Introductory Note to Melito, the Philosopher Fragments
[a.d. 160-170-177.] Melito1 may have been the immediate successor of the "angel" (or "apostle") of the church of Sardis, to whom our Great High Priest addressed one of the apocalyptic messages. He was an "Apostolic Father" in point of fact; he very probably knew the blessed Polycarp and his disciple Irenæus. He is justly revered for the diligence with which he sought out the evidence which, in his day, established the Canon of the Old Testament, then just complete.
In the following fragments we find him called Bishop of Sardis, Bishop of Attica, and Bishop of Ittica. He is also introduced to us as "the Philosopher," and we shall find him styled "the Eunuch" by Polycrates. It is supposed that he had made himself a coelebs "for the kingdom of heaven's sake," without mistaking our Lord's intent, as did Origen. He was not a monk, but accepted a single estate to be the more free and single-eyed in the Master's service. From the encyclopedic erudition of Lightfoot we glean some particulars, as follows:–
I have adopted his date, as Lightfoot gives it,–that is, the period of his writings,--under the Antonines. The improbability of seventy years in the episcopate is reason enough for rejecting the idea that he was himself the "angel of the church of Sardis," to whom our Lord sent the terrible rebuke.
His silence concerning persecutions under Vespasian, Trojan, and Antoninus Pius cannot be pleaded to exempt them from this stain, against positive evidence to the contrary.
A coincidence with Ignatius to the Ephesians2 will be noted hereafter.
Melito, with Claudius Apollinaris and even Polycrates, may have been personally acquainted with Ignatius;3 of course, one with another. These lived not far from Smyrna; Asia Minor was, in the first century, the focus of Christian activity.
We know of his visit to the East from his own account, preserved by Eusebius. The Christians of proconsular Asia were accustomed to such journeys. Even Clement of Alexandria may have met him, as he seems to have met Tatian and Theodotus.4
The Apology of our author was addressed to Aurelius in his mid-career as a sovereign, about a.d. 170. Justin, Melito, Athenagoras, and Theophilus all tell the same sad story of imperial cruelty. Even when Justin wrote to Antoninus, Marcus was supreme in the councils of the elder emperor.7
He became a martyr, probably under Marcus Aurelius, circa a.d. 177;8 some eminent critics have even dated his Apology as late as this.
1Routh, R. S., vol. i. p. 113. And see Westcott, Canon, p. 245.
2Lightfoot, A. F., vol. ii. p. 48.
3Ib., vol. i. p. 428.
4Vol. ii. (Stromata) p. 301, ANF series.
5Vol. i. p. 186, ANF series.
6Lightfoot, A. F., vol. i. p. 468.
7Lightfoot, A. F., vol. ii.
8Ibid., pp. 446, 494.
Keywords: Melito fragments ante-nicene fathers apology introduction Introductory Notice to Melito the Philosopher.