- Meletius von Antiochien: Studien zur Geschichte des trinitätstheologischen Streits in den Jahren 360–364 n. Chr by Thomas R. Karmann
Eduard Schwartz’s assessment of St. Meletius of Antioch as one of the most obscure personalities of fourth-century church history has become almost a cliché. Questions abound about the personal conduct of the bishop of Antioch as much as his theological orientation. That St. Basil of Caesarea showed him unswerving loyalty must count for something, but despite Meletius’s charismatic and spiritual qualities it is indisputable that he was also divisive. Some sources describe him as a saint, whereas others emphasize his opportunism; his supporters saw him as staunchly Nicene, whereas others cast considerable doubt over his orthodoxy. It is therefore warmly to be welcomed that Thomas Karmann has devoted, for the first time, a full monograph to this important figure, even though his treatment is limited to the crucial years after 360 when Meletius organized a group of Eastern bishops in support of the Nicene Creed. However, Karmann does not break radically new ground in his treatment of the subject matter. The bulk of his study is largely owed to his scrupulous discussion of all the evidence that exists for the events of these years. Rather than, for example, give his own version of Meletius’s election to the see of Antioch in 360, Karmann offers a detailed comparative account and assessment of the information provided by Theodoret, Sozomenus, Epiphanius, the historia acephala, and Socrates.
The book is divided into three parts. The first discusses Meletius’s election and subsequent deposition in 360, the second gives an in-depth analysis of the Alexandrian synod of 362, and the third is devoted to the events during the short reign of Jovian in 363 and their immediate aftermath. Overall, Karmann’s interest is in theological history: by far the most detailed attention is given to Meletius’s “homily” on Proverbs 8:22, the Tomus ad Antiochenos, and several writings composed by Meletius and his opponents around 363. How much do they tell us about Meletius himself? This, one would think, is the crucial question for the present study: to move beyond the gridlock that has so far left the bishop of Antioch a somewhat shadowy figure, it would be crucial to chart his theological development during those years. Of the texts Karmann studies only the homily from 360 can unequivocally be taken as a witness to Meletius’s position; the Tomus of 362 is the work of St. Athanasius, and even the letter to Jovian written from Meletius’s own synod of the following year may bear traces of negotiation and compromise with his fellow bishops. Can we then distil a single theological position, albeit an evolving one, from these three very different documents? Or if we cannot, what does that signify? Would we have to conclude that Meletius was [End Page 772] no great theologian, but instead a skillful organizer of majorities? Unfortunately, Karmann’s study does not tackle these central questions at all; rather, its author is content to move the focus of his investigation with the texts he analyzes: from Meletius’s own homily to the “Meletians” cited by Athanasius to the group of bishops responsible for the letter of 363. As a result, his book, although meriting attention for its careful review of some central theological texts from the early 360s, leaves the task of reconstructing the personality and the theology of Meletius as a challenge for future Patristic scholarship.