Saint Meletius (Greek: Μελέτιος, Meletios) was a Christian bishop of Antioch from 360 until his death in 381. However, his episcopate was dominated by a schism, usually called the Meletian schism.

  • During the reigns of the Homoian (Homoean) emperors Constantius and Valens, he was exiled in 361–362, 365–366 and 371–378, implying his opposition to Homoianism.
Meletius of Antioch
  • Meletius was also strongly opposed by a rival pro-Nicene bishop named Paulinus who was faithful to the memory of Eustathius of Antioch. "The fragments of Eustathius that survive present a doctrine that is close to Marcellus. ... Eustathius insists there is only one hypostasis."[1] While Athanasius of Alexandria and bishop Damasus of Rome opposed Meletius and supported Paulinus, Basil of Caesarea supported Meletius.[2]

One of Meletius' last acts was to preside over the First Council of Constantinople in 381. He died during that council.

Meletius' asceticism was remarkable in view of his great private wealth. He is venerated as a saint and confessor in the Roman Catholic, Oriental Orthodox and Eastern Orthodox churches.[3] His feast day is 12 February.[4]

Bishop of Sebaste


Meletius was born at Melitene in Lesser Armenia of wealthy and noble parents. He first appears around 357 as a supporter of Acacius, bishop of Caesarea, the leader of that local faction that supported the Homoean formula, which says that the Son is like the Father without reference to essence or substance. In contrast, the Homoiousians held that God and Jesus Christ are of like essence and the Homoousians that they are, as stated in the Nicene Creed, of the same essence. Meletius thus first appears as an ecclesiastic of the court party, and as such became bishop of Sebaste in succession to Eustathius. The appointment was resented by the Homoousian clergy, and Meletius resigned the see.[5]

Bishop of Antioch


First period and exile


According to Socrates Scholasticus, Meletius attended the synod of Seleucia in the autumn of 359, and then subscribed to the Acacian (Homoean) formula. Early in 360 he became bishop of Antioch, succeeding Eudoxius, who had been translated to the see of Constantinople. Early the following year (361), he was in exile. According to an old tradition, supported by evidence drawn from Epiphanius of Cyprus and John Chrysostom, this was due to a sermon preached before the emperor Constantius II, in which he revealed Homoousian views. This explanation, however, is rejected by G. F. Loofs on the grounds that the sermon contains nothing inconsistent with the Acacian position favoured by the court party; on the other hand, there is evidence of conflicts with the clergy, quite apart from any questions of orthodoxy, which may have led to the bishop's deposition.[3] Meletius believed that truth lay in delicate distinctions, but his formula was so indefinite that it is difficult to grasp it with precision. He was neither a thorough Nicene nor a decided Arian.[5]

The successor of Meletius was Euzoeus, an Eusebian.[6] In Antioch itself Meletius continued to have adherents, who held separate services in the apostolic church in the old town. The Meletian Schism was a dispute in Antioch between two pro-Nicene groups; the Meletians, who maintained that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are three hypostases, and the older pro-Nicene group, the Eustathians, who taught a single hypostasis. The Eustathians described the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as three prosopa, but Basil of Caesarea objected that the Sabellians also used this term and that it does not make sufficient distinction between the Persons. Basil wrote:

“It is not enough to count differences in the prosōpa. It is necessary also to confess that each prosōpon exists in a true hypostasis. The mirage of prosōpa without hypostaseis is not denied even by Sabellius, who said that the same God, though he is one subject, is transformed according to the need of each occasion and is thus spoken of now as Father, now as Son, and now as Holy Spirit.” (Epistle 210.5.36–41.)

Philip Schaff summarized the Meletian Schism as follows:

“The doctrinal difference between the Meletians and the old Nicenes consisted chiefly in this: that the latter acknowledged three hypostases in the divine trinity, the former only three prosopa; the one laying the stress on the triplicity of the divine essence, the other on its unity.”

The Eustathians elected as rival bishop the presbyter Paulinus. The synod of Alexandria (362) sent deputies to attempt an arrangement between the two anti-Arian churches; but before they arrived Paulinus had been consecrated bishop by Lucifer of Calaris. When in consequence of the emperor Julian's contemptuous policy Meletius returned, he found himself as one of three rival bishops.[3]

Second and third exiles


Athanasius of Alexandria came to Antioch by order of the emperor, and expressed to Meletius his wish of entering into communion with him. Meletius, ill-advised, delayed answering him, and Athanasius went away having admitted Paulinus, whom he had not yet recognized as bishop, to his communion.[5] The orthodox Nicene party, notably Athanasius himself, held communion with Paulinus only. Twice, in 365 and 371 or 372, Meletius was exiled by decree of the Arian emperor Valens. A further complication was added when, in 375, Vitalius, one of Meletius' presbyters, was consecrated bishop by the heretical bishop Apollinaris of Laodicea. After the death of Valens in 378, the Western emperor Gratian removed Euzoeus from Antioch, handing over the churches to Meletius. Theodosius I, the new emperor in the East, also favoured Meletius, who had been more and more approximating to the views of the Nicene Creed.[citation needed]



Upon his return to Antioch, Meletius was hailed as the leader of orthodoxy. As such he presided in October 379 over the great synod of Antioch, in which the dogmatic agreement of East and West was established. He helped Gregory Nazianzus to the see of Constantinople and also presided over the First Council of Constantinople, the second ecumenical council, in 381.[3] Paulinus, however, was the man favoured by Rome and Alexandria. Jerome accompanied Paulinus back to Rome in order to secure him more support.[citation needed]

Meanwhile, Ambrose, bishop of Milan, was dealing with Arians in the West. He persuaded Gratian to call a church synod. The Council of Aquileia (381) deposed two bishops of the eastern province of Dacia, Palladius of Ratiaria and Secundianus of Singidunum, and requested the emperors Theodosius and Gratian to convene at Alexandria a general council of all bishops in order to put an end to the Meletian schism at Antioch.[7]

The two remaining factions which divided the Antiochene Church were orthodox, the supporters of Meletius and the adherents of Paulinus. Uniting them was a difficult move.[5] A temporary pacification ensued, when six of the leading presbyters took an oath not to seek episcopal consecration themselves but to accept as bishop of Antioch whichever of the two rivals outlived the other.[citation needed]

Schism after his death


Meletius died soon after the opening of the First Council of Constantinople and the emperor Theodosius, who had received him with special distinction, ordered his body to be carried to Antioch and buried with the honours of a saint. The Meletian schism, however, did not end immediately with his death. In spite of the advice of Gregory Nazianzus, Paulinus was not recognized as the sole bishop and Flavian was consecrated as Meletius' successor.[8][9]

The Eustathians, on the other hand, elected Evagrius as bishop on Paulinus' death in 388.[3] In 399, John Chrysostom, who had been ordained a deacon by Meletius, but later separated from his group and accepted ordination to the priesthood at the hands of Evagrius,[10] secured reconciliation between Flavian and the sees of Alexandria and Rome. However, it would take the Eustathians at Antioch until 415 to accept Flavian.[11]


  1. ^ Ayres, Lewis (2004). Nicaea and its Legacy, An Approach to Fourth-Century Trinitarian Theology.
  2. ^ “Paulinus was a rival of Basil's friend and ally Meletius.” (Hanson, p. 801) “Basil would not desert Meletius and Athanasius would not recognize him (Meletius) as bishop of Antioch.” (Hanson, p. 797)
  3. ^ a b c d e   One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Meletius of Antioch". Encyclopædia Britannica. Vol. 18 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. pp. 93–94.
  4. ^ Cross, F. L.; Livingstone, E. A., eds. (2009) [2005]. "Melitius, St". The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (3rd rev. ed.). Oxford University Press.
  5. ^ a b c d Leclercq, Henri. "Meletius of Antioch." The Catholic Encyclopedia Vol. 10. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911. 18 February 2014
  6. ^ The traditional term 'Arian' is now recognized to be "a serious misnomer.” (Hanson, p. xvii) “This controversy is mistakenly called Arian.” (Ayres, p. 14) Arius did not leave behind a school of followers. “No clear party sought to preserve Arius' theology.” (Ayres, p. 14)
  7. ^ "Councils of Aquileia." The Catholic Encyclopedia Vol. 1. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1907. 31 January 2019
  8. ^ Socrates Scholasticus, "The Ecclesiastical History" Book V.9
  9. ^ Dictionary of Christian Biography and Literature to the End of the Sixth Century A.D., "Meletius, bishop of Antioch"
  10. ^ Socrates Scholasticus, The Ecclesiastical History, Book VI.3
  11. ^ Philip Hughes, History of the Church (Sheed and Ward 1934), vol. I, pp. 231-232

Further reading

  • Cavallera, F. Le Schisme de Mélèce. Paris: Picard, 1906.
Titles of the Meletian group of Early Christianity
Preceded by Patriarch of Antioch
with Paulinus (362–381)
Succeeded by