Weninger’s Lives of the Saints – Saint Peter Chrysologus, Bishop of Ravenna

detail of a painting of Saint Peter Chrysologus; School of Guercino, 17th century; Diocesan Museum of Pius IX, Imola, Italy; swiped from Wikimedia CommonsArticle

Saint Peter, on account of his great eloquence surnamed Chrysologus, or the golden speaker, was a native of Imola, a town not far from Rome. His parents were pious and distinguished people, who led their son from his early youth in the path of rectitude. In his studies he progressed so rapidly, that he was always the first among his schoolmates. The retired life he led, and his blameless conduct, induced the bishop of Imola to receive him among those whom he instructed in theology, and, in due time, to ordain him deacon. In this office, Peter showed such wisdom and ability, that he was beloved and highly esteemed by every one. By his untiring diligence, and the careful instructions of the bishop, he obtained a thorough knowledge of the sacred sciences, and he was often entrusted with the most important affairs of the Church, which he always terminated to the great satisfaction of the clergy. Meanwhile, the Bishop of Ravenna died, and the clergy choosing a successor, sent him with a deputation to Rome, in order that the Pope might confirm the election. The bishop of Imola, who had some business to transact at Rome, went with the delegation, and took Peter along as his travelling companion. During the night before these travellers arrived at Rome, the holy Apostle, Saint Peter and Saint Apollinaris, formerly bishop of Ravenna, appeared to the Pope, and bade him place the mitre, not upon the head of him whom the deputies of Ravenna would present, but on the deacon, Peter, who would arrive with the bishop of Imola. When, on the following day, the deputies presented to the Pope him who had been elected bishop, the holy Father received them very courteously, but refused to confirm their choice, saying that he would bestow on Peter the priestly and episcopal consecration, as he, and no other, should become their bishop. The deputies could not conceal their dissatisfaction; but when the Pope related to them the command he had received from heaven, they praised the Almighty, and carried Peter in great triumph to Ravenna, after he had first been ordained priest and then consecrated bishop. The emperor Valentinian, who resided at Ravenna, as soon as he had received information, came, with the empress, to meet him, and accompanied him, amid great rejoicings, to the cathedral. The new bishop, however, manifested very little joy, and in his first sermon he said, among other things, that as God had laid so heavy a burden on his shoulders, he begged all present to assist him in carrying it, which they would do, first, by obeying the commandments of God, and then by following his instructions. He also assured the people that he was determined to seek only the honor of God and the salvation of their souls. He set immediately to work to accomplish this purpose. He preached frequently to the people, and always with such eloquence, that the most hardened sinners did penance, while others were induced to lead a more perfect life. Sometimes, when, with great earnestness, he reproved vice, his voice would fail him, so that he could not continue his sermon. This happened, one day, whilst he was speaking of the woman mentioned in the Gospel as having been sick seven years; but, on that occasion, the exhaustion of the bishop had such an effect upon his hearers, that the whole church resounded with cries for mercy. He endeavored to abolish several abuses of long standing, among others, the custom which the people had of masking themselves, on the first day of the year, and spending the day in wildly dancing, singing, and rioting around a statue that stood outside of the city. Against this shameful abuse Saint Peter continued to thunder, until he had abolished it entirely. In one of his sermons on this subject he says: “Those who divert themselves with the devil on earth, cannot rejoice with Christ in heaven.” He overthrew the statue where so much wantonness had been displayed, and, in place of it, he raised a crucifix. Besides his zeal in preaching, he manifested great love and compassion towards the poor and oppressed, and no one left him without being comforted. He most earnestly protected the widow and the orphan against all who would rob them. The ignorant he instructed with gentleness and patience in all that a true Christian ought to know. The sorrowful and disheartened he knew how to comfort and cheer with admirable ability and wisdom.

What made Saint Peter especially celebrated in the whole Christian world, was his apostolic zeal in defending the true faith, and in refuting the heresies of Eutyches and Dioscorus. By request of the holy Pope, Leo I., the Saint wrote against the errors of these heresiarchs with so much learning and eloquence, that the heretics were made ashamed before the entire council assembled at Chalcedon; and as they were not willing to retract their heresies, they were disowned and banished from the true Church. To this day, this and other writings of Saint Peter are greatly admired, which he composed for the benefit of the Catholics; for they are filled with heavenly wisdom. During the time that Saint Peter administered the See of Ravenna, Saint Germanus, bishop of Auxerre, came thither, and having witnessed the virtues of our holy bishop, became his warm friend. They animated each other to zeal in the service of God and in the protection of the true faith. Not long afterwards, Saint Germanus became ill, and ended his life. Peter had the holy body embalmed and sent it to France, together with all that Saint Germanus had left, except his cowl and his hair-shirt, which Saint Peter kept to himself, and esteemed above all other earthly treasures. After Saint Peter had, for eighteen years, most worthily administered his See, bravely defended the Church of Christ, furthered the honor of God and the salvation of his flock, by erecting several churches, by abolishing vices and abuses, and by leaving for the benefit of posterity many wholesome books, God revealed to him his approaching end. His life had always been blameless and holy, but to prepare himself better for death, he set out for his native city, where he hoped to be able to spend his time more peacefully in devout exercises. Arrived there, he dismissed the ecclesiastics who had accompanied him, with the admonition to keep God always before their eyes, to observe His commandments, and to exercise great care in choosing a new bishop. Some time later, going into the church of the martyr Saint Cassian, he offered upon the altar a golden crown, studded with jewels, and an equally precious cup: after which, having received the holy sacraments, he lay down beside the tomb of the holy martyr, prayed to the Almighty, and asked the Saints to assist him m his last combat, and lead his soul to the throne of God. With this prayer he ended his life, in the year of our Lord 452.

Practical Considerations

• “Those who divert themselves with the devil on earth, cannot rejoice with Christ in heaven.” Thus spoke Saint Peter of the riotous people and their masquerades. Hence the holy bishop judged and believed that it is sinful to hide under a mask in order to be more free, more wanton, or for some other sinful reason. Do the people of the world at present agree with this judgment of the Saint, or are they better able to judge this matter than a holy teacher enlightened by the Almighty? To speak in general of disguising one’s self, it may be done in certain circumstances without sin, and is sometimes done in pagan or heretical countries, even by Catholic priests who appear dressed as merchants, physicians, etc., to give spiritual assistance to the Catholics, when they dare not openly exercise their sacred functions. The Almighty, in ancient times, gave the following law: “The woman shall not wear that which pertains unto a man, neither shall a man put on a woman’s garment.” Whoever transgressed this law, did great sin, as Saint Thomas remarks; for, the following words are added to it: “For all that do so are an abomination unto the Lord thy God. (Deuteronomy 22) This holy teacher says, however, that disguising is in itself no mortal sin, if it be done for the sake of sport, without any desire to give scandal; or if it be done without evil intention, and if no danger of committing a fault against chastity is apparent. But whether such disguising is done, in our days, without giving scandal, or without evil intentions or without danger of sinning against chastity, they know best who participate in such amusements. It is very reprehensible, and a great sin and scandal to burlesque the holy Mass, and by that or similar means to ridicule religious practices or the ministers of religion. Generally speaking people disguise themselves that their conduct may be more wanton, that they may give way to their passions, and visit dangerous places; when they occasion scandal, or when chastity is endangered, all theologians judge that great sin is done by it There is no doubt that masks may be used in some circumstances, without sin; but we are not justified in saying that it is only a harmless jest when worn by all sorts of persons, especially in ball-rooms and suspicious lurking-places. We know that many have said that the cause of their disguising and wearing a mask was only to be unrestrained in their conduct, and yet remain unknown.

Already in times long gone by, Job said of the debauched man, that he watched till it became dark, when covering his face, he said, “No eye will see me.” (Job 15) The covering of the face, the mask, must be to him a cloak for his wickedness, and when there is such an intention or danger to commit sin, especially that of unchastity, it can hardly be said that all is only a harmless jest. This is the reason that the holy fathers and prelates of the church have preached and written so much against masks. I will cite only one, but one whose great learning has been acknowledged and highly honored by the whole world. It is the celebrated and holy Cardinal Charles Borromeo, who issued the following law for his entire diocese: “Masks shall be forever banished; since they remind us of our fall, and were invented by the devil disguised as a serpent.” The holy Cardinal means that he considers Satan the inventor of masks, when he spoke under the disguise of a serpent, and thus seduced Eve. He calls them: “The horrible, detestable masks, under which people believe that they are allowed to speak impudently and act impiously; the vicious and wicked masks, which are enemies of all honesty and chastity, etc.” This and more on the same subject is to be found in the writings of Saint Charles; from which we conclude that, at his time, many must have used masks with wicked intentions. Whether, in our time, such wicked use is made of the mask, and whether the holy man said too much or wrote too severely, I leave to others to judge.

• Saint Peter left his labor, although it was holy, when his last hour approached, in order the better to prepare himself for death. After having devoutly received the holy Sacraments, he invoked the martyr, Saint Cassian, to assist him in his last hour. Our last hour is of such importance, that we are right in putting everything aside to make that hour calm and happy. Hence those do very wrong who, in old age or in mortal sickness, needlessly trouble themselves with temporal affairs until the very last hour, and think not earnestly on the chief affair which is lying before them, that is, death. Take heed not to commit so dangerous an error. If you are old or sick, discard all other thoughts and cares, and prepare yourself for a happy death on which everything depends. Employ usefully every moment left to you; for they are precious moments, in which you may win much for eternity. During the days of your health, also, no work ought to be of so much importance to you as the work of your salvation, an early preparation for death; for, on your last hour depends your whole eternity. It is useful to endeavor to obtain the intercession of the Saints. Above all, you ought to pray to the Lord of life and death for the grace to die happily; for, this is a grace, which is not due to us on account of our good works but which we can obtain from the divine Mercy, by humble and persevering prayer. After God, implore daily the Blessed Virgin, as the chief patroness of the dying, to intercede for you and assist you. Besides her, choose other holy patrons of the dying, to whom you should commend yourself in your last hour. This the Saints have done and taught. “We ought to invoke the holy Angels, who are given to us to protect us, and also the holy Martyrs, whose intercession we have a right to request, as we still possess their holy bodies on earth.” Thus speaks Saint Ambrose. Saint Bernard says: “We ought fervently to seek and invoke the Saints, that we may receive by their intercessions, what we, of ourselves, cannot obtain.” “The prayers of the Saints,” says Saint Chrysostom, “have great power to obtain anything for us, if while we pray to them, we do true penance.”

MLA Citation

  • Father Francis Xavier Weninger, DD, SJ. “Saint Peter Chrysologus, Bishop of Ravenna”. Lives of the Saints, 1876. CatholicSaints.Info. 2 June 2018. Web. 13 November 2018. <>