30. Of SEBASTE, an ecclesiastic of the fourth century.
He was the youngest of the ten children of Basil and Emmelia, wealthy and excellent persons of Caesareia in Cappadocia, who had the happiness of numbering among their children those eminent fathers of the church, Basil the Great [BASILIUS, No. 2], and Gregory of Nyssa [GREGORIUS NYSSENUS, St.]. Peter was born, according to Tillemont's calculation, before A. D. 349, and almost immediately before his father's death. His early education was conducted by his sister St. Macrina, who in the emphatic phrase of Gregory of Nyssa, "was every thing to him, father, teacher, attendant (παιδαγωγὸς
), and mother."
The quickness of the boy enabled him readily to acquire anything to which his attention was directed; but his education appears to have been conducted on a very narrow system; profane learning was disregarded and the praise given him by his brother Gregory that he attained, even in boyhood, to the heights of philosophy, must be taken, with the limitation which such a restrictive system would necessarily imply. If, however, his literary culture was thus narrowed, his morals were preserved pure; and if he fell short of his more eminent brothers in variety of attainments, he equalled them in holiness of life.
The place of his education appears to have been a nunnery at Annesi or Annesa on the river Iris, in Pontus, established by his mother and sister : and with them, or in the monastery which his brother Basil had established on the other side of the river, much of his life was passed.
In a season of scarcity (A. D. 367, 368?
) such was his benevolent exertion to provide for the destitute, that they flocked to him from all parts, and gave to the thinly-peopled neighbourhood in which he resided the appearance of a populous town.
He had the satisfaction of being present with his sister at his mother's death-bed, and received her dying benediction. Her death appears to have occurred about the time of Basil's elevation to the bishoprick of the Cappadocian Caesareia, about A. D. 370 : soon after which, apparently, Peter received from Basil ordination to the office of presbyter, probably of the church of Caesareia ; for Basil appears to have employed his brother as his confidential agent in some affairs. (Basil. Maritimis Episcopis Epistola
editt. vett., cciii. edit. Benedictin.) Peter, however, retained a house, which Basil describes as near Neocaesareia (Basil, Meletio Epistola
cclxxii. editt. vett., ccxvi. edit. Benedictin), but which was probably at or near Annesi, where he had been brought up, and where his sister Macrina still resided.
It was probably after the death both of Basil and Macrina, about the year 380, as Tillemont judges, that Peter was raised to the bishopric of Sebste, (now Siwas) in the Lesser Armenia.
A passage of Theodoret (H. E.
4.30) has been thought to imply that he was raised to the episcopate during the reign of Valens, which terminated in A. D. 378; but the passage only implies that he took an active part in the struggle carried on during that reign by the bishops of the orthodox party against Arianism. which he might very well do, though not himself a bishop. His elevation preceded the second general council, that of Constantinople, A. D. 380-381, in which he took part. (Theodoret, H. E.
In what year he died is not known : but it was probably after A. D. 391; and certainly before the death of his brother, Gregory of Nyssa (who survived till A. D. 394, or later), for Gregory was present sent at Sebaste at the first celebration of his brother's memory, i. e.
the anniversary of his death, which occurred in hot weather, and therefore could not have been in January of March, where the martyrologies place it. (Greg. Nyssen, Epistol. ad Flauian. Opera,
vol. iii. p. 645, &c. ed. Paris, 1638.)
Letter prefixed to the of Gregory of Nyssa
The only extant writing of Peter is a letter prefixed to the Contra Eunomium Libri
of Gregory of Nyssa, and published with the works of that father.
It is entitled Τοῦ ἐν ἁγίοις πατρὸς ἡμῶν Πέτρου ἐπισκόπου Σεβαστείας ἐπιστολὴ πρὸς τὸν ἅγιον Γρηγόριον Νύσσης τὸν αὑτοῦ ἀδελφόν
, sancti Patris nostri Petri Episcopi Sebasteni ad S. Gregorium Nyssenum fratrem suum Epistola.
Influence upon his brother Gregory
Peter does not appear to have been ambitious of authorship, and probably felt the disqualification arising from his restricted education. Some of the works of his brother Gregory were, however, written at his desire, such as the above-mentioned treatises against Eunomius and the Explicatio Apologetica in Hexaemeron.
The De Hominis Opificio
is also addressed to him by Gregory, who, both in this treatise and in the Explicatio in Hexaemeron,
speaks of him in the highest terms.
A work extant in Arabic, bearing the title of Demonstratio,
cited by Abraham Echellensis Eutych. Vindic.
Pars ii. p. 486, and Not. ad Catalog. Hebedjesu,
p. 51), is ascribed to the three brothers, Basil, Gregory, and Peter; but its genuineness is, to say the least, very doubtful.
Greg. Nyssen. De Vita S. Macrinae ;
Basil. ll. cc. ;
Theodoret, ll. cc. ;
vol. ix. p. 572, &c.; Le Quien, Oriens Christianus,
vol. i. col. 424; Cave, Hist. Litt.
ad ann. 370, vol. i. p. 246.