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Page:Catholic Encyclopedia, volume 10.djvu/192

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MELETIUS


1G2


MELETIUS


intonninable discussion, and the kindly, gentle temper of Mt'lflius scorned to promise tlie much-desired peace. He was no Athanasius, nor did unheioic Antioch wish for a man of that stamp. The qualities of Meletius were genuine; a simple life, pure morals, sincere piety and affable manners. He had no transcendent merit, unless the even harmonious balance of liis Christian virtues might appear transcendent. The new bishop held the affection of the large and turbulent popula- tion he governed, and was esteemed by such men as St. John Chrysostom, St. Gregory Nazianzen, St. Gregory of Nyssa, St. Basil, and even his ad\'ersary St. Epi- phanius. St. Gregory Nazianzen tells us that he was a very pious man, simple and without guile, full of gotlliness; peace shone on his countenance, and those who saw him trusted and respected him. He was what he was called, and his Greek name revealed it, for there was honey in his disposition as well as his name. On his arrival at Antioch he was greeted by an immense concourse of Christians and Jews; every one wondered for which faction he would proclaim him- self, and already the report was spread abroad, that he was simply a partisan of the Nicene Creed. Meletius took his own time. He began by reforming certain notorious abuses and instructing his people, in which latter work he might have aroused enmity had he not avoided all questions in dispute. Emperor Constans, a militant Arian, called a conference calculated to force from Meletius his inmost thought. The em- peror invited several bishops then at Antioch to speak upon the chief text in the Arian controversy. "The Lord possessed me in the beginning of His way" (Prov., viii, 22).

In the beginning Meletius was somewhat long and tedious, but exhibited a great Scriptural knowledge. He cautiously declared that Scripture does not contra- dict itself, that all language is adequate when it is a question of explaining the nature of God's only begot- ten Son. One does not get beyond an approximation which permits us to understand to a certain extent, and which brings us gently and progressively from visible things to hidden ones. Now, to believe in Christ is to believe that the Son is like unto the Fa- ther, His image. Who is in everything, creator of all; and not an imperfect but an adequate image, even as the effect corresponds to the cause. The generation of the only begotten Son, anterior to all time, carries with it the concepts of subsistence, stability, and ex- clusivism. Meletius then turned to moral considera- tions, but he had satisfied his hearers, chiefly by re- fraining from technical language and vain discussion. The orthodoxy of the bishop was fully established, and his profession of faith was a severe blow for the Arian party. St. Basil wrote the hesitating St. Epiphanius that " Meletius was the first to speak freely in favour of the truth and to fight the good fight in the reign of Constans". As Meletius ended his discourse his audi- ence asked him for a summary of his teacliing. He extended three fingers towards the people, then closed two and said, " Three Persons are conceived in the mind but it as though we addressed one only". This gesture remained famous and became a rallying sign. The Arians were not slow to avenge themselves. On vague pretexts the emperor banished Meletius to his native Armenia. He had occupied his see less than a month.

This exile was the immediate cause of a long and deplorable schism between the Catholics of Antioch, henceforth divide<l into Mcletians and Eustathians. The churches remaining in the hands of the Arians, Paulinus governed the Eustathians, while Flavins and Diodorus were the chiefs of the Meletian flock. In every family one child bore the name of Meletius, whose portrait was engraved on rings, reliefs, cups, and the walls of apartments. Meletius went into exile in the early part of the year .361. A few months later Emperor Constans died suddenly, and one of the first


measures of his successor Julian was to revoke his pred- ecessor's decrees of banishment. Meletius quite prob- ably returnc<l at once to Antioch, but his jiosition was a ditlicult one in presence of the Eustathians. The Council of Alexandria ('Mi'l) tried to rc-ostablish har- mony and put an end to the schism, but failed. Both parties were steadfast in their claims, while the \'ehe- menco and injudiciousness of the orthodox mediator increased the dissension, and ruined all prospects of peace. Though the election of Meletius was beyond contestation, the hot-headed Lucifer Cagliari yielded to the solicitations of the opposing faction, and instead of temporizing and awiiiting Meletius's approaching return from exile, assisted by two confessors h(^ has- tily consecrated as Bishop of Antioch the Eustathian leader, Paulinus. This unwise measure was a great calamity, for it definitively established the schism. Me- letius and his adherents were not responsible, and it is a peculiar injustice of history that this division slmuld be known as the Meletian schism when the Eustat liians or Paulinians were alone answeral)Ie for it. Meletius's return soon followed, also the arrival of Eu.sebius of Vercelli, but he could accomplish nothing under the circumstances. The persecution of Emperor Julian, whose chief residence was Antioch, brought new vex- ations. Both factions of the orthodox party were equally harassed and tormented, and both bore bravely their trials.

An unexpected incident made the Mcletians promi- nent. An anti-Christian ■writing of Julian was an- swered by the aforesaid Meletian Diodorus, whom the emperor had coarsely reviled. "For many years", said the imperial apologist of Hellenism, " lus chest has been sunken, his limbs withered, his checks flabby, his countenance livid". So intent was Julian upon de- scribing the morliid symptoms of Diodorus that he seemed to forget Bishop Meletius. The latter doubt- less had no desire to draw attention and persecution upon himself, aware that his flock was more likely to lose than to gain by it. He and two of his chorepis- copi, we are tokl, accompanied to the place of mart3T- dora two officers, Bonosus and Maximilian. Meletiua also is said to have sent a convert from Antioch to Jerusalem. This, and a mention of the flight of all Antiochene ecclesiastics, led to the arbitrary supposi- tion that the second banishment of Meletius came dur- ing Julian's reign. Be that as it may, the sudden end of the persecuting emperor and Jovian's accession must have greatly shortened the exile of Meletius. Jovian met Meletius at Antioch and showed him great respect. Just then St. Athanasius came to Antioch by order of the emperor, and expressed to Meletius his wish of entering into communion with him. Meletius, ill-advised, delayed answering him, and St. Athana- sius went away leaving with Paulinus, whom he had not yet recognized as bishop, the declaration that he admitted him to his communion. Such blundering resulted in sad consequences for the Meletian cause. The moderation constantly shown by Athanasius, who thoroughly believed in Meletius's orthodoxy, was not found in hissucccssor, Peter of Alexandria, who did not conceal his belief that Meletius was an heretic. For a long time the position of Meletius was contested by the very ones who, it seemed, should have established it more firmly. A council of 26 bishops at Antioch pre- sided over by Meletius was of more consequence, but a pamphlet ascribed to Paulinus again raised doubts as to the orthodoxy of Meletius. Moreover, new and unsuspected difficulties soon arose.

Jovian's death made Arianism again triumphant and a violent persecution broke out under Emperor Valens. At the same time the quiet but persistent rivalry between Alexandria and Antioch helped the cause of Meletius. However illustrious an Egyptian patriarch might be, the Christian episcopate of Syria and Asia Minor was too national or racial, too self- centred, to seek or accept his leadership. Athanasius,