Eusebius of Nicomedia

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Eusebius of Nicomedia was initially bishop of Berytus (modern day Beirut) in Phoenicia. He later became Bishop of Nicomedia before finally becoming Archbishop of Constantinople. He was a heretic, a supporter of Arius, who used his influence among the members of the family of Constantine the Great to further the Arian position as well as his personal esteem.

Life

Little is known of the early life of Eusebius. His date and place of birth are not known. He appeared to have been distantly related to the family of Emperor Constantine. It was from his access and influence at the court that Eusebius derived his power in the Church. He enjoyed the confidence of Constantine and his son and successor Constantius II. He was the tutor of Julian the Apostate, who was emperor for two years after Constantius II. It was Eusebius who baptized Constantine in May 337.

Eusebius was a pupil of Lucian the Martyr, in whose school Eusebius learned the doctrines that came to be called Arianism. He became Bishop of Berytus but managed to get a transfer to the See of Nicomedia, which was the residence of the Eastern Emperor Licinius. In Nicomedia he was well favored by Licinius’ wife Constantia, who was the sister of Constantine.

Arius, after his condemnation by Alexander of Alexandria, took refuge at Caesarea and asked for and received support from Eusebius, whom Arius noted as a “fellow Lucianist.” Arius had also been a pupil of Lucian. Eusebius, taking the lead, wrote many letters supporting Arius. In response to these letters, Alexander sent letters to many bishops warning them of the heresy taught by Arius and Eusebius. In backing Arius, Eusebius convened a council of bishops in his province asking them to support Arius and to influence Alexander to support Arius. This council authorized Arius to return to the church in Alexandria.

After Constantine defeated Licinius in 323, he turned his attention to the doctrinal dispute within the Church. Constantine tried to achieve an understanding between the parties but found this not possible. Then, following the example of the “general” council at Arles that met to settle the case of the Donatists, Constantine summoned a council of the bishops from all his dominions to settle the dispute over Arianism. The council, which became known as the First Ecumenical Council, met in Nicea in 325. At the council Eusebius and his friends put forward an Arian confession of faith. However, it was not well received, with only seventeen supporters among the over three hundred bishops attending the council.

Although resisted strongly by the Arians, a creed was adopted eventually. Eusebius of Nicomedia was among the bishops who signed the Nicene Creed, although he did not agree to the condemnation of Arius, whom Eusebius considered as having been misrepresented. Eusebius continued to preach the Arian view after the council, to the displeasure of the emperor. As a result several months after the council Constantine exiled Eusebius and Arius, Also, he sent Theognis, Bishop of Nicea, into exile accusing him of supporting Licinius.

However, by 328, Eusebius, as well as Arius, was back from exile, perhaps through the intervention of Constantia, Licinius' widow. By 329, he was again in the good graces of the emperor. While at the imperial court, Eusebius increased his popularity with the members of the imperial family.

With his return, Eusebius became the leader of a group whose object was to undo the work at the Nicene council and to secure a victory for Arianism. The group explained away Arius’ position by saying that Arius had overemphasized his words (for which Arius repented) or that he was misunderstood. Claiming it ambiguous, they dropped use of the Nicene formula and played on the goodwill of bishops who wanted to stay in Constantine’s good graces. Eusebius also formed alliances with other kindred groups, such as the Meletians, and worked to expel many of his opponents.

Those whom he was able to get removed included his three major opponents at the Nicene Council: Eustathius of Antioch was deposed and exiled in 330, followed by Athanasius, who was exiled to Treves in 335, and Marcellus of Ancyra in 336. The banishment of Athanasius came after a series of synods and events largely attended and controlled by Arian prelates. These attempts were orchestrated by Eusebius to discredit Athanasius and return Arians to positions of authority in the church, but were largely unsuccessful. Finally, in front of Constantine, Athanasius was confronted with reports, which he was not allowed to refute, that he threatened to delay shipments of corn (wheat) from Alexandria to Constantinople. Constantinople depended for its food upon the corn from Egypt. Enraged Constantine banished Athanasius.

As bishop of the area of Constantine’s residence, Eusebius baptized Constantine in May 337. The baptism occurred only a few days before Constantine died on May 22, 337. With Constantine’s death, the twenty year old Constantius II became emperor of the East. While not a confirmed Arian, Constantius fell under the intrigues of Eusebius, who played up to the emperor while favoring Arian policies. In 339, having strengthened his position with the emperor and through his intrigues at the court, Eusibius engineered his appointment as Archbishop of Constantinople by expelling Paul I of Constantinople.

Whether Eusebius believed fully in Arianism may be open to question, but clearly his politics were of self-aggrandizement as he used intrigues within the imperial court to gain the position of archbishop of the imperial capital. He died at the top of his world in 341. He was the bishop of the imperial city, Constantinople, with his enemies banished, bishops of his choice in the sees of Alexandria and Antioch, and the young emperor, Constantius II, following his counsels.

Succession box:
Eusebius of Nicomedia
Preceded by:
Paul I
Archbishop of Constantinople
339-341
Succeeded by:
Paul I
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