Saint of the Day – 2 August – Saint Eusebius of Vercelli (c 283-371) Bishop, Confessor, Founder of monasticism in his region – born in c 283 at Sardinia and died on 1 August 371 in Vercelli, Italy. Patronages – Congregation of the Daughters of Saint Eusebius, Berzo Demo, Italy, Piedmont, Italy, Vercelli, Italy.
Saint Eusebius was born of a noble family on the island of Sardinia, where his father is said to have died in prison for the Faith. He was brought up in Rome in the practice of piety and studied in Vercelli, a city of Piedmont. Eusebius was ordained a priest there and served the Church of Vercelli with such zeal that when the episcopal chair became vacant he was unanimously chosen, by both clergy and people, to fill it.
The holy bishop saw that the best and principal means to labour effectually for the edification and sanctification of his people, was to have a zealous clergy. Saint Ambrose assures us that he was the first bishop who in the West, united the monastic life with the clerical, living and having his clergy live almost like the monks of the East in the deserts. They shared a common life of prayer and penance, in a single residence, that of the bishop, as did the clergy of Saint Augustine in his African see. For this reason, the Canons Regular of St Augustine, honour him along with Augustine as their founder.
Saint Eusebius was very careful to instruct his flock in the maxims of the Gospel. The force of the truth which he preached, together with his example, brought many sinners to a change of life.
When a Council was held in Italy, under the influence of the Emperor Constans and the Arian heretics, with the intention of condemning Saint Athanasius (297-373), bishop of Alexandria and Doctor of the Church, St Eusebius courageously resisted the heretics. He attempted to have all present sign the Nicene Creed but the paper was torn out of his hands and his pen was broken. With St Dionysus of Milan, he refused to sign the condemnation of the bishop of Alexandria. The Emperor therefore had him banished to Scythopolis in Palestine with St Dionysus of Milan, then to Cappadocia, where St Dionysus died and finally, he was taken to the Upper Thebaid in Egypt, where he suffered grievously. The Arians of these places loaded him with outrages and treated him cruelly and St Eusebius confounded them, wherever they were.
At the death of Constans in 361, he was permitted to return to his diocese, where he continued to combat Arianism, with St Hilary of Poitiers (315-368) another Doctor of the Church. Two of his letters, written from his dungeons, are still extant, as well as a part of the Codex which is believed to be by him, have survived. One of the letters is addressed to his church, the other to the bishop of Elvira to encourage him to oppose a fallen heretic and not fear the power of princes.
Although in the middle ages he was sometimes referred to as a martyr, due primarily to two panegyrics appended to the works of Saint Ambrose, this was more to honour the sufferings he endured in standing up for his faith. Later legends of his martyrdom, have no historical basis.
In a General Audience in October 2007, Pope Benedict XVI observed:
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….
He died in 371. His relics are in a shrine in the Cathedral of Vercelli which is dedicated to him. The Statue below is on the Colonnade at St Peter’s, in the Vatican.