Saint of the Day – 1 April – St Melito Early Church Father – Bishop of Sardis (Died c 180), ecclesiastical Writer, Confessor, Apologist, Defender of Christ’s dual nature. Saint Melito is believed to have been martyred around the time he wrote his apology to Marcus Aurelius circa 180.
Saint Melito of Sardis was Bishop of the Church in Sardis and a prominent ecclesiastical writer in the latter half of the second century. Indications are that he was the second Bishop of Sardis and was successor to “the angel of the Church of Sardis” (the apostle of that Church) to whom was addressed one of the apocalyptic messages. Very little is known of his life and the majority of his writings exist only in fragments and quotations from Eusebius, Polycrates, Tertullian and others. A letter of Polycrates of Ephesus to Pope Victor about 194 states that “Melito the eunuch (this is interpreted “the virgin” by Rufinus in his translation of Eusebius), whose whole walk was in the Holy Spirit”, was interred at Sardis and had been one of the great authorities in the Church of Asia who held the Quartodeciman theory (this was those Churches, primarily in Asia Minor, who celebrated Easter according to the Jewish calendar for Passover).
Saint Melito gave us the earliest indications of the Canon of the Old Testament in his writings and Saint Jerome, speaking of this canon, quotes Tertullian that Melito was esteemed as a prophet by many of the faithful. Saint Melito, also wrote an apology to the emperor Marcus Aurelius, in which he defended the Christians against accusations made against them, urged the emperor to end the persecutions of the Christians and even urged Aurelius to proclaim Christianity the religion of the Roman Empire!
In the early 20th century, there was great excitement among Christian scholars when a homily by Saint Melito on Easter, “Peri Pascha”, was discovered. This homily shows how the early Christians saw Christ’s suffering, death and resurrection foreshadowed throughout The Old Testament. Indeed, in the writings attributed to Saint Melito by Eusebius, the prolific writer Melito gave a listing of the books of The Old Testament, which Saint Melito referred to as “The Old Books”, which indicates to many scholars that the Church of Melito’s time may well have had a New Testament as well. There is also a strong indication from the fragments of Melito’s writing that exist in references by Tertullian, Eusebius, Polycrates, and others, that Saint Melito made extensive use of the Gospel of Saint John and he may have been acquainted with Saint Polycarp, Saint Ignatius of Antioch and other Early Church Fathers of his day. His writings influenced the thinking of St Irenaeus of Lyons, St Clement of Alexandria and Tertullian.
In regard to the death of Melito, there is not much information preserved or recorded. Polycrates of Ephesus, in a letter addressed to Pope Victor (AD. 196) preserved in Eusebius’ history, says, “What shall I say of Melito, whose actions’ were all guided by the operations of the Holy Spirit? Who was interred at Sardis, where he waits the resurrection and the judgement?”. From this it may be inferred that he had died some time previous to the date of this letter at Sardis, which is the place of his interment and it is believed he might have been martyred.
Melito was especially skilled in the literature of the Old Testament and was one of the most prolific authors of his time. Eusebius furnished a list of Melito’s works. While many of these works are lost, the testimony of the fathers remains to inform us how highly they were viewed. Eusebius presents some fragments of Melito’s works and some others are found in the works of different writers. Melito was a Chiliast, and believed in a Millennial reign of Christ on Earth and followed Irenaeus in his views. St Jerome and Gennadius both affirm that he was a decided millennarian and as such believed that Christ would reign for 1000 years before the coming of the final judgement.
The following was written by Saint Jerome, in his book, Lives of Illustrious Men :
Melito the Bishop
Melito of Asia, bishop of Sardis, addressed a book to the emperor Marcus Antoninus Verus, a disciple of Fronto the orator, in behalf of the Christian doctrine. He wrote other things also, among which are the following: On the passover, two books, one book On the lives of the prophets, one book On the church, one book On the Lord’s day, one book On faith, one book On the psalms, one On the senses, one On the soul and body, one On baptism, one On truth, one On the generation of Christ, On His prophecy, one On hospitality and another which is called the Key, one On the devil, one On the Apocalypse of John, one On the corporeality of God and six books of Eclogues. Of his fine oratorical genius, Tertullian, in the seven books which he wrote against the church on behalf of Montanus, satirically says that he was considered a prophet by many of us.