'Peter of the Golden Words': St. Peter Chrysologus, Bishop

By Kimberly Bruce

Renowned for his short, power-packed sermons, he is St. Peter Chrysologus, Bishop and Doctor of the Church, whose feast we celebrate on July 30. Nicknamed “Peter of the Golden Words” and “Doctor of Homilies,” he was designated a Doctor of the Church by Pope Benedict XIII in 1729.

It was St. Peter’s exceptional homilies that largely contributed to his being named a Doctor of the Church. Of his homilies, 183 are still in existence today. This eloquent saint often denounced vices during his preaching. He said, “The man who wants to play with the devil will not be able to rejoice with Christ.”

Short and to the point
He also explained biblical texts and preached about Christ’s Incarnation, the Apostles’ Creed, and contemporary heresies. He wrote series of homilies, too, pertaining to the Blessed Virgin Mary and to St. John the Baptist. Most of his sermons were short in length on purpose, in order that he would not fatigue his listener.

Born in Northern Italy, in the town of Imola around 400 A.D., St. Peter was baptized by Bishop Cornelius. From the Bishop, he received his theological education. He was then ordained a deacon, and later, a priest.

Saint Peter loved living out the tasks of ordinary priestly life. He focused his efforts on converting pagans and those who had embraced the Manichean, Novatian, Pelagian, and Nestorian heresies. He taught by word and example, loved simplicity, and lived a life steeped in prayer. He preached the importance of repentance and performing works of penance. He was famous for his fidelity to the Holy See in Rome, saying, “Through him St. Peter, who continues to sit in the Chair of Rome, makes known the true faith to the sincere inquirer.”

In 433, Pope Sixtus III consecrated St. Peter Chrysologus as Bishop of Ravenna, which was then the imperial capital of the West.

Monophysite heresy
Saint Peter is best known for his disagreement with Eutyches, the originator of the Monophysite heresy. (The Monophysites denied that two distinct natures, divine and human, were present within Christ, the Son of God. They believed Christ only possessed His divine nature.) As they were acquaintances, Eutyches asked St. Peter if he would publicly speak out in favor of him. (Eutyches was condemned by the Synod of Constantinople in 448.) Eutyches was trying to obtain new devotees to his heretical point of view.

Saint Peter told Eutyches that it was first and foremost important to seek direction from the Church and its teachings. A letter of his from 449 A.D., shared in Faith of the Early Fathers by William A. Jurgens, quotes St. Peter telling Eutyches:

We exhort you in every respect, honorable brother, to heed obediently what has been written by the Most Blessed Pope of the City of Rome; for Blessed Peter, who lives and presides in his own see, provides the truth of faith to those who seek it. For we, by reason of our pursuit of peace and faith, cannot try cases on the faith without the consent of the Bishop of the City of Rome.

Further trying to persuade Eutyches to align himself with the Church, St. Peter told him, “If the peace of the Church causes joy in heaven, then divisions must give birth to grief.”

Way with words
A prominent teacher within the Church, St. Peter had a special way with words. This quote, from the Office of Readings, reminds us of God’s love for each one of us:

O man, why do you think so little of yourself when God thinks so highly of you? Why dishonor yourself when God so honors you? Why be so concerned with the stuff from which you are made and so little with the purpose for which you are made? All visible creation is your home. For you the light dispels the darkness; for you the sun, moon, and stars shed their light; for you the earth bears flowers and trees and fruits; for you the air and the earth and water are filled with marvelous life — all so that earthly life may not be sad and make you blind to the joy of eternity.

In the year 450 A.D., St. Peter passed away and was buried in Imola. A year later, the Catholic Church officially condemned the Monophysite heresy.

Saint Peter Chrysologus, Bishop and Doctor of the Church, pray for us!


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