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Maximus of Jerusalem

Melito of Sardis on Early Christian Writings

Melito, bp. of Sardis, held in the middle of the 2nd cent. a foremost place among the bishops of Asia as regards personal influence and literary activity. Shortly before the end of that cent. his name is mentioned by Polycrates of Ephesus in his letter to Victor of Rome (Eus. H. E. v. 24.) as one of the luminaries of the Asiatic church by whose authority


its Quartodeciman practice had been commended. The next extant mention of him some 20 years later is in the Little Labyrinth (Eus. v. 28). He is there appealed to as one of the writers, older than Victor of Rome, who had spoken of our Lord as being God as well as man. A reference to him in a lost work of Tertullian, known to us through a citation by Jerome in the art. s.v. in his Catalogue (c. 24), shews his high reputation in Tertullian's time. Our fullest information is from the notices in Eusebius (H. E. iv. 13, 26), who gives a list of Melito's works with which he was acquainted, together with 3 extracts.

His Apology presented to the emperor Marcus Aurelius may have been his latest work. It is placed under A.D. 170 in Jerome's translation of the Chronicle of Eusebius, but the date may be more safely inferred from a passage preserved by Eusebius. Melito, addressing Marcus Aurelius, and speaking of Augustus, says, "Of whom you have become the much-wished-for successor, and shall be so with your son if you keep that philosophy which took its beginning with Augustus," etc. That he here says "with your son," not "with your brother," is evidence that the date is later than the death of Lucius Verus, in 169. Commodus was associated in the empire with his father in 176. The passage quoted does not shew whether this association had already taken place or was only anticipated. In 177 persecutions of Christians were raging violently all over the empire. Melito's memorial seems to have been written at the very first beginning of that persecution. The Christians seem to be suffering more in their property than in their persons, and Melito is able to express a doubt whether the emperor had sanctioned the cruelties, and a belief that, when he had examined the case, he would interfere in their favour. Melito declares that Nero and Domitian were the only emperors who had sanctioned persecutions of Christians, and probably from this passage Tertullian derived his argument that only bad emperors had persecuted the Christians. On the other side, as forbidding interference, Melito quotes the letter of Hadrian to Fundanus, and letters of Antoninus, at a time when Aurelius himself was associated in the government, to the people of Larissa, of Thessalonica, and of Athens. One extract from the Apology preserved in the Paschal Chronicle (p. 483, Dindorf) gave rise to some discussion in the early Socinian controversy. "We are not worshippers of senseless stones, but adore one only God, Who is before all and over all, and [over] His Christ truly God the Word before all ages." The second "over" given in Rader's ed. of the Chronicle does not appear in the latest ed. (Dindorf's).

An Apology is extant in a Syriac trans. in one of the Nitrian MSS. in the Brit. Mus., which bears the heading, "The oration of Melito the Philosopher held before Antoninus Caesar, and he spoke to Caesar that he might know God, and he shewed him the way of truth, and began to speak as follows." Probably the Syriac translator, finding in his Greek original that the Apology was "addressed" to the emperor, made a blunder in supposing it delivered viva voce. It was printed in Syriac, with English trans. by Cureton (Spicileg. Syr.) and by Pitra, with a Latin trans. by Renan (Spicil. Solesm. vol. ii.) which has been revised in Otto's Apologists, vol. ix. Although this Syriac Apology appears complete, it contains none of the passages cited by Eusebius, and its character seems entirely different from that of the work known to Eusebius. The latter was mainly intended to induce the emperor to stop the persecution by shewing that the Christians did not deserve the treatment inflicted. The Syriac Apology is a calm argument against the absurdities of polytheism and idolatry, such as might have been written with the hope of making a convert of the emperor, but does not exhibit any of the mental tension of one suffering under unjust persecution. The Syriac Apology is, therefore, probably not the same as that from which Eusebius made extracts. Did, then, Melito write two apologies? The Paschal Chronicle records an Apology of Melito under both A.D. 164 and 169, but this is clearly only a double mention of one Apology, probably caused by the double mention in Eus. iv. 13, 26. The ascription of the Syriac Apology to Melito is probably an error, though the document is perhaps not much later. There are slight, but we think decisive, traces of the use of Justin Martyr's Apology: it must therefore be later than that. It is addressed to an emperor Antoninus, who might have been Pius, Aurelius, Caracalla, or Elagabalus. Probably one of the latter two is intended. The writer's point of view seems to be Syrian. In enumerating heathen idolatries he omits (as we should not expect from Melito writing in Asia Minor) Cybele and the Ephesian Diana; while he speaks in much detail of Syrian objects of worship, and seems to be personally acquainted with the city of Mabug, the Syrian Hierapolis. The, admonition, "if they wish to dress you in a female garment, remember that you are a man," suggests Elagabalus rather than any of the other emperors mentioned. One other passage supports a presumption of Syrian authorship. The writer speaks of the world as destined to suffer from three deluges--one of wind, one of water, one of fire; the first two already past, the third still to come. The deluge of wind is that by which the tower of Babel was supposed to have been destroyed (see the Sibylline verses quoted by Theophilus, ad Autol. ii. 31, and also Abydenus, quoted by Eus. Praep. Evan. ix. 14). "Flood of wind" occurs in the work called The Cave of Treasures (Cureton, Spicil. Syr. p. 94), and in the Ethiopic book of Adam (Ewald's Jahrbücher der Bibl. Wiss. 1853). It has been contended that the reference to the deluge of fire shews acquaintance with II. Peter; but it seems to us that this can by no means be positively asserted. On N.T. allusions in this Apology ee Westcott (N. T. Canon, p. 219). Against placing it so late as Elagabalus it may be urged that its conclusion, if interpreted naturally, speaks of the emperor as having children; and though the apologist might be merely expressing a wish on behalf of the emperor's unborn successors, it is simpler to refer the work to the time of Caracalla, who


spent some time in Syria. There seem also traces that Tertullian, who was acquainted with the Eusebian Apology of Melito, also used this one. Such perhaps may be the identification of Serapis with Joseph and the remark that the old heathen gods were practically less honoured than the emperors, since their temples had to pay taxes.

Of other works of Melito the peri tou pasca is first in the list of Eusebius. The date is limited by the opening sentence which Eusebius quotes: "In the proconsulate over Asia of Servilius Paulus, at the time that Sagaris suffered martyrdom, there took place much dispute at Laodicea about the Paschal celebration empesontoV kata kairon in those days, and these things were written." Rufinus here reads "Sergius Paulus," and this appears from other authorities to have been the real name of the proconsul in question, probably within the limits 164-166.

The appeal of Polycrates to the authority of Melito makes it clear that the latter, in his work on Easter celebration, took the Quartodeciman side. Eusebius says that the work of Melito drew forth another, no doubt on the opposite side, from Clement of Alexandria. It has been conjectured that Melito was the Ionian whom Clement (Eus. H. E. v. 11) enumerates as among his teachers. It should be noticed that the extant fragments of Melito refute the notion that Quartodecimanism was inconsistent with the reception of the Fourth Gospel. Melito speaks of our Lord's three years' ministry after His baptism, which he could not have learned from the Synoptists. He accounts for the fact that a ram, not a lamb, was substituted as a sacrifice for Isaac, by the remark that our Lord, when He suffered, was not young like Isaac, but of mature years. Possibly here may be an indication that Melito held the same theory concerning our Lord's age as Irenaeus and other Asiatics, derived no doubt from John viii. 57. The whole passage shews that Melito believed strongly in the atoning efficacy of Christ's death, and looked on Him as the sacrificial lamb. The word he uses is amnoV, as in the Gospel, not arnion as in the Apocalypse.

The next work of Melito from which Eusebius has given an extract is called Selections, addressed to a friend named Onesimus, who had asked Melito to make selections from the law and the prophets of passages concerning our Saviour, and concerning all our faith, and also to give him accurate information as to the number and order of the O.T. books. Melito relates that he had gone up to the East to the place where the things were preached and done, and had accurately learned the books of the O.T. He enumerates the five books of Moses, Joshua, Judges, Ruth, four of Kings, two of Chronicles, Psalms of David, Proverbs of Solomon, also called Wisdom, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, Job; of the Prophets, Isaiah, Jeremiah, the twelve Minor Prophets in one book, Daniel, Ezekiel, Esdras. The last, no doubt, includes Nehemiah and possibly Esther, which is otherwise omitted. This list gives the Hebrew canon adopted by the Church of England; but gives a different order of the books from that of Josephus, and does not attempt to make the number of books 22. The expressions "the Old Books," "the Books of the O.T.," shew clearly that the church of Melito's time had a New Testament canon.

Eusebius enumerates other works of Melito as being known to him. The titles enable us imperfectly to guess at their contents, and sometimes the titles themselves are uncertain. (4) ta peri politeiaV kai profhtvn, very likely two separate works "on Christian Conversation" and "on the Prophets" coupled together by Eusebius, because contained in the same volume in the Caesarean Library. (5) peri ekklhsiaV. It has been conjectured that the breaking out of Montanism may have made it necessary to insist on the authority of the church. (6) peri kuriakhV. Possibly the Quartodeciman controversy led to discussion about the Lord's Day. This word kuriakh, used in Rev. i. 10, is found also in Ignatius's Ep. to the Magnesians, c. 9, and in the letter of Dionysius of Corinth to Soter (Eus. iv. 33). (7) peri fusewV anqrwpou. (8) peri plasewV. This book on the formation of man, and (7) on the nature of man, if that be the reading, are conjectured to have been directed against Gnostic theories. (9) peri upakohV pistewV aisqhthriwn. What was the subject of a treatise on the obedience of faith of the senses has perplexed ancient as well as modern readers of this list. Jerome thinks that a peri may have dropped out of the text, and that there were two treatises, one on the Obedience of Faith, one on the Senses. (10) peri yuchV kai swmatoV kai nooV, probably on Human Nature. (11) peri loutrou. (12) peri alhqeiaV, perhaps an apologetic work in commendation of Christianity. (13) peri ktisewV kai genesewV Cristou. Ancient writers with one consent apply to our Lord the KurioV ektise me archn odvn autou of Prov. viii. 22. For a full discussion of this verse see Athan. Or. Cont. Ar. ii. 44. (14) peri proqhteiaV. A work with the same title written, or intended to be written, by Clement of Alexandria, was directed against the Montanists (Strom. iv. 13, p. 605), and this may also have been the design of this work of Melito, if the Montanist controversy had broken out before his death. (15) peri filoxeniaV. (16) h kleiV. What was the nature of this work we have no information. A Latin work entitled Melitonis Clavis Sanctae Scripturae mentioned by Labbe in 1653 as preserved in the library of the Clermont College is a medieval Latin composition. (17) (18) ta peri tou diabolou kai thV apokaluyewV 'Iwannou. The form of expression would indicate that both subjects were discussed in a single treatise. (19) peri enswmatou qeou. It would be natural to translate this, On God Incarnate, and we have other evidence that Melito wrote on the Incarnation. When he speaks of the two natures which our Lord combined, there is no trace of anthropomorphism in the attributes which he ascribes to the Divine nature. On the other hand Origen, commenting on Gen. i. 26 (vol. viii. 49, Lomm.) and arguing against the Anthropomorphites, says "of whom is Melito, who has left a certain treatise, peri tou enswmaton einai ton qeon." Probably Origen made a mistake, and that the


subject of Melito's treatise was the Incarnation. But it is not impossible that a writer as orthodox as Melito may have held the opinions which Origen imputes to him.

The list given shews Melito's great activity as a writer, and the wide range of his writings.

Of spurious writings ascribed to Melito, we need only mention a commentary on the Apocalypse, the ascription to Melito apparently having been made by the fraud or ignorance of some transcriber, and not intended in the work itself, which is a compilation from various writers, some as late as the 13th cent. Through two works, de Passione S. Joannis and de Transitu b. Mariae, with which Melito's name was connected, it became widely known in the West, though with various disguises of form, such as Mileto, Miletus, and Mellitus, the last being the most common.

The remains of Melito are given by Routh (Rel. Sac. i. 113-153), and more fully by Otto (Corp. Apol. Chr. ix. 375-478). See also Piper (Stud. und Krit. 1838, p. 54), Westcott (N. T. Canon, p. 218), Lightfoot (Contemp. Rev. Feb. 1876). Cf. esp. Harnack, Die Überlieferung der Apologeten (Text. und Untersuch. I. 240), and Geseh. der Alt. Chr. lib. i. 246 ff.


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