Rev. Alban Butler (171173). Volume VI: June. The Lives of the Saints. 1866.
St. Eusebius, Bishop of Samosata, Martyr
THE CITY of Samosata, capital of Comagene in Syria, now called Sempsat, was an ancient episcopal see under the metropolitan of Hieropolis. By an appointment of divine providence, St. Eusebius was placed in this see at a time when most of the neighbouring bishoprics were occupied by Arians, in 361. In the same year he was present in a council at Antioch, composed chiefly of Arians, whilst the emperor Constantius was in that city. St. Eusebius concurred strenuously to the election of St. Meletius, patriarch of Antioch, being well assured of his zeal for the orthodox faith. Such was the opinion which the Arians themselves entertained of Eusebiuss virtue, that though they knew him to be an irreconcileable enemy to their heresy, they placed an entire confidence in his probity. On this account, they entrusted in his hands the synodal act of the election of St. Meletius. A few days after, being provoked at the vigour with which Meletius preached the faith of the Nicene council in his first discourse to his people, they sought to set him aside, and at their instigation Constantius sent an officer to extort out of the hands of St. Eusebius the act of his election. The saint answered he could not surrender it without the consent of all the parties concerned in it. The officer threatened to cause his right hand to be cut off if he refused to comply with the emperors orders. The saint stretched out not only his right but also his left hand, saying he might cut them both off; but that he would never concur to an unjust action. Both the officer and the emperor admired his heroic virtue, and highly commended an action which thwarted their favourite projects. For sometime St. Eusebius refused not to assist at the councils and conferences of the Arians, in order to maintain the truth. But finding this conduct gave scandal to some, he broke off all commerce with them in ecclesiastical deliberations after the council of Antioch in 363, in the reign of Jovian. In 370 he assisted at the election of St. Basil, archbishop of Cæsarea, and contracted a strict friendship with that great pillar of faith and virtue. So remarkable was the zeal of our saint and so bright the lustre of his sanctity, that St. Gregory Nazianzen, in a letter which he wrote about that time, styles him the pillar of truth, the light of the world, the instrument of the favours of God on his people, and the support and glory of all the orthodox.
When the persecution of Valens began to rage, St. Eusebius not content to secure his own flock against the poison of heresy, made several progresses through Syria, Phnicia, and Palestine, disguised in the dress of an officer, to strengthen the Catholics in the faith, ordain priests where they were wanting, and assist the orthodox bishops in filling vacant sees with worthy pastors. His zeal gave every day some new stroke to the Arian party; so that in 374 Valens sent an order for his banishment into Thrace. The imperial messenger arrived at Samosata in the evening, and signified the emperors orders to the bishop, who begged he would keep it secret, saying: If the people should be apprized, such is their zeal for the faith, that they would rise in arms against you, and your death might be laid to my charge. The holy bishop celebrated the night office as usual, and when all were gone to rest, walked out with one trusty servant to the Euphrates, which runs under the walls of the city, where going on board a small vessel, he fell down the river seventy miles to Zeugma. In the morning the people were in an uproar at what had happened, and in an instant the river was covered with boats to search him out. He was overtaken by a great number at Zeugma, who conjured him not to abandon them to the wolves. He was strongly affected, but urging the necessity of obeying, exhorted them to confidence in God. They offered him money, slaves, clothes, and all kind of provisions; but he would accept very little, and commending his dear flock to God, pursued his journey to Thrace. The Arians intruded into his chair one Eunomius, not the famous heresiarch of that name, but a man of great moderation. Yet the people universally shunned him, the city council and the magistrates above the rest; not one of the inhabitants, rich or poor, young or old, of the clergy or laity, would see him, and whether in the church, at home, or in public, he saw himself left alone. Disgusted at his situation he withdrew and left the people to themselves. The heretics substituted in his place one Lucius, a violent man, who banished the deacon Evoltius to the desert of Oasis, beyond Egypt, a priest named Antiochus into a remote corner of Armenia, and others to other places. Yet he could not gain any over to his interest. The behaviour of the people was the same to him as it had been to his predecessor; for an instance of which, it is mentioned, that as he passed one day through a public square where several children were at play, their ball hit the hoof of his mule, and as if it had been defiled, they threw it into the fire. The Goths plundered Thrace in 379, and to escape their swords, St. Eusebius obtained leave to return to his church, but to crown his sufferings with martyrdom. He appeared no way broken or daunted by his banishment, but seemed more indefatigable than ever in his labours for the church. When the death of Valens had put an end to the persecution in 378, he travelled over great part of the country to procure Catholic bishops to be chosen where the sees were destitute. This he effected at Beræa, Hierapolis, and Cyrus. At Dolicha, a small episcopal city in Comagene, forty-one miles from Samosata, Maris was by his endeavours ordained bishop. The whole town being inhabited by obstinate Arians, St. Eusebius would attend him thither when he went to take possession of his church. An Arian woman seeing him pass in the street, threw a tile from the top of her house upon his head; of which wound he died a few days after, in 379 or 380. In his last moments, in imitation of his divine Master, he bound his friends by oath never to prosecute his murderer or her accomplices. He is honoured by the Greeks on the 22nd, by the Latins on the 21st of June. See Theodoret, l. 4, c. 13, l. 5, c. 4; St. Greg. Nazianz. ep. 28; Godeau, Eloges des Evêques Illustres, p. 178; Ceillier, t. 6, p. 433.