1. Of ANTIOCH, an eminent Greek ecclesiastic of the fourth century.
He was born at Melitene, near the right bank of the Euphrates, in the district of Melitene, in Armenia Minor. His parents were persons of rank, at least of respectable condition (Gregor. Nyssen. Oratio habit. in funere Meletii),
and he probably inherited from them an estate which he possessed in Armenia. (Basil. Epist.
187, editt. vett., 99, ed. Benedict.) His gentleness of disposition, general excellence of charafter, and persuasive eloquence, acquired for him a high reputation: but his first bishopric, that of the Sebaste, in Armenia, in which he succeeded Eustathius [EUSTATHIUS, No. 7], apparently after the latter had been deposed in the council of Melitene (A. D. 357), proved so troublesome, through the contumacy of his people, that he withdrew from his charge and retired to Beroea, now Aleppo in Syria, of which city, according to one rendering of a doubtful expression in Socrates, he became bishop. The East was atthis time torn with the Arian controversy ; but the character of Meletius won the respect of both parties, and each appears to have regarded him as belonging to them, a result promoted by his dwelling, in his discourses, on practical rather than polemical subjects.
According to Philostorgius he feigned himself an Arian, and subscribed the Confession of the Western bishops, probably that of Ariminum; and, according to Socrates, he subscribed the creed of the Acacians, at Selenceia in A. D. 359.
These concurrent testimonies fix on him the charge either of instability or dissimulation. Still his real tendency to the Homoousian doctrine was known to or suspected by many; and, therefore, when, by the influence of Acacius and the Arians, he was appointed to the see of Antioch (A. D. 360 or 361), all the bishops, clergy, and people of the city and neighbourhood, Arians and Orthodox, went out to meet him. Even the Jews and Heathens flocked to see a person who had already attained so great celebrity. For a time, but apparently a very short time, he confined himself to practical subjects, avoiding or speaking ambiguously on the doctrines in dispute between the contending parties, but presently gave more open indications of his adherence to the orthodox party.
It was probably to draw out his sentiments more distinctly that he was desired by the emperor Constantius to give an exposition of the passage, Prov. 8.22. [GEORGIUS, No. 29.] He was preceded in the pulpit by George of Laodiceia and by Acacius of Caesareia, who gave explanations more or less heterodox; and when Meletius in his turn came to speak, ann avowed his adherence to the orthodox doctrine, a scene of great excitement ensued, the people applauding, and the Arians among the clergy, especially the archdeacon, attempting to stop his mouth. Determined now to get rid of him, the Arians charged him with Sabellianism, and persuaded the emperor to depose him and banish him, apparently on a charge either of perjury or of having violated the discipline of the church, to his native country, Melitene, while Euzoius was appointed bishop of Antioch in his room (A. D. 361).
This step led to an immediate and extensive schism: the orthodox party broke off from the communion of the Arians, and met in the church of the Apostles, in what was called the old town of Antioch.
There had been a previous secession of the more zealous part of the orthodox on occasion of the deposition of Eustathius (A. D. 331),butthetwo seceding bodies remained separate, the Eustathians objecting that Meletius had been ordained by Arians. On the accession of the emperor Julian Meletius returned to Antioch (A. D. 362), and the most earnest endeavours were made to reconcile the two sections of the orthodox party: but though the death of Eustathius seemed to present a fair opportunity for such reconciliation, all the efforts made were frustrated by the intemperate zeal of Lucifer of Cagliari [LUCIFER], who ordained Paulinus bishop of the Eustathians. Meanwhile, Arians appear to have retained possession of most of the churches, the orthodox having one or two assigned for their use, of which, however, on the accession of the emperor Valens, they were deprived, and Meletius was again (A. D. 365?) banished from the city.
According to Tillemont, who grounds his assertion on two passages of Gregory Nyssen (ibid.), Meletius was twice banished under Valens, or three times in all, which supposes a return from his first banishment under that prince. Gregory's assertion, however, is not corroborated by any of the ecclesiastical historians; and we have no means of determining the dates of Meletius's return and subsequent exile, if they really took place. Tillemont thinks he was recalled in A. D. 367 at latest, and places his last banishment in A. D. 371. During his exile his party were directed by Flavian and Diodorus. [FLAVIANUS, No. 1; DIODORUS, No. 3.] He was recalled on the death of Valens A. D. 378, but the edict of Gratian, which recalled all those who were in exile, allowed the Arians (who had chosen Dorotheus their bishop in the room of Euzoius, now deceased) to retain the churches which they occupied; however they were after a time delivered up to Meletius, who again manifested his anxiety to heal the schism between his own party and the Eustathians; but his equitable offers were rejected by his more tenacious rival Paulinus. In A. D. 381 Meletius was at Constantinople at the second general council, and died in that city during its session. His body was conveyed with great honour to Antioch, and deposited close to the tomb of the martyr Babylas. His funeral oration, pronounced by Gregory Nyssen, is extant.
There is no reason to doubt the truth of the encomiums bestowed on the gentleness of his temper and general kindness of his disposition: that these very qualities, combined perhaps with indifference to the points in dispute, rendered him more pliant in the earlier part of his life than was consistent with strict integrity, at least with consistency.
But from the time of his elevation to the see of Antioch, there is no need to doubt his consistent adherence to what he judged to be the truth.
In the Western church, indeed, which fraternized with the ultra party of the Eustathians, his reputation was lower: he was regarded as an Arian, and it was long before the imputation was removed.
A short piece, ascribed to Athanasius, and published with his works (vol. ii. p. 30, ed. Benedict.), but the genuineness of which is very doubtful, charges him with hypocrisy.
He enjoyed the friendship of Basil and other leading men of the orthodox party. Epiphanius has spoken favourably of him, but Jerome is less favourable, owing, probably, to his connection with Paulinus.
Meletius was succeeded in the see of Antioch by Flavian [FLAVIANUS, No. 1], under whom the Eustathian schism was at length healed, and the suppression of the Arians under Theodosius the Great restored for a while the unity of the see.
The Greek Church honours his memory on February the 12th, and the Latin Church at last received him into the calendar on the same day.
Sermon at Antioch
A part of the first sermon preached by Meletius at Antioch has been preserved by Epiphnius, and is given in the Biblotheca Patrum
of Galland, vol. v.
A synodical epistle to the emperor Jovian
given by Socrates (H. E.
3.25), and Sozomen (H. E.
reprinted in the Concilia,
vol. i. col. 741, ed. Hardouin, and in the Bibliotheca
of Galland, vol. v., may perhaps be ascribed to him.
Socrates, H. E.
2.43, 44, 3.6, 9, 4.2, 5.3, 5, 9; Sozomen, H. E.
4.25, 28, 5.12, 13, 6.7, 7.3, 7. 8, 10; Theodoret. H. E.
2.31, 3.3, 4, 4.13, 25, 5.3, 8; Philostorg. H. E.
5.1, 5; Greg. Nvssen. Orat. in Fun. Meletii habita;
Basil. Epistolae, i.
lvi. lvii. Iviii. lix. lxiv. cclxxiii. cccxxi. cccxxv. cccxlix. editt. vett., or lvii. lxvii. lxviii. lxxxix. cxx. cxxix. ccx. ccxiv. cclviii. cclxvi. edit. Benedict.; Epiph. Haeres.
73.28-35; Hieron. in Chronico; Concilia,
vol. i. p. 731, 741, ed. Hardouin ; Tillemont, Memoires,
vol. viii. p. 341, &c.; Cave, Hist. Litt.
ad ann. 360, vol. i. p. 223, ed. Oxford, 1740-43; Fabric. Bibl. Graec.
vol. ix. p. 304; Galland. Biblioth. Patrum. Proleg. ad Vol. V. c.
11; Le Quien, Oriens Christian.
vol. i. col. 423, vol. ii. col. 713, &c., 781.