Introductory Notice to Peter, Bishop of Alexandria
[a.d. 2601 -300-311.] Entering upon the fourth century, we may well pause to reflect upon what Alexandria has been to the Church of Christ,-the mother of churches, the mother of saints, maintaining always the intellectual and even the ecclesiastical primacy of Christendom. "Ye are the light of the world," said the great Enlightener to the Galileans of an obscure and despised Roman province. But who could have prophesied that Egypt should again be the pharos of the world, as it was in Moses? Who could have foreseen the "men of Galilee" taking possession of the Alexandrian Library, and demonstrating the ways of Providence in creating the Bible of the Seventy, and in the formation of the Hellenistic Greek, for their ultimate use? Who could have imagined the Evangelist Mark and the eloquent Apollos to be the destined instruments for founding the schools of Christendom, and shaping scientific theology? Who would not have looked for all this in some other way, and preferably in Athens or in Rome? But who would have expected the visit of God Incarnate to Nazareth, and not to Alexandria?
In Peter's day Antioch was coming to be a school under the influence of Malchion's genius and that of the bishops who withstood Paulus of Samosata. Malchion had taught there in the "School of Sciences," and learning was once more to be made the handmaid of true religion. But Alexandria was still the seat of Christian illumination and the fountain of orthodoxy; its very ferment always clarifying its thought, and leaving "wine well refined," and pure from the lees.
To this subject I shall have occasion to refer again in an elucidation subjoined to the works of Alexander (successor to Peter), in which, for a final view of the great Alexandrian school, I shall gather up some fragments in brief outline. Here it may be enough to remark, that, until the definite development of the school of Antioch (circa A.D. 350), I have regarded the whole Orient as dominated and formed by the brain of the grand metropolis of Egypt and the Pentapolis. I have considered the great Dionysius as really presiding in the Synod of Antioch, though absent in the body, and have regarded Malchion as his voice in that council, which we must not forget was presided over by Firmilian, a pupil of Origen, and a true Alexandrian disciple.
Peter's conflict with Meletius shall be noted in an elucidation. We shall see that the heresy of Paulus as well as the Meletian schism are but chapters in one prolonged history, of which the outcrop was Arianism. Now, as to Alexandria we owe the intrepid defenders of truth in all these conflicts, we must not forget that they are to be judged by the product of their united testimony, and not by their occasional individualisms and infirmities of mind and speech while they were creating the theological dialect of Christendom and the formulas of orthodoxy.
Peter was able to maintain his canonical authority against the mischievous rebellion of Meletius; and the history of this schism is forcibly illustrative of those a0rxai=a e!qh which the Nicene Synod recognized, confirming the primacy of Alexandria, and striving to suppress Meletianism by firm but moderate measures based upon the primitive maxims. Peter left a pure and holy memory to the Church, and sealed his testimony in martyrdom.