Monday, January 13, 2020

Eusebius, EH.6.4-5: Origen and the Alexandrian Martyrs

This is an occasional series of readings from and brief notes and commentary upon Eusebius of Caesarea’s The Ecclesiastical HistoryBook 6, chapters 4-5. Listen here.

Notes and Commentary:

These two chapters expand on the note at the end of 6:3, which referred to those instructed by Origen who suffered martyrdom.

Chapter 4 begins the list:

First, there was Plutarch, whom Origen himself had comforted on his way to death, risking his own life.

Second, Serenus, who  proved his faith “through fire.”

Third, Heraclitus, a catechumen.

Fourth, Hero, one newly baptized.

Both Heraclitus and Hero were beheaded.

Fifth, another man named Serenus, tortured and then beheaded.

Sixth Herais, a woman preparing for baptism, but who, Origen said, received “baptism by fire.”

Chapter 5 continues the list:

Seventh mentioned is Basilides. Basilides was a soldier who led “the famous” beautiful, virtuous, chaste, young Christian maid Potamiaena to her death. She was tortured by having boiling pitch slowly poured over her body. Then she and her mother, Marcella, were both “perfected by fire.”

Basilides testified that three days after her martyrdom, Potamiaena appeared to him, wreathing his head with a crown. Thereafter he confessed himself a Christian and was beheaded.


These chapters continue both the admiring presentation of Origen and the glory of the martyrs. Origen’s distinction is demonstrated, in part, by the zeal he instilled in his students for faithful in martyrdom. The conversion of Basilides offers an early trope of the persecutor, who is converted by the witness of the martyr (going back perhaps even to NT itself and the conversion of Saul, as a persecutor of the church, in Acts 9).


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