Dictionary of Christian Biography and Literature to the End of the Sixth Century/Meletius, bishop of Antioch
Meletius (3), bp. of Antioch, previously of Sebaste in Armenia (Soz H. E. iv. 28; Theod. H. E. ii. 31), or according to Socrates (H. E. ii. 44), of Beroea in Syria.
He came to Antioch (a.d. 361) when the see had been vacated through the disorderly translation of Eudoxius to Constantinople (a.d. 360) and the city was still a focus for theological rancour and dispute. The Eustathians, now under the venerated priest Paulinus, represented the orthodox party with whom Athanasius was in communion; the Eudoxians were Arian or semi-Arian. Meletius owed his appointment to the joint application to Constantius of both parties, and
each counted on his support. His arrival was greeted by an immense concourse. It was reported that he maintained the doctrines of the council of Nicaea. He was entreated to give a brief synopsis of his doctrine; and his declaration "the Son is of the same substance as the Father," at once and unequivocally proclaimed him an upholder of the essential doctrine of Nicaea. The applause of the Catholics was met by the cries of the infuriated Arians. The Arian archdeacon sprang forward and stopped the bishop's mouth with his hand. Meletius instantly extended three fingers towards the people, closed them, and then allowing only one to remain extended, expressed by signs what he was prevented from uttering. When the archdeacon freed his mouth to seize his hand, Meletius exclaimed, "Three Persons are conceived in the mind, but we speak as if addressing One" (Theod. and Soz.). Eudoxius, Acacius, and their partisans were furious; they reviled the bishop and charged him with Sabellianism; met in council and deposed him; and induced the emperor, "more changeable than Aeolus," to banish him to his native country and to appoint Euzoïus, the friend of Arius, in his place. The Catholics repudiated Euzoïus, but did not all support Meletius. The Eustathian section could not conscientiously unite with one who, however orthodox in faith, had received consecration from Arian bishops; neither would they communicate with his followers who had received Arian baptism. Schism followed. The Meletians withdrew to the Church of the Apostles in the old part of the city; the followers of Paulinus met in a small church within the city, this being allowed by Euzoïus out of respect for Paulinus.
The death of Constantius (Nov. 361) and the decrees of toleration promulgated by Julian permitted the banished bishops to return. An effort was at once made, especially by Athanasius and Eusebius bp. of Vercelli, to establish unity in order to resist the pagan emperor; and this was one of the principal objects of a council held at Alexandria in 362 (Hefele, Conciliengeschichte, i. 727), where it was ordered that Paulinus and his followers should unite with Meletius, and that the church, thus united, should in the spirit of fullest toleration receive all who accepted the Nicene creed and rejected the errors of Arianism, Sabellianism, Macedonianism, etc. Eusebius of Vercelli and Asterius of Petra were commissioned to proceed to Antioch, taking with them the synodal letter (Tomus ad Antiochenos), which was probably the work of Athanasius. The prospects of peace had, however, been fatally imperilled before the commissioners reached the city. Lucifer, bp. of Calaris, had gone direct to Antioch instead of to the council of Alexandria. He appears to have repeatedly exhorted both Meletians and Eustathians to unity; but his sympathies were strongly with the latter; and, when the former opposed him, he took the injudicious step of consecrating Paulinus as bishop. "This was not right," Theodoret justly protests (iii. 5). When Eusebius reached Antioch, he found that "the evil had, by such unwise measures, been made incurable." The long connexion of Athanasius with the Eustathians made him unwilling to disown Paulinus, who accepted the synodal letter; and attempts at union were suspended.
During the short reign of Julian Meletius remained at his post. Jovian's death (a.d. 364.) and the edict of Valens re-expelling the bishops recalled by Julian once more drove Meletius into exile. Two devoted Antiochians, Flavian and Diodorus, rallied the persecuted who refused to communicate with the Arian Euzoïus and assembled them in caverns by the river side and in the open country. Paulinus, "on account of his eminent piety" (Socr. iv. 2), was left unmolested. During the 14 years which followed, bitterness and alienation were rife amongst the followers of Meletius and Paulinus. Basil (Ep. 89) recommended Meletius to write to Athanasius, who, however, would not sever the old ties between himself and the Eustathians. The death of Athanasius (A. D. 373) did not improve matters. His successor Peter, with Damasus of Rome, spoke in 377 of Eusebius and Meletius as Arians (Basil, Ep. 266). The Western bishops and Paulinus suspected Meletius and the Easterns of Arianism; the Easterns imputed Sabellianism to the Westerns.
Gratian, becoming sovereign of the whole empire in 378, at once proclaimed toleration to all sects, with a few exceptions (Socr. v. 2), amongst which must have been the Arians of Antioch (Theod. v. 2). Sapor, a military chief, went there to dispossess the partisans of Euzoïus and to give the Arian churches to the orthodox party. He pacified the Meletians by handing the churches over to them, and the animosity of the two parties was for the time allayed by the six principal presbyters binding themselves by oath to use no effort to secure consecration for themselves when either Paulinus or Meletius should die, but to permit the survivor to retain the see undisturbed.
In 379 a council at Antioch under Meletius accepted the synodal letter of Damasus (a.d. 378), which, known as "the Tome of the Westerns," was sent in the first instance to Paulinus; and two years later (381) Meletius—though disowned by Rome and Alexandria—was appointed to preside at the council of Constantinople. He was greeted by the emperor Theodosius with the warmest affection (ib. v. 6, 7). During the session of the council, Meletius died. His remains finally rested by those of Babylas the Martyr at Antioch.
The schism ought now to have ended. Paulinus was still alive, and should have been recognized as sole bishop. The Meletian party, however, irritated by his treatment of their leader, secured the appointment of FLAVIAN; and a fresh division arose, "grounded simply on a preference of bishops" (Socr. v. 269). The history of the Meletians now merges into that of the Flavianists. The schism was practically ended in Flavian's life time, 85 years after the ordination of Paulinus by Lucifer.