1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Meletius of Antioch

22033391911 Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 18 — Meletius of Antioch

MELETIUS OF ANTIOCH (d. 381), Catholic bishop and saint, 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 sought to effect a compromise between the Homoeusians and the Homousians. Meletius thus makes his début as an ecclesiastic of the court party, and as such became bishop of Sebaste in succession to Eustathius, deposed as an Homousian heretic by the synod of Melitene. The appointment was resented by the Homoeusian clergy, and Meletius retired to Beroea. According to Socrates he attended the synod of Seleucia in the autumn of 359, and then subscribed the Acacian formula. Early in 360 he became bishop of Antioch, in succession to Eudoxius, who had been raised to the see of Constantinople. Early in the following year he was in exile. According to an old tradition, supported by evidence drawn from Epiphanius and Chrysostom, this was due to a sermon preached before the emperor Constantius, in which he revealed Homousian views. This explanation, however, is rejected by 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 subita fidei mutatio which St Jerome (ann. Abr. 2376) 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, and when Meletius—free to return in consequence of the emperor Julian’s contemptuous policy-reached the city, he found himself 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’s presbyters, was consecrated bishop by the heretical bishop Apollinaris of Laodicea.

Meanwhile, under the influence of his situation, Meletius had been more and more approximating to the views of the newer school of Nicene orthodoxy. Basil of Caesarea, throwing over the cause of Eustathius, championed that of Meletius who, when after the death of Valens he returned in triumph to Antioch, 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; it was he who helped Gregory of Nazianzus to the see of Constantinople and consecrated him; it was he who presided over the second oecumenical council at Constantinople in 381. He died soon after the opening of the council, and the emperor Theodosius, who had received him with especial distinction, caused 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 of Nazianzus and of the Western Church, the recognition of Paulinus’s sole episcopate was refused, Flavian being consecrated as Meletius’s successor. The Eustathians, on the other hand, elected Evagrius as bishop on Paulinus’s death, and it was not till 415 that Flavian succeeded in re-uniting them to the Church.

Meletius was a holy man, whose ascetic life was all the more remarkable in view of his great private wealth. He was also a man of learning and culture, and widely esteemed for his honourable, kindly and straightforward character. He is venerated as a saint and confessor in both the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Eastern Churches.

See the article G. F. Loofs in Herzog-Hauck, Realencyklopädie (ed. 1897, Leipzig), xii. 552, and authorities there cited.