MELITO OF SARDIS (d. c. 177)
EUSEBIUS OF CAESAREA (Ecclesiastical History 5.24.2-6) has preserved for us a letter of about 190 of Polycrates of Ephesus, who praises the important Christians of Asia Minor who clung to the custom of celebrating Easter on the Jewish calendar day of 14 Nisan, rather than on the Sunday after the first spring moon. Among them, Polycrates mentions “Melito, the eunuch whose entire work is in the Holy Spirit, and who rests at Sardis, awaiting the visitor from heaven when he will rise from the dead.” Melito composed an apologia intended for Marcus Aurelius between 169 and 177. Eusebius enumerates the titles of about fifteen other works by Melito, of which either only the titles are known or only some fragments exist that are difficult to connect with one of the titles mentioned by Eusebius.
One work has resurfaced. C. Bonner discovered, at the end of a fifth-century Greek papyrus codex in the Chester Beatty collection (partly at Michigan), the text of the Peri Pascha. He identified other texts in Greek, Syriac, and even Sahidic Coptic. He perceived, in fact, that homiletic fragment 17, a fifth-century Coptic papyrus leaf coming from the Danish excavations at Wadi Sarjah, corresponded to a passage in the Peri Pascha. This leaf still bears the page number 93 on the back. It was published by W. E. Crum and H. I. Bell (1922, p. 47).
W. H. Willis announced in 1961 the discovery of a very old Coptic papyrus in the Crosby codex in the University of Mississippi Library, containing the second part of the homily of Melito (Willis, 1961, pp. 381-92). Its period would, however, be the fifth and sixth centuries (Hall, 1979, p. 7). H. Chadwick recognized a résumé of the same homily in Latin, under the names of Leon and Augustine (1960, pp. 76-82). Finally, M. Testuz published the Bodmer Papyrus 13 (1960). This time the codex is indeed from the third century. The homily on Easter thus rediscovered was probably composed about 164-166.
J. N. Birdsall published the Georgian version, paragraphs 1-45, identified by M. Richard (1967, pp. 121-38). O. Perler made a synthesis of everything in Sources chrétiennes (1966). But there appeared, further, the second half of the Georgian homily, paragraphs 46-105, by M. van Esbroeck (1971, pp. 373-94).
Finally, Stuart G. Hall had access to all the witnesses, having been able to consult reproductions of the papyrus of Mississippi 1, still to be published. Hall, provided with the entire collection, published the Greek edition, taking account of the variants or interesting lessons of each manuscript. Paragraphs 11-16 are represented there by the initial C, which indicates the page from Wadi Sarjah, while the same initial designates the Mississippi text from paragraphs 49-105. Better agreement can quite often be recorded between the Bodmer papyrus and the Coptic version. This fact is calculated to stimulate the appreciation of literature that is restored only in Coptic.
The text of the homily itself is on the borderline between theology, with the great figures of the fulfillment of the Old Testament Passover through Christ’s passion, and a form of literature that occasionally touches on hymnography. This type of literature belongs to the second Greek Sophist movement. The antitheses and the balance of the members in the enumerations make the text highly concentrated.
- Birdsall, J. N. “Melito of Sardis PERI TOU PASCA in a Georgian Version.” Le Muséon 80 (1967):121-38.
- Bonner, C. “A Coptic Fragment of Melito’s Homily on the Passion.” Harvard Theological Review 32 (1939):141-42.
- Chadwick, H. “A Latin Epitome of Melito’s Homily on the Pascha.” Journal of Theological Studies, n.s., 11 (1960):76-82. Crum, W. E., and H. I. Bell. Wadi Sarjah. Copenhagen, 1922. Esbroeck, M. van. “Le Traité sur la Paque de Méliton de Sardes en Géorgien.” Le Muséon 84 (1971):373-94.
- Hall, S. G. Melito of Sardis: On Pascha and Fragments. London, 1979.
- Perler, O. Méliton de Sardes, Sur la Paque. Sources chrétiennes 127. Paris, 1966.
- Richard, M. “Rapport sur une mission d’étude au Grèce et à Chypre.” Bulletin de l’Institut d’histoire et de recherche de textes 13 (1964-65):49-50.
- Testuz, M. Méliton de Sardes, Homélie sur la Pâque. Geneva, 1960. Willis, W. H. “The New Collection of Papyri at the University of Mississippi.” Proceedings of the IXth International Congress of Papyrology, pp. 381-92. Oslo, 1961.
MICHEL VAN ESBROECK