« Petronilla, saint and virgin Petrus, St., archbp. of Alexandria Petrus II., archbp. of Alexandria »

Petrus, St., archbp. of Alexandria

Petrus (4) I., St., archbp. of Alexandria, succeeded Theonas, a.d. 300. He had three years of tranquil administration, which he so used as to acquire the high reputation indicated by Eusebius, who calls him a wonderful teacher of the faith, and "an admirable specimen of a bishop, alike in the excellence of his conduct and his familiarity with Scripture" (Eus. viii. 113; ix. 6). Then came the Diocletian persecution, and in the early part of 306 Peter found it necessary to draw up conditions of reconciliation to the church, and of readmission to her privileges, for those who through weakness had compromised their fidelity. The date is determined by the first words of this set of 14 "canons" or regulations, "Since we are approaching the fourth Easter from the beginning of the persecution," i.e. reckoning from the Lent of 303. (This is overlooked in Mason's Persecution of Diocletian, p. 324, where these "canons" are assigned to 311.) The substance of these remarkable provisions (given at length in Routh's Reliquiae Sacrae, iv. 23 ff.) is as follows. (1) Those who did not give way until extreme tortures had overstrained their powers of endurance, and who had been for three years already "mourners" without being admitted to regular penance, might communicate after fasting 40 days more with special strictness. (2) Those who, as Peter phrases it, had endured only the "siege of imprisonment," not the "war of tortures," and therefore deserved less pity, yet gave themselves up to suffer some affliction for "the Name," although in prison they were much relieved by Christian alias, may be received after another year's penance. (3) Those who endured nothing at all, but lapsed under sheer terror, must do penance for four years. (4) is not, strictly speaking, a canon, but a lamentation over lapsi who had not repented 832(Neale, i. 98). Peter cites the cursing of the fig-tree, with Is. lxvi. 24; Is. lvii. 20. (5) Those who, to evade trial of their constancy, feigned epilepsy, promised conformity in writing, or put forward pagans to throw incense on the altar in their stead, must do penance for six months more, although some of them had already been received to communion by some of the steadfast confessors. (6) Some Christian masters compelled their Christian slaves to face the trial in their stead: such slaves must "shew the works of repentance" for a year. (7) But these masters who, by thus imperilling their slaves, shewed their disregard for apostolic exhortations (Eph. vi. 9; Col. iv. 1), must have their own repentance tested for three more years. (8) Those who, having lapsed, returned to the conflict, and endured imprisonment and tortures, are to be "joyfully received to communion, alike in the prayers and the reception of the Body and Blood, and oral exhortation." (9) Those who voluntarily exposed themselves to the trial are to be received to communion, because they did so for Christ's sake, although they forgot the import of "Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us," etc., and perhaps did not know that Christ Himself repeatedly withdrew from intended persecution, and even at last waited to be seized and given up; and that He bade His disciples flee from city to city (Matt. x. 23), that they might not enhance their enemies' guilt. Thus Stephen and James were arrested; so was Peter, who "was finally crucified in Rome"; so Paul, who was beheaded in the same city. (10) Hence, clerics who thus denounced themselves to the authorities, then lapsed, and afterwards returned to the conflict, must cease to officiate, but may communicate; if they had not lapsed, their rashness might be excused. (11) Persons who, in their zeal to encourage their fellow-Christians to win the prize of martyrdom, voluntarily avowed their own faith, were to be exempted from blame; cf. Eus. vi. 41, fin. Requests for prayer on behalf of those who gave way after imprisonment and torture ought to be granted: "no one could be the worse "for sympathizing with those who were overcome by the devil or by the entreaties of their kindred (cf. Passio S. Perpet. 3; S. Iren. Sirm. 3 ; Eus. viii. 9). (12) Those who paid for indemnity are not to be censured ; they shewed their disregard for money; and Acts xvii. 9 is here quoted. (13) Nor should those be blamed who fled, abandoning their homes—as if they had left others to bear the brunt. Paul was constrained to leave Gaius and Aristarchus in the hands of the mob of Ephesus (Acts xix. 29, 30); Peter escaped from prison, and his guards died for it; the Innocents died in place of the Holy Child. (14) Imprisoned confessors in Libya and elsewhere had mentioned persons who had been compelled by sheer force to handle the sacrifices. These, like others whom tortures rendered utterly insensible, were to be regarded as confessors, for their will was steadfast throughout; and they might be placed in the ministry. These "canons" were ratified by the council in Trullo, c. 2, a.d. 692, and so became part of the law of the Eastern church. (Cf. Eus. Mart. Pal. 1 ; Passio SS. Tarachi et Probs, c. 8, in Ruinart, Act. Sinc. p. 467; C. Ancyr. c. 3.)

Very soon after these "canons" were drawn up the persecution was intensified by the pagan fanaticism of Maximin Daza. Peter felt it his duty to follow the precedents he had cited in his 8th canon and the example of his great predecessor Dionysius by "seeking for safety in flight" (Burton, H. E. ii. 441). Phileas, bp. of Thmuis, and three other bishops were imprisoned at Alexandria; and then, according to the Maffeian documents, Meletius, being himself at large, held ordinations in their dioceses without their sanction "or that of the archbishop," and without necessity (Hist. Writings of St. Athanasius, Oxf. 1881, Introd. p. xxxix). Peter, being informed of this lawless procedure, wrote to the faithful in Alexandria: "Since I have ascertained that Meletius, disregarding the letter of the martyred bishops, has entered my diocese, taken upon himself to excommunicate the presbyters who were acting under my authority . . . and shewn his craving for pre-eminence by ordaining certain persons in prison; take care not to communicate with him until I meet him in company with wise men, and see what it is that he has in mind. Farewell" (Routh, Rel. Sac. iv. 94).

Maximin, besides presiding over martyrdoms in Palestine (a.d. 306, 307, 308), practised other enormities at Alexandria (Eus. viii. 14; Burton, ii. 451). During Peter's retirement his habits had become more strictly ascetic. He continued to provide "in no hidden way" for the welfare of the church (Eus. vii. 32). The phrase οὐκ ἀφανῦς is significant, as it points to the well-understood system of communication whereby a bp. of Alexandria, although himself in hiding, could, as did Athanasius, make his hand felt throughout the churches which still owned him as their "father." Probably Peter's return to Alexandria, and the formal communication of the Meletians above mentioned, took place after a toleration-edict, which mortal agony wrung from Galerius in Apr. 311. This edict constrained Maximin to abate his persecuting energy; but he soon again harassed his Christian subjects, and encouraged zealous heathen municipalities to memorialize him "that no Christians might be allowed to dwell among them" (ib. ix. 2). Thus at the end of Oct. 311 "the Christians found themselves again in great peril" (Burton); and one of the first acts of Maximin's renewed persecution was to smite the shepherd of the flock at Alexandria. Peter was beheaded (Eus. vii. 32), "in the ninth year of the persecution" (311), by virtue of a "sudden" imperial order, "without any reason assigned" (ix. 6).

Johnson and Routh reckon as a "fifteenth" canon what is, in fact, a fragment of a work on the Paschal Festival. In it Petrus says it is usual to fast on Wednesday, because of the Jews "taking counsel for the betrayal of the Lord"; and on Friday, "because He then suffered for our sake." "For," he adds, "we keep the Lord's day as a day of gladness, because on it He rose again; and on it, according to tradition, we do not even kneel." The custom of standing at prayer on Sunday was again enforced by the Nicene council (c. 20; 833Bright, Notes on the Canons of the First Four Councils, p. 73).

[W.B.]

« Petronilla, saint and virgin Petrus, St., archbp. of Alexandria Petrus II., archbp. of Alexandria »
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