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MELETITJS


164


MELETIUS


Eastern faithful a rallying sign and a synonym of orthodoxy.

ALi.AHi>.Vt/;i'cn I'Arostnl (Paris, lOOri); fiEFELE, Histoirc dcs coneiles, ctl. Lkclekcq, II. 1; Looks in lit-alencuk. fitr prot. Theol. und Kirclie, 3. v.; Cavallera, Le schisme d'Antiochc au IVelV sii'clc (Paris, 1905). H. Leclercq.

Meletius of Lycopolis, Bishop of Lycopolis in Egypt, gave his name to a schism of sliort duration. There is uncertainty as to the ilates of his birtli, his death, and his episcopate. It is Ivnown, however, that he was bishop of the above-mentioned city as early as 303, since in a council held about 30G at Alexandria by Peter, archbishop of that city, Meletius was deposed for several reasons, among others for sacrificing to idols. Meagre references by St. Athanasius were our only source of information until important documents were discovered in the eighteenth century by Scipio Maffei at Verona in a manuscript dealing with the Meletian schism in Egypt. The three documents pre- served in Latin are undoubtedly authentic. There is first, a letter of protest by four Egyptian bishops, Hesychius, Pachomius, Theodore, and Phileas, tlatmg at the latest from 307, from the very beginning of the schism of Meletius, and before the excommunication of the latter who was termed by the bishops, dilectus comminister in Domino (beloved fellow minister in the Lord). "We have heard", said the bishops, "griev- ous reports regarding Jleletius who is accused of troubling the divine law and ecclesiastical rules. Quite recently, a number of witnesses having confirmed the reports, we feel compelled to write tliis letter. Mele- tius is undoubtedly aware of the very ancient law which forbids a bishop to ordain outside his own dio- cese. Nevertheless, without regard for this law, and â– without consideration for the great bishop and father, Peter of Alexandria, and the incarcerated bishops, he has created general confusion. To vindicate himself he will perhaps declare that he was compelled to act thus, as the congregations were without pastors. Such a defence however, is worthless, as a number of visitors {circumexinles) had been appointed. Were they neg- lectful of their duties, their case should have been pre- sented before the incarcerated bishops. If the latter had been martyred, he could have appealed to Peter of Alexandria, and thus have obtained the authority to ordain ". Second, an anonymous note added to the foregoing letter and worded thus: "Meletius having received the letter and read it, paid no attention to the protest and presented himself neither before the incar- cerated bishops, nor Peter of Alexandria. After all these bishops, priests, and deacons had died in their dungeons at Alexandria, he immediately repaired to that city. Among other intriguers there were two, a certain Isidore and one Arius, seemingly honourable, both of them desirous of being admitted to the priest- hood. Aware of the ambition of Meletius and what he sought, they hastened to him, and gave him the names of the vistors (circumeuntcs) appointed by Peter. Mele- tius excommunicated them and ordained two others, one of them detained m prison, the other in the mines. " On learning this, Peter wrote to his Alexan- drian flock. Here comes tlie third document, in which occurs the phrase interpreted as follows: "Having heard", said Peter, " that Meletius, without considering the letter of the blessed bishops and martyrs, has in- truded himself into my diocese, and deprived my depu- ties of their pow'er, and consecrated others, I advise you to avoid all communion with him until I can bring him before me face to face in the presence of prudent men, and investigate this affair".

The conduct of Meletius was all the more reprehen- sible in as much as his insubordination was that of one in very high office. St. Epiphanius and Theodoret tell us that Meletius stood next in rank to Peter of Alexandria, of whom he was jealous and whom he was basely endeavouring to supplant at the moment, when Peter was forced to flee from persecution and live in


hiding. It was not only against Peter, but also against his innnedialc successors. Achillas and Alexander, that Meletius niainlaincd liis false posit ion. This we know from St. Athanasius. an authoritali\e witness. Com- paring the inrormatiuii given us b^- St. Athanasius with that furnished by the documents alio\c, the date of the beginning of the Meletian scliisni iii:i\- be deter- mined with fair accuracy. It v:is .x idini ly iluring the episcopate of Peter, who occu|iir. I I he Sec of Alex- andria from 300 to 311. Now St. .Uhanasius in his "Epi.stola ad episcopos" states ]iositively that "the Meletians were declared schismatics over fifty-five years ago". Unfortunately the date of this letter is con- tested; the choice lies between 356 or 361. However, St. Athanasius adds: "The Arians were declared her- etical thirty-six years ago", i. e. at the Council of Nicsea (325). Apparently, therefore, Athanasius was writing in 301. If now we deduct fifty-five years, we have the year 306 for the condemnation of the Mele- tian schism; and as the persecution of Diocletian raged bitterly between 303 and 305, the beginnings of the schism seem to belong to the year 304, or 305. St. Epiphanius, Bishop of Salamis in Cyprus gives a cir- cumstantial account (Haer. Ixviii) in contradiction with the foregoing narrative. According to him, the schism arose from a disagreement between Meletius and Peter regarding the reception of certain of the faithful, particularly of ecclesiastics, who had abjured the Faith during the persecution. This account, pre- ferred by some historians to the statement of St. Atha- nasius, is no longer credible since the discovery of the aforesaid documents by Maffei at Verona . How, then, explain the origin of the account given by Epiphanius? It seems to us it arose m this manner: after Peter's death Meletius was arrested and sent to the mines; on his way he stopped at Eleutheropolis, and there founded a church of his sect; Eleutheropolis being the native town of Epiphanius, the latter naturally came in contact W'ith Meletians in his early days. They would of course represent in a most favourable light the origin of their sect; and thus their partial and mislead- ing narrative was afterwards inserted by Epiphanius in his great work on heresies. Finally, the references to the Meletian schism by Sozomen and Theodoret quite accord with the original documents discovered at Verona, and more or less with what St. Athanasius has upon the same subject. As to St. Augustine, he merely mentions the schism in passing and very likely follows St. Epiphanius.

The suppression of the Meletian schism was one of the three important matters that came before the Council of Nica;a. Its decree has been preserved in the synodical epistle addressed to the Egyptian bish- ops. Meletius, it was decided, should remain in his own city of Lycopolis, but without exercising author- ity or the power of ordaining; moreover he was for- bidden to go into the environs of the town or to enter another diocese for the purpose of ordaining its sub- jects. He retained his episcopal title, but the ecclesias- tics ordained by him were to receive again the imposi- tion of hands, the ordinations performed by Meletius being therefore regarded as invalid. Throughout the diocese where they were found, those ordained by him were always to yield precedence to those ordained by Alexander, nor were they to do anything without the consent of Bishop Alexander. In the event of the death of a non-Meletian bishop or ecclesiastic, the va- cant preferment might be given to a Meletian, pro- vided he were worthy and the popular election were ratified by Alexander. As to Meletius himself, epis- copal rights and prerogatives were taken from him owing to his incorrigible habit of everjTvhere exciting confusion. These mild measures, however, were in vain; the Meletians joined the Arians and did more harm than ever, being among the worst enemies of St. Athanasius. Referring to this attempt at reunion the latter said: "Would to God it had never happened."