Most people who know a bit about Christian history know that the Emperor Constantine the Great recognized Christianity with the Edict of Milan in 313 AD (even though he only converted close to his death in 337 AD).
Recognition of a religion and acceptance of it and a universally recognized version of it are quite different animals. Many of the early Roman converts became Christian for more political reasons rather than convictions of faith. Some tried to recreate it in the most favorable terms for themselves.
One of the major conflicts in the early Church was called the Arian Heresy, which claimed that Jesus was not God. The Arians were powerful people, including nobles, generals and emperors. They commanded armies and senates. True Christianity was in real danger of being stamped out once again. Into this theater we introduce today’s saint, Eusebius of Vercelli.
Eusebius was born in Sardinia and witnessed the cruelty of persecution when his father was martyred for his Christian faith. After his father’s death, he moved to Rome, eventually being ordained as lector. As he moved up in the clergy, his virtues were recognized he was elected by the people as the first bishop of Vercelli (in the northwestern region of Italy called Piemonte). His good work did not go unnoticed by Pope Liberius, who chose Eusebius to represent the papacy in a meeting with the emperor Constantius and the Arians.
The powerful Arians were determined to force their own will on the others. A horrified Eusebius watched as his worst fears were confirmed and the Arians made this peace council into a condemnation of St. Athanasius, their chief opponent. Eusebius, unafraid of their power, slapped the Nicene Creed down on the table and demanded that everyone sign that before condemning Athanasius.
The Nicene Creed, adopted by a council of the full Church, proclaims that Jesus is one in being with the Father — directly contradicting the Arian teaching. Even the emperor tried to force Eusebius, St. Dionysius of Milan and Lucifer of Cagliari to condemn Athanasius under pain of death. They steadfastly refused to condemn a man who far from being a heretic was supporting the truth. Instead of putting them to death, the emperor exiled them.
While in exile in Palestine, local Arians stripped him half naked and dragged him through the streets to a tiny cell. The Arians finally let him go after he spent four days without food. But a few weeks later they were back, breaking into his house, stealing his belongings and food, and imprisoning him again.
Eusebius was exiled to two other places before Constantius’ successor, Julian, let him return home in 361. The problem was not over, and Eusebius spent his last years working hard to counteract the damage the Arians had done and continued to do. After working with Athanasius and taking part in councils, he became a latter-day St. Paul traveling all over in order to strengthen the faith and spread the truth.
Adapted by A.J. Valentini