« Melania the younger, daughter of Publicola Meletius, bp. of Lycopolis Meletius, bishop of Antioch »

Meletius, bp. of Lycopolis

Meletius (2) (Melitius), bp. of Lycopolis, consecrated not long before the beginning of the Arian controversy. The see of Lycopolis stood next in rank to that of Alexandria, of which Peter, afterwards martyr, was then bishop (a.d. 300–311). Meletius took advantage of Peter's flight from persecution (Soz. H. E. i. 24) to intrude into his and other dioceses, ordain priests, and assume the character of primate of Egypt. A protest against his conduct by four incarcerated Egyptian bishops, Hesychius, Pachomius, Theodore, and Phileas, urged that his act was uncalled-for and carried out without consulting them or Peter, involving a breach of the rule which forbade one bishop to intrude into the diocese of another. Meletius ignored the protest. The bishops were martyred, and Meletius went to Alexandria. He was received by the two elders, Isidore and the afterwards famous Arius; probably at their instigation he excommunicated two visitors appointed by Peter, and replaced them by others. The archbp. of Alexandria then wrote forbidding his flock to have fellowship with Meletius until these acts had been investigated. A synod of Egyptian bishops under Peter deposed Meletius (a.d. 306) for his irregular acts and insubordination. Athanasius and Socrates affirm indeed that the degradation of Meletius was specially due to his having "denied the faith during persecution and sacrificed"; but in this they probably express only the popular belief which could not otherwise explain why orthodox bishops were imprisoned and martyred, while Meletius passed through the length and breadth of the land unhindered. The council of Nicaea in its comments upon, and condemnation of, Meletius, takes no note of impiety; and the statement of Epiphanius—Meletius "was orthodox in his belief, and never dissented from the creed of the church in a single point. He was the author of a schism, but not of alterations of belief"—is probably true of the bishop, if not of his followers. Meletius retorted upon his deposers by separating himself and his followers. Peter preached against the Meletians, and rejected their baptism (Soz. i. xv.); Meletius retaliated by abusing Peter and his immediate successors Achillas and Alexander. At length the whole question was considered by the council of Nicaea. The 2nd, 4th, and 6th canons refer directly or indirectly to the Egyptian schism; and in a synodical epistle addressed by the bishops assembled there "to the holy and great church of the Alexandrians and to the beloved brethren throughout Egypt, Libya, and Pentapolis," the "contumacy of Meletius and of those who had been ordained by him" is dealt with (Socr. i. 9; Theod. i. 9). The line adopted was one of "clemency"; although Meletius is described as "strictly speaking wholly undeserving of favour." He was permitted to remain in his own city and retain a nominal dignity, but was not to ordain or nominate for ordination. The council decreed that those who had received appointments from him should be confirmed by a more legitimate ordination and then admitted to communion and retain their rank and ministry, but were to be counted inferior to those previously ordained and established by Alexander; nor were they to do anything without the concurrence of the bishops of the Catholic and apostolical church under Alexander. Meletius himself was to be an exception; "To him," said the bishops, "we by no means grant the same licence, on account of his former disorderly conduct. If the least authority were accorded to him, he would abuse it by again exciting confusion."

It is doubtful whether Meletius was at the council; but he did not resist its decrees. At Alexander's request he handed in a list of his clerical adherents, including 29 bishops, and in Alexandria itself 4 priests and 3 deacons. Meletius retired to Lycopolis, and during Alexander's lifetime remained quiet; but the appointment of Athanasius to the see of Alexandria was the signal for union of every faction opposed to him, and in the events which followed Meletius took a personal part. The uncompromising sternness of Athanasius was contrasted with the "clemency" of the council and of Alexander; Arian and Meletian, schismatic and heretic banded together against the one man they dreaded, and so pitiless and powerful was their hate that it wrung from him the comment on the pardon accorded to Meletius by the council of Nicaea "Would to God he had never been received!"

Before his death, the date of which is not known, Meletius nominated, contrary to the decree of the Nicene council, his friend John as his successor (Soz. ii. 21), a rank accorded to him and recognized by that council of Tyre (a.d. 335) in which the Eusebians and others deposed Athanasius (ib. ii. 25). "In process of time," says Sozomen (ii. 21), "the Meletians were generally called Arians in Egypt." Originally differences in doctrine parted them; but their alliance for attack or defence gradually led the Meletians to adopt Arian doctrines [ARIUS] and side with Arian church politics. The Meletians died out after the 5th cent.; the monks described by Theodoret (i. 9) being among the latest and most eccentric of the sect. "They neglected sound doctrine, and observed certain vain points of discipline, upholding the same infatuated views as the Jews and Samaritans." Consult Walch, Ketzerhistorie; Neander, Bright, and the usual church historians.

[J.M.F.]

« Melania the younger, daughter of Publicola Meletius, bp. of Lycopolis Meletius, bishop of Antioch »





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