Melito in Routh, Reliq. acr. I. 113–153; more fully in Otto, Corp. Ap. IX. (1872), 375–478. His second Apology, of doubtful genuineness, in Cureton, Spicilegium Syriacum, Lond. 1835 (Syriac, with an English translation), and in Pitra, Spicil. Solesm. II. (with a Latin translation by Renan, which was revised by Otto, Corp. Ap. vol. IX.); German transl. by Welte in the Tüb." Theol. Quartalschrift" for 1862.

(II) Piper in the Studien und Kritiken for 1838, p. 54 154. Uhlhorn in "Zeitschrift für Hist. Theol." 1866. Donaldson, III. 221–239 Steitz in Herzog2 IX. 537–539. Lightfoot in "Contemp. Review," Febr. 1876. Harnack, Texte, etc., I. 240–278. Salmon in Smith and Wace III. 894–900. Renan, Marc-Auréle, 172 sqq. (Comp. also the short notice in L’église chrét., p. 436).


Melito, bishop of Sardis,13691369    This is the English spelling. The Germans and French spell Sardes (Gr. αἱ Σαρ́δεις, but also Σάρδις in Herodotus).369 the capital of Lydia, was a shining light among the churches of Asia Minor in the third quarter of the second century. Polycrates of Ephesus, in his epistle to bishop Victor of Rome (d. 195), calls him a "eunuch who, in his whole conduct, was full of the Holy Ghost, and sleeps in Sardis awaiting the episcopate from heaven (or visitation, ,) on the day of the resurrection." The term "eunuch" no doubt refers to voluntary celibacy for the kingdom of God (Matt. 19:12)..13701370    Renan thinks of an act of self-mutilation (in L’église chrét. 436): "Comme plus tard Origène, il voulut que sa chasteté fût en quelque sorte matériellement constatée." But St. John, too, is called spado by Tertullian (De Monog. 17) and eunuchus by Jerome (In Es. c. 56). Athenagoras uses εὐνουχία for male continence, Leg. c. 33: τὸ ἐν παρθενείᾳ καὶ ἐν εὐνουχίᾳ μεῖναιͅ, in virginitate et eunuchi statu manere.370 He was also esteemed as a prophet. He wrote a book on prophecy, probably against the pseudo-prophecy of the Montanists; but his relation to Montanism is not clear. He took an active part in the paschal and other controversies which agitated the churches of Asia Minor. He was among the chief supporters of the Quartadeciman practice which was afterwards condemned as schismatic and heretical. This may be a reason why his writings fell into oblivion. Otherwise he was quite orthodox according to the standard of his age, and a strong believer in the divinity of Christ, as is evident from one of the Syrian fragments (see below).

Melito was a man of brilliant mind and a most prolific author. Tertullian speaks of his elegant and eloquent genius.13711371    Elegans et declamatorium ingenium, " in his lost book on Ecstasis, quoted by Jerome, De Vir. ill. 24. Harnack draws a comparison between Melito and Tertullian; they resembled each other in the variety of topics on which they wrote, and in eloquence, but not in elegance of style.371 Eusebius enumerates no less than eighteen or twenty works from his pen, covering a great variety of topics, but known to us now only by name.13721372    Eusebius (IV. 26) mentions first his Apology for the faith addressed to the emperor of the Romans, and then the following: "Two works On the Passover, and those On the Conduct of Life and the Prophets (τὸ περὶ πολιτείας καὶ προφητῶν, perhaps two separate books, perhaps καί for τῶν), one On the Church, and another discourse On the Lord’s Day (περὶ κυριακῆς), one also On the Nature (περὶ φύσεως , al. Faith, πίστεως)of Man, and another On his Formation (περὶ πλάσεως) a work On the Subjection of the Senses to Faith [ ὁ περὶ ὑπακοῆς πίστεως αἰσθητηρίων, which Rufinus changes into two books ’de obedientia fidei; de sensibus,’ so also Nicephorus]. Besides these, a treatise On the Soul, the Body, and the Mind. A dissertation also, On Baptism; one also On Truth and Faith, and [probably another on] the Generation of Christ. His discourse On Prophecy, and that On Hospitality. A treatise called The Key (ἡ κλείς), his works On the, Devil, and The Revelation of John. The treatise On God Incarnate (περὶ ἐνσωμάτου θεοῦ, comp. ἐνσωμάτωσις =incarnation), and last of all, the discourse (βιβλίδιον) addressed to Antonine."He then add, ; still another book called Ἐκλογαί, and containing extracts from the Old Testament. Some of these titles may indicate two distinct books, as τὰ περὶ τοῦ διαβόλου, καὶ τῆς ἀποκαλύψεωσ Ἰωάννου.. So Rufinus and Jerome understood this title. See Heinichen’s notes. Other works were ascribed to him by later writers, as On the Incarnation of Christ (περὶ σαρκώσεως Χριστοῦ ), On the Cross, On Faith, and two decidedly spurious works, De Passione S. Joannis, and De Transitu b. Mariae.372 He gives three valuable extracts. There must have been an uncommon literary fertility in Asia Minor after the middle of the second century.13731373    Comp. Euseb. IV. 21, 25. Renan says (p. 192): "Jamais peut-être le christianisme n’a plus écrit que durant le IIesiécle en Asie. La culture littéraire était extrémement répandue dans cette province; l’art d’écrire y était fort commun, et le christianisme en profitait. La littérature des Pères d l’Église commencait. Les siécles suivants ne dépassèrent pas ces premiers essais de l’éloquence chrétienne; mais, au point de vue de l’orthodoxie, les livres de ces Pères du IIesiécle offraient plus d’une pierre el’achoppement. La lecture en devint suspecte; on les copia de moins en moins, et ainsi presque tons ces beaux écrits disparurent, pour faire place aux écrivains classiques, postérieurs au concile de Nicée, écrivains plus corrects comme doctrine, mais, en général, bien moins originaux que ceux du Ilesiècle.373 The Apology of Melito was addressed to Marcus Aurelius, and written probably at the outbreak of the violent persecutions in 177, which, however, were of a local or provincial character, and not sanctioned by the general government. He remarks that Nero and Domitian were the only imperial persecutors, and expresses the hope that, Aurelius, if properly informed, would interfere in behalf of the innocent Christians. In a passage preserved in the "Paschal Chronicle" he says: "We are not worshipers of senseless stones, but adore one only God, who is before all and over all, and His Christ truly God the Word before all ages."

A Syriac Apology bearing his name13741374    Under the heading, "The oration of Melito the Philosopher, held before Antonintus Caesar, and he spoke [?] to Caesar that he might know God, and he showed him the way of truth, and began to speak as follows." Ewald (in the "Gött. Gel. Anz." 1856, p. 655 sqq.) and Renan (M. Aur. 184, note) suggest that it is no apology, but Melito’s tract περὶ ἀληθείας as this word very often occurs. Jacobi, Otto, and Harnack ascribe it to a different author, probably from Syria.374 was discovered by Tattam, with other Syrian MSS. in the convents of the Nitrian desert (1843), and published by Cureton and Pitra (1855). But it contains none of the passages quoted by Eusebius, and is more an attack upon idolatry than a defense of Christianity, but may nevertheless be a work of Melito under an erroneous title.

To Melito we owe the first Christian list of the Hebrew Scriptures. It agrees with the Jewish and the Protestant canon, and omits the Apocrypha. The books of Esther and Nehemiah are also omitted, but may be included in Esdras. The expressions "the Old Books," "the Books of the Old Covenant," imply that the church at that time had a canon of the New Covenant. Melito made a visit to Palestine to seek information on the Jewish canon.

He wrote a commentary on the Apocalypse, and a "Key" ( ), probably to the Scriptures.13751375    A Latin work under the title Melitonis Clavis Sanctae Scripturae was mentioned by Labbé in 1653 as preserved in the library of Clermont College, and was at last, after much trouble, recovered in Strassburg and elsewhere, and published by Cardinal Pitra in the Spicilegium Solesm. 1855 (Tom. II. and III.). But, unfortunately, it turned out to be no translation of Melito’s κλείςat all, but a mediaeval glossary of mystic interpretation of the Scriptures compiled from Gregory I. and other Latin fathers. This was conclusively proven by Steitz in the " Studien und Kritiken "for 1857, p. 584-596. Renan assents (p. 181, note): "L’ouvrage latin que om Pitra a publié comme étant la Cle de Meliton, est une compilation de passages des Pères latins pouvant servir à l’explication allégorique des écritures qui figure pour la première fois dans la Bible de Théodulphe."375

The loss of this and of his books "on the Church" and "on the Lord’s Day" are perhaps to be regretted most.

Among the Syriac fragments of Melito published by Cureton is one from a work "On Faith," which contains a remarkable christological creed, an eloquent expansion of the Regula Fidei.13761376    Spicileg. Solesm. T. II. p. LIX.376 The Lord Jesus Christ is acknowledged as the perfect Reason, the Word of God; who was begotten before the light; who was Creator with the Father; who was the Fashioner of man; who was all things in all; Patriarch among the patriarchs, Law in the law, Chief Priest among the priests, King among the kings, Prophet among the prophets, Archangel among the angels; He piloted Noah, conducted Abraham, was bound with Isaac, exiled with Jacob, was Captain with Moses; He foretold his own sufferings in David and the prophets; He was incarnate in the Virgin; worshipped by the Magi; He healed the lame, gave sight to the blind, was rejected by the people, condemned by Pilate, hanged upon the tree, buried in the earth, rose from the dead and appeared to the apostles, ascended to heaven; He is the Rest of the departed, the Recoverer of the lost, the Light of the blind, the Refuge of the afflicted, the Bridegroom of the Church, the Charioteer of the cherubim, the Captain of angels; God who is of God, the Son of the Father, the King for ever and ever.



« Prev Melito of Sardis Next »
Please login or register to save highlights and make annotations
Corrections disabled for this book
Proofing disabled for this book
Printer-friendly version





Advertisements



| Define | Popups: Login | Register | Prev Next | Help |