Ante-Nicene Fathers/Volume VI/Peter of Alexandria/Elucidations
(Meletian schism, p. 259.)
The date of the Meletian schism is very much in need of elucidation. I follow Neale, however, as follows: Athanasius places its origin a.d. 306 (according to Tillemont and Baronius) or a.d. 301; the latter more probable, as demonstrated by the Benedictine editors. But the dates are, perhaps, the least of the difficulties which encumber the whole matter. Somewhat distrustfully I have, after several efforts to construct an original elucidation, adopted the theory of Neale, as a diligent and conscientious inquirer whose Oriental studies qualify him to utter almost a decisive voice, albeit he never forgets his Occidentalism, and hence fails to speak with absolute fidelity to the spirit of Catholic antiquity.
We know something of Lycopolis from the blessed Alexander; it seems to have been a sort of centre to the bishoprics of the Thebais. It was just the sort of centre, in a region sufficient for a separate patriarchate, to suggest to an ambitious and unscrupulous prelate an effort at independency. Meletius, who succeeded the good Alexander, was just the man to set up for himself; a man not unlikely to be stimulated by the bad example of Paul of Samosata, and by the ingenuity that triumphed over the first council that called Paul to account. Bearing all this in mind, we may accept Neale’s conviction that Meletius had long been a scandal to the churches, and in the time of persecution had lapsed, and sacrificed to idols. Peter summoned him to a council, by which he was convicted and degraded; whereupon he not only refused to submit, but arrogated to himself the cathedra of Alexandria, and began to ordain other bishops, and, in short, to reorganize its jurisdiction. Owing, I think probable, to the exceptional and overgrown extent of this enormous “patriarchate,” as it was called a little later, the schism gained a considerable following. The distance of Lycopolis from Lower Egypt must have favoured the attempt, and Peter’s recent accession made it easy for Meletius to circulate evil stories against him. The schism, as usual, soon developed into heresy, which even the Nicene Synod failed to extinguish. Arius had joined the first outbreak, but conformed for a time, and was ordained a deacon by Achillas. His troublesome spirit, however, soon showed itself again after his ordination to the priesthood; and the remnant of the Meletians made common cause with him after his condemnation at Nicæa. Of Peter’s legitimate exercise of authority, and of the impurity and wickedness of Meletius before his invasion of Alexandria, there is no reason to doubt; but for the details, recourse must be had to Neale. The famous Sixth Canon of Nice finds its explanation in this rebellion; but, incidentally, it defines the position of other great centres, which now began to be known as patriarchates. Neale’s remarks on the excessive leniency of the council in settling the case of Meletius, are specially to be noted.
(Canonical Epistle, p. 279.)
The judgment of Dupin is so exceptionally eulogistic touching these canons, that I quote it, as follows:—
“Of all the canons of antiquity concerning the discipline of the lapsed, there are none more judicious or more equitable than those we have now described. There appear in them a wisdom and prudence altogether singular in tempering the rigours of punishment by a reasonable moderation, without which justice would be weakened. He examines carefully all the circumstances which might augment or diminish the quality of the crime; and as he does not lengthen out penance by methods too severe, so neither does he deceive the sinner by a facility too remiss.”
Like the famous Canonical Epistles of St. Basil, however, these are compilations of canons accepted by the churches of his jurisdiction. Dupin says of those of Basil (To Amphilochius), “They are not to be considered as the particular opinions of St. Basil, but as the laws of the Church in his time; and therefore they are not written in the form of personal letters, but after the manner of synodical decisions.”
The Roman Emperors.
In the study of these volumes a table is useful, such as I find it convenient to place here, showing the Ante-Nicene succession of Cæsars.
15. Antoninus Pius—138
16. Marcus Aurelius—161
19. Didius Julianus (Niger)—193
20. Septimius Severus—193
21. Caracalla (Geta)—211
24. Alexander Severus—222
27. Pupienus (Balbinus)—235
28. Gordian the Younger—238
31. Gallus (Volusianus)—251
34. Claudius II—268
36. Tacitus (Probus)—275
38. Carus (Carinus, Numerian)—282
40. Maximian (Galerius)—286
41. Constantius Chlorus—292
43. Constantine the Great (Licinius, Etc.)—307
Suetonius includes Julius, and therefore his Twelve Cæsars end with Domitian, the last of the Flavian family. With Nerva the “five good emperors” (so called) begin, but the “good Aurelius” was a persecutor. St. John, surviving the cruelty of Domitian, lived and died under Trajan.
The “vision of Constantine” is dated, at Treves, a.d. 312.
The Labarum became the Roman standard thenceforth.
The Dominical ordinance dates from Milan, June 2, a.d. 321.
He founds the city of Constantinople a.d. 324, convokes the Council of Nicæa a.d. 325.
- He reported to the Nicene Council that he had ordained twenty-eight bishops and eight priests or deacons.
- Patriarchate of Alexandria, vol. i. pp. 91, 146.
- Ibid., p. 146.
- Eccl. Hist. Cent. IV., sub tit. “Peter of Alexandria.”
- Ibid., sub tit. “Basil.”