Nicholas of Methone

Nicholas Of Methone, an Eastern ecclesiastic, to whom a number of works are attributed, was bishop of Methone, in Messenia. His writings, as far as known, are polemical essays on the person of Christ, the eucharist, the use of unleavened bread, the procession of the Holy Ghost, against the primacy of the pope, but especially against the heathenish Platonism of Proclus. All attempts to establish the personality of the author, or the exact time when he wrote, have heretofore proved unavailing. Some critics, as Cave and Oudin, place him at the close of the 11th century, and look upon him as a contemporary of Theophylact, bishop of Bulgaria, and of Nicetas of Heraclea. Cave, however, observes that some of the works may have been written by another, more modern, Nicholas. Others, and among them Fabricius, place him in the later half of the 12th century. This is also the opinion of Ullmann, who observes that in the midst of the controversy between the Eastern and the Western churches, during the reign of Manuel I, a synod was held in 1166 at Constantinople, in which a Nicholas, bishop of Methone, was present, according to Allatius (De perp. consensione, p. 689). Nicholas was until recently known only as the author of Α᾿νάπτυξις τῆς θεολογικῆς στοιχειώσεως Πρόκλου Πλατωνικοῦ, Refutatio institutionis theol. Proci Platonici (primum ed. J. Th. Voemel, Francf.-ad- M. 1825); and Nicolai Methonensis Anecdota (p. i, ii, ed.Voemel, Francf. 1825-26); and it appears from these works that he was an independent disciple of the ancient fathers, whom he studied and expounded with great perspicacity. He opposed heathen Platonism, while at the same time he adhered to that Christian and ecclesiastical Platonism which had been handed down from the Areopagists and others. Hence his doctrine concerning God is altogether ideal and transcendental. Nicholas considers the negative definitions of God as more correct than the positive. He regards God as so infinitely above man that the latter can have no conception of him. The small Anecdoton begins with the expression, "The world is unfinished; the divine act of creation is ever enduring, and admits of no distinction of past or future. Were we to consider it as having a beginning or an end, it would imply a cessation of the divine activity, and thus represent the divine nature and power as subject to change. Yet the results of creation are finite; but this does not imply a change in the creative energy, only a variation in the proportion between its emitting and retaining properties" (κατὰ προβολὴν καὶ συστολήν, Anecd. 1:10). His views bear a great resemblance to those of Origen. On the doctrine of the redemption he goes much beyond all the ancient expositors, and seeks to prove dialectically the necessity of this divine means of grace. "Humanity," says Nicholas, "lay in the bonds of Satan; it possessed within itself no possible means of getting free from this bondage, since every sinner would have had first of all to free himself from this strange power, an effort which none could accomplish. Redemption could only come from the innocent and almighty, hence from God himself, and at the same time could only be accomplished in human form, and by the undergoing of human sufferings and death." From these principles results the necessity of the coming of a God-man, when it is admitted, moreover, that divine mercy wishes not the eternal death of the sinner. This forms a simplified counterpart of Anselm's theory, and similar views are expressed by subsequent Greek writers, for instance, very explicitly by Nicholas Cabasilas. Ullmann on this account believes that Nicholas made use of Latin sources. His criticisms on Proclus present also several interesting points. He states in the first place that in the Greek Church of that time there were persons who in their attachment to the later Platonism deduced from it antichristian and anti-ecclesiastical consequences, while otherwise the polemics on the question had no practical result. The assertion of some of the earlier Greek theologians that the ψυχή, as such, is not immortal, but obtains immortality only from its connection with the πνεῦμα, was repeated by our Nicholas in the Greek Church (comp. his Refut. p. 207, 208). A work by Nicholas on the eucharist was published: Greece cum liturgiis Jacobi. etc. (Paris, 1560, et in Auctario Ducceano, 2:372). His other works remained in MSS. until 1866, when a Russian priest at Leipsic brought out the Bibliotheca Eccles. continens Gromcorumn theologorum opera, the large bulk of which in vol. 1 is devoted to Nicholas of Methone. There are eight of his productions inserted there, but his personal history is cautiously approached, as but little is known of it. Gass, the soundest modern critic of Middle-Age Greek theology, pronounces these writings of Nicholas of Methone as among the best products of that epoch of Byzantine theology. As to the time of Nicholas's activity, Gass holds that it is well-nigh impossible to speak with certainty until more of his writings are made accessible to modern critics. He refuses to reject or accept either Cave's or Ullmann's opinion on this point. See Fabricius, Bibl. Gr. (ed. Harl.) 11:290; Ullmann, Dogmatik d. griech. K. im 12 Jahrh. in Stud. u. Krit. of 1833, p. 647 sq.; Hagenbach, Hist. of Doctrines, 1:385; 2:16, 36, 41; Ceillier, Hist. des Auteurs Sacres, 13:555, 558, 571 sq.; Migne, Patrologie Grecque, vol. xxv.

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