Weninger’s Lives of the Saints – Saint Peter, Patriarch of Alexandria, Martyr

Article

Saint 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 Saint Peter had to depose him from his see and excommunicate him. The conduct and the doctrine of Meletius were defended, in defiance of Saint 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 Saint Peter, and cast him into a dungeon. Arius thought that, after the death of Saint 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 Saint 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, Saint 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 Saint 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.

Practical Considerations

Saint Peter is one of those glorious martyrs, who joyfully hastened to the place of execution to give their lives for the true faith. Have you not sometimes desired that you had lived at that period, and given your blood for Christ? I praise you for having had such a pious wish. But as you have no occasion now to die a martyr for the love of the Saviour, endeavor at least to live for Him, and to be a martyr without shedding your blood. How can this be done? Origen says: “We can be martyrs without shedding our blood, by patiently bearing crosses and trials. In like manner speaks Saint Bernard, when he says: “By preserving true patience continually in your mind, you may become a martyr without the sword.” Saint Gregory says the same, and remarks, also: “To bear wrongs and persecutions patiently, and to love our enemy, is a kind of martyrdom.” “It is martyrdom,” says Saint Chrysostom, “when we bear poverty patiently for God’s sake.” “If a Christian,” writes Saint Augustine, “lives according to the gospel, his entire life is one cross, one long martyrdom.” The same holy teacher instructed us, on a former occasion, that we are martyrs by conquering our passions, by avoiding lust, by preserving justice, by despising avarice and by restraining pride. In a sermon of Saint Lawrence, we read that “martyr,” according to the Greek, means “witness.” “As often, therefore,” says he, “as we fulfill the commands of Christ, and do good, so often are we witnesses of the Lord, and in that sense, martyrs.” Hence you may become a martyr of Christ, in this manner and you will find frequent opportunity for it. Endeavor, therefore, to bear patiently crosses and sufferings; live according to the Gospel of the Lord; moderate your passions; be chaste, and avoid all vices; let your conduct be witness of your fidelity to your Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be a true, though bloodless, martyr.

MLA Citation

  • Father Francis Xavier Weninger, DD, SJ. “Saint Peter, Patriarch of Alexandria, Martyr”. Lives of the Saints, 1876. CatholicSaints.Info. 26 May 2018. Web. 17 November 2018. <>