Archive for the ‘Eusebius’ Category

On St. Eusebius of Vercelli

January 29, 2009

 

st-eusebius“He Governed the Church With the Austerity of Fasting”
VATICAN CITY, OCT. 17, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI delivered today at the general audience in St. Peter’s Square on St. Eusebius of Vercelli. After the discourse, the Pope announced the names of 23 who will be made cardinals in a consistory Nov. 24.

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Dear Brothers and Sisters:

This morning I invite you to reflect on St. Eusebius of Vercelli, the first bishop of northern Italy of whom we have sure knowledge. Born in Sardinia at the beginning of the fourth century, at a young age he transferred to Rome with his family. Later he was instituted as a lector: In this way he came to form part of the clergy of Urbe, during the time that the Church was suffering the difficult test of the Arian heresy.

The great esteem that many had for Eusebius explains his election, in 345, as the bishop of Vercelli. The new bishop immediately began an intense program of evangelization in a territory that was still to a large extent pagan, especially in the rural areas.

Inspired by St. Athanasius — who had written “The Life of St. Anthony,” founder of Eastern monasticism — founded in Vercelli a community of priests, similar to a monastic community. This monastery gave to the clergy of northern Italy a significant character of apostolic sanctity, and inspired important bishops such as Limenio and Honoratus, successors of Eusebius in Vercelli, Gaudentius in Novara, Exuperantius in Tortona, Eustasius in Aosta, Eulogius in Ivrea, Maximus in Turin, all venerated by the Church as saints.

Solidly formed in the faith of the Council of Nicaea, Eusebius defended with all his strength the full divinity of Jesus Christ, defined by the Nicene Creed as “of the same nature” as the Father. With this objective he allied himself with the great fathers of the fourth century, above all St. Athanasius, the herald of the Nicene orthodoxy, against the pro-Arian politics of the emperor.

For the emperor the simpler Arian faith was more useful politically as an ideology of the empire. For him the truth didn’t count, only the political opportunity: He wanted to use religion as a tie to unite the empire. But these great fathers resisted, defending the truth over and against political domination. For this reason, Eusebius was condemned to exile, as were other bishops of the East and the West: such as Athanasius, Hilary of Poitiers — of whom we spoke last week — and Osius of Cordoba. At Scythopolis in Palestine, where he was confined from 355 to 360, Eusebius wrote a wonderful page of his life. Here too he founded a monastery with a small group of disciples, and from there maintained correspondence with this faithful in Piedmont, which is demonstrated best by the second of the three letters of Eusebius that have been recognized as authentic.

After 360 he was exiled to Cappadocia and in Thebaid, where he suffered severe physical maltreatment. In 361, Emperor Constantius II died, and was succeeded by Emperor Julian, known as the Apostate, who was not interested in Christianity as the religion of empire, but rather wanted to restore paganism. He ended the exile of bishops and in this way permitted Eusebius to take back his see.

In 362 Eusebius was invited by Athanasius to participate in the Council of Alexandria, which decided to pardon Arian bishops provided they reverted to the lay state. Eusebius was able to exercise his episcopal ministry for another decade, until he died, establishing with his city an exemplary relationship, which inspired the pastoral service of other bishops of northern Italy, whom we shall talk about in future catecheses, such as St. Ambrose of Milan and St. Maximus of Turin.

The relationship between the bishop of Vercelli and his city is made clear above all by two epistolary testimonies. The first is found in the letter we already cited, which Eusebius wrote from exile in Scythopolis “to my most delightful brethren and to my beloved priests, as well as to the holy peoples of Vercelli, Novara, Ivrea and Tortona, keeping firm in the faith” (“Ep. secunda,” CCL 9, p. 104).

These greetings, which show the emotion of the good shepherd when speaking to his flock, is confirmed to a large extent at the end of the letter, in the warm greetings of the father to each and every one of his sons in Vercelli, with expressions overflowing with affection and love.

One must underline above all the explicit relationship that unites the bishop to the “sanctae plebes” [holy people] not only of Vercelli — the first, and for many more years, the only diocese of the Piedmont region — but also of Novara, Ivrea and Tortona, that is to say, those Christian communities within his diocese that had reached a certain consistency and autonomy.

Another interesting element can be found in the farewell of the letter: Eusebius asks his sons and daughters to greet “even those who are outside the Church, and who have deigned to love us:” (etiam hos, qui foris sunt et nos dignantur diligere.) This is an evident sign that the bishop’s relationship with his city was not limited to the Christian population, but also extended to those outside the Church who recognized in a certain sense his spiritual authority, and loved this exemplary man.

The second testimony of the singular relationship the bishop had with his city appears in the letter that St. Ambrose of Milan wrote to the Christians of Vercelli around 394, more than 20 years after Eusebius’ death (“Ep. extra collectionem 14”: Maur. 63).

The Church of Vercelli was going through a difficult time: It was divided and without a bishop. With frankness, Ambrose declared that he couldn’t recognize in them “the descendants of the holy fathers, who elected Eusebius as soon as they saw him, without even having known him beforehand, passing over even their own fellow citizens.” In the same letter, the bishop of Milan clearly bore witness to his esteem for Eusebius: “A great man,” he wrote decisively, who “deserved to be elected by the whole Church.”

Ambrose’s admiration for Eusebius was based above all on the fact that Eusebius governed his diocese with the witness of his own life: “He governed the Church with the austerity of fasting.” In fact, Ambrose himself was fascinated, as he himself admitted, by the monastic ideal of contemplating God, which Eusebius had pursued in the footsteps of the prophet Elijah.

To begin with, Ambrose noted, the bishop of Vercelli gathered his own priests into “vita communis” [community life] and educated them “in the observance of monastic rules, even though they lived in the middle of the city.” The bishop and his priests had to share the problems of their fellow citizens, and they did this credibly by cultivating at the same time a different citizenship, that of heaven (cf. Hebrews 13:14). Thus they truly constructed a genuine citizenship in true solidarity with the citizens of Vercelli.

In this way Eusebius, while he took up the cause of the “sancta plebs” of Vercelli, lived in the midst of the city like a monk, opening his city to God. This trait did not take anything away from his exemplary pastoral dynamism.

Among other things, it seems that he set up parish churches in Vercelli to establish ecclesial services that were organized and stable, and that he promoted Marian shrines for the conversion of pagan rural populations. On the contrary, this “monastic character” gave a particular dimension to the relationship of the bishop with his city. Like the apostles, for whom Jesus prayed at the Last Supper, the pastors and the faithful of the Church “are in the world” (John 17:11), but not “of the world.”

Therefore, the pastors, Eusebius reminds us, should exhort the faithful not to consider the cities of the world as their permanent dwelling, but rather to seek the future city, the definitive Jerusalem in heaven. This “eschatological dimension” allows the pastors and the faithful to protect the hierarchy of just values, without giving into the trend of the moment, or to the unjust demands of political power. The authentic hierarchy of values, Eusebius’ whole life seems to tell us, does not come from the emperors of yesterday or today, but from Jesus Christ, the perfect man, equal to the Father in divinity, but at the same time a man like us.

Referring to this scale of values, Eusebius does not tire of “recommending without reservations” to his faithful to guard, “with every resource, the faith, to maintain harmony, to be assiduous in prayer” (“Ep. secunda,” cit.).

Dear brothers and sisters, I too recommend to you with all my heart these perennial values, and I bless and greet you with the same words St. Eusebius used to conclude his second letter: “I address you all, my brothers and holy sisters, sons and daughters, the faithful of both sexes and every age, so that … you may bring our greetings even to those who are outside the Church, but who deign to love us” (ibid.).

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

In our catechesis on the teachers of the ancient Church, we now turn to Saint Eusebius of Vercelli. Eusebius was born in Sardinia at the beginning of the fourth century, educated in Rome and eventually elected Bishop of Vercelli. There he founded a priestly community inspired by the early monastic communities of Egypt, and helped to spread the ideal of apostolic holiness throughout northern Italy.

Eusebius tirelessly defended the full divinity of Christ proclaimed at the Council of Nicaea, even at the cost of exile. His example of pastoral zeal greatly influenced many of his contemporaries, including Saints Ambrose and Maximus of Turin. Eusebius’ Letters testify to his closeness to the faithful of Vercelli, as well as his concern for those who were not of the faith. His episcopal ministry was shaped by his commitment to the monastic ideals of contemplation and self-discipline. He thus found the strength to resist every form of external pressure in his faithful service to the Gospel. May his teachings and example inspire us, in all our life and activity, to “make every effort to preserve the faith, to live in harmony and to be constant in the practice of prayer” (cf. Ep. II).

I warmly greet the Immaculate Heart Sisters from Nigeria who celebrate the seventieth anniversary of their foundation. I likewise greet the members of the national pilgrimage of Tanzania. My welcome also goes to the Lutheran pilgrims from Norway and to the members of Serra International. Upon all the English-speaking visitors, including those from England, Scotland, Ireland, Australia, Papua New Guinea, Japan, the Philippines and the United States, I invoke God’s abundant blessings.



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June

June 4, 2008

On St. Cyprian

On Eusebius of Caesarea

On Eusebius of Caesarea

June 4, 2008

VATICAN CITY, JUNE 13, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI delivered today at the general audience in St. Peter’s Square. The reflection focused on Eusebius of Caesarea.

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Dear Brothers and Sisters:

In the history of ancient Christianity, there is a fundamental distinction between the first three centuries and those following the Council of Nicaea, the first ecumenical council in the year 325. As a “hinge” between the two periods is the so-called change of Constantine and the peace for the Church, as well as the figure of Eusebius, bishop of Caesarea in Palestine.

He was the most qualified exponent of the Christian culture of his time in the most varied of contexts: from theology to exegesis, from history to scholarship. Eusebius is known, above all, as the first historian of Christianity, but also as the greatest philologist of the ancient Church.

In Caesarea, where he was probably born around the year 260, Origen had earlier taken refuge, fleeing from Alexandria. There, Origen had founded a school and a huge library. It is precisely from those books that the young Eusebius would receive his formation some decades later. In the year 325, as bishop of Caesarea, he played a main role in the Council of Nicaea. He authored the Creed and the affirmation of the full divinity of the Son of God, defined by Eusebius as “one in substance with the Father” (homooúsios tõ Patrí). It is practically the same Creed we recite at Mass every Sunday.

A sincere admirer of Constantine, who had given peace to the Church, Eusebius felt esteem and deference toward him. He praised the emperor, not only in his works, but also in his official addresses, delivered on both the 20th and 30th anniversary of the emperor’s coming to the throne, as well as after his death in the year 337. Two or three years later, Eusebius would also die.

A tireless academic, Eusebius, in his numerous works, sought to reflect upon and take stock of the three centuries of Christianity, three centuries lived under persecution. He consulted, for the most part, the original Christian and pagan sources that had been preserved in the great library of Caesarea. Thus, despite the objective merit of his apologetic, exegetical and doctrinal work, Eusebius’ long-lasting fame is linked, first and foremost, to his 10-volume “Ecclesiastical History.” He was the first to write a history of the Church, and to this day his work is still foundational, mainly due to the sources Eusebius puts forever at our disposal. His “History” preserved from sure oblivion numerous events, people and literary works of the ancient Church. His work is therefore a primary source for knowing the first centuries of Christianity.

We may ask how he structured this work and what his intentions were in writing these volumes. At the beginning of the first book, the historian presents the arguments he is going to address in his work: “It is my intention to record the succession of the holy apostles from Our Savior to our day: how many and how important were the events that took place according to the history of the Church, and who were distinguished in their governance and direction of the most notable communities, including those who, in each generation, were ambassadors of the Word of God, either by means of the written word or without it, and those who, motivated by the desire for innovation to the point of error, have become promoters of what they falsely call knowledge, thus devouring the flock of Christ like fierce wolves … also the number, the customs and duration of the pagans that fought against the divine word, and the greatness of those who, because of this, endured the test of blood and torture; noting also the martyrs of our time and the merciful and favorable help which Our Savior offers everyone” (1,1,1-2).

In this manner, Eusebius covers various topics: apostolic succession, as the structure of the Church, the spreading of the Message, errors, persecutions by pagans, and the great testimonies which constitute the shining light of this “History.” Amid it all, shine the mercy and goodness of the Savior.

Thus Eusebius inaugurates ecclesiastical historiography. His narrative covers up to the year 324 when Constantine, after the defeat of Licinius, was proclaimed as the only Roman emperor. This is the year that preceded the great Council of Nicaea, which later offered the “summa” of what the Church had learned over those 300 years — doctrinally, morally and even legally.

The quote we have just mentioned from the first volume of “Ecclesiastical History” contains a repetition that is certainly intentional. In just a few sentences, he repeats the Christological title “Savior” and makes explicit reference to “his mercy” and “his benevolence.” Thus we can understand the fundamental perspective of Eusebius’ historiography: It is a Christocentric history, in which the mystery of God’s love for men is progressively revealed. With genuine surprise, Eusebius recognizes: “Of all men of his time and of all men who have ever existed on the earth, only he is proclaimed and confessed as Christ (that is, as “Messiah” and “Savior of the World”), and all give testimony to him with this name, both Greeks and barbarians call him this. Besides, even today, across the land, he is honored as king by his followers, contemplated as superior to any prophet, and is glorified as the true and only high priest of God; and, above all, He is adored as God because he is the pre-existing Logos, who existed before all times, and has received from the Father the honor of being an object of veneration. And what is most significant about this is that we who are consecrated to Him do not honor him with our voices alone or the sound of our words, but with a complete readiness of soul, to the point of preferring martyrdom for his cause more than our own lives” (1,3,19-20).

In this manner, we see first of all another characteristic that will be a constant in ancient ecclesiastical historiography: the “moral intent” that gives direction to the narrative. Historical analysis is never an end in itself; it seeks not only to get to know the past, but it firmly points toward conversion and to an authentic witness of Christian life on the part of the faithful. It is a guide for us today.

Eusebius, then, poses poignant questions to the faithful of every age regarding the manner in which they face the changing circumstances of history and, in particular, of the Church. He questions us too: What is our attitude toward the vicissitudes faced by the Church? Is it the attitude of someone who is interested out of mere curiosity, looking for sensationalism and scandal at all costs? Or is it rather the loving attitude, open to mystery, of one who because of faith knows that he can discern in the history of the Church the signs of God’s love and the great work of salvation he has accomplished?

If this is our attitude, we should feel invited to offer a more coherent and generous response, a more Christian testimony of life that will leave an imprint of God’s love for future generations as well.

“There is a mystery,” tirelessly repeats the eminent scholar of the Church Fathers, Cardinal Jean Daniélou: “There is a content hidden in history. … The mystery is that of the works of God that form, in time, the authentic reality that lies hidden beneath appearances. … But this history that God accomplishes through man, he doesn’t accomplish without Himself. To contemplate the ‘great works’ of God would mean to only see one aspect of things. Before the things, there is the answer” (“Saggio sul Misterio della Storia” [Essay on the Mystery of History], Brescia 1963, p. 1982).

Many centuries later, Eusebius of Caesarea still today issues an invitation to believers. He invites us to be awed by and to contemplate the great work of salvation that God has accomplished in history. And with the same vigor, he invites us to a conversion of life. In fact, before a God who has loved us so much, we cannot remain unaffected. The very demand of love is that all of life be oriented toward the imitation of the Beloved. Let us do all within our power to leave in our lives a clear imprint of God’s love.

[After the audience, the Pope greeted the people in several languages. In English, he said:]

Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Continuing our catechesis on the writers of the early Church, we turn today to Eusebius of Caesarea. The many theological, exegetical and historical writings of Eusebius reflect the rich Christian culture of his time, which spanned the period of the last persecutions, the peace of the Church under Constantine, and the controversies surrounding the Council of Nicaea. He attended the Council as the Bishop of Caesarea and subscribed its teaching on the Son’s divinity and consubstantiality with the Father. Eusebius is best known for his Ecclesiastical History, which documented the first centuries of the Church’s life and preserved much precious evidence which would otherwise be lost. His Christocentric approach to history emphasized the gradual revelation of God’s merciful love for humanity, culminating in the coming of Christ, the spread of the Gospel and the growth of the Church. Eusebius’ writings continue to inspire Christians in every age to let their study of history bear fruit in a greater appreciation of God’s saving works, a deeper conversion to Christ and a more generous witness to the Gospel in everyday life.

I welcome the participants in the leadership course organized by the International Catholic Charismatic Renewal Services. My greetings also go to the Buddhist members of Rissho Kosei-Kai, and the representatives of the Apostolate for Family Consecration. Upon all the English-speaking visitors present at today’s Audience, especially those from England, Nigeria, Japan and the United States, I invoke God’s abundant blessings.

2007

June 27, 2007
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