Meletius of Lycopolis

"Church of the Martyrs" redirects here. For other uses, see Church of the Martyrs (disambiguation).

Meletius (died after 325) was bishop of Lycopolis in Egypt. He is known mainly as the founder and namesake of the Meletians (c. 305), one of several schismatic sects in early church history which were concerned about the ease with which lapsed Christians reentered the Church. [1] (See also Donatism.)

The details of his life are not clear as there are conflicting accounts of it. According to one version he was imprisoned for his Christianity during the persecution under Diocletian along with Peter of Alexandria (another source has Peter fleeing the scene; a third has Meletius himself avoiding prison). Apparently, as early as during the persecution itself, Meletius began to refuse to receive in communion those Christians who had renounced their faith during the persecution and later repented of that choice. Meletius' rigorous stance on this point stood in contrast to the earlier willingness of bishops to accept back into communion those who seemed to have truly repented (a pattern which was addressed during previous similar controversies, including those who had lapsed during the Decian persecution about 50 years earlier).

As Bishop of Alexandria, Peter would have been recognized as the leader of the Egyptian church and thus Meletius's superior in church hierarchy. Historian Philip Schaff tells us that prior to Peter's death in 311 he spoke out against Meletius's actions and "deposed him as a disturber of the peace of the church". [2]

The supporters that Meletius drew around him included twenty-eight other bishops, at least some of whom he personally ordained, and the objections against him included that he ordained people in regions where he lacked authority.[3] His group went by the name Church of the Martyrs, inherently objecting to the reacceptance by other bishops of people who chose to avoid the risk of martyrdom. Meletius's influence extended even so far away as Palestine.[4]

It is believed by some that Meletius ordained Arius (known for the Arian controversy) as a priest; but scholarship is divided on whether this is the case.[5]

The Council of Nicaea in 325 attempted to create peace with the Meletians.[6] Meletius was allowed to remain bishop of Lycopolis, but was no longer to ordain bishops outside his region. The bishops he had already ordained were accepted under certain restrictions, and had to be reordained.[7] Meletius's death followed soon after the council met, and the effort to bring unity proved unsuccessful. His followers sided with the Arians in their controversy and existed as a separate sect until the fifth century.


  1. History of the Christian Church, Volume II: Ante-Nicene Christianity. A.D. 100-325. | Christian Classics Ethereal Library
  2. Schaff, Philip (1885, third edition). History of the Christian Church, Volume II: Ante-Nicene Christianity. A.D. 100-325; Section 58 on "Church Schisms" (
  3. Athanasius of Alexandria's list of people attached to Meletius.
  4. Encyclopædia Britannica (1911), Eleventh Edition. Article on "Meletius of Lycopolis"
  5. Rubenstein, Richard E. (1999). When Jesus Became God: The Struggle to Define Christianity during the Last Days of Rome, Harcourt. The text linked suggests of only one Arius being involved, rather than two people of that name, to the work of W. H. C. Frend in Rise of Christianity, p. 493; see p. 245.
  6. According to the work of the historians Socrates Scholasticus and Sozomenus,
  7.  Herbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "Meletius of Lycopolis". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.
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