Melitian Schisms

Fourth-century controversies.

(1) Egypt. Melitius, bishop of Lycopolis, traveled around consecrating new presbyters and deacons while Peter of Alexandria was imprisoned during the Diocletian persecution (305). Objections were made, and eventually Peter excommunicated him. During further persecution Peter was martyred and Melitius banished to the mines in Arabia Petraea. On returning he formed a schismatic church. He appears to have ordained Arius, thus sharing in the making of the Arian controversy. The Council of Nicea* (325) decreed that the Melitian clergy should be permitted to function under Alexander, Peter's successor, and their bishops, if legally elected, could succeed the orthodox bishops when they died. Melitius himself was to retain his title without a see. When Athanasius* acceded, the arrangement broke down, and the Melitians, encouraged by Eusebius of Nicomedia,* again went into schism. Melitius was succeeded by John Arcaphos of Memphis, who strongly opposed Athanasius. The sect apparently survived till the eighth century.

(2) Antioch. Melitius of Sebaste became bishop of Antioch (360), immediately fell foul of the Arians there by preaching an orthodox sermon on Proverbs 8:22, and was sent back to Armenia. The orthodox separated from the new bishop, Euzoïos, an Arian sympathizer, holding their own services. Already there was another orthodox congregation, the Eustathians, led by Paulinus, and soon there was an Apollinarian group. An attempt by Athanasius to unite the Melitians and Eustathians failed. Allowed back under Julian (362), Melitius was twice banished under Valens (365-66; 371-78). Basil of Caesarea worked for his reinstatement, though Rome and Alexandria opposed him. He finally returned through Gratian's edict of tolerance (379). He presided over the Council of Constantinople (381), during which he died. The council ignored the opportunity to heal the schism by consecrating the aged Paulinus, and elected instead Flavian as the new bishop.