November 26, 2020: ST. PETER OF ALEXANDRIA
November 26, 2020: COMMEMORATION OF ST. PETER OF ALEXANDRIA, BISHOP AND MARTYR
This saint fought even unto death for the law of his God, and feared not the words of the wicked; for he was founded on a firm rock.
Have regard, O Almighty God, to our weakness, and as we sink under the weight of our own doings, let the glorious intercession of blessed Peter, thy Martyr and Bishop, be a protection to us. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, thy Son, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, God, world without end. Amen.
Peter, successor of St. Theonas in the See of Alexandria, was by his learning and holiness the glory of Egypt, and the light of the whole Church of God. Such was his courage under the terrible persecution raised by Maximian Galerius, that the example of his admirable patience strengthened a great many in Christian virtue. He was the first to cut off from the communion of the faithful, Arius, deacon of Alexandria, for favoring the schism of the Meletians. When Peter had been condemned to death by Maximian, the priests Achillas and Alexander came to him in prison to intercede for Arius; but the bishop answered that during the night Jesus had appeared to him with his garment torn, and on his asking the cause, had replied: “Arius has rent my garment, which is the Church.” He then foretold that they two would succeed him in turn in the episcopate, and forbade them ever to receive Arius to communion, for he knew that he was dead to God. The truth of this prophecy was soon proved by the event. Peter was beheaded, and thus went to receive the crown of martyrdom on the sixth of the Kalends of December, in the twelfth year of his episcopate.
Let us offer our homage and prayers to the great bishop whom the Church thus commemorates to-day. For a long time he went by the name of Peter the Martyr, until in the thirteenth century another Peter martyr, himself illustrious among all, came to claim the title, leaving his glorious brother to be known as St. Peter of Alexandria.
St. Peter, a man of great virtue and learning, was patriarch of Alexandria, his native city. At the time when the Emperors, Dioclesian and Maximian, endeavored to extirpate the Christian religion, he did all in his power to strengthen the Christians in the true faith and encourage them to prepare for martyrdom. He himself desired nothing more ardently than to give his life for Christ's sake; but the faithful forced him to conceal himself until the persecution ceased. Hardly had this storm abated, when Meletius, a bishop, gave him new trouble, by promulgating heretical dogmas, and committing other crimes, for which St. Peter had to depose him from his see and excommunicate him. The conduct and the doctrine of Meletius were defended, in defiance of St. Peter, by Arius, a proud and ambitious priest of Alexandria; and as neither prayers nor threats could move Arius to desist from such unjust and wicked proceedings, the zealous Patriarch saw himself obliged to separate him also, by excommunication, from the Church of Christ.
During this schism of the Church, an imperial officer arrived at Alexandria, seized St. Peter, and cast him into a dungeon. Arius thought that, after the death of St. Peter, he would surely succeed to the patriarchal chair if he were reconciled to the Church. He therefore pretended to repent of his fault, and going to the clergy, he requested them to beg the Patriarch to revoke the sentence of excommunication, declaring that he had abandoned the cause of Meletius, and was resolved to live and die a Catholic. Achillas and Alexander, moved by his deceitful words, begged St. Peter to grant the request. The Patriarch, enlightened by God, replied with a deep sigh: “I know that Arius is full of hypocrisy and blasphemy; how can I receive him again into the Church? You must know that in excommunicating him, I have not acted of my own accord, but by inspiration from the Almighty. Only last night, Christ appeared to me in the form of a beautiful youth, clothed in a snow-white garment, which was sadly rent. I was terrified, and asked: ‘Lord, what is the meaning of this? Who has torn Thy robe?’ He answered: ‘Arius has done it; for, by his heresy, he has divided My Church and will make the rent still larger.’” Peter added that Christ had forbidden him to receive Arius again into the pale of the Church, and commanded Achillas and Alexander also to reject him, when they would, one after the other, succeed to the patriarchal chair. Having said this, the Saint admonished them to guard, with fatherly care, the flock of Christ, and then, with his blessing, dismissed them. Soon after, by command of the emperor, St. Peter was dragged to the place of execution, without having had a trial. The Christians endeavored to interfere; but the Saint hastened joyfully to the spot where he was to receive the crown of martyrdom. His death happened in the year 310. The Christians carried the holy body into the Church, clothed it in the pontifical robes, and placed it upon the chair of St. Mark, on which Peter's humility and his reverence for the holy Evangelist had never allowed him to sit in his lifetime, as he always sat down on one of the steps leading to it. Having for some time showed all due honors to the holy body, they laid it into the tomb.
Another account of St. Peter of Alexandria
Eusebius calls this great prelate the excellent doctor of the Christian religion, and the chief and divine ornament of bishops; and tells us that he was admirable both for his extraordinary virtue and for his skill in the sciences, and profound knowledge of the holy scriptures. In the year 300 he succeeded Theonas in the see of Alexandria, being the sixteenth Archbishop from St. Mark; he governed that church with the highest commendation, says the same historian, during the space of twelve years, for the nine last of which he sustained the fury of the most violent persecutions carried on by Dioclesian and his successors. Virtue is tried and made perfect by sufferings; and Eusebius observes that the fervour of our saint's piety and the rigour of his penance increased with the calamities of the church. That violent storm, which affrighted and disheartened several bishops and inferior ministers of the church, did but awake his attention, inflame his charity, and inspire him with fresh vigour. He never ceased begging of God for himself and his flock necessary grace and courage, and exhorting them to die daily to their passions, that they might be prepared to die for Christ. The confessors he comforted and encouraged by word and example, and was the father of many martyrs who sealed their faith with their blood. His watchfulness and care were extended to all the churches of Egypt, Thebais or Upper Egypt, and Lybia, which were under his immediate inspection. Notwithstanding the activity of St. Peter's charity and zeal, several in whom the love of this world prevailed, basely betrayed their faith, to escape torments and death.
Among those who fell during this storm, none was more considerable than Meletius, Bishop of Lycopolis, in Thebais. That bishop was charged with several crimes; but apostasy was the main article alleged against him. St. Peter called a council, in which Meletius was convicted of having sacrificed to idols, and of other crimes, and sentence of deposition was passed against him. The apostate had not humility enough to submit, or to seek the remedy of his deep wounds by condign repentance, but put himself at the head of a discontented party which appeared ready to follow him to any lengths. To justify his disobedience, and to impose upon men by pretending a holy zeal for discipline, he published many calumnies against St. Peter and his council; and had the assurance to tell the world that he had left the archbishop's communion, because he was too indulgent to the lapsed in receiving them too soon and too easily to communion. Thus he formed a pernicious schism, which took its name from him, and subsisted a hundred and fifty years. The author laid several snares for St. Peter's life, and though, by an overruling providence, these were rendered ineffectual, he succeeded in disturbing the whole church of Egypt with his factions and violent proceedings; for he infringed the saint's patriarchal authority, ordained bishops within his jurisdiction, and even placed one in his metropolitical see. Sozomen tells us, these usurpations were carried on with less opposition during a certain time when St. Peter was obliged to retire, to avoid the fury of the persecution. Arius, who was then among the clergy of Alexandria, gave signs of his pride and turbulent spirit by espousing Meletius's cause as soon as the breach was open, but soon after quitted that party, and was ordained deacon by St Peter. It was not long before he relapsed again to the Meletians, and blamed St. Peter for excommunicating the schismatics, and forbidding them to baptize. The holy bishop, by his knowledge of mankind, was by this time convinced that pride, the source of uneasiness and inconstancy, had taken deep root in the heart of this unhappy man; and that so long as this evil was not radically cured, the wound of his soul was only skinned over by a pretended conversion, and would break out again with greater, violence than ever. He therefore excommunicated him, and could never be prevailed with to revoke that sentence. St. Peter wrote a book on the Divinity, out of which some quotations are preserved in the councils of Ephesus and Chalcedon. Also a paschal treatise, of which some fragments are extant. From St. Epiphanius it appears that St. Peter was in prison for the faith in the reign of Dioclesian, or rather of Galerius Maximian; but after some time recovered his liberty. Maximin Daia, Cӕser in the East, renewed the persecution in 311, which had been considerably abated by a letter written the same year by the Emperor Galerius in favour of the Christians. Eusebius informs us that Maximin coming himself to Alexandria, St. Peter was immediately seized, when no one expected such a storm, and, without any form of trial, by the sole order of the tyrant, hurried to execution. With him were beheaded three of his priests, Faustus, Dio, and Ammonius. This Faustus seems, by what Eusebius writes, to be the same person of that name, who, sixty years before, was deacon to St. Dionysius, and the companion of his exile.
The canons of the church are holy laws, framed by the wisest and most experienced pastors and saints for the regulation of the manners of the faithful, according to the most pure maxims of our divine religion and the law of nature, many intricate rules of which are frequently explained, and many articles of faith expounded in them. Every clergyman is bound to be thoroughly acquainted with the great obligations of his state and profession; for it is one of the general and most just rules of the canon law, and even of the law of nature, that “No man is excused from a fault by his ignorance in things which, by his office, he is bound to know.” That any one amongst the clergy should be a stranger to those decrees of the Universal Church und statutes of his own diocess, which regard the conduct and reformation of the clergy, is a neglect and an affected ignorance which aggravates the guilt of every transgression of which it is the cause, according to a well-known maxim of morality. After the knowledge of the holy scriptures, of the articles of faith, and the rules of a sound Christian morality, every one who is charged with the direction of others, is obliged to have a competent tincture of those parts of the canon law which may fall in the way of his practice; bishops and their assistants stand in need of a more profound and universal skill, both in what regards their own office, and others.
Taken from: The Liturgical Year - Time after Pentecost, Vol. VI, Edition 1903;
The Lives of the Saints, Rev. F.X. Weninger D.D., S.J. Vol. II, Permissu Superiorum, 1876;
The Lives of the Fathers, Martyrs, and Other Principal Saints, Vol. II; and
The Divine Office for the use of the Laity, Volume II, 1806.
St. Peter of Alexandria, pray for us.