Ante-Nicene Fathers/Volume VI/Peter of Alexandria/Introductory Notice
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Peter, Bishop of Alexandria.
[a.d. 260–300–311.] Entering upon the fourth century, we may well pause to reflect upon what Alexandria has been to the Church of Christ,—the mother of churches, the mother of saints, maintaining always the intellectual and even the ecclesiastical primacy of Christendom. “Ye are the light of the world,” said the great Enlightener to the Galileans of an obscure and despised Roman province. But who could have prophesied that Egypt should again be the pharos of the world, as it was in Moses? Who could have foreseen the “men of Galilee” taking possession of the Alexandrian Library, and demonstrating the ways of Providence in creating the Bible of the Seventy, and in the formation of the Hellenistic Greek, for their ultimate use? Who could have imagined the Evangelist Mark and the eloquent Apollos to be the destined instruments for founding the schools of Christendom, and shaping scientific theology? Who would not have looked for all this in some other way, and preferably in Athens or in Rome? But who would have expected the visit of God Incarnate to Nazareth, and not to Alexandria?
In Peter’s day Antioch was coming to be a school under the influence of Malchion’s genius and that of the bishops who withstood Paulus of Samosata. Malchion had taught there in the “School of Sciences,” and learning was once more to be made the handmaid of true religion. But Alexandria was still the seat of Christian illumination and the fountain of orthodoxy; its very ferment always clarifying its thought, and leaving “wine well refined,” and pure from the lees.
To this subject I shall have occasion to refer again in an elucidation subjoined to the works of Alexander (successor to Peter), in which, for a final view of the great Alexandrian school, I shall gather up some fragments in brief outline. Here it may be enough to remark, that, until the definite development of the school of Antioch (circa a.d. 350), I have regarded the whole Orient as dominated and formed by the brain of the grand metropolis of Egypt and the Pentapolis. I have considered the great Dionysius as really presiding in the Synod of Antioch, though absent in the body, and have regarded Malchion as his voice in that council, which we must not forget was presided over by Firmilian, a pupil of Origen, and a true Alexandrian disciple.
Peter’s conflict with Meletius shall be noted in an elucidation. We shall see that the heresy of Paulus as well as the Meletian schism are but chapters in one prolonged history, of which the outcrop was Arianism. Now, as to Alexandria we owe the intrepid defenders of truth in all these conflicts, we must not forget that they are to be judged by the product of their united testimony, and not by their occasional individualisms and infirmities of mind and speech while they were creating the theological dialect of Christendom and the formulas of orthodoxy.
Peter was able to maintain his canonical authority against the mischievous rebellion of Meletius; and the history of this schism is forcibly illustrative of those ἀρχαῖα ἔθη which the Nicene Synod recognized, confirming the primacy of Alexandria, and striving to suppress Meletianism by firm but moderate measures based upon the primitive maxims. Peter left a pure and holy memory to the Church, and sealed his testimony in martyrdom.
Translator’s Introductory Notice.
Eusebius alone, of the more ancient writers, speaks in terms of the highest praise of Peter, Bishop of Alexandria. He was, says he, a divine bishop, both for the sanctity of his life, and also for his diligent study and knowledge of the Holy Scriptures; and in another place he styles him “that excellent doctor of the Christian religion,” who, indeed, during the whole period of his episcopate, which he held for twelve years, obtained for himself the highest renown. He obtained the bishopric of Alexandria next in succession to Theonas. He governed that church about three years before the persecution broke out: the rest of his time he spent in the exercise of a closer discipline over himself, yet did he not in the meanwhile neglect to provide for the common interests of the Church. In the ninth year of the persecution he was beheaded, and gained the crown of martyrdom. So far we have the account of Eusebius, whom Dodwell proves to have accurately distributed the years of Peter’s episcopate. After Peter had spent twelve years as bishop, and in the ninth year of the persecution which broke out under Maximin, he was beheaded; so that his martyrdom falls in the year of our Lord 311—as the Egyptians reckon on the 29th day of the month Athyr, which answers to our 25th of November, as Lequien, after Renaudot, has observed.
St. Peter wrote in the fourth year of the persecution, a.d. 306, some Canons Penitential with reference to those who had lapsed. They are to be met with in every collection of Canons. In the Pandecta Canonum of Bishop Beveridge, they are accompanied by the notes of Joannes Zonaras and Theodorus Balsamon. Upon these Penitential Canons, however, Tillemont should be consulted. Moreover, according to Renaudot, Echmimensis, Ebnapalus, Abulfaragius, and other Oriental Christians of every sect, make use of the testimony of these Canons; and in the anonymous collections of them called Responsa, some fragments of other works of Peter are extant. Some of these are praised by the Jacobites, in the work which they call Fides patrum. In another work, entitled Unio pretiosus, occurs a homily of Peter on the baptism of Christ.
The fragments of the other writings of this holy martyr, which have been preserved by the Greeks, are here appended to the Penitential Canons. For instance: (1) An extract from his book De Deitate, which is extant in the Acta Conciliorum Ephesini et Chalcedonensis; (2) Another fragment from the homily De Adventu Salvatoris, cited by Leontius Byzantinus in his first book against Nestorius and Eutyches; (3) An epistle of the same prelate to the Alexandrine Church recently published, together with some other old ecclesiastical monuments by Scipio Maffei. Peter is said to have written this epistle after one addressed to Meletius, Bishop of Lycopolis. In it, after interdicting the Alexandrians from communion with Meletius, he says that he will himself come in company with some wise doctors, and will examine into his tenets; alluding, most probably, to the synod held afterwards at Alexandria, in which Meletius was deposed from his office. Athanasius says, respecting this synod, “Peter, who was amongst us as bishop before the persecution, and who died a martyr in the persecution, deposed in common council of the bishops, Meletius, an Egyptian bishop, who had been convicted of many crimes.” But with respect to the time in which the mournful Meletian schism commenced, Maffei defends the opinions of Baronius, who connects it with the year a.d. 306, against Pagius and Montfaucon, both from this epistle of Petrus Alexandrinus, and also from another of the four bishops, of which Peter makes mention in his own; (4) A passage from the Sermo in Sanctum Pascha, or from some other work of Peter’s on the same subject, is given in the Diatriba de Paschate, prefixed to the Chronicon Alexandrinum S. Paschale, and published separately in the Uranologion of Petavius, fol. Paris, 1630, p. 396.
- This first date is conjectural.
- [After Gallandi, by the translator, the Rev. James B. H. Hawkins, M.A.]
- θεῖον ἐπισκόπων χρῆμα, βίου τε καὶ ἀρετῆς ἕνεκα καὶ τῆς τῶν ἱερῶν λόγων συνασκήσεως. Eusebius, Hist. Eccles., lib. ix. cap. 6; lib. viii. cap. 13; lib. vii. cap. 32, towards the end.
- πρὸ τοῦ διωγμοῦ τρίσιν οὐδ᾽ ὅλοις ἡγησάμενος τῆς Εκκλησίας.
- Dodwell, Dissert. Sing. ad. Pears., cap. 6, sec. 21, p. 74.
- Lequien, Oriens Christ, tom. ii. p. 397.
- Renaudot, Hist. Patriarch. Alex., p. 60.
- Συνοδικὸν. Vol. ii. p. 8, fol., Oxon., 1672.
- Tillemont, Mem., tom. v. p. 450.
- Renaudot, l. c., p. 61, seqq.
- Maffei, Osservazione Letterarie, tom. iii. p. 17.
- Athanasius, Apol. contra Arian, sec. 39, tom. i. p. 177.
- Maffei, l. c., p. 24.
- Baronius, Ad Annum, 306, sec. 44. [Elucidation I.]