St. Eusebius of Vercelli
Tuesday, August 2, 2016
Lived(283?-371) | Feast Day: Tuesday, August 2, 2016
Christians who breathed a sigh of relief when Constantine proclaimed Christianity the state religion, believing this would end the bloodshed and martyrdom. But it was all too short a time until they were facing persecutiononce more — from others who claimed to be Christian.
When Christianity became the state religion, many people adopted it for political reasons. Others adopted it without truly understanding it. Under these circumstances heresy found fertile ground. One of the most powerful heresies was Arianism which claimed that Jesus was not God (a heresy that has never completely died out). The Arians were powerful people, including nobles, generals, emperors. They commanded armies and senates. True Christianity was in real danger of being stamped out once again.
Eusebius had learned how to stand as a Christian from his father, who died a martyr in Sardinia. After his father’s death, he grew up in Rome where he was ordained a lector. This was a time when bishops were elected by the people and local clergy. When the people of Vercelli saw how well he served their Church, they had no doubt about choosing him as bishop.
Pope Liberius also noticed his abilities and sent him on a mission to the Emperor Constantius to try to resolve the troubles between Arians and Catholics. Seeming to agree, Constantius convened a council inMilan in 355. The powerful Arians however weren’t there to talk but to force their own will on the others. A horrified Eusebius watched as his worst fears were confirmed and the Arians made this peace council into a condemnation of Saint Athanasius, their chief opponent. Eusebius, unafraid of their power, slapped the Nicene Creed down on the table and demanded that everyone sign that before condemning Athanasius. The Nicene Creed, adopted by a council of the full Church, proclaims that Jesus is one in being with the Father — directly contradicting the Arian teaching.
The emperor then tried to force Eusebius, Saint Dionysius of Milan, and Lucifer of Cagliari to condemn Athanasius under pain of death. They steadfastly refused to condemn a man who far from being a heretic was supporting the truth. Instead of putting them to death, the emperor exiled them.
In exile in Scythopolis in Palestine, Eusebius lived with the only Catholic in town. Any comfort he had from visits of other saints was destroyed when the local Arians stripped him half naked and dragged him through the streets to a tiny cell. The Arians finally let him go after he spent four days without food. But a few weeks later they were back, breaking into his house, stealing his belongings and food, and imprisoning him again.
Eusebius was exiled to two other places before Constantius’ successor Julian let him and the other exiledbishops return home in 361. The problem was not over and Eusebius spent his last years working hard to counteract the damage the Arians had done and continued to do. After working with Athanasius and taking part in councils, he became a latter-day Saint Paul traveling all over in order to strengthen the faith and spread the truth.
Eusebius died on August 1, 371.
During this courageous saint’s imprisonment for daring to speak out against Arian heretics, he clandestinely wrote letters to his congregation and bishops in many areas, encouraging them in their faith. Below is the text of one such letter.
“Dearly beloved, I know now that you are safe, as I was hoping, and I felt that I had paid you a visit, by being suddenly transported over the face of the earth like Habakkuk, when the angel brought him to Daniel. When I receive a letter from one of you and see in your writings your goodness and love, joy mingles with tears, and my desire to continue reading is checked by my weeping. Both emotions are inescapable, as they vie with each other in discharging their duty of affection, when such a letter satisfies my longing for you.
Days pass in this way as I imagine myself in conversation with you, and so I forget my past sufferings. Consolations surround me on all sides: your firm faith, your love, your good works. In the midst of so many great blessings I soon imagine myself in your company, in exile no longer.
Dearly beloved, I rejoice in your faith, in the salvation that comes from faith, in your good works, which are not confined to your own surroundings but spread far and wide. Like a farmer tending a sound tree, untouched by axe or fire because of its fruit, I want not only to serve you in the body, good people that you are, but also to give my life for your well-being.
Somehow or other I have managed with difficulty to complete this letter. I asked God constantly to keep the guards away hour by hour, and to allow the deacon to bring you some kind of greeting in writing, not simply news of my suffering. So I beg you to keep the faith with all vigilance, to preserve harmony, to be earnest in prayer, to remember me always, so that the Lord may grant freedom to his Church which is suffering throughout the world, and that I may be set free from the sufferings that weigh upon me, and so be able to rejoice with you.
I also ask and beseech you in God’s mercy, that each one of you should add his own name to the greeting in this letter. Of necessity I cannot write to each of you as was my custom. So in this letter I ask you all – brothers and holy sisters, sons and daughters, men and women, old and young – to be content with this greeting and to be good enough to give my respectful good wishes to those who are outside the community and are kind enough to be my friends.”
- Life of the Saint: Catholic Online. 2016. St. Eusebius of Vercelli – Saints & Angels – Catholic Online. [ONLINE] Available at:http://www.catholic.org/saints/saint.php?saint_id=46. [Accessed 04 August 2016].
- Source of Comment and Quote: a year of prayer: 365 Rosaries: Saint Eusebius of Vercelli: Letter from Prison. 2016. a year of prayer: 365 Rosaries: Saint Eusebius of Vercelli: Letter from Prison. [ONLINE] Available at:http://365rosaries.blogspot.com.au/2010/08/saint-eusebius-of-vercelli-letter-from.html. [Accessed 04 August 2016].
- Image attribution: By Sebastiano Ricci – The Yorck Project: 10.000 Meisterwerke der Malerei. DVD-ROM, 2002. ISBN 3936122202. Distributed by DIRECTMEDIA Publishing GmbH., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=158351