The Meletian schism originated during the last Great Persecution of Christians, which in Egypt lasted from AD 303-312. The Meletian controversy did not occur over theological disagreements, but rather over how to treat the lapsi, i.e. those Christians who had fallen away from the church during the persecutions. Peter, Bishop of Alexandria, had a more moderate approach of readmitting those who had fallen away. Meletius of Lycopolis, Peter’s suffragan, believed that the lapsi needed to be treated in a stricter manner. During much of the persecution, Peter was either in hiding or in prison. In his absence, Meletius began performing acts reserved for the metropolitan, such as ordaining bishops. Because Peter was still alive and remained in contact with his diocese, this was a major breech of conduct. Meletius was consequently deposed around 307 by an Egyptian council and was banished to the mines of Palestine. He later returned to Egypt in 311 after Galerius issued his edict of toleration.
Towards the end of the persecution, Peter was imprisoned and beheaded on 25 November 311. He had not been successful in counteracting Meletius’ call for stricter treatment of the lapsi, and the Meletians, as the followers came to be called, had significantly grown in number. According to Epiphianus, they began referring to themselves as the “Church of the Martyrs” (Adv. Haer. 68.3).
The controversy was finally dealt with at the Council of Nicaea in 325. The council decided that Meletius would be allowed to retain his position as bishop of Lycopolis, but he would have no authority to ordain or even make nominations for ordinations. Since he had already hitherto ordained bishops, their offices would need to be confirmed by Alexander of Alexandria. Even though they would still be allowed to hold their positions, they would be considered inferior to those who had been initially ordained by Alexander.
Unfortunately, the Meletian problem did not completely go away. Contrary to the provisions of the Nicene Council, Meletius named a successor by the name of John Archaph. The Meletians made an alliance with Eusebius of Nicomedia and his followers during the summer of 330. The schism continued to flourish with Eusebius acting as one of the main instigators, and he used the controversy to work against his enemy Athanasius, current bishop of Alexandria.
A majority of the documents in the table come from Athanasius’ Apologia Contra Arianos, and since they act as a defense for Athanasius, they deal mostly with the time from Eusebius’ alliance with the Meletians in 330 to the climax of the controversy in 335, which resulted in Athanasius’ exile following the events of the Council of Tyre. It should be noted that the controversy continued for years after the council, but the table only contains documents from the most eventful period.
Fortunately, a large number of documents have survived in full, while a couple others are just fragments, as indicated in the table. Some of the documents listed are only references to letters, and these are indicated by a shaded background. A brief overview of the contents for such documents can be accessed by clicking the link. Varying accounts of the controversy, especially from the years 333-335, can cause a great deal of confusion. A table summarizing four of the main accounts can be accessed here.
|Doc. No.||The document number assigned by FCC|
|Date||The date in which the document was written|
|Description||The details on who wrote the document/letter to whom; translations of the documents can be accessed by clicking the link|
|Ancient Sources||The location of various ancient sources in which the document can be found|
|Ancient Descriptions||The location of various ancient sources in which the document is described|
|Doc. No.||Date||Description||Ancient Sources||Ancient Descriptions|
|1||c. 303-306||Four Bishops to Meletius of Lycopolis||Codex Veronensis, LX, ed. M.J. Routh, Reliquae Sacrae, IV, 91-4; Migne, P.G. X, 1565-8, XVIII, 519-10|
|2||c. 303-306||Peter of Alexandria to the Alexandrians||Codex Veronensis, LX, ed. M.J. Routh, Reliquae Sacrae, IV, 91-4; Migne, P.G. X, 1565-8, XVIII, 519-10|
|3||325||Council of Nicaea to Alexandria||Soc. HE 1.9; Ath. Defense of Nicene Definition 36; Theodoret HE 1.9.2; Gelasius HE 2.34.2|
|4||327||Meletius to Alexander of Alexandria (breviarium Melitii)||Ath. Ap. 71|
|5||330/1||Eusebius to Athanasius||Ath. Ap. 59; Soz. HE 2.22.1-2; Soc. HE 1.23.3b-4a|
|6||330/1||Eusebius to Constantine||Soz. HE 2.22.1-2; Soc. HE 1.27.2-3 and 1.23.4b|
|7||330/1||Athanasius to Constantine||Soz. HE 2.22.3-5|
|8||330/1||Constantine to Athanasius (fragment)||Ath. Ap. 59||Ath. Ap. 59; Soz. HE 2.22.3-5; Soc. HE 1.27.4-5|
|9||330/1||Athanasius to Constantine||Ath. Ap. 59; Soz. HE 2.22.6; Soc. HE 1.27.2-3|
|10||Winter 331/2||Constantine to the Meletians and Athanasius||Ath. Ap. 60; Soz. HE 2.22.7; Soc. 1.27.8b|
|11||332||Constantine to Alexandria||Ath. Ap. 61/2||Soc. HE 1.27.9-10; Soz. HE 2.22.8-9; portion in Theodoret HE 1.27|
|12||332/3?||Ischyras to Athanasius||Ath. Ap. 64|
|13||c. 333||Constantine to Dalmatius, censor of Antioch||Ath. Ap. 65; Soc. HE 1.27.18-21|
|14||c. 333||Dalmatius to Athanasius||Ath. Ap. 65|
|15||c. 333||Athanasius to the clergy in Egypt||Ath. Ap. 65; Soz. HE 2.23|
|16||c. 333||Pinnes to John Archaph||Ath. Ap. 67|
|17||c. 333||Athanasius to Constantine||Ath. Ap. 65; Soz. HE 2.23|
|18||c. 333||Constantine to Athanasius||Ath. Ap. 68||Soz. HE 2.23|
|19||c. 333||Constantine to Eusebius and his followers||Ath. Ap. 65|
|20||c. 333||Alexander of Thessalonica to Athanasius||Ath. Ap. 66|
|21||c. 333||Arsenius to Athanasius||Ath. Ap. 69|
|22||c. 333||Constantine to John Archaph||Ath. Ap. 70|
|23||19 March 334||Aurelius Pageus to the Priors of Hathor monastery|
|24||May-June 335?||Letter of Callistus|
|25||335||Constantine to Athanasius||Ath. Ap. 71; Soc. HE 1.28; Theodoret, HE 1.28.2-4|
|26||335||Constantine to the Council of Tyre||Theodoret, HE 1.29; Eusebius, Vita Const. IV.42|
|27||335||Alexandria to the Council of Tyre||Ath. Ap. 73|
|28||335||Clergy of Mareotis to the Council of Tyre||Ath. Ap. 74/5|
|29||8 September 335||Clergy of Mareotis to Philagrius, Prefect of Egypt||Ath. Ap. 76|
|30||335||Bishops of Egypt to the Council of Tyre||Ath. Ap. 77|
|31||335||Bishops of Egypt to Flavius Dionysius, consul of Tyre||Ath. Ap. 78|
|32||335||Bishops of Egypt to Flavius Dionysius, consul of Tyre||Ath. Ap. 79|
|33||335||Alexander of Thessalonica to Dionysius||Ath. Ap. 80|
|34||335||Dionsysius to the Eusebians (fragment)||Ath. Ap. 81|
|35||6 November 335||Constantine to the Bishops at Tyre||Ath. Ap. 86; Gelasius, HE 3.18; Sozomen, HE 2.28.2-12; Socrates, HE 1.34|
Barnard, L.W. “Athanasius and the Meletian Schism in Egypt.” The Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 59 (1973): 181-189.
Barnes, T.D. Athanasius and Constantius: Theology and Politics in the Constantinian Empire. London: Harvard University Press, 1993.
Bell, H. Idris. Jews and Christians in Egypt: The Jewish Troubles in Alexandria and the Athanasian Controversy. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1924.
Hardy, Edward Rochie. Christian Egypt: Church and People. New York: Oxford University Press, 1952.
McHugh, Michael P. “Meletius of Lycopolis.” In Encyclopedia of Early Christianity. New York: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1990.
Simonetti, M. “Melitius of Lycopolis, Melitian Schism,” “Peter I of Alexandria,” “Tyre.” In The Encyclopedia of the Early Church. New York: Oxford University Press, 1992.
Telfer, W. “Meletius of Lycopolis and Episcopal Succession in Egypt.” The Harvard Theological Review 48 (1955): 227-237.
Williams, Rowan. Arius: Heresy and Tradition. Revised Edition, Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2001. (pp. 32-41)
Created by SMT
Last updated: 5-10-2012
No Responses yet