Page:Catholic Encyclopedia, volume 10.djvu/193

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page needs to be proofread.


MELETIUS


163


MELETIUS


indeed, remained an authmitaf ivn power in tlie East, but only a bishop of Ant icjch could unite all those wlio were now ready to frankly- aict-pt the Nieene Creed. In tliis way the role of Meletius became daily more prominent. While in his own city a minority con- tested his right to the see and questioned his ortho- doxy, his influence was spreading in the East, and from various parts of the empire bishops accepted his leadership. Chalcedon, Ancyra, Melitene, Pergama, Csesarca of Cappadocia, Bostra, parts of Syria and Palestine, looked to him for direction, and this move- ment 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 govern- ment 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 Caesarea (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 pro- tracted 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 hin- drance. Not only did Basil's representative have to travel from Csesarea 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 tlu-ee Antio- chene churches that formally adopted the Nieene Creed. The generous scheme of Basil for appeasement and union had ended unfortunately, and to make mat- ters worse, Evagrius, the chief promoter of the at^ tempted 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 com- munity, which in the absence of the natural leader was still governed by Flavins and Dodorus, 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 appre- ciate the \'iolence of the persecution against which the orthodox parties were struggling. In order to en- lighten 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, Doro- theus 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 Apollinai-is then spreading at Antioch, condemnations all the more timely, as theo- logical excitement was then at its highest in Antioch, and was gradually reaching Palesl'ne. St. Jerome en- tered into the conflict, perhaps without having a thor- ough 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 Pau- linus, and became the echo of Paulinist imputations against Meletius and his following. In 378 Doro- theus and Sanctissimus returned from Jlome, bearers of a formal condemnation of the erroC _^^ >inted 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 rein- stated (end of 378), and his flock probably met for worship in the " Palaia" or old chm-ch. 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 Mele- tius 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 con- voked 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 pres- idency 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 Constanti- nople, and to the great satisfaction of the orthodox it was Meletius who enthroned him. The Council im- mediately proceeded to confirm the Nieene 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 imity and peace. The death of one whose finnness and gen- tleness had kindled great expectations caused univer- sal sorrow. The obsequies, at which Emperor Theo- dosius was present, took place in the church of the Apostles. The funeral panegyrics were touching and magnificent. His death blasted many hopes and just i- fied 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