Butler’s Lives of the Saints – Saint Peter Chrysologus, Archbishop of Ravenna, Confessor

[Saint Peter Chrysologus]Article

A.D. 450

Saint Peter was a native of Imola, anciently called Forum Cornelii, a town in the ecclesiastical state, near Ravenna. He was taught the sacred sciences, and ordained deacon by Cornelius, bishop of that city, of whom he always speaks with veneration, and the utmost gratitude. 1 He calls him his father, and tells us, that in his whole conduct all virtues shone forth, and that by the bright lustre of his great actions he was known to the whole world. Under his prudent direction our saint was formed to perfect virtue from his youth by the exercises of an interior life, and understood that to command his passions and govern himself was true greatness, and the only means of learning to put on the spirit of Christ. For by the oracle of truth we are assured that to bear well an injury is something far more heroic than to vanquish nations, and when the noon-day light shall break in upon us, and dispel the darkness with which we are at present encompassed, we shall most clearly see that the least act of perfect meekness, humility, resignation, or patience, is of greater value than the gaining of millions of worlds. This is the most glorious triumph by which God is honoured in us, and a soul enjoys interior peace, and his holy grace; all her affections being regulated by, and subjected to his will in all things. This domestic victory is something too great to be obtained without earnestness, and the difficulties which stand in the way are not to be vanquished or removed but by constant watchfulness and application. The more easily to accomplish this great and arduous work of subduing and regulating his passions, and forming the spirit of Christ in his soul, he embraced a monastic state, and had served God in it with great fervour and simplicity for some time, when he was placed in the archiepiscopal see of Ravenna. The archbishop John dying about the year 430, the clergy of that church, with the people, chose a successor, and entreated the bishop of Imola to go at the head of their deputies to Rome to obtain the confirmation of Pope Sixtus III. Cornelius took with him his deacon Peter, and the pope (who, according to the historian of Ravenna, had been commanded so to do by a vision the foregoing night) refused to ratify the election already made, and proposed Peter as the person designed by heaven for that post: in which, after some opposition, the deputies acquiesced.

Our saint, after receiving the episcopal consecration, was conducted to Ravenna, and there received with extraordinary joy, the Emperor Valentinian III. and his mother Galla Placidia, then residing in that city. The holy bishop extenuated his body by fasting, and offered his tears to God for the sins of his people, whom he never ceased to teach no less by example than by words. When he entered on his charge, he found large remains of pagan superstition in his diocess, and several abuses had crept in among the faithful in several parts: but the total extirpation of the former, and the reformation of the latter, were the fruit of the holy pastor’s zealous labours. The town of Classis, situate on the coast, was then the port of Ravenna, from which it was three miles distant: Saint Peter built there a fountain near the great church; also Saint Andrew’s monastery. He employed an extensive charity and unwearied vigilance in favour of his flock, which he fed assiduously with the bread of life, the word of God. We have a hundred and seventy-six of his discourses still extant, collected by Felix, archbishop of Ravenna, in 708. They are all very short; for he was afraid of fatiguing the attention of his hearers. He joins great elegance with extreme brevity. His style has nothing swelling or forced, though it is made up of short sentences or phrases which have a natural connexion together: the words are very fit, simple, and natural, and the descriptions easy and clear. Yet his discourses are rather instructive than pathetic; and though the doctrine is explained in them at large, we meet with little that quickens or affects much. Neither can these discourses be regarded as models of true eloquence, though his reputation as a preacher ran so high as to procure him the surname of Chrysologus, which is as much as to say, that his speeches were of gold, or excellent. He strongly recommends frequent communion, that the holy eucharist, which he usually calls the body of Christ, and in which he says we eat Christ himself, may be the daily bread of our souls. He every where extols the excellency, and inculcates the obligation of almsdeeds, prayer, and fasting; the forty days’ fast of Lent, he says, is not a human invention, but of divine authority. Those whose health does not permit them to fast the whole forty days, he exhorts to redeem by abundant alms what they are not able to accomplish by fasting. Among the remains of heathenish superstition, which he laboured to extirpate, he reckons the riotous manner of celebrating the New-year’s day; of which he says: “He who will divert himself with the devil, can never reign with Christ.” It appears that he often preached in presence of the emperor and of the catholic empress Placidia, mother of three children, Valentinian III, Placidia, and Eudocia. He says that the episcopal see of Ravenna had been lately raised to the metropolitical dignity by the pope, and by the favour of a Christian prince. For though Ravenna had been long the metropolis of the Flaminian province or vicariat, the bishop continued suffragan to the archbishop of Milan, till about the time that Saint Peter Chrysologus was exalted to this dignity. Eutyches, the heresiarch, having been condemned by Saint Flavian, addressed a circular letter to the most distinguished prelates in the church in his own justification. Our saint, in the answer which he sent him, told him that he had read his letter with sorrow: for, if the peace of the church causes joy in heaven, divisions ought to beget sadness and grief; that the mystery of the incarnation, though inexplicable, is delivered to us by the divine law, and to be believed in the simplicity of faith. He therefore exhorted him to acquiesce, not to dispute, having before his eye the rocks upon which Origen, Nestorius, and others had split, by taking that method. In 448, our saint received Saint Germanus of Auxerre with great honour at Ravenna, and, after his death, esteemed it no small happiness to inherit his cowl and hair shirt. He did not long survive: for, in 452, when Attila approached Ravenna, John, Saint Peter’s successor, held his see, and went out to meet him. The saint being forewarned of his approaching death, returned to Imola, his own country, and there gave to the church of Saint Cassian, a golden crown set with jewels, a gold cup, and a silver paten, preserved to this day with great reverence, and famed for miracles. Peter died at Imola, probably on the 2d of December, 450, and was buried there in Saint Cassian’s church. The greater part of his relics are preserved there; but one arm is kept in a rich case at Ravenna.

Learning is recommended by reason, authority, and the example of the saints, and, next to virtue, is doubtless the greatest improvement of the human mind, and instrument of piety and religion. By it the nobleman is qualified for the superior rank he holds among men, is made capable of directing himself and others, is drawn off from sotting, debauchery, and idleness, possesses the art of filling most usefully and agreeable all his vacant hours, and acquires a relish for the pleasure of true rational knowledge, than which man can enjoy no greater or more noble, except those which piety and virtue infuse. By exercise and application the memory and other powers of the soul are perfected, the understanding is furnished with true ideas and a just way of thinking, and the judgment acquires true justice and taste. In a pastor of souls, and minister of religion, how essential the qualification of a consummate skill in sacred learning is, it is needless to show, the infinite obligations of that charge making it manifest to all men. How grievous, then, is the crime of those who are engaged in this state, yet idly throw away the time they owe to the study of the sacred writings, to holy meditation, and application to the science of morality and the pulpit?

MLA Citation

  • Father Alban Butler. “Saint Peter Chrysologus, Archbishop of Ravenna, Confessor”. Lives of the Fathers, Martyrs, and Principal Saints, 1866. Saints.SQPN.com. 2 December 2013. Web. 26 October 2014. <>