Sunday, December 16, 2018

Saint Eusebius, Bishop of Vercelli, and Martyr


When asked to tell the names of the Saints who were foremost in defending the dogma of the Incarnation, we think at once of the intrepid Eusebius of Vercelli, as one of the glorious number. The Catholic faith, which was so violently attacked in the fourth century by the Arian heresy, was maintained at that time by the labors and zeal of four Sovereign Pontiffs: Sylvester, who confirmed the decrees of the Council of Nicæa; Julius, the supporter of Athanasius; Liberius, whose faith failed not, and who, when restored to his liberty, confounded the Arians; and lastly, Damasus, who destroyed the last hopes of the heretics. One of these four Pontiffs appears on our Advent Calendar—Damasus, whose feast we kept but a few days since. The four Popes have for their fellow combatants, in this battle for the Divinity of the Incarnate Word, four great Bishops, of whom it may be said the the defense of the dogma of the Consubstantiality of the Son of God was what they lived for, and that to say anathema to them was to say anathema to Christ himself; all four most powerful in word and work, lights of the Churches of the world, objects of the people’s love, and the dauntless witnesses of Jesus. The first and greatest of the four is the Bishop of the second See of Christendom, St. Athanasius, the Patriarch of Alexandria; the second is St. Ambrose of Milan, whose feast we kept on the seventh of this month; the third is the glory of Gaul, St. Hilary, Bishop of Poitiers; the fourth is the ornament of Italy, St. Eusebius, Bishop of Vercelli, whom we have to honor today. Hilary will come to us during Christmastide, and will stand at the Crib of the Word, whose Divinity he so bravely confesses; Athanasius will meet us at Easter, and help us to celebrate, in the triumphant Resurrection, Him whom he proclaimed as God in those dark times when human wisdom hoped to destroy, by a fifty years of peace, that Church which had survived the storm of three centuries of persecution. St. Eusebius’ place is Advent; and divine Providence has thus chosen him as one of the patrons of the faithful during this mystic season; his powerful prayers will help us to come devoutly to Bethlehem, and see in the Child that is lying there, the eternal Word of God. So great were the sufferings which St. Eusebius had to undergo for the Divinity of Jesus that the Church awards him the honors of a Martyr, although he did not actually shed his blood. Let us now listen to the admirable account which the Church gives us of his life.

Eusebius, natione Sardus, Romanæ Urbis Lector, post Vercellensis Episcopus, ad hanc regendam Ecclesiam merito est creditus divino electus jucidio: nam quem nunquam ante constituti Electores cognoverant, posthabitis civibus, simul ut viderunt, et probaverunt, tantumque interfuit ut probaretur, quantum ut videretur. Primus in Occidentis partibus in eadem Ecclesia eosdem Monachos instituit esse quos Clericos, ut esset in ipsis viris contemptus rerum, et accuratio Levitarum. Arianis impietatibus ea tempestate per Occidentem longe lateque traductis, adversus eas viriliter sic dimicavit, ut ejus invicta fides Liberium, summum Pontificem, ad vitæ solatium erigeret. Quare hic sciens, in ipso fervere Spiritum Dei, quum ei significasset ut penes Imperatorem, una cum suis legatis patrocinium Fidei susciperet, mox eum illis profectus est ad Constantium, apud quem enixius agens, quidquid legatione petebatur, obtinuit, ut Episcoporum nempe cœtus celebraretur.

Eusebius, by birth a Sardinian, was a Lector in the Church at Rome, and afterwards Bishop of Vercelli. It may well be said that it was God himself who chose him to be the pastor of this Church; for the Electors, who had never before seen him, no sooner set their eyes upon him, than they preferred him before all their fellow citizens; and this instantly, and as soon as they first saw him. Eusebius was the first of the Bishops in the Western Church who established Monks in his Church to exercise the functions of the Clergy; he did it in order that he might thus unite, in the same persons, the detachment from riches and the dignity of Levites. It was during this time that the impious doctrines of the Arians were devastating the whole of the West; and so vigorously did Eusebius attack them, that Pope Liberius’ greatest consolation was the unflinching faith of this holy man. It was on this account, that the same Pope, knowing that the Spirit of God burned in Eusebius’ soul, commissioned him to go, accompanied by his Legates, to the Emperor, and plead the cause of the true faith. Eusebius and the Legates being come before Constantius, the Saint pleased so powerfully that the Emperor granted what he asked, namely, that a council of holy Bishops should be convened.

Collectum est Mediolani anno sequenti concilium, ad quod a Constantio invitatum Eusebium, concupitumque ac vocatum a Liberii legatis, tantum ab est ut malignantium synagoga Arianorum contra sanctum Athanasium furentium in suas partes adduceret, ut potius diserte statim ipse declarans, e præsentibus quosdam sibi compertos hæretica labe pollutos Nicænam imo Fidem proposuerit iis subscribendam, antequam cætera tractarentur. Quod Arianis acerbe iratis negantibus, nedum in Athanasium recosavit ipse subscribere: quin sancti Dionysii Martyris, qui deceptus ab ipsis subscripserat, captivatam simplicitatem ingeniosissime leberavit. Quamobrem illi graviter indignantes, post multas illatas injurias, exsilio illum mulctarunt; sed sanctus vir excusso pulvere, nec Cæsaris minas veritus, nec enses obstrictos, exsilium veluti sui ministerii officium accepit, missusque Scythopolim, famen, sitim, verbera diversaque supplicia perpessus, pro fide strenue vitam contempsit, mortem non metuit, corpus carnificibus tradidit.

That Council was held the following year, at Milan; Eusebius was invited by Constantius to be present at it, which was what the Legates of Liberius had desired and begged. So far was he from being duped by the synagogue of the malicious Arians to side with them against St. Athanasius, that he openly declared from the first that several of those present were known to him to be heretics, and he therefore proposed that they should subscribe to the Nicene Creed before proceeding any further. This the Arians, infuriated with anger, refused to do; whereupon, he not only refused to subscribe to what was drawn up against Athanasius, but he also, by a most ingenious device, succeeded in having the name of St. Denis the Martyr blotted out from the decree, which the craft of the Arians had induced him to sign. Wherefore, they being exceeding angry against Eusebius, loaded him with injuries, and had him sent into banishment. The holy man, on his side, shaking off the dust from his feet, caring little either for the threats of the Emperor, or the sword which was held over him, submitted to banishment as to something which belonged to his episcopal office. Being sent to Scythopolis, he there endured hunger, thirst, blows, and sundry other punishments; he generously despised his life for the true faith, feared not death, and gave up his body to the executioners.

Quanta in eum tunc Arianorum crudelitas fuerit, ac effrons inverecundia, ostendunt graves litteræ plenæ roboris, pietatis ac religionis, quas a Scythopoli scripsit ad Vercellensem clerum et populum, aliosque finitimos, e quibus etiam est exploratum, ipsorum nec minis inhumanaque sævitia potuisse unquam eum deterreri, nec serpentina blanda subtilitate ad eorum societatem perduci. Hinc in Cappadociam, postremoque ad superiores Ægypti Thebaidos præ constantia sua deportantibus, exsilii rigores tulit ad mortem usque Constantii, post quam ad gregem suum reverti permissus, non prius redire voluit, quam reparandis fidei jacturis ad Alexandrinam Synodum sese conferret; postque medici præstantis instar peragrans Orientis provincias, in fide infirmos ad integram valetudinem restitueret, eos instituens in Ecclesiæ doctrina. Inde salubritate pari, digresso in Illyricum, tandemque in Italiam delato, ad ejus reditum, lugubres vestes Italia mutavit, ubi postquam Psalmorum omnium expurgatos a se commentarios Origenis edidit, Eusebiique Cæsareensis quod verterat de Græco in Latinum; demum tot egregie factis illustris ad immarcescibilem gloriæ coronam tantis ærumnis promeritam sub Valentiniano, et Valente, Vercellis migravit.

How much he had to put up with from the cruelty and insolence of the Arians, we learn from the admirable letters, full of energy, piety, and religion, which he addressed, from Scythopolis, to the clergy and people of Vercelli, and to other persons of the neighboring country. It is evident from these letters that the heretics were unable, either by their threats or by their inhuman treatment, to shake his constancy, or to induce him by the craft of their flattery or arguments to join their party. Thence he was taken into Cappadocia, and lastly into Thebaïs of Upper Egypt, in punishment of his refusing to yield. Thus did he suffer the hardships of exile until the death of Constantius: after which he was allowed to return to his flock; but this he would not do, until he had assisted at the Council which was being held at Alexandria for the purpose of repairing the injuries done by heresy. This done, he travelled through the provinces of the East, endeavoring, like a clever physician, to restore to perfect health such as were weak in the faith, by instructing them in the doctrine of the Church. Animated by the like zeal for the salvation of souls, he passed over into Illyricum; and having at length returned to Italy, that country put off its mourning. He there published the commentaries of Origen and Eusebius of Cæsarea on the Psalms, which two works he translated from the Greek into Latin, with such corrections as were needed. At length, having rendered himself celebrated by a life spent in such actions as these, he died at Vercelli, in the reign of Valentinian and Valens, and went to receive the immortal crown of glory which his so many and great sufferings had merited for him.

Valiant Soldier of Jesus, Eusebius, Martyr and Pontiff, how much labor and suffering thou didst undergo for the Messias! And yet they seemed to thee to be little in comparison with what is due to this eternal Word of the Father, who, out of his pure love, has made himself the Servant of his own creatures by becoming Man for them in the mystery of the Incarnation. We owe the same debt of gratitude to this divine Savior. He is born in a stable for our sakes, as he was for thine; pray, therefore, for us that we may be ever faithful to him both in war and peace; and that we may resist our temptations and evil inclinations with that same firmness wherewith we would confess his name before tyrants and persecutors. Obtain for the Bishops of our holy Mother the Church such vigilance that no false doctrines may surprise them, and such courage that no persecution may make them yield. May they be faithful imitators of the divine Pastor, who gives his life for his sheep; and may they ever feed the flock entrusted to them, in the unity and charity of Jesus Christ.

Let us consider how our Blessed Lady, having returned to Nazareth, is overwhelmed with joy to feel living within her Him who gives being to every created thing, and whom she loves with all the intensity of the Mother of God. Joseph, the faithful guardian of her virginity, tenderly loves this his Spouse, and blesses God for having entrusted such a treasure to his keeping. The Angels crowd round this favored house wherein dwell their Sovereign Lord, and she whom he has chosen to be his Mother. Never was there happiness like that which fills this little dwelling; and yet, God has decreed to visit it with a heavy trial, in order that he may give an occasion to Mary to exercise heroic patience, and to Joseph an occasion of meriting by his exquisite prudence. Let us listen to the Meditation of St. Bonaventure, in which he thus ponders the Gospel narrative:

“But while our Lady and Joseph her Spouse were thus dwelling together, the Infant Jesus grew within his Mother’s womb. Then Joseph perceiving that Mary was with Child, he was above all measure grieved. Here give, I pray thee, all thine attention, for thou hast many fair things to learn. If thou wouldst know wherefore it was that our Lord wished that his Mother should have a husband, whereas he always wished that she should be a Virgin, I answer thee that he so wished on three accounts: firstly, that she might not be disgraced when it was seen that she was a Mother: secondly, that she might have Joseph’s aid and company; and thirdly, that the birth of the Son of God might be concealed from the devil.

“Now, Joseph did look many times on Mary, and grief and trouble of heart fell upon him, and his displeasure was seen in his face, and he turned his eyes away from her as one that was guilty of that which he perforce suspected. See how God permits his servants to be afflicted and sorely tried, that they may so receive their crown. Now, Joseph was minded to put her away privately. In very truth may it be said of this holy man that his praise is in the Gospel, for the Gospel says of him that he was a just man, that is, a man of great virtue. For albeit they say that no shame, nor suffering, nor insult can befall a man so grievous as that of his wife’s unfaithfulness; yet did Joseph restrain himself withal, and would not accuse Mary, but bore this great injury patiently. He sought not how to avenge himself but, overcome with pity, and wishing to forgive, he was minded to put her away privately. But herein also had our Lady her share of tribulation, for she took notice of Joseph’s trouble, and it sorely grieved her. Yet did she humbly hold her peace, and hide the gift of God. Better did it seem unto her that evil should be thought of her, than that she should reveal the divine Mystery, and say aught of herself which would come nigh to boasting. Therefore did she beseech our Lord that himself would right this matter, and make pass this grief from Joseph and herself. Her thou mayest learn what great tribulation and anxiety was theirs. But God came unto their assistance.

“He therefore sent his Angel, who spake unto Joseph in his sleep, and told him that his Spouse had conceived of the Holy Ghost, and that he was to abide with her in all surety and joy. Whereupon all tribulation ceased, and they were both exceedingly comforted. So likewise would it befall us if we would suffer patiently, for after a storm God brings a calm. Neither oughtest thou to doubt this, for God suffereth not his servants to be afflicted save for their good. After this, Joseph requested our Lady to narrate unto him what had happened; and she faithfully narrated all unto him. Whereupon Joseph remains with his Blessed Spouse, and lives with her in all contentment, and loves her above what words can say, and diligently proves her whatsoever she needed. So also our Lady continues to remain confidently with Joseph, and they live right joyfully in their poverty.”

Prayer for the Time of Advent
(The Mozarabic Breviary, Wednesday of the First Week of Advent, Capitula)

Deus, cui omnis terra præconans jubilat laudem; cujus gloriam canora Psalmi conclamant voce; cujusque terribilem in tuis operibus fatentur virtutem; notum facito Salutare tuum in conspectu omnium nostrum. Revela justitiam tuam, qua possimus te nostrum agnoscere creatorem: et esto memor misericordiæ tuæ, qua nostrorum criminum mereamur invenire remissionem: ut videntes Salutare tuum, jubilemus tibi hymnum, cantemus in exsultatione Psalmum, et perfrui mereamur tuæ beatitudinis præmio. Amen.

O God, to whom the whole earth proclaims its glad praise; whose glory is celebrated in the sweet melody of the Psalms; and whose mighty power is confessed by thy works; make known thy Savior unto all of us thy servants. Reveal thy justice, whereby we may acknowledge thee to be our Creator: and be mindful of thy mercy, whereby we may deserve to find the forgiveness of our sins; that seeing the Savior whom thou sendest, we may hymn thee our hymns of joy, and sing our Psalms in gladness, and deserve to enjoy the reward of thy blessed sight. Amen.


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