Butler’s Lives of the Saints – Saint Peter Balsam, Martyr

Article

A.D. 311.

Peter Balsam, a native of the territory of Eleutheropolis, in Palestine, was apprehended at Aulane, in the persecution of Maximinus. Being brought before Severus, governor of the province, the interrogatory began by asking him his name. Peter answered — “Balsam is the name of my family; but I received that of Peter in baptism.”

SEVERUS. “Of what family, and of what country are you?”

PETER. “I am a Christian.”

SEVERUS. “What is your employ?”

PETER. “What employ can I have more honourable, or what better thing can I do in the world, than to live a Christian?”

SEVERUS. “Do you know the imperial edicts?”

PETER. “I know the laws of God, the sovereign of the universe.”

SEVERUS. “You shall quickly know that there is an edict of the most clement emperors, commanding all to sacrifice to the gods, or be put to death.”

PETER. “You will also know one day that there is a law of the eternal king, proclaiming that every one shall perish, who offer sacrifice to devils. Which do you counsel me to obey, and which, do you think, should be my option; to die by your sword, or to be condemned to everlasting misery, by the sentence of the great king, the true God?”

SEVERUS. “Seeing you ask my advice, it is then that you obey the edict, and sacrifice to the gods.”

PETER. “I can never be prevailed upon to sacrifice to gods of wood and stone, as those are which you adore.”

SEVERUS. “I would have you know, that it is in my power to revenge these affronts by your death.”

PETER. “I had no intention to affront you. I only expressed what is written in the divine law.”

SEVERUS. “Have compassion on yourself, and sacrifice.”

PETER. “If I am truly compassionate to myself, I ought not to sacrifice.”

SEVERUS. “My desire is to use lenity; I therefore still do allow you time to consider with yourself, that you may save your life.”

PETER. “This delay will be to no purpose, for I shall not alter my mind; do now what you will be obliged to do soon, and complete the work, which the devil, your father, has begun; for I will never do what Jesus Christ forbids me.”

Severus, on hearing these words, ordered him to be hoisted on the rack, and whilst he was suspended in the air, said to him scoffing: “What say you now, Peter; do you begin to know what the rack is? Are you yet willing to sacrifice?”

Peter answered: “Tear me with iron hooks, and talk not of my sacrificing to your devils; I have already told you, that I will sacrifice to that God alone for whom I suffer.” Hereupon the governor commanded his tortures to be redoubled. The martyr, far from fetching the least sigh, sung with alacrity those verses of the royal prophet — One thing I have asked of the Lord; this will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life. I will take the chalice of salvation, and will call upon the name of the Lord. The governor called forth fresh executioners to relieve the first, now fatigued.

The spectators seeing the martyr’s blood run down in streams, cried out to him: “Obey the emperors: sacrifice, and rescue yourself from these torments.”

Peter replied: “Do you call these torments? I, for my part, feel no pain; but this I know, that if I am not faithful to my God, I must expect real pains, such as cannot be conceived.”

The judge also said: “Sacrifice, Peter Balsam, or you will repent it.”

PETER. “Neither will I sacrifice, nor shall I repent it.”

SEVERUS. “I am just ready to pronounce sentence.”

PETER. “It is what I most earnestly desire.”

Severus then dictated the sentence in this manner. “It is our order, that Peter Balsam, for having refused to obey the edict of the invincible emperors, and having contemned our commands, after obstinately defending the law of a man crucified, be himself nailed to a cross.” Thus it was that this glorious martyr finished his triumph, at Aulane, on the 3rd of January, which day he is honoured in the Roman Martyrology, and that of Bede.

In the example of the martyrs we see, that religion alone inspires true constancy and heroism, and affords solid comfort and joy amidst the most terrifying dangers, calamities, and torments. It spreads a calm throughout a man’s whole life, and consoles at all times. He that is united to God, rests in omnipotence, and in wisdom and goodness; he is reconciled with the world whether it frowns or flatters, and with himself. The interior peace which he enjoys, is the foundation of happiness; and the delights which innocence and virtue bring, abundantly compensate the loss of the base pleasures of vice. Death itself, so terrible to the worldly man, is the saint’s crown, and completes his joy and his bliss.

MLA Citation

  • Father Alban Butler. “Saint Peter Balsam, Martyr”. Lives of the Fathers, Martyrs, and Principal Saints, 1866. Saints.SQPN.com. 13 January 2013. Web. 31 October 2014. <>