Butler’s Lives of the Saints – Saint Peter of Sebaste, Bishop and Confessor

Article

About the year 387.

The family of which Saint Peter descended, was very ancient and illustrious; Saint Gregory Nazianzen tells us, that his pedigree was made up of a list of celebrated heroes; but their names are long since buried in oblivion, whilst those of the saints which it gave to the church, and who despised the world and its honours, are immortal in the records of the church, and are written in the book of life; for the light of faith, and the grace of the Almighty, extinguishing in their breasts the sparks of worldly ambition, inspired them with a most vehement ardour to attain the perfection of Christian virtue, and changed their family into a house of saints; three brothers were at the same time eminently holy bishops, Saint Basil, Saint Gregory of Nyssa, and Saint Peter of Sebaste; and their eldest sister, Saint Macrina, was the spiritual mother of many saints and excellent doctors; their father and mother, Saint Basil the Elder, and Saint Emelia, were banished for their faith in the reign of the Emperor Galerius Maximian, and fled into the deserts of Pontus; they are recorded together in the Roman Martyrology, on the 30th of May: the grandmother of our pious and fruitful family of saints, was the celebrated Saint Macrina the Elder, who was instructed in the science of salvation by Saint Gregory Thaumaturgus. Saint Peter of Sebaste was the youngest of ten children, and lost his father in his cradle, some think before he was born; and his eldest sister, Macrina, took care of his education, in which it was her only aim to instruct him in the maxims of religion, and form him to perfect piety; profane studies she thought of little use to one, who designed to make salvation the sole end of all his inquiries and pursuits, nor did he ever make them any part of his employment, confining his views to a monastic state. His mother had founded two monasteries, one for men, the other for women; the former she put under the direction of her son Basil, the latter under that of her daughter Macrina. Peter, whose thoughts were wholly bent on cultivating the seeds of piety that had been sown in him, retired into the house governed by his brother, situated on the bank of the river Iris; when Saint Basil was obliged to quit that post, in 362, he left the abbacy in the hands of Saint Peter, who discharged this office for several years with great prudence and virtue. When the provinces of Pontus and Cappadocia were visited by a severe famine, he gave a remarkable proof of his charity; human prudence would have advised him to be frugal in the relief of others, till his own family should be secured against that calamity; but Peter had studied the principles of Christian charity in another school, and liberally disposed of all that belonged to his monastery, and whatever he could raise, to supply with necessaries the numerous crowds that daily resorted to him, in that time of distress. Soon after Saint Basil was made bishop of Cæsarea in Cappadocia, in 370, he promoted his brother Peter to the priesthood; the holy abbot looked on the holy orders he had received as a fresh engagement to perfection. His brother Saint Basil, died on the 1st of January, in 3T9, and his sister Macrina in November, the same year. Eustathius, bishop of Sebaste, in Armenia, a violent Arian, and a furious persecutor of Saint Basil, seems to have died soon after them; for Saint Peter was consecrated bishop of Sebaste, in 380, to root out the Arian heresy in that diocess, where it had taken deep root; the zeal of a saint was necessary, nor can we doubt that God placed our saint in that dignity for this purpose. A letter which Saint Peter wrote, and which is prefixed to Saint Gregory of Nyssa’s books against Eunomius, has entitled him to a rank among the ecclesiastical writers, and is a standing proof, that though he had confined himself to sacred studies, yet by good conversation and reading, and by the dint of genius, and an excellent understanding, he was inferior to none but his incomparable brother Basil, and his colleague Nazianzen, in solid eloquence. In 381, he attended the general council held at Constantinople, and joined the other bishops in condemning the Macedonian heretics. Not only his brother Saint Gregory; but also Theodoret, and all antiquity, bear testimony to his extraordinary sanctity, prudence, and zeal. His death happened in summer, about the year 387, and his brother of Nyssa mentions, that his memory was honoured at Sebaste (probably the very year after his death) by an anniversary solemnity, with several martyrs of that city. His name occurs in the Roman Martyrology, on the 9th of January.

We admire to see a whole family of saints! This prodigy of grace, under God, was owing to the example, prayers, and exhortations of the elder Saint Macrina, which had this wonderful influence and effect; from her they learned most heartily and deeply to imbibe the true spirit of self-denial and humility, which all Christians confess to be the fundamental maxim of the gospel; but this they generally acknowledge in speculation only, whereas it is in the heart that this foundation is to be laid; we must entertain no attachment, says Saint Gregory of Nyssa, to any thing, especially where there is most danger of passion, by some sensual pleasure annexed, and we must begin by being upon our guard against sensuality in eating, which is the most ancient enemy, and the father of vice: we must observe in our whole life the most exact rule of temperance, never making the pleasure of sense our end, but only the necessity of the use we make of things, even those in which a pleasure is taken. In another treatise he says, he who despises the world, must also renounce himself, so as never to follow his own will, but purely to seek in all things the will of God; we are his in justice, his will must be the law and rule of our whole life. This precept of dying to ourselves, that Christ may live in us, and all our affections and actions governed by his spirit, is excellently inculcated by Saint Basil the Great.

MLA Citation

  • Father Alban Butler. “Saint Peter of Sebaste, Bishop and Confessor”. Lives of the Fathers, Martyrs, and Principal Saints, 1866. Saints.SQPN.com. 8 January 2013. Web. 29 July 2014. <>