Melania the Elder
Dates: about 341 - about 410 CE
Occupation: religious leader, religious community founder, suspected heretic
Melania is known as the Elder to distinguish her from her granddaughter who is known as Melania the Younger.
Melania was born in Spain and, married at fourteen, moved with her husband to the suburbs of Rome. She was widowed at 22: the same illness that took her husband also took two of her sons and left her with one living son, with whom she moved to Rome.
There, she became a Christian and, when her son was ten, placed him with a guardian and set off for Alexandria where she joined other Christian desert ascetics. She began to associate with monks of the Arian party -- those who believed that God the Son, Christ, had been created after God the Father. When the Arians were banished from Egypt, she left with them.
After some adventures, Melania came to Jerusalem, where she founded a monastery. Rufinus, a scholar she'd met in Alexandria, joined her there. Jerome and Paula were among those who stayed at the monastery of Melania and Rufinus.
Rufinus was a scholar of the third century theologian Origen, and Melania also studied the writings of Origen, many of which Rufinus translated from Greek to Latin. Origen's writings questioned the doctrine of eternal damnation and doctrines of bodily resurrection. When Origen's teachings were condemned, Rufinus refused to renounce them, and so Jerome also condemned Rufinus.
While Melania's association with Rufinus tarnished her own religious reputation, she was not herself condemned -- but because of her association with heresy, even those Christian writers who knew of her omitted her from their historical accounts or the church's history.
Melania founded more monasteries and promoted theological tolerance and the unity of Christianity.
On a visit to Rome to see her son, she also influenced his daughter, Melania. Known as Melania the Younger, she too took up a religious calling.
Melania the Elder visited Bishop Augustine of Hippo on her return to Palestine about 404 CE. She died in Jerusalem about 410.
Also on this site
- Abbot, Elizabeth. A History of Celibacy.
- Clark, Elizabeth A. The Life of Melania the Younger: Introduction, Translation and Commentary. 1984.
About Melania the Elder
- Categories: religious leader, religious community founder, monastic
- Organizational Affiliations:
- Places: Rome, Spain, Alexandria, Egypt, Jerusalem
- Period: 4th century, 5th century
- Religious Associations: Christianity, Arian, Rufinus