A fourth-century schismatic bishop of Lycopolis. Little is known about Melitius (also spelled Meletius), bishop of Lycopolis (ASYUT) in Upper Egypt, until he became involved in a dispute with PETER I, bishop of Alexandria. DIOCLETIAN’s persecution of Christians (beginning in 303) raised the question of how to treat lapsed Christians who wanted to rejoin the church. Melitius felt that Peter’s treatment of the lapsed was too lenient. He began to ordain supporters of his views and was excommunicated in 306.
A new outbreak of persecution led to Melitius’ banishment to the mines and to the death of Peter I of Alexandria (311). When the persecution ended, Melitius returned from exile and continued to build his schismatic church, with considerable success. The matter was discussed at the First Council of NICAEA (325), where measures were agreed upon to bring the schismatics back into the church. Melitius was to retain his title as bishop. But these measures were ineffective, and at the time of Melitius’ death (date unknown, but probably before 332) the Melitian movement was flourishing in Egypt.
- Coptic sources do not contain any information about Melitius. The many references in the works of Athanasius (particularly Apology Against the Arians) are the main patristic source. For modern work, see C. Vagaggini, “Melizio di Licopoli,” in Enciclopedia cattolica, Vol. 8, cols. 640ff. (Vatican City, 1952), and E. R. Hardy, Christian Egypt: Church and People (Oxford, 1952).