Tag Archives: Melito of Sardis

Quaestiones Melitonianae 3: fragments on baptism in Coptic

This is my third, and final, post in response to the enquiries of “Robert”, in comments below.

The final set of possibly Melitonian fragments left out of consideration in the recent re-edition of my 2001 work were omitted principally because they were first attributed to Melito after the work had gone to press.

Alin Suciu suggested, in a paper given in Claremont last year, that fragments published by Alla I. Elanskaya under the title “The Treatise on the Symbolics of Baptism and the Elements.” in The Literary Coptic Manuscripts in the A.S. Pushkin State Fine Arts Museum in Moscow (Vigiliae Christianae supp. 18; Leiden: Brill, 1994), 167-200 might represent fragments of a lost work of Melito.

I asked Dr Suciu whether he intended to publish this identification, but he stated that first he had to make new examination of the papyrus, in particular to see what further fragments might be put in place. I do hope he is successful, and look forward very much to publication.

Having said this much, I must admit to doubting the Melitonian provenance of these fragments. Their import is to discuss the interpenetration of water and spirit in the work of baptism, and the effect of the baptism of Jesus. This stoic approach is reminiscent of Tertullian in De baptismo. Spirit, however, said in the fragments to be a creation of God (thus indicating, as Suciu rightly says, an early date), is in Melito’s extant work less a person, or an object, but rather the property of God (Melito is functionally binitarian). Thus it is hard to see how spirit can be both a creature of God and the essence of God.

There is a certain link in that the fragments share with Melito’s fragment 8b the image of the sun being “baptized” nightly in the sea. However, this simply means that the authors share a stoic approach to Homeric exegesis (see, inter alia, Macrobius Saturnalia 1.23). It is also interesting that the fragments cite the conclusion to the pseudo-Hippolytean homily De theophania, which Dr Suciu, and others, believe to be an interpolation into the ps-Hippolytean work. I do not believe that it is, and so the fragments have cited this (?third-century?) text for some reason which, due to the fragmentary nature of the material, I cannot divine.

Although I do not agree with Dr Suciu that this is a lost work of Melito, it is certainly an important and early work. I am grateful to him for drawing it to my attention and for sharing with me the slides from his Claremont presentation. And I look forward with great excitement to his eventual publication.


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Quaestiones Melitonianae 2: the fragments on soul and body

round tuitA further response to the questions posed by “Robert” in comments below.

In my recent collection of Melitonian fragments I write:

There is a homily preserved in Coptic under the name of Athanasius, of which another version, attributed to Alexander of Alexandria, is extant in Syriac, which may well be the work of Melito, in whole or in substantial part. Further fragments of this homily are extant in Syriac, with some in Greek and a substantial amount in Georgian. This work would seem to be that On soul and body mentioned by Eusebius Ecclesiastical History 4.26

This is the simplified version! Actually there are no less than three Syriac witnesses to this material, one of which is also extant in Armenian (from Greek?) and (through Coptic) in Arabic and Ethiopic. In addition, attribution is made to a host of individuals apart from Melito (of Attica, says one witness!), such as Chrysostom and Epiphanius. I did not include this complex of fragments principally on grounds of length. To include such a (?complete) work in a book entitled On Pascha would be disproportionate. I did start preparing a version for inclusion, and every now and then I try to get my head round this material. I do believe that Gregor Wurst’s Habilitationsschrift included a synoptic presentation of all this material, but there is no copy in the UK of which I am aware. István Bugár, moreover, gave a paper on this material at the Oxford patristic conference in 2015, which we hope will appear in Studia patristica, in which an attempt is made at presenting a stemma of the versions.

If any reader wants to get an idea of these contents without spending a day trawling the catalogues of a research library, the Syriac version attributed to Alexander and the Coptic version attributed to Athanasius are both to be found in Wallis Budge, Coptic homilies in the dialect of Upper Egypt; edited from the papyrus codex Oriental 5001 in the British museum (London: British Museum trustees, 1910) with English translations. This book may be found on archive.org. S.G. Hall, Melito of Sardis On Pascha and fragments (Oxford: Clarendon, 1979) gives fragment 13 in English (this is one of the Syriac witnesses) and, as “new fragments” English versions of the Georgian.

I fear a deeper study will only be undertaken when I get the object pictured. However, a proper study of this work is surely a desideratum.

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Quaestiones Melitonianae 1: the Syriac apologia

In response to a request from “Robert” in comments below I am posting on the ps-Melito of Sardis, perhaps, better, Melito the philosopher, Apology.

“Robert” asks for “information.” I fear I have little. Previously I had read the apology simply with a view to whether it should be attributed to Melito of Sardis. Having decided fairly rapidly that it should not, I left it. Even now I cannot claim to have undertaken a deep study, beyond re-reading the document in W. Cureton, Spicilegium Syriacum: containing remains of Bardesan, Meliton, Ambrose and Mara Bar Serapion (London: F&J Rivington, 1855), available on archive.org, (from whom any English citations here are taken), reading Jane L. Lightfoot, ‘The Apology of Pseudo-Meliton’ SEL 24 (2007), .59-110, and a skim of Sebastian Toby Nichols, ‘The Gods of the Nations are Idols’ (Ps. 96:5): Paganism and Idolatry in Near Eastern Christianity, Diss. Durham, 2014, (Available at Durham E-Theses Online: http://etheses.dur.ac.uk/10616/). I have no particular knowledge or insight, so simply list what seem to be the key questions with some highly tentative answers and suggestions.

My initial uncertainty about calling the author “ps-Melito” or “Melito” comes about because, although it is possible that this is intended in some way to be a work of Melito of Sardis, it is also possible that this is a work which is entirely independent and by another Melito. The attribution in the title, and the statement that is was delivered in the presence of “Antoninus Caesar”, whereas obviously fictive, may be the fiction of a scribe intent on attributing the apology to Melito, but “Melito” was not an uncommon name. My feeling is that the author’s name was “Melito”; the characterization of this Melito as “the philosopher” is not one which would readily occur to a scribe with limited knowledge of the sophist of Sardis. The reference to Antoninus is, moreover, part of the fictive setting, rather than any scribal initiative, as one of the characterizations of the philosopher is that of a king who claims that he is bound to worship idols by virtue of his position. The answer is given that the king might lead his people in worshipping a true God. This indicates that an address to an emperor is part of the fictive construction.

Another question which is posed, and not answered here, is the original language of the document. Although some have argued for Greek the consensus seems to be moving in the direction of a Syriac original. Certainly there is nothing here which sounds like awkward translation. Whereas the work is clearly indebted to the Greek philosophical tradition, this does not preclude a Syriac original, as Greek philosophy was taken into Syriac speaking circles. Thus a Syriac original stemming from somewhere like Hierapolis (Mabbug) would not be unreasonable as a supposition.

An origin in Hierapolis would be consistent with the section in which the philosopher speaks of the origin of the gods in human heroes, with a catalogue of Syrian cults. However, Lightfoot suggests that this section, that which has received the most attention, is an interpolation. This is absolutely feasible; the speech makes far more sense, seems much more coherent, without this section. This, in turn, makes a Syrian origin less compelling, even while still possible.

Nichols suggests that this might be a product of the latter part of the second century. This is, again, plausible, especially if the Euhemeristic section is omitted. Lightfoot finds some possible indication of date in a part of the Euhemeristic section: “The Syrians worshipped Athi a Hadibite, who sent the daughter of Belat, who was skilled in medicine, and she cured Simi, daughter of Hadad, king of Syria ; and after a time, when the leprosy attacked Hadad himself, Athi entreated Elishah, the Hebrew, and he came and cured him of his leprosy.” Here, rather than a reference to the story of Naaman, she sees a reference to the Historia Addaei, and so suggests a terminus a quo in the fourth century. I am less than convinced; in any event, this is from a section which may be interpolated.

I am also unconvinced by any suggestion that there is literary dependence on the Apology of Aristides. Certainly there is some common material, but nothing which is unique; what they hold in common is the lingua franca of early Christian apologetics.

Finally I note that “Robert” has picked up on the reference to the final dissolution of the world by fire: “So also it will be at the last time; there shall be a flood of fire, and the earth shall be burnt up together with its mountains, and men shall be burnt up together with the idols which they have made, and with the graven images which they have worshipped; and the sea, together with its isles, shall be burnt.” There seems to be a consensus that this is a reference to II Peter. My feeling is that this refers, rather, to the ekpyrosis known in stoicism.

I am grateful to “Robert” for causing me to re-read this Bekehrungspredigt (a better characterization, perhaps, than “Apology”.) Possibly, one day, I may find time to return to it to produce something more coherent than this.


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Melito on Pascha: second edition


Today the post brought the second edition of my On Pascha, or rather my treatment of the work of Melito of Sardis by that name.

I cite the preface:

Responding to the request of St Vladimir’s Seminary Press for a second edition of this work incorporating the Greek text of Peri Pascha has been both painful and pleasurable. It has been pleasurable to immerse myself once more in Melito’s work, though painful to discover how dated some aspects of my discussion of Melito in my 1998 work now appear (although published in 1998 the earlier parts are the product of the late 1980s). However, I continue to hold that the overall argument is sound, and have taken the opportunity to issue a brief defense of the major conclusions of the work.

Beyond adding the Greek text and partially revising the introduction, I have taken the opportunity to improve the appendix by expanding the number of fragments included and to update the testimonia to Quartodeciman practice in the light of more recent research. The translation of On Pascha, however, is virtually unaltered.

Particular thanks are due in this second edition to Stuart Hall for his consent to my use of his Greek text, and to Darrell Hannah for sharing his translations of the Epistula Apostolorum. There is no new dedicatee; the infant daughter of 2000 is now a reader of this work, and of much else besides, most of which is beyond her father’s comprehension. “Peace to the writer, and to the reader, and to those who love the Lord in simplicity of heart” (colophon, Bodmer codex of On Pascha).

For more, or even to get the book (a bargain at $20) go to: http://www.svspress.com/on-pascha-second-edition-pps55/



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A paschal proclamation embedded in a church order?

Three times a year, states the Testamentum Domini (1.28), the bishop is to instruct the people in the mysteries. This is to take place at Pascha, at Pentecost and at Epiphany.

The instruction concerns in particular the harrowing of hell. The only dedicated study of which I am aware is that of Jean Parisot, ”Note sur la mystagogie du “Testament du Seigneur”” Journal asiatique 9.15 (1900), 377-380, who finds some intriguing but not especially enlightening parallels.

However, this “mystagogy” is also found in the Arabic Didascalia (on which see prior posts) but most interestingly is preserved in Bohairic in the Coptic liturgy, at the consecration of the chrism. These texts are edited by O. Burmeister, “The Coptic and Arabic versions of the Mystagogia” Le Muséon 46 (1933), 203-235. What seems to me significant is the paschal context for this, as for the use in the Testamentum Domini. I am led to wonder whether this is a paschal proclamation in origin.

The “mystagogy” is, moreover, a finely-wrought bit of rhetoric:

Thus note the homoiarcton:
He is wisdom,
he is strength,
he is Lord,
he is understanding…

he is our light, salvation, saviour, protector,
helper, teacher, deliverer, rewarder,
assistance, strength, wall…

passible and impassible,
uncreated Son,
dead (yet) living,
Son of the Father,
incomprehensible and comprehensible…

Ethopoiia (as death cries out, homoiarctically by the way):
“Who is this, clothed in the humanity which was subject to me, and who has however conquered me?
Who is this who is wresting from destruction the flesh which was bound by me?
Who is this who is clothed in earth but who is yet of heaven?…”

Anyone familiar with Melito of Sardis, or indeed Polemo of Smyrna, will recognize the style.

I would hesitate to go beyond this, but am confident in claiming this as ante-Nicene, and as deriving from a paschal liturgical proclamation.

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