3. Of LYCOPOLIS, a schismatical bishop of the third and fourth centuries.
There is a remarkable discrepancy in the accounts given of this person.
According to Athanasius, whose contests with the Meletians render his testimony less trustworthy, Meletius, who was bishop of Lycopolis in Upper Egypt at the time of the persecution under Diocletian and his successors, yielded to fear and sacrificed to idols; and being subsequently deposed, on this and other charges, in a synod, over which Petrus or Peter, bishop of Alexandria, presided, determined to separate from the church, and to constitute with his followers a separate community. Epiphanius, on the other hand, relates that both Peter and Meletius being in confinement for the faith, differed concerning the treatment to be used toward those who, after renouncing their Christian profession, became penitent and wished to be restored to the communion of the Church.
He states that Peter, who was willing to receive them, was opposed by Meletius, who was next to Peter in influence, and had, in fact, the larger number of followers on this question: and the schism which arose on this account he represents as owing rather to the former than to the latter. Although the ecclesiastical historians Socrates and Theodoret have adopted, wholly or partially, the account of Athanasius, the statement of Epiphanius is the more probable. Had Meletius been convicted, as Athanasius states, it is hardly probable that either he would have been able to raise and keep up so formidable a schism, or that the Council of Nice (which left him the title of bishop, though it deprived him of the power to ordain) would have dealt so leniently with him. The Council allowed those whom he had ordained to retain the priestly office, on condition of re-ordination, and of their yielding precedence to those whose first ordination had been regular.
The schisn begun in prison was continued in the mines of Phaeinon, in Arabia Petraea, to which Meletius and others were banished, and after their release. Meletius ordained bishops, presbyters, and deacons, and kept his followers a distinct body, under the title of " the Church of the Martyrs."
He even extended his sect into Palestine, where he visited Jerusalem, Eleutheropolis, and Gaza, and ordained many in those towns to the priesthood.
In this state matters remained till the Nicene Council (A. D. 325), the sentence of which has been already Mentioned.
The synodical letter to the Egyptian clergy, which notifies the sentence, gives no informaation as to the origin of the schism: it describes, indeed, Meletius as disorderly, hasty, and headstrong; characteristics more in harmony with the conduct ascribed to him by Epiphanius, than with the charges of Athanasius.
There is no dispute that the theological sentiments of the Meletians were at first what is deemed orthodox; and, according to Epiphanius. Meletius was the first to detect the heretical teachings ,f Arius, and to report them to Alexander, bishop of Alexandria. Meletius died very shortly after the Council of Nice, for Alexander, who himself only survived the council about five months, lived long enough to persecute the followers of Meletius after their leader's death, because, deeming Meletius illtreated, they would not accept the terms of reconciliation offered by the Council.
The schism continued under the leadership of John Arcaph, whom Meletius had appointed to succeed him [JOANNES, No. 16]; sand the Meletians co-operated with the Arians in their hostility to Athanasius [ATHANASIUS] ; an alliance more conducive to the gratification of their revenge than to the maintenance of their orthodoxy. (Athanas. Apol. contra Arian.
100.59; Epiphan. Haeres.
68.1-5; Socrat. H. E.
1.6, 9; Sozomen, H. E.
1.24, 2.21; Theodoret. H. E.
1.9; Tillemont, Memoires,
vol. v. p. 453, &c.; Le Quien, Oriens Christian.
vol. ii. col. 598.)