Melito of Sardis: On Pascha

Discussion in 'Book Reviews' started by BayouHuguenot, Dec 11, 2018.

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  1. BayouHuguenot

    BayouHuguenot Puritan Board Doctor

    Melito of Sardis, On Pascha and Fragments. Ed. Alistair Stewart-Sykes. Crestwood, NY: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2001.

    If you were to walk into a Pascha service in 190 AD, what you would expect? The church bulletin is listed below.

    The structure of the work follows the typical Asianist oratory (16):

    “Propositio/thesis: Here the orator sets out in brief what the speech will achieve. Narratio/diegema: Here the orator tells a story. In the case of a courtroom speech it might be the facts of the case, or else the background to the occasion. On a religious occasion a story relating to the god being praised, or to the feast, might be told.

    Probatio/kataskeue: Here the case is proved. The diegema is shown to be true (or false!). In a courtroom speech the weight might well be found in this part of the speech.

    Peroratio/epilogos: Here the orator sums up, ensuring the audience is on his side, and bringing about in the audience an emotional response proper to the occasion.”

    On Pascha should be read as a liturgical text for celebrating “Easter.”

    Notes (the numbers in paragraph refer to the verse sections, not to the pagination)

    (9) “He is Father, in that he begets.” The subject here is clearly Christ, which makes this line very unsettling. His Melito guilty of an incipient modalism, as some allege? Maybe not, for Emmanuel is called “Father” in Isaiah 9. Though, it is not clear whom Christ is supposed to be begetting.

    (11) “I shall narrate the Scriptural story.” In the OT the recitation of God’s mighty acts was itself praise.

    (35) “Nothing is spoken without an analogy.” We perceive through the prototype.

    (40) The people were a type. The law was the writing of analogy. The Gospel is the narrative fulfillment of the law.

    (53) Melito condemns sodomy.

    (65) Melito now moves from “probatio” to peroratio.

    (67) He sealed our souls with his spirit, and the members of our body with his blood.”

    (69) Melito points out the numerous types of Christ:

    a. He was murdered in Abel.

    B. Tied up in Isaac.

    C. Exiled in Jacob.

    D. Sold in Jospeh.

    E. Exposed in Moses.

    F. Slaughtered in the Lamb.

    G. Hunted down in David.

    H. Dishonored in the prophets.

    (96) “He who hung the earth is hanging….God has been murdered.”

    (99) By not lamenting the Lord, Israel now laments her firstborn. She has become the New Egypt.


    Most of these are from Eusebius. Jerome, quoting Tertullian, makes an odd reference to Melito as a “prophet,” but doesn’t clarify how this term should be glossed (Jerome, On Famous Men, 24). The fact that Tertullian, himself a moderate Montanus, speaks of Melito and “us,” certainly indicates that Tertullian, or at least some in his community, saw him as an ecstatic prophet. This appears to be Sykes’ conclusion as well (Sykes 81).

    Many of the other fragments show the convoluted controversy on when to celebrate Easter. That the early church celebrated Easter isn’t up for discussion. It is one of the more universally attested points. The problem is on what date: the 14th of Nisan or on a rotating calendar.
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