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Eusebius, Bishop of Samosata

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Eusebius (77) , bp. of Samosata (360-373), the friend alike of Basil the Great, Meletius, and Gregory Nazianzen. All that is definitely known of Eusebius is gathered from the epistles of Basil and of Gregory, and from some incidents in the Ecclesiastical History of Theodoret. The fervent and laudatory phrases applied to him might suggest hyperbole if they were not so constant ( Epp. xxviii. xxix. Greg. Naz. Opp. ed. Prunaeus, Colon. vol. i. 792; Ep. xxxiv. Basilii opera, ed. Par. t. iii.). As bp. of Samorata in 361, he took part in the consecration of Meletius to the see of Antioch. Meletius was then in communion with the Arians, an a coalition of bishops of both parties place the document affirming the consecration in the hands of Eusebius. Meletius soon proclaimed explicitly his Nicene Trinitarianism and was banished by Constantius on the charge of Sabellianism. Meanwhile Eusebius had returned to Samosata with the written record of the appointment of Meletius to Antioch. The Arians, anxious to destroy this proof of their complicity, persuaded Constantius to demand, by a public functionary, the reddition of the document. Eusebius replied, "I cannot consent to restore the public deposit, except at the command of the whole assembly of bishops by whom it was committed to my care." This reply incensed the emperor, who wrote to Eusebius ordering him to deliver the decree on pain of amputation of his right hand. Theodoret says the threat was only meant to intimidate the bishop; if so, it failed, for Eusebius stretched out both hands, exclaiming, "I am willing to suffer the loss of both hands rather than resign a document which contains so manifest a demonstration of the impiety of the Arians."

Tillemont hesitates to claim for Eusebius, as many writers have done, the honour of being the Christian confessor in the persecutions under Julian. According to Greg. Naz. (Orat. c. Julianum, i. p. 133 b.c.), when suffering on the rack and finding one part of his body not as yet tortured, Eusebius complained to the executioners for not conferring equal honour on his entire frame. The death of Julian and the accession of Jovian gave liberty to the church.

During and after this temporary lull in the imperial patronage of the Arian party, the great exertions of Eusebius probably took place. He is represented as travelling in the guise of a soldier (Theod. iv. 13) through Phoenicia and Palestine, ordaining presbyters and deacons, and must thus have become known to Basil, who on the death of Eusebius of Caesarea wrote to Gregory (Bas. Ep. xlvii. Paris ed.), the father of Gregory of Nazianzus, advising the selection of Eusebius of Samosata for the vacant bishopric. The Paris editors of Basil plausibly suggest that the letter thus numbered was written by Gregory to Eusebius concerning Basil, rather than by Basil concerning Eusebius. The part which Eusebius did take in the election of Basil is well known. Basil's appointment gave Gregory extreme satisfaction (Greg. Naz. Ep. xxix.). He dilates on the delight which the visit of Eusebius to Caesarea had given the community. The bedridden had sprung from their couches, and all kinds of moral miracles had been wrought by his presence. Thereafter the correspondence between Basil and Eusebius reveals the progress of their joint lives, and throws some light upon the history of the church. The two ecclesiastics were passionately eager for one another's society, and appear to have formed numerous designs, all falling through, for an interchange of visits.

In 372 Eusebius signed, with Meletius, Basil, and 29 others, a letter to the Western bishops, in view of their common troubles from Arian opponents. The letter (Basil, Ep. xcii. Paris ed.), a melancholy Jeremiad, recounts disaster and disorder, uncanonical proceedings and Arian heresy. The Eastern bishops look to their brethren in Italy and Gaul for sympathy and advice, paying a tribute to the pristine purity which the Western churches had preserved intact while the Eastern churches had been lacerated, undermined, and divided by heretics and unconstitutional acts. Later in 372 Basil entreats Eusebius to meet him at Phargamon in Armenia, at an assembly of bishops ( Ep. xcv.). If Eusebius will not or cannot attend the conference, neither will Basil; and (xcviii.) he passionately urges him to visit him at Caesarea. Letters from Eusebius appear to have been received by Basil, who once more (c.) begs a visit at the time of the festival of the martyr Eupsychius, since many things demanded mutual consideration. At the end of 372 Basil (cv.) managed the laborious journey to Samosata, and secured from his friend the promise of a return visit. This promise, said he, had ravished the church with joy. In 373 Basil urged Eusebius to fulfil his promise, and (cxxvii.) assured him that Jovinus had answered his expectations as bp. of Nicopolis. Jovinus was a worthy pupil of Eusebius, and gratified Basil by his canonical proprieties. Everywhere the θρέμματα of Eusebius exhibit the image of his sanctity. Other authorities (Tillem. Art. iii.) record that Jovinus relapsed afterwards into Arianism. The good offices of Eusebius were solicited by Eustathius of Sebaste, who had quarrelled with Basil. Basil's principle of "purity before reconciliation" convinced Eusebius of his wisdom and moderation. At the council of Gangra, probably in 372 or 373, Eustathius of Sebaste was condemned for Arian tendencies and hyperascetic practices. There is a difficulty in deciding who was the Eusebius mentioned primo loco without a see in the synodal letter. It may have been the bp. of Samosata, and as Basil entreated his advice as to Eustathius, he may have joined him, Hypatius, Gregory, and other friends whose names occur in this pronunciamiento. His age and moral eminence would give him this prominent position. The 20 canons of Gangra are detailed with interesting comment by Hefele, who thinks the chronology entirely uncertain. We venture the above suggestion, which would throw considerable light on the practical character of the bp. of Samosata. In 373 a letter of Basil ( Ep. cxxxvi.) shews that Eusebius had successfully secured the election of a Catholic bishop at Tarsus. In consequence, he was eagerly entreated to visit Basil at Caesarea. He may have done so, and presided at the council of Gangra. An encyclical which Eusebius proposed to send to Italy was not prepared, but Dorotheus and Gregory of Nyssa were induced to visit Rome in 374. The Paris editors assign to 368 or 369 Basil's letters (xxvii. xxxi.) descriptive of his illness, and the famine that arrested his movements, but whensoever written, they reveal the extraordinary confidence put by Basil in his brother bishop. He had been healed by the intercessions of Eusebius, and now, all medical aid having failed Hypatius his brother, he sends him to Samosata to be under the care and prayers of Eusebius and his brethren. It is remarkable that Eusebius was left undisturbed during the bitter persecutions of the orthodox by the emperor Valens. At length his hour came, and few pages in the history of the time are more vivid than those which portray the circumstances of his exile. Valens promised the Arian bp. Eudoxius, who had baptized him, that he would banish all who held contrary opinions. Thus Eusebius was expelled from Samosata (Theod. iv. 13). The imperial sentence ordered his instant departure to Thrace ( ib. 14). Ceillier (v. 3) places this in 374. The officer who served the summons was bidden by Eusebius to conceal the cause of his journey. "For if the multitude (said Eusebius), who are all imbued with divine zeal, should learn your design, they would drown you, and I should have to answer for your death." After conducting worship, he took one domestic servant, a "pillow, and a book," and departed in the dead of night. The effect of his departure upon his flock is graphically described by Theodoret. The clamour, the weeping, the pursuit, the entreaties to return to Samosata and brave the wrath of the emperor, the humble submission of the bishop to the will of the prince on the ground of the authority of St. Paul, the refusal of costly gifts, the parting of the old man from his people, and the disappearance of the venerable confessor on his long and perilous journey to the Danube, are all told in a few striking sentences. Eusebius had excited a persistent and intense antagonism to the views of the Arians which assumed very practical forms. The Arian bp. Eunomius was avoided as if smitten with deadly and contagious pest. The very water he used in the public bath was wasted by the populace as contaminated. The repugnance being invincible, the poor man, inoffensive and gentle in spirit, retired from the unequal contest. His successor, Lucius, "a wolf and a deceiver of the flock," was received with scant courtesy. The children spontaneously burned a ball upon which the ass on which the Arian bishop rode had accidentally trodden. Lucius was not conquered by such manifestations, and took counsel with the Roman magistracy to banish all the Catholic clergy. Meanwhile Eusebius by slow stages reached the Danube when "the Goths were ravaging Thrace and besieging many cities." The most vigorous eulogium is passed upon his power to console others. At this dark time his faithfulness was a joy to the Eastern bishops. Basil congratulated Antiochus, a nephew of Eusebius, on the privilege of having seen and talked with such a man ( Ep. clxviii.), and Gregory thought his prayers for their welfare must be as efficacious as those of a martyr. For Eusebius, concealed in exile, Basil contrived means of communication with his old flock. Numerous letters passed between the two, more in the tone of young lovers than of old bishops, and some interesting hints are given as to difficulty of communication. Eusebius was eagerly longing for letters, while Basil protested that he had written no fewer than four, which never reached their destination. To Eusebius (ccxxxix.) Basil complains bitterly of the lack of fair dealing on the part of the Western church, and mysterious hints are not unfrequently dropped as to the sentiment entertained at Rome with reference to himself, Eusebius, and Meletius. In 377 Dorotheus found that the two latter were, to the horror of Basil, reckoned at Rome as Arians. Eusebius suffered less from the barbarian ravages of the Goths than from this momentary assault on his honour. In 378 the persecuting policy of Valens was closed by his death. Gratian recalled the banished prelates, and gave peace to the Eastern church. Theodoret ( H. E. v. 4, 5) expressly mentions the permission to Eusebius to return. Notwithstanding the apparently non-canonical character of the proceeding, Eusebius ordained numerous bishops on his way from Thrace to the Euphrates, including Acacius at Beroea, Theodotus at Hierapolis, Isidore at Cyrus, and Eulogius at Edessa. All these names were appended to the creed of Constantinople.

When taking part in the ordination of Maris at the little town of Dolica (Theod. H. E. v. 4), a woman charged with Arian passion hurled at Eusebius a brick, which fell upon his head, and wounded him fatally. Theodoret records that the aged bishop, in the spirit of the protomartyr and his Divine Lord, extorted promises from his attendants that they would make no search for his murderess. On June 22 the Eastern churches commemorate his so-called martyrdom. His nephew Antiochus probably succeeded to the bishopric of Samosata. Tillem. viii. 326; Ceillier, v. 5.


Bibliography Information
Wace, Henry. Entry for 'Eusebius, Bishop of Samosata'. A Dictionary of Early Christian Biography.​dictionaries/​eng/​hwd/​e/eusebius-bishop-of-samosata.html. 1911.