Ante-Nicene Fathers/Volume VI/Peter of Alexandria/Canonical Epistle/Canon I
The Canons of the Blessed Peter, Archbishop of Alexandria, as They are Given in His Sermon on Penitence.
But since the fourth passover of the persecution has arrived, it is sufficient, in the case of those who have been apprehended and thrown into prison, and who have sustained torments not to be borne, and stripes intolerable, and many other dreadful afflictions, and afterwards have been betrayed by the frailty of the flesh, even though they were not at the first received on account of their grievous fall that followed, yet because they contended sorely and resisted long; for they did not come to this of their own will, but were betrayed by the frailty of the flesh; for they show in their bodies the marks of Jesus, and some are now, for the third year, bewailing their fault: it is sufficient, I say, that from the time of their submissive approach, other forty days should be enjoined upon them, to keep them in remembrance of these things; those forty days during which, though our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ had fasted, He was yet, after He had been baptized, tempted of the devil. And when they shall have, during these days, exercised themselves much, and constantly fasted, then let them watch in prayer, meditating upon what was spoken by the Lord to him who tempted Him to fall down and worship him: “Get thee behind me, Satan; for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and Him only shalt thou serve.”
Balsamon. The present canons treat of those who have in the persecution denied the faith, and are doing penance. And the first canon ordains, that upon those who after many torments have sacrificed to the gods, not being able by reason of frailty to persevere, and who have passed three years in penitence, other forty days should be enjoined, and that then they should be admitted into the Church. Observe these present canons which lay down various and useful rules in favour of those who have denied their God, and seek for repentance, and concerning those who have of their own accord sought martyrdom, and have lapsed, and then have again confessed the faith, and other things of the like nature. Consult also, for you will profitably do so, many canons of the Council of Ancyra.
Zonaras. Amongst those who in these turbulent times denied the faith, the holy Peter makes a distinction, and says, that upon those who had been brought before the tyrant, and thrown into prison, and who had endured very grievous torments, and intolerable scourgings, and such as could be cured by no care or medicine (for ἄκος signifies medical care, and ἀνήκεστον is the same as immedicabile), and other dreadful afflictions, and afterwards yielding, sacrificed to the gods, being betrayed as it were by the weakness of the flesh, which could not hold out under the pain unto the end, that for them the time past should suffice for punishment; since, indeed, says he, the fourth passover has now past since they made this very grievous fall. And although perhaps at first, when they approached in penitence, they were not received, yet because they did not of their own free-will proceed to sacrifice to the gods, and resisted long, and bear about with them the marks of Jesus, that is to say, the scars of the wounds which, in behalf of Christ, they have endured, and the third year has now elapsed since they first bewailed their fall, he decrees that, as an additional punishment, other forty days from the time that they came asking to be admitted to communion should be enjoined on them in the place of any further severity; during which they should exercise a still greater degree of penance, and should fast more earnestly, that is, with more attentive care, keeping guard over themselves, being watchful in prayer, meditating upon, that is, turning over perpetually in their minds, and saying in words, the text quoted by the Lord against the tempter, “Get thee behind me, Satan; for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and Him only shalt thou serve.”
- These Canons of Peter of Alexandria are interesting as bearing upon the controversy between Cyprian and the clergy of Carthage, with regard to the treatment of the lapsed. They also bear upon the subject-matter of the Novatian schism.
- Another reading is ἀνηκέστους, “which cannot be cured.”
- The marks of Jesus, στίγματα. Cf. Gal. vi. 17.
- Matt. iv. 10.