Saint Mélèce d'Antioche
Évêque d'Antioche de Syrie (✝ 381)
"Luminaire de l'Orthodoxie et modèle de vie évangélique", disent de lui les synaxaires. Originaire de la Petite Arménie de Cilicie, il avait une vaste culture et une grande vertu. D'abord évêque de Sébaste, puis élu patriarche d'Antioche, la plus grande métropole de l'Orient à cette époque, il fut plusieurs fois exilé par les empereurs ariens. Retiré dans ses propriétés de Cappadoce, il eut de nombreuses occasions de rencontrer saint Basile.
L’avènement de l'empereur Théodose le Grand lui permit de retrouver son trône patriarcal. Il joua un rôle prépondérant au concile œcuménique de Constantinople en 381 pendant lequel il mourut. Saint Grégoire de Nysse prononça son éloge funèbre.
Commémoraison de saint Mélèce, évêque d’Antioche, qui fut souvent exilé à cause de la foi de Nicée et s’en alla vers le Seigneur en 381, alors qu’il présidait le premier Concile de Constantinople. Saint Grégoire de Nysse et saint Jean Chrysostome ont donné de magnifiques éloges à ses vertus.
MÉLÈCE saint (310 env.-381)
Originaire de Mélitène, dans la petite Arménie, Mélèce fut élu évêque de Sébaste vers 358. On ne sait pas bien quelle fut alors sa position dans les controverses théologiques du temps, mais il rencontra certainement des difficultés, puisqu'il était retiré à Alep quand, en 360, il fut promu au très important siège épiscopal d'Antioche. Il est probable qu'on avait confiance dans sa sagesse, car la communauté chrétienne d'Antioche était très divisée et les esprits étaient surexcités. De fait Mélèce évita de se servir du vocabulaire théologique controversé, mais cette prudence ne suffit pas. Un discours sur la génération du Verbe, conforme à la doctrine du concile de Nicée, lui valut la haine des ariens et une sentence d'exil de la part de l'empereur Constance. Celui-ci mourut peu après et son successeur Julien l'Apostat manifesta son mépris des querelles chrétiennes en abolissant les sentences de son prédécesseur. Malheureusement, quand Mélèce arriva à Antioche, il trouva sa place prise par un autre évêque, Paulin, ordonné par l'évêque Lucifer de Cagliari au mépris de tout droit. La communauté catholique d'Antioche se trouva divisée. Renseigné presque exclusivement par des partisans de Paulin, parmi lesquels se trouvait saint Jérôme, ordonné prêtre en 378 par Paulin, le pape Damase (366-384) se montra hostile à Mélèce, qui eut pour soutiens Basile de Césarée et Grégoire de Nazianze. Après de longues péripéties, Mélèce rentra dans la pleine possession de ses droits, quand l'empereur Théodose le reconnut comme seul évêque d'Antioche. Damase ne pouvait alors qu'accepter sa profession de foi, conforme d'ailleurs aux décisions des conciles romains. Mélèce présidait le concile réuni à Constantinople en 381, quand il mourut, probablement le 23 ou le 24 août 381.
Ses funérailles à Constantinople furent triomphales, Grégoire de Nysse prononça l'oraison funèbre. Sur l'ordre de Théodose, son corps fut ramené à Antioche et, quelques années plus tard, Jean Chrysostome, qui avait été baptisé et ordonné diacre par Mélèce, fit son panégyrique. Cependant le schisme se prolongea et ne fut éteint qu'en 413. Mélèce fut vénéré les 23 ou 24 août ainsi que le 12 février, jour où il est nommé au martyrologe romain.
Jacques DUBOIS, « MÉLÈCE saint (310 env.-381) », Encyclopædia Universalis [en ligne], consulté le 12 février 2017. URL : http://www.universalis.fr/encyclopedie/melece/
Meletius of Antioch B (RM)
Born at Melitene, Lower Armenia; died in Constantinople in 381. Meletius was born into a distinguished family and was appointed bishop of Sebastea about 358 but fled to the desert and then to Beroea, Syria, when the appointment caused great dissension. In 361, a group of Arians and Catholics elected him archbishop of Antioch, a church that had been oppressed by the Arians since the banishment of Saint Eustathius in 331. He was a compromise candidate between the two groups, and though confirmed by Emperor Constantius II, he was opposed by some Catholics because Arians had participated in his election.
The Arian hope that he would join them was dashed when he expounded the Catholic position before the pro-Arian emperor. He and several other bishops were ordered to expound upon the text of the Book of Proverbs: "The Lord has created me in the beginning of His ways." First, George of Alexandria explained it in an Arian sense. Then Acacius of Caesarea gave it a meaning bordering on the heretical, but Meletius expounded it in the Catholic sense and connected it with the Incarnation. This public testimony so angered the Arians that the Arian Bishop Eudoxus of Constantinople was able to convince the emperor to exile Meletius to Lower Armenia (only a month after he took possession of his see) and to appoint Arian Euzoius, who had previously been excommunicated by Patriarch Saint Alexander of Alexandria, to his episcopal chair. Thus began the famous Meletian schism of Antioch, although it really started with the banishment of Saint Eustathius.
On the death of the emperor in 361, his successor, Julian, recalled Meletius, who found that in his absence, a faction of the Catholic bishops, led by Lucifer Cagliari, had elected Paulinus archbishop.
The Council of Alexandria in 362 was unsuccessful in healing the breach, and an unfortunate rift between Saint Athanasius and Meletius in 363 exacerbated the matter. During the next 15 years, Meletius was exiled (356-66 and 371-78) by Emperor Valens while the conflict between the Arian and Catholic factions raged.
Gradually, Meletius's influence in the East grew as more bishops supported him. By 379, the bishops backing him numbered 150, in contrast to his 26 supporters in 363. The rift between the contending Catholic factions, however, continued despite the untiring efforts of Saint Basil, who was unswerving in his support of Meletius, to resolve the matter.
In 374, the situation was further complicated when Pope Damasus recognized Paulinus as archbishop, appointed him papal legate in the East, and Saint Jerome allowed himself to be ordained a priest by Paulinus. In 378, the death of the avidly pro-Arian Valens led to the restoration of the banished bishops by Emperor Gratian, and Meletius was reinstated. He was unable to reach an agreement with Paulinus before his death in Constantinople in May while presiding at the third General Council of Constantinople. His funeral was attended by all the fathers of the council and the faithful of the city. Saint Gregory of Nyssa delivered his funeral panegyric (Benedictines, Delaney, Encyclopedia, Walsh).
SOURCE : http://www.saintpatrickdc.org/ss/0212.shtml
Bishop, b. in Melitene, Lesser Armenia; d. at Antioch, 381. Before occupying the see of Antioch he had been Bishop of Sebaste, capital of Armenia Prima. Socrates supposes a transfer from Sebaste to Beræa and thence to Antioch; his elevation to Sebaste may date from the year 358 or 359. His sojourn in that city was short and not free from vexations owing to popular attachment to his predecessor Eustathius. Asia Minor and Syria were troubled at the time by theological disputes of an Arian, or semi-Arian character. Under Eustathius (324-330) Antioch had been one of the centres of Nicene orthodoxy. This great man was set aside, and his first successors, Paulinus and Eulalius held the see just a short time (330-332). Others followed, most of them unequal to their task, and the Church of Antioch was rent in twain by schism. The Eustathians remained an ardent and ungovernable minority in the orthodox camp, but details of this division escape us until the election of Leonatius (344-358). His sympathy for the Arian heresy was open, and his disciple Ætius preached pure Arianism which did not hinder his being ordained deacon. This was too much for the patience of the orthodox under the leadership of Flavius and Diodorus. Ætius had to be removed. On the death of Leontius, Eudoxius of Germanicia, one of the most influential Arians, speedily repaired to Antioch, and by intrigue secured his appointment to the vacant see. He held it only a short time, was banished to Armenia, and in 359 the Council of Seleucia appointed a successor named Annanius, who was scarcely installed when he was exiled. Eudoxius was restored to favour in 360, and made Bishop of Constantinople, whereby the Antiochene episcopal succession was re-opened. From all sides bishops assembled for the election. The Acacians were the dominant party. Nevertheless the choice seems to have been a compromise. Meletius, who had resigned his see of Sebaste and who was a personal friend of Acacius, was elected. The choice was generally satisfactory, for Meletius had made promises to both parties so that orthodox and Arians thought him to be on their side.
Meletius of Antioch
Meletius doubtless believed that truth lay in delicate distinctions, but his formula was so indefinite that even today, it is difficult to seize it with precision. He was neither a thorough Nicene nor a decided Arian. Meanwhile he passed alternately for an Anomean, an Homoiousian, an Homoian, or a Neo-Nicene, seeking always to remain outside any inflexible classification. It is possible that he was yet uncertain and that he expected from the contemporary theological ferment some new and ingenious doctrinal combination, satisfactory to himself, but above all non-committal. Fortune had favoured him thus far; he was absent from Antioch when elected, and had not been even sounded concerning his doctrinal leanings. Men were weary of interminable discussion, and the kindly, gentle temper of Meletius seemed to promise the much- desired peace. He was no Athanasius, nor did unheroic 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 his Christian virtues might appear transcendent. The new bishop held the affection of the large and turbulent population he governed, and was esteemed by such men as St. John Chrysostom, St. Gregory Nazianzen, St. Gregory of Nyssa, St. Basil, and even his adversary St. Epiphanius. St. Gregory Nazianzen tells us that he was a very pious man, simple and without guile, full of godliness; 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 himself, and already the report was spread abroad that he was simply a partisan of the Necene 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 emperor invited several bishops then at Antioch to speak upon the chief test in the Arian controversy. "The Lord possessed me in the beginning of His way" (Proverbs 8:22).
In the beginning Meletius was somewhat long and tedious, but exhibited a great Scriptural knowledge. He cautiously declared that Scripture does not contradict itself, that all language is adequate when it is a question of explaining the nature of God's only begotten 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 Father, 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 exclusivism. Meletius then turned to moral considerations, but he had satisfied his hearers, chiefly by refraining 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 audience asked him for a summary of his teaching. 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 divided into Meletians and Eustathians. The churches remaining in the hands of the Arians, Paulinus governed the Eustathians, while Flavius 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 predecessor's decrees of banishment. Meletius quite probably returned at once to Antioch, but his position was a difficult one in presence of the Eustathians. The Council of Alexandria (362) tried to re-establish harmony and put an end to the schism, but failed. Both parties were steadfast in their claims, while the vehemence 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 awaiting Meletius's approaching return from exile, assisted by two confessors he hastily consecrated as Bishop of Antioch the Eustathian leader, Paulinus. This unwise measure was a great calamity, for it definitively established the schism. Meletius and his adherents were not responsible, and it is a peculiar injustice of history that this division should be known as the Meletian schism when the Eustathians or Paulinians were alone answerable for it. Meletius's return soon followed, also the arrival of Eusebius of Vercelli, but he could accomplish nothing under the circumstances. The persecution of Emperor Julian, whose chief residence was Antioch, brought new vexations. Both factions of the orthodox party were equally harassed and tormented, and both bore bravely their trials.
An unexpected incident made the Meletians prominent. An anti-Christian writing of Julian was answered by the aforesaid Meletian Diodorus, whom the emperor had coarsely reviled. "For many years", said the imperial apologist of Hellenism, "his chest has been sunken, his limbs withered, his cheeks flabby, his countenance livid". So intent was Julian upon describing the morbid symptoms of Diodorus that he seemed to forget Bishop Meletius. The latter doubtless 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 chorepiscopi, we are told, accompanied to the place of martyrdom two officers, Bonosus and Maximilian. Meletius 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 supposition that the second banishment of Meletius came during 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. Athanasius 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 his successor, 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 presided 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-centered, to seek or accept his leadership. Athanasius, indeed, remained an authoritative power in the East, but only a bishop of Antioch could unite all three who were now ready to frankly accept the Nicene Creed. In this way the rôle of Meletius became daily more prominent. While in his own city a minority contested his right to the see and questioned his orthodoxy, his influence was spreading in the East, and from various parts of the empire bishops accepted his leadership. Chalcedon, Ancyra, Melitene, Pergama, Cæsarea of Cappadocia, Bostra, parts of Syria and Palestine, looked to him for direction, and this movement grew rapidly. In 363 Meletius could count on 26 bishops, in 379 more than 150 rallied around him. Theological unity was at least restored in Syria and Asia Minor. Meletius and his disciples, however, had not been spared by the Arians. While Paulinus and his party were seemingly neglected by them, Meletius was again exiled (May, 365) to Armenia. His followers expelled from the churches, sought meeting places for worship wherever they could. This new exile, owing to a lull in the persecution, was of short duration, and probably in 367 Meletius took up again the government of his see. It was then that John, the future Chrysostom, entered the ranks of the clergy. The lull was soon over. In 371 persecution raged anew in Antioch, where Valens resided almost to the time of his death. At this time St. Basil occupied the see of Cæsarea (370) and was a strong supporter of Meletius. With rare insight Basil thoroughly understood the situation, which made impossible the restoration of religious peace in the East. It was clear that the antagonism between Athanasius and Meletius protracted endlessly the conflict. Meletius, the only legitimate Bishop of Antioch, was the only acceptable one for the East; unfortunately he was going into exile for the third time. In these circumstances Basil began negotiations with Meletius and Athanasius for the pacification of the East.
Aside from the inherent difficulties of the situation, the slowness of communication was an added hindrance. Not only did Basil's representative have to travel from Cæsarea to Armenia, and from Armenia to Alexandria, he also had to go to Rome to obtain the sanction of Pope Damasus and the acquiescence of the West. Notwithstanding the blunder committed at Antioch in 363, the generous spirit of Athanasius gave hope of success, his sudden death, however (May, 373), caused all efforts to be abandoned. Even at Rome and in the West, Basil and Meletius were to meet with disappointment. While they wrought persistently to restore peace, a new Antiochene community, declaring itself connected with Rome and Athanasius, increased the number of dissidents, aggravated the rivalry, and renewed the disputes. There were now three Antiochene churches that formally adopted the Nicene Creed. The generous scheme of Basil for appeasement and union had ended unfortunately, and to make matters worse, Evagrius, the chief promoter of the attempted reconciliation, once more joined the party of Paulinus. This important conversion won over to the intruders St. Jerome and Pope Damasus; the very next year, and without any declaration concerning the schism, the pope showed a decided preference for Paulinus, recognized him as bishop, greeted him as brother, and considered him papal legate in the East. Great was the consternation of Meletius and his community, which in the absence of the natural leader was still governed by Flavius and Diodorus, encouraged by the presence of the monk Aphrates and the support of St. Basil. Though disheartened, the latter did not entirely give up hope of bringing the West, especially the pope, to a fuller understanding of the situation of the Antiochene Church. But the West did not grasp the complex interests and personal issues, nor appreciate the violence of the persecution against which the orthodox parties were struggling. In order to enlighten these well-intentioned men, closer relations were needed and deputies of more heroic character; but the difficulties were great and the "statu quo" remained.
After many disheartening failures, there was finally a glimpse of hope. Two legates sent to Rome, Dorotheus and Sanctissimus, returned in the spring of 377, bringing with them cordial declarations which St. Basil instantly proceeded to publish everywhere. These declarations pronounced anathemas against Arius and the heresy of Apollinaris then spreading at Antioch, condemnations all the more timely, as theological excitement was then at its highest in Antioch, and was gradually reaching Palestine. St. Jerome entered into the conflict, perhaps without having a thorough knowledge of the situation. Rejecting Meletius, Vitalian, and Paulinus, he made a direct appeal to Pope Damasus in a letter still famous, but which the pope did not answer. Discontented, Jerome returned to Antioch, let himself be ordained presbyter by Paulinus, and became the echo of Paulinist imputations against Meletius and his following. In 378 Dorotheus and Sanctissimus returned from Rome, bearers of a formal condemnation of the errors pointed out by the Orientals; this decree definitively united the two halves of the Christian world. It seemed as though St. Basil was but waiting for this object of all his efforts, for he died 1 Jan., 379. The cause he had served so well seemed won, and Emperor Valens's death five months earlier warranted a hopeful outlook. One of the first measures of the new emperor, Gratian, was the restoration of peace in the Church and the recall of the banished bishops. Meletius therefore was reinstated (end of 378), and his flock probably met for worship in the "Palaia" or old church. It was a heavy task for the aged bishop to re-establish the shattered fortunes of the orthodox party. The most urgent step was the ordination of bishops for the sees which had become vacant during the persecution. In 379 Meletius held a council of 150 bishops in order to assure the triumph of orthodoxy in the East, and published a profession of faith which was to meet the approval of the Council of Constantinople (382). The end of the schism was near at hand. Since the two factions which divided the Antiochene Church were orthodox there remained but to unite them actually, a difficult move, but easy when the death of either bishop made it possible for the survivor to exercise full authority without hurting pride or discipline. This solution Meletius recognized as early as 381, but his friendly and peace- making proposals were rejected by Paulinus who refused to come to any agreement or settlement. Meanwhile, a great council of Eastern bishops was convoked at Constantinople to appoint a bishop for the imperial city and to settle other ecclesiastical affairs.
In the absence of the Bishop of Alexandria, the presidency rightfully fell to the Bishop of Antioch, whom the Emperor Theodosius received with marked deference, nor was the imperial favour unprofitable to Meletius in his quality of president of the assembly. It began by electing Gregory of Nazianzus Bishop of Constantinople, and to the great satisfaction of the orthodox it was Meletius who enthroned him. The Council immediately proceeded to confirm the Nicene faith, but during this important session Meletius died almost suddenly. Feeling his end was near, he spent his remaining days re-emphasizing his eagerness for unity and peace. The death of one whose firmness and gentleness had kindled great expectations caused universal sorrow. The obsequies, at which Emperor Theodosius was present, took place in the church of the Apostles. The funeral panegyrics were touching and magnificent. His death blasted many hopes and justified grave forebodings. The body was transferred from Constantinople to Antioch, where, after a second and solemn funeral service, the body of the aged bishop was laid beside his predecessor St. Babylas. But his name was to live after him, and long remained for the Eastern faithful a rallying sign and a synonym of orthodoxy.
ALLARD, Julien l'Apostat (Paris, 1903); HEFELE, Histoire des conciles, ed. LECLERCQ, ii, 1; LOOFS in Realencyk. für prot. Theol. und Kirche, s.v.; CAVALLERA, Le schisme d'Antioche au IV et V siècle (Paris, 1905).
Leclercq, Henri. "Meletius of Antioch." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 10. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911. 12 Feb. 2017 <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/10161b.htm>.
Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by WGKofron. With thanks to Fr. John Hilkert and St. Mary's Church, Akron, Ohio.
Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. October 1, 1911. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.
San Melezio di Antiochia Vescovo
m. Antiochia, 381
San Melezio, vescovo di Antiochia, ripetutamente cacciato in esilio per la fede nicena e morto mentre presiedeva il Primo Concilio Ecumenico di Costantinopoli. Ricevette gli elogi di San Gregorio di Nissa e san Giovanni Crisostomo.
Martirologio Romano: Commemorazione di san Melezio, vescovo di Antiochia, che per la sua fede nicena fu ripetutamente mandato dall’esilio e poi, mentre presiedeva il Concilio Ecumenico Costantinopolitano I, passò al Signore; di lui san Gregorio di Nissa e san Giovanni Crisostomo celebrarono le virtù con somme lodi.