The Compass: Official Newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay
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February 9, 2001 Issue
Saint of the Day

A real tug of war over the faith

Rival archbishops, theology teachings, were the matter of St. Melitius' day


By Tony Staley
Compass Editor

Compromise, cooperation and working together are hailed as necessary to get along. And it often works, but there often are problems when both sides in a dispute believe they have a secret advantage that the other side later finds out about.

That was the situation in which St. Meletius of Antioch found himself in the fourth century. Meletius was born into a distinguished family at Melitene, Lower Armenia.

In 358, he was named Bishop of Sebastea. When dissension developed in his diocese, he fled to the desert and then to Syria. In 361, he was a compromise choice of Catholics and Arians (a heretical group that said the Son was not of the same substance as the Father) as Archbishop of Antioch.

His election was confirmed by Emperor Constantius II, but was opposed by some Catholics, because Arians had helped select him. At the same time, the Arians thought he would join their side, until he began proclaiming the church position that the Father and Son were one in being.

As a result, a month after becoming archbishop, the Arian bishop of Constantinople convinced the pro-Arian emperor to exile Meletius back to Lower Armenia and to appoint an Arian bishop to Antioch.

Soon after, the emperor died and was succeeded by Emperor Julian, who restored Meletius as archbishop. Unfortunately, during his absence, a faction of Catholic bishops in Antioch elected Paulinus as archbishop, causing a division that lasted for years.

In 362, the Council of Alexandria tried to resolve the problem, but it became even worse in 363 because of a dispute between Meletius and St. Athanasius.

Over the next 15 years, Meletius was twice exiled by Emperor Valens for extended periods while the Catholics and Arians continued their dispute.

Gradually, Meletius was able to sway more bishops to his side - 150 bishops by 379, compared to 26 in 363. St. Basil too became involved on behalf of Meletius, but the conflict continued.

Matters became even more confused in 374 when Pope Damasus recognized Paulinus as archbishop and made him the papal representative in the East. Even St. Jerome became involved when he allowed Paulinus to ordain him to the priesthood.

After the death of Emperor Valens, Emperor Gratian reinstated Meletius and other banished bishops. Even with that, Meletius and Paulinus were unable to resolve their differences by the time Meletius died in 381 while presiding at the third General Council of Constantinople.

St. Gregory of Nyssa preached at Meletius' funeral, which was attended by all the bishops at the council. We celebrate his feast on Feb. 12.


Sources: Butler's Lives of the Saints, Dictionary of Saints, and 365 Saints


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