Melito of Sardis: The Pious

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“But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. Luke 6:27-28

“For the race of the pious is now persecuted in a way contrary to all precedent, being harassed by a new kind of edicts everywhere in Asia. For unblushing informers, and such as are greedy of other men’s goods, taking occasion from the orders issued, carry on their robbery without any disguise, plundering of their property night and day those who are guilty of no wrong.

If these proceedings take place at thy bidding, well and good. For a just sovereign will never take unjust measures; and we, on our part, gladly accept the honour of such a death. This request only we present to thee, that thou wouldst first of all examine for thyself into the behaviour of these reputed agents of so much strife, and then come to a just decision as to whether they merit death and punishment, or deserve to live in safety and quiet.

But if, on the contrary, it shall turn out that this measure, and this new sort of command, which it would be unbecoming to employ even against barbarian foemen, do not proceed from thee, then all the more do we entreat thee not to leave us thus.”

Melito of Sardis (c. 170) in his Apology addressed to Marcus Aurelius Antoninus (Roberts-Donaldson Translation).

It’s awesome to read the radical teachings of Jesus. They are counterintuitive and point the way to life. It’s also quite interesting to read the writings of disciples who followed after Him. The followed in obedience!

For example, the apostle John discipled Polycarp who discipled Irenaeus. Melito likely knew Polycarp and almost assuredly he knew Irenaeus. Melito writes this apology from Sardis in the reign of Marcus Aurelius (161-180).

Remember, Sardis is one of the seven churches mentioned in John’s Apocalypse (Revelation 3:1-6). We can posit that Melito was among the faithful remnant there which had not fallen asleep.

He writes the emperor and describes what’s happening. “Unblushing informers” are “greedy” and “plundering” the property of “the pious” This term, “the pious,” was the label the Romans affixed on the Christians for their consistent behavior.

Anyway, Melito does not come across as complaining. He submits to the emperor saying that “if these proceedings take place at thy bidding, well and good.” In other words, treat us as you wish, just examine what is taking place.

What happened you may ask? What’s the rest of the story? In hard times, God strengthens His people and gives them grace to remain pious. People like this are one of God’s greatest gifts to the church.

Sadly, Melito was martyred by Marcus Aurelius Antoninus. Not guilty of wrong, He stayed pious to the death. As Jesus commanded, he did good to the Emperor to the death. Let’s go and do likewise in these crazy times.