This is an occasional series of readings from and brief notes and commentary upon Eusebius of Caesarea’s The Ecclesiastical History: Book 9, chapter 8.
Notes and Commentary:
This chapter describes a time of famine, plague, and war that came after the renewal of persecution of the Christians under the tyrant Maximin.
First, there was a drought that led to an unexpected famine and after that a plague. Eusebius says the plague came in the form of a fiery ulcer, which he describes as an anthrax. It especially attacked the eyes and blinded many.
In addition to famine and plague there was also war, as the tyrant attacked the Armenians, formerly ancient allies of the Romans who had embraced Christianity.
Eusebius sees all these events as divine retribution against the boasting of the tyrant against God and the faith, since he had claimed that his worship of the gods would protect him from such calamities.
The population greatly suffered during this time with widespread starvation due to the famine. Dead bodies piled up in the marketplaces and alleys.
The plague came on top of this so that in every place was “full of lamentations.” Funerals were constantly held, with burials carried out for two or three at a time.
So through the “two weapons”, famine and pestilence, death was visited on many.
What is more, during this time, the Christians once again distinguished themselves from the pagans by their exercise of “sympathy and humanity.” They cared for the dead and dying and shared their bread with others, so that even the pagans took notice and “glorified the God of the Christians.”
Again, Eusebius sees all this as the providential hand of God. From a thick darkness, “the heavenly Champion of the Christians” caused “the light of peace” to shine upon them.
Eusebius in this chapter not only describes the further sufferings that came in the wake of the renewal of persecution but interprets these events as divine judgment on the persecutors. It is noteworthy that Eusebius says the Christians were particularly praised for their ethics. Soon the suffering would end and Christianity would be embraced and triumph in the Roman world.