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.