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Methodius of Olympus, St.


Third-century ecclesiastical author; d. probably a martyr at Chalcis, Greece, c. 300. St. Jerome (De viris ill. 83) speaks of Methodius as a bishop and martyr, who held the See at Olympus in Lycia, and later in Tyre, dying "at the end of the last persecution at Chalcis, in Greece." Different ancient sources offer contradictory details with respect to his see and the date of his martyrdom. But if the authenticity of Methodius's Against Porphyry is accepted (c. 270), his floruit must be dated in the last quarter of the century. F. Diekamp at one time suggested that Methodius was bishop of Philippi [Theol. Quart. 109 (1928) 285], but the argument is not convincing. The most one can say is that Methodius, also called Eubulius, was a Platonizing Christian teacher, possibly also a bishop and martyr, who exercised his ministry in the cities of Lycia, Olympus, Patara, and Termessus, during the last quarter of the third century.

Writings. The Symposium, or Treatise on Chastity, is the only work of Methodius that has been preserved entirely in Greek; two other works of importance, the Treatise on Free Will and On the Resurrection, are preserved in a Slavonic version and in a few Greek fragments. Other pieces are The Jewish Foods, On Life, On the Leech, On Leprosy, On Creatures, and Against Porphyry.

In the treatise On the Resurrection Methodius combats the Origenist concept of the Fall and the Resurrection; in the Treatise on Free Will he gives a detailed explanation of the effects of Adam's sin upon man's freedom and hints at the voluntarism that is at the heart of Methodius's theology and asceticism: for the effect of Jesus' atonement was to restore some of the perfect freedom and equilibrium of the human will that man possessed before the Fall.

It is this restoration of the divine image that Methodius explains in the Platonic dialogue, the Symposium. So far as external form is concerned, this is the most Platonic of all the writings of the early Church, composed within the last quarter of the third century and dedicated to Methodius's patroness, the Lady from Termessus.

In the course of the eleven great discourses, with prelude, interludes, and epilogue, Methodius explains how virginity has taken the place of the Platonic eros as the all-embracing virtue of the Christian life, but he also gives practical instruction (presumably for a community of consecrated women of Lycia) on the interpretation of the Scriptures, on the nature of the final reign of Christ, on the Incarnation and Redemption, on prayer and the freedom of the will, on the dangers of astrology, and on prayer and temptation. Thus the work becomes a summary of Christian doctrine and a handbook against the errors of gnosticism and Encratism.

Teaching. For all his debt to Alexandrian allegorism, Methodius shows no trace of origenism in his doctrine of the Fall or the Last Things. Rather he stresses the archetypal relationship between Adam, the first man, born of the virgin earth, and Christ, the archvirgin, born of a virgin mother, who by His life and death restores freedom and chastity to mankind. The effects of this restoration are communicated to men through the Virgin Mother Church, who brings forth her children mystically and nourishes them with the milk of her grace. Through her teaching and her liturgy (especially the anamnesis, or memorial, of the Passion) men learn to conquer their passions, exercise their freedom, and thus restore the luster of the divine image within the soul. In practice this is achieved by the more perfect in the Church, instructing the weak.

Methodius sets his doctrine against the grandiose scheme of the eight ages of the world: five are the ages of the Old Law, the sixth is the Church, the seventh is the millennium of rest (when Christ will rule the world), and the eighth designates the eternity of heaven. In Thecla's hymn we have a moving description of the march to meet Christ on the last day in the company of His virgin bride, the Church.

Methodius's Christology tended to be subordinationist, and it is probable that his text was later corrected by an anti-Arian group; another recension, Photius tells us, was circulated by the Arian party. Yet Methodius spoke clearly of Christ's divinity; and G. N. Bonwetsch, E. Mersch, and others err in thinking that he taught that there was a hypostatic union between the Logos and the first man.

Doctrine, however, is not Methodius's strong point; he is most moving in his poetic flights, his description of the heavenly meadows, the rise of the soul to God, the mystical sleep of Christ, and the marriage of Christ and the Virgin Church. In philosophy he is eclectic. Aristotelian in his logic and in his support of the imagination, Methodius inclines to Stoicism in his moral doctrine, to Platonism in his view of the shadow-reality dimension of the world, and, finally, to an Alexandrian-Asiatic form of allegorism in his interpretation of Scripture.

Feast: Sept. 18.

Bibliography: Patrologia Graeca ed. j. p. migne (Paris 185766) 18:10407; critical ed. g. n. bonwetsch (GSC 27;1917); De Autexusio, ed. and tr. a. vaillant (Patrologia orientalis, ed. r. graffin and f. nau 22.5; Paris 1930); Symposium, ed. and tr. h. musurillo (Ancient Christian Writers, ed. j. quasten et al. 27; Westminster, Md.-London 1958); Le Banquet, tr. v. h. debidour, ed. h. musurillo (Sources Chrétiennes, ed. h. de lubac et al. 95; Paris 1963). j. quasten, Patrology (Westminster, Maryland 1950) 2:129137. g. n. bonwetsch, Die Theologie des Methodius von Olympus (Abhandlungen der Akademie (Gesellschaft, to 1940) der Wissenschaften NS 7.1 (Göttingen 1903). b. altaner, Patrology, tr. h. graef (New York 1960) 242244.

[h. musurillo]

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