‘With his sound formation in the Nicene faith, Eusebius did his utmost to defend the full divinity of Jesus Christ, defined by the Nicene Creed as “of one being with the Father”. To this end, he allied himself with the great Fathers of the fourth century - especially St Athanasius, the standard bearer of Nicene orthodoxy - against the philo-Arian policies of the Emperor. For the Emperor, the simpler Arian faith appeared politically more useful as the ideology of the Empire. For him it was not truth that counted but rather political opportunism: he wanted to exploit religion as the bond of unity for the Empire. But these great Fathers resisted him, defending the truth against political expediency.
Eusebius was consequently condemned to exile, as were so many other Bishops of the East and West: such as Athanasius himself, Hilary of Poitiers… and Hosius of Cordoba. In Scythopolis, Palestine, to which he was exiled between 355 and 360, Eusebius wrote a marvellous account of his life. Here too, he founded a monastic community with a small group of disciples. It was also from here that he attended to his correspondence with his faithful in Piedmont, as can be seen in the second of the three Letters of Eusebius recognised as authentic. Later, after 360, Eusebius was exiled to Cappadocia and the Thebaid, where he suffered serious physical ill-treatment. After his death in 361 Constantius II was succeeded by the Emperor Julian, known as “the Apostate”, who was not interested in making Christianity the religion of the Empire but merely wished to restore paganism. He rescinded the banishment of these Bishops and thereby also enabled Eusebius to be reinstated in his See. In 362 he was invited by Anastasius to take part in the Council of Alexandria, which decided to pardon the Arian Bishops as long as they returned to the secular state. Eusebius was able to exercise his episcopal ministry for another 10 years, until he died, creating an exemplary relationship with his city which did not fail to inspire the pastoral service of other Bishops of Northern Italy… such as St Ambrose of Milan and St Maximus of Turin.
While Eusebius was adopting the cause of the sancta plebs of Vercelli, he lived a monk’s life in the heart of the city, opening the city to God. This trait, though, in no way diminished his exemplary pastoral dynamism. It seems among other things that he set up parishes in Vercelli for an orderly and stable ecclesial service and promoted Marian shrines for the conversion of the pagan populations in the countryside. This “monastic feature”, however, conferred a special dimension on the Bishop’s relationship with his hometown. Just like the Apostles, for whom Jesus prayed at his Last Supper, the Pastors and faithful of the Church “are of the world” (Jn 17: 11), but not “in the world”. Therefore, Pastors, Eusebius said, must urge the faithful not to consider the cities of the world as their permanent dwelling place but to seek the future city, the definitive heavenly Jerusalem. This “eschatological reserve” enables Pastors and faithful to preserve the proper scale of values without ever submitting to the fashions of the moment and the unjust claims of the current political power. The authentic scale of values - Eusebius’ whole life seems to say - does not come from emperors of the past or of today but from Jesus Christ, the perfect Man, equal to the Father in divinity, yet a man like us. In referring to this scale of values, Eusebius never tired of “warmly recommending” his faithful “to jealously guard the faith, to preserve harmony, to be assiduous in prayer” (Second Letter, op. cit.).
Dear friends, I too warmly recommend these perennial values to you as I greet and bless you, using the very words with which the holy Bishop Eusebius concluded his Second Letter: “I address you all, my holy brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, faithful of both sexes and of every age group, so that you may... bring our greeting also to those who are outside the Church, yet deign to nourish sentiments of love for us.”’
Pope Benedict XVI
Lead us, O Lord God, to imitate the constancy of Saint Eusebius in affirming the divinity of thy Son: that, by preserving the faith he taught as thy Bishop, we may merit a share in the very life of the same Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen. - Divine Worship: The Missal.
Fr Lee Kenyon
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