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Methodius of Olympus, Saint

Bishop and ecclesiastical author, date of birth unknown; d. a martyr, probably in 311

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* Published by Encyclopedia Press, 1913.


Methodius of Olympus, Saint, bishop and ecclesiastical author, date of birth unknown; d. a martyr, probably in 311. Concerning the life of this first scientific opponent of Origen very few reports have been handed down; and even these short accounts present many difficulties. Eusebius has not mentioned him in his "Church History", probably because he opposed various theories of Origen. We are indebted to St. Jerome for the earliest accounts of him (De viris illustribus, lxxxiii). According to him, Methodius was Bishop of Olympus in Lycia and afterwards Bishop of Tyre. But the latter statement is not reliable; no later Greek author knows anything of his being Bishop of Tyre; and according to Eusebius (Hist. Eccl., VIII, xiii), Tyrannio was Bishop of Tyre during the Diocletian persecution and died a martyr; after the persecution Paulinus was elected bishop of the city. Jerome further states that Methodius suffered martyrdom at the end of the last persecution, i.e., under Maximinus Daja (311). Although he then adds, "that some assert", that this may have happened under Decius and Valerian at Chalcis, this statement (ut alii affirmant), adduced even by him as uncertain, is not to be accepted. Various attempts have been made to clear up the error concerning the mention of Tyre as a subsequent bishopric of Methodius; it is possible that he was transported to Tyre during the persecution and died there.

Methodius had a very comprehensive philosophical education, and was an important theologian as well as a prolific and polished author. Chronologically, his works can only be assigned in a general way to the end of the third and the beginning of the fourth century. He became of special importance in the history of theological literature, in that he successfully combated various erroneous views of the great Alexandrian, Origen. He particularly attacked his doctrine that man's body at the resurrection is not the same body as he had in life; also his idea of the world's eternity and the erroneous notions it involved. Nevertheless he recognized the great services of Origen in ecclesiastical theology. Like him, he is strongly influenced by Plato's philosophy, and uses to a great extent the allegorical explanation of Scripture. Of his numerous works only one has come down to us complete in a Greek text, viz., the dialogue on virginity, under the title: "Symposium, or on Virginity" (Sumposion e peri agneias) in P.G., XVIII, 27-220. In the dialogue, composed with reference to Plato's "Banquet", he depicts a festive meal of ten virgins in the garden of Arete (virtue), at which each of the participators extols Christian virginity and its sublime excellence. It concludes with a hymn on Christ as the Bridegroom of the Church. Larger fragments are preserved of several other writings in Greek; we know of other works from old versions in Slavonian, though some are abbreviated.

The following works are in the form of dialogue: (I) "On Free Will" (peri tou auteksousiou), an important treatise attacking the Gnostic view of the origin of evil and in proof of the freedom of the human will; (2) "On the Resurrection" (Aglaophon e peri tes anastaseos), in which the doctrine that the same body that man has in life will be awakened to incorruptibility at the resurrection is specially put forward in opposition to Origen. While large portions of the original Greek text of both these writings are preserved, we have only Slavonian versions of the four following shorter treatises: (3) "De vita", on life and rational action, which exhorts in particular to contentedness in this life and to the hope of the life to come; (4) "De cibis", on the discrimination of foods (among the Jews), and on the young cow, which is mentioned in Leviticus, with allegorical explanation of the Old-Testament food-legislation and the red cow (Num., xix); (5) "De lepra", on Leprosy, to Sistelius, a dialogue between Eubulius (Methodius) and Sistelius on the mystic sense of the Old-Testament references to lepers (Lev., xiii); (6) "De sanguisuga", on the leech in Proverbs (Prov., xxx, 15 sq.) and on the text, "the heavens show forth the glory of God" (Ps. xviii, 2). Of other writings, no longer extant, Jerome mentions (loc. cit.) a voluminous work against Porphyrius, the Neoplatonist who had published a book against Christianity; a treatise on the "Pythonissa" directed against Origen, commentaries on Genesis and the Canticle of Canticles. By other later authors a work "On the Martyrs", and a dialogue "Xenon" are attributed to Methodius; in the latter he opposes the doctrine of Origen on the eternity of the world. New editions of his works are: P.G., XVIII; Jahn, "S. Methodii opera et S. Methodius platonizans" (Halle, 1865); Bonwetsch, "Methodius von Olympus: I, Schriften" (Leipzig, 1891).

J. P. KIRSCH


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