Catholic Encyclopedia – Saint Peter of Alexandria

[Pictorial Lives of the Saints: Saint Peter of Alexandria, Bishop, Martyr]
Article

Became Bishop of Alexandria in 300; martyred November 311. According to Philip of Sidetes, he was at one time head of the famous catechetical school at Alexandria. His theological importance lies in the fact that he marked, very probably initiated, the reaction at Alexandria against extreme Origenism.

When during the Diocletian persecution Peter left Alexandria for concealment, the Meletian schism broke out. There are three different accounts of this schism:

(1) According to three Latin documents (translation from lost Greek originals), Meletius (or Melitius), Bishop of Lycopolis, took advantage of Saint Peter’s absence to usurp his patriarchal functions, and contravened the canons by consecrating bishops to sees not vacant, their occupants being in prison for the Faith. Four of them remonstrated, but Meletius took no heed of them and actually went to Alexandria, where, at the instigation of one Isidore, and Arius the future heresiarch, he set aside those left in charge by Peter and appointed others. Upon this Peter excommunicated him.

(2) Saint Athanasius accuses Meletius not only of turbulent and schismatical conduct, but of sacrificing, and denouncing Peter to the emperor. There is no incompatibility between the Latin documents and Saint Athanasius, but the statement that Meletius sacrificed must be received with caution; it was probably based upon rumour arising out of the immunity which he appeared to enjoy. At all events nothing was heard about the charge at the Council of Nic├Ža.

(3) According to Saint Epiphanius, Meletius and Saint Peter quarrelled over the reconciliation of the lapsi, the former inclining to sterner views. Epiphanius probably derived his information from a source, and his story is full of historical blunders. Thus, to take one example, Peter is made a fellow-prisoner of Meletius and is martyred in prison. According to Eusebius his martyrdom was unexpected, and therefore not preceded by a term of imprisonment.

There are extant a collection of fourteen canons issued by Peter in the third year of the persecution dealing chiefly with the lapsi, excerpted probably from an Easter Festal Epistle. The fact that they were ratified by the Council of Trullo, and thus became part of the canon law of the Eastern Church, probably accounts for their preservation. Many manuscripts contain a fifteenth canon taken from writing on the Passover. The cases of different kinds of lapsi were decided upon in these canons.

The Acts of the martyrdom of Saint Peter are too late to have any historical value. In them is the story of Christ appearing to Saint Peter with His garment rent, foretelling the Arian schism. Three passages from “On the Godhead”, apparently written against Origen’s subordinationist views, were quoted by Saint Cyril at the Council of Ephesus. Two further passages (in Syriac) claiming to be from the same book, were printed by Pitra in “Analecta Sacra”, IV in 188; their genuineness is doubtful. Leontius of Byzantium quotes a passage affirming the two Natures of Christ from a work on “The Coming of Christ”, and two passages from the first book of a treatise against the view that the soul had existed and sinned before it was united to the body. This treatise must have been written against Origen. Very important are seven fragments preserved in Syriac from another work on the Resurrection, in which the identity of the risen with the earthly body is maintained against Origen.

Five Armenian fragments were also published by Pitra. Two of these correspond with one of the doubtful Syriac fragments. The remaining three are probably Monophysite forgeries. A fragment quoted by the Emperor Justinian in his Letter to the Patriarch Mennas, purporting to be taken from a Mystagogia of Saint Peter’s, is probably spurious. The “Chronicon Paschale” gives a long extract from a supposed writing of Peter on the Passover. This is condemned as spurious by a reference to Saint Athanasius (which editors often suppress) unless, indeed, the reference is an interpolation. A fragment first printed by Routh from a Treatise “On Blasphemy” is generally regarded as spurious. A Coptic fragment on the keeping of Sunday, published by Schmidt has been ruled spurious by Delehaye, in whose verdict critics seem to acquiesce. Other Coptic fragments have been edited with a translation by Crum in the “Journal of Theological Studies”. Most of these come from the same manuscript as the fragment edited by Schmidt. Their editor says: “It would be difficult to maintain the genuineness of these texts after Delehaye’s criticisms, though certain of the passages, which I have published may indicate interpolated, rather than wholly apocryphal compositions.”

MLA Citation

  • Francis Joseph Bacchus. “Saint Peter of Alexandria”. Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume 11, 1911. Saints.SQPN.com. 10 October 2010. Web. 22 September 2014. <http://saints.sqpn.com/catholic-encyclopedia-saint-peter-of-alexandria/>