Peter I of Alexandria


November 28, 2021

Peter of Alexandria (in Greek: Πέτρος Ἀλεξανδρείας; Alexandria, ... - Alexandria, 25 November 311) was Pope of the Coptic Church (highest office of the Patriarchate of Alexandria in Egypt); he is venerated as a saint by the Catholic, Coptic and Orthodox Churches.


The Coptic Church handed down the tradition according to which Peter, as soon as he was born, was entrusted by his parents to the patriarch Teona to educate him as a priest. In this sense, his life traces that of the biblical Samuel, whose mother Anna consecrated her son to the Lord by taking a vow of Nazirite. Student of the Catechetical School of Alexandria, he distinguished himself for his profound knowledge of the Holy Scriptures. He was persecuted as a Christian under Decius (249-251), but managed to survive. Thanks to his profound erudition, in 295 he was appointed director of the School. In the year 300 Teona, on his deathbed, advised him to be his successor, as it later happened. Eusebius of Caesarea reports that he was at the head of the diocese until his death in 311. One of Peter's first acts was the excommunication of Arius, a priest who preached the non-consubstantiality of the Son of God to the Father. In 303 the emperor Diocletian unleashed a terrible persecution against Christians, which continued intermittently for ten years. Peter I, fearing for his life as head of the Coptic church, left the bishop's chair and took shelter in the desert. Meletius, bishop of Assiut (Lycopolis), took advantage of his absence to usurp his power. After taking possession of the diocese of Alexandria, he stated that those who had abjured Christianity because they were persecuted had to receive a second baptism to be readmitted into the Church. Relations between the two bishops worsened due to Meletius' decision to ordain new bishops on his own initiative. Peter called a synod in a year when the persecution seemed to ease (305 or 306) condemning Meletius for "many crimes and also for the sacrifice of idols". The usurper bishop was deposed. From that moment on, the so-called Melitian schism developed, which lasted for several centuries. When the anti-Christian persecution resumed, Peter I was arrested by order of the emperor Maximian and sentenced to death (311). When the news of the sentence spread among the population, the faithful gathered in front of the prison doors. The execution was postponed for a day. But the tension remained high. Peter, who wished to avoid public slaughter and bloodshed, suggested that the authorities issue a written order to break through the back wall of the prison and have it secretly released from the public to carry out the death sentence. At night the patriarch was led through the city walls and taken to a secret place, where the sentence was carried out. He was executed on November 25, 311 by beheading. After the execution, his body was taken by the Christians and transferred to a church, where at the time of the funeral he was placed in an elevated place of worship. Peter I was the latest victim of the terrible persecutions that shook Coptic Christianity for almost ten years, therefore he was called "the Seal of the Martyrs".


Peter wrote several treatises and some letters. The list includes: Περί θεότητος (Peri theotétos, "On the divinity"). The treatise affirms the true divinity of Jesus Christ against the subordinationist position of Origen; three passages were quoted by Cyril of Alexandria at the Council of Ephesus; Περὶ τῆς τοῦ Σωτήρος ἡμῶν ἐπιδημίας (Peri tés tou sótéros hémón epidemìas, "On the coming of our Savior"); Περί ψυχής (Peri psychés, "On the soul"). In this treatise Peter refutes the doctrine of Origen on the pre-existence of souls and on the imprisonment of the soul in the body due to guilt p

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