« Melito Mellitus Menander »

Mellitus

Mellitus, the first bp. of London and third archbp. of Canterbury. He was not one of the original missionaries who accompanied Augustine to Britain, but was sent by St. Gregory in 601 to strengthen the hands of the newly consecrated archbishop and to convey to him the pall. Mellitus, accompanied by Laurentius, whom Augustine had sent to Rome, and by Justus, Paulinus, and Rufinianus, left Rome c. July 22, 601. They carried letters of commendation to the bps. of Vienne, Arles, Lyons, Gap, Toulon, Marseilles, Châlons on the Saône, Metz, Paris, Rouen, and Angers; to Theodoric, Theodebert, and Clothair, kings of the Franks, and also to queen Brunichild. These names probably indicate the route of the missionaries, and there is no evidence to support Ussher's conjecture that they visited Columbanus at Luxeuil on the way. To Augustine Mellitus brought also the answers which Gregory sent to the questions laid before him by Laurentius, and a supply of church furniture, "all things which were needed for worship and the ministry of the church, sacred vessels, altar-cloths, church ornaments, priestly and clerical robes, relics of saints and martyrs, and several books" (Bede, H. E. i. 29). Some account of the remains of St. Gregory's benefaction, preserved at Canterbury in the 15th cent., is given by Elmham (ed. Hardwick, pp. 96 seq.). Augustine, having received from the pope authority to consecrate bishops for the newly converted nation, chose Mellitus for the see of London. That city, properly the capital of the East Saxons, was then under Ethelbert, king of Kent, who had prevailed on the dependent kings of the East Saxons to receive Christianity, and who now founded the church of St. Paul as the cathedral of the new bishopric. No distinct date, is given by Bede for the consecration of Mellitus, but it must have occurred some time between the winter of 601 and the early summer of 604, the most probable date for the death of Augustine.

Mellitus continued undisturbed in his see during the reign of Ethelbert. He joined in the letter addressed by Laurentius to the Irish bishops (Bede, H. E. ii. 4), and in 609 went to Rome to treat with pope Boniface IV. on matters necessary for the welfare of the English church. The precise object of this journey is not mentioned by the historian, who, however, tells us that Mellitus was present at a council on Feb. 27, 610, subscribed to the decrees, and subsequently carried them to the English church. The purpose of this council was to secure the peace of the monastic order and two versions of a decree are extant (Labbe, Conc. v. 619; Mansi, Conc. x. 504; Haddan and Stubbs, iii. 64, 65). Bede adds that Mellitus also brought letters from the pope to Ethelbert, Laurentius, and the whole clergy and people of the English (W. Malmesb. G. P. lib. i.; Haddan and Stubbs, iii. 65). The monks of St. Augustine's also shewed a bull of Boniface IV., dated Feb. 27, 611, addressed to Ethelbert, mentioning the request presented by Mellitus, and confirming the privileges of St. Augustine's (Elmham, u.s. pp. 129–131; Thorn, ap. Twysden, c. 1766; Haddan and Stubbs, iii. 67–69).

On the death of Ethelbert the newly-founded church was in danger of dissolution. Mellitus and Justus fled to Gaul, and Laurentius was only saved by a miracle from the disgrace of following them. Bede tells very circumstantially the story of Mellitus's flight. The sons of the Christian king Sebert had continued to be pagans. Seeing the bishop celebrate the holy communion and give the Eucharist to the people, they presumptuously asked, "Why do you not give us the white bread which you used to give to Saba our father and still give to the people?" The bishop replied that if they would be baptized they should have the bread. They refused the sacrament of initiation, but still demanded the bread. On Mellitus's persistence in refusing it, they banished him. He fled to Kent and afterwards to Gaul, whence he was recalled by Laurentius after the conversion of Eadbald. He probably remained at Canterbury until the death of Laurentius in 619, when he succeeded to the vacant see, which he held till 624. That his activity was impaired by gout is nearly all that is preserved about him. Bede mentions that he consecrated a church to the Blessed Virgin within the precincts of St. Augustine's monastery, and that, a great fire at Canterbury occurring in a place termed the "martyrdom of the four crowned martyrs," he was carried there and at his prayer a wind drove the flames southwards and saved the city (H. E. ii. 16, 17).

[S.]

« Melito Mellitus Menander »





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