February 12: Meletius–Was He or Wasn’t He?!

Meletius grew up in a time when those supporting the Arian beliefs (see the post for February 12, 2018, for more background on what became a Christian heresy) were in constant battle for ideological domination in Christendom with those who were developing into present-day Trinitarians. Here’s the thing–Meletius got along well with everyone. He treated people the same–with patience, constancy, good temper, and kindness–whatever their doctrinal beliefs were. So, because of this, Meletius became a popular choice on all fronts to take over the patriarchate of Antioch (at that time, one of the most important posts in Christianity)…a consensus choice!

But that did not last for long. People were far more invested in forcing Meletius to choose sides and to continue their battles and gridlock than in, oh, feeding the poor or healing the sick (Washington, D.C., in this millennium, perhaps?). So people clamored for a public forum in which several prelates (Meletius being one of them) were expected to explain a verse from the book of Proverbs, working within the premise that Wisdom (in Hebrew, personified as female) was a figuration of Jesus Christ. The verse reads (in the King James Version): “The Lord hath created me in the beginning of his ways.”

This was of course a set-up. The first two to speak suggested that the text’s plain language states that there was a time when Wisdom did not exist while God did, and that Wisdom was therefore not co-eternal with God but was, as the text states, created. This excited the Arians and disturbed the soon-to-be Trinitarians. Next it was Meletius’ turn to respond. How would he answer? Would he (1) agree that Wisdom–and by analogue Jesus–came after God? or (2) state that the Hebrew Bible spoke of something other than Jesus in Proverbs? or (3) suggest that the plain text was not in fact the correct way to read this passage? or (4) ask to buy a vowel?

Meletius would most certainly not be counted now among the saints if he had chosen either of the first two options, joining his beliefs with the now-heretical Arians. And he was not in a position to equivocate, for to do so would both crash any consensus in the face of the entrenched bigotry of each side and leave him with no support. Butler glibly writes that “the truth triumphed in the mouth of Meletius, who, speaking the third, showed that this text is to be understood not of a strict creation, but of a new state or being, which the Eternal Wisdom received in his [sic] incarnation.”

Huh? Well, Meletius affirmed that Jesus was incarnated at an historical time and place (ancient Palestine and all) and that this was–in this way only–a new expression of Wisdom that of course was co-eternal and co-existent with God. Meletius stood against the Arians through the only tools in the nascent Trinitarian belt: reconfiguring Hebrew texts (even changing genders), discard plain-text readings and meanings, and simply positing the un-logical as irrefutable Truth. In this way, theology–talking about God–becomes more and more esoteric, less and less accessible, and the province of the educated and powerful to fight over. Christianity also in the process ends up subordinating Judaism as a kind of “starter religion” and turns faith from trusting to one’s embodied createdness into submitting to philosophical propositions (with no permission to cry out that the Emperor is naked).

So Meletius a saint because he threw his lot in with those who opposed Arianism. But this advanced the way of Jesus… how?

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