Eusebius was always a virgin, and whilst he was yet young in the faith he received baptism and name of Eusebius the pope, in which baptism the hands of angels were seen that lifted him out of the font. On a day a certain lady was esprised of his beauty, and would have gone to his chamber, and the angels kept the door in such wise that she might not enter, and on the morn, she went to him and kneeled down at his feet, and required of him mercy and forgiveness of that she had been in will to have made him sin, and he pardoned her debonairly. And when he was ordained to be a priest, he shone in so great holiness, that when he sang the solemnities of the masses the angels served him.
After this, when the heresy of the Arians had infected all Italy, and Constantine the emperor favouring them, Julius the pope sacred Eusebius into bishop of Vercelli the city, the which held the principate of the other cities in Italy. And when the heretics heard say that, they shut fast the doors of the church, which was of our Blessed Lady and Blessed Virgin S. Mary. Then the blessed saint kneeled down, and anon the doors opened by his prayer. Then put he out Eugenius, bishop of Milan, which was corrupted of this evil heresy, and ordained in his place Denis, a man right catholic. And thus, Eusebius purged all the church of the occident, and Anastasius purged the orient of the heresy Arian.
Arius was a priest of Alexandria, which said and affirmed that Christ was a pure creature, and said that He was not God, and for us was made, that we by Him as by an instrument were made of God. And therefore, Constantine ordained a council at Nice whereas this error was condemned. And after this Arius died of a miserable death, for he voided all his entrails beneath at his fundament. And Constantius, son of Constantine, was corrupt with this heresy, for which cause this Constantius had great hate against Eusebius, and assembled a council of many bishops, and called Denis, and sent many letters to Eusebius, and he knew well that the malice of him was so great that he deigned not come to him. Wherefore the emperor established against the excusation of him that the council should be solemnised at Milan which was nigh to him. And when he saw that Eusebius was not there, he commanded to the Arians that they should write their faith and send it to Denis, bishop of Milan, and twenty-nine bishops he made subscribe the same faith.
And when Eusebius heard that, he issued out of his city for to go to Milan, and said well tofore that he should suffer much. And thus, as he came to a flood for to go to Milan, the ship tarried long on that other side of the river, but the ship came at his commandment and bare him over and his fellowship, without governor. Then the foresaid Denis came against him and kneeled down to his feet and required pardon. And when Eusebius could not be turned by gifts ne by menaces of this emperor, he said tofore them all: Ye say that the Son is less than the Father, wherefore have ye then made my son and my disciple greater than me? for the disciple is not above the master, nor the son above the father. Then were they moved by this reason, and showed to him the writing that they had made and Denis had written, and they said that he had written, and he said: Nay, I shall not subscribe after my son, to whom I am sovereign by authority, but burn this writing, and after write another, if ye will, ere I shall write.
And thus, by the will of God that schedule was burnt, which Denis and the twenty-nine bishops had subscribed, and then the Arians wrote again another schedule and delivered it to Eusebius and to the other bishops for to subscribe, but the bishops, enhardened of Eusebius, would in no wise consent to subscribe, but they were glad that thilke schedule, which by constraint they had subscribed, was burnt. Then was Constantius angry, and delivered Eusebius to the will of the Arians, and anon they drew him from the middle of the bishops and beat him cruelly, and drew him from the highest of the palace by the steps down to the lowest, and from the lowest to the highest, unto the time that his head was all tobruised and bled much blood, and yet he would not consent to them. And then they bound his hands behind him, and after, drew him with a cord about his neck, and he thanked God, and said that he was all ready for to die for the defense of the faith of holy Church.
Then Constantius exiled Liberius the pope, Denis, Paulinus, and all the other bishops that Eusebius had enhardened. And then the Arians led Eusebius into Jerapolin, a city of Palestine, and enclosed him in a strait place, in so much that it was strait and short that he might not stretch out his feet, ne turn him from one side to another, and he had his head so strait that he might not move it, ne turn hither ne thither his members in no manner, save only his shoulders and arms, the place was so strait in length and in breadth. And when Constantius was dead, Julian succeeded him, and would please every man, and commanded that all the bishops which had been exiled should be repealed, and the temples of the gods to be opened, and would that all men should use peace under what law he were.
And by this occasion Eusebius issued out of prison and came to Athanasius, and told to him what he had suffered. Then Julian died, and Jovinian reigned, and the Arians ceased. S. Eusebius returned to the town of Vercelli, where the people received him with great joy. And after, when Valens reigned, the Arians came again in their forces, and entered into the house of Eusebius, and stoned him with stones, and so put him to death, and he died debonairly in our Lord, and was buried in the church that he had made. And it is said that he impetred and gat grace of our Lord that no Arian might live in that city. And after the chronicles he lived eighty-eight years. He flourished about the year of our Lord three hundred and fifty.
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 labours and zeal of four Sovereign Pontiffs: Sylvester, who confirmed the decrees of the Council of Nicaea; Julius, the supporter of St. 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, that the defence 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 honour 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 honours 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, 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 pleaded so powerfully, that the Emperor granted what he asked, namely, that a council of the Bishops should be convened.
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.
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 neighbouring 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 Thebais 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, endeavouring, 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 Ulyricum; and having at length returned to Italy, that country put off its mourning. He there published the commentaries of Origen and Eusebius of Caesarea 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 labour 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 Saviour. 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, intrusted to them, in the unity and charity of Jesus Christ.