Eusebius of Nicomedia

views updated


Fourth-century bishop, leader of the anti-Nicene reaction; d. c. 341. Probably a native of Syria, Eusebius studied with the future heretic arius under lucian of antioch; he was first made bishop of Berytus in Phoenicia, then promoted to the metropolitan see of Nicomedia (c. 318), where he gained high favor at the court of the Emperor Licinius. He actively supported Arius against alexander, Patriarch of Alexandria, and was responsible for the rapid spread of the Arian conflict. Eusebius welcomed Arius after Arius's first condemnation, wrote numerous letters to fellow bishops in Arius's defense, and held a synod in Bithynia that nullified Arius's excommunication.

In 324, when constantine i defeated Licinius and entered Nicomedia, Eusebius escaped reprisals through the protection of Constantia, wife of Licinius and sister of Constantine. The tone of the Emperor's letter to Bishop Alexander and Arius indicates that his information on the Arian controversy came from Eusebius. At the Council of nicaea i (325) Eusebius acted as spokesman for the Arian faction; Athanasius constantly referred to it as "Eusebius and his fellows." A document composed by Eusebius was read at the council, causing great indignation among the Fathers. When the Nicene Creed was proposed, he rejected the term homoousios, but in the end he signed the creedal statement under pressure from Constantine.

About three months later, according to Philostorgius, Eusebius disavowed his signature and was immediately exiled to Gaul by the Emperor. In 328, having presented a retraction, he was recalled from exile and restored to his see, perhaps by a second assemblage (328) of the Council of Nicaea. He regained his influence at the court and assumed the leadership of a widespread reaction against the Nicene Council and Creed (328341). Eusebius tried at first to remove the most powerful leaders of the Nicene party. Thus (c. 330), eustathius of antioch was condemned and deposed by a synod held in Antioch. About the same time (or in 336), marcellus of ancyra, under accusation of sabellianism, met with the same fate. But Eusebius's main adversary, athanasius of alexandria, who had succeeded Alexander in 328, proved difficult to eliminate. Twice he managed to vindicate himself from accusations brought before Constantine; but in 335 the Synod of Tyr, at Eusebius' instigation, condemned Athanasius; he was deposed and sent into exile to Gaul.

Eusebius baptized Constantine at Nicomedia shortly before the Emperor's death in 337. He retained his prominent position under Constantius II and obtained the see of Constantinople, the imperial city from 330. His last known action was to preside over the Dedication Council of antioch in 341; he died soon afterward. Eusebius left no major writings; three of his letters have been preserved.

Bibliography: athanasius, Werke, ed. h. g. opitz, v. 3.1 (Berlin 1934) 1517, 6566, letters. a. lichtenstein, Eusebius von Nikomedien (Halle 1903). g. bardy, Recherches sur St. Lucien d'Antioche et son école (Paris 1936) 296315. g. bareille, Dictionnaire de théologie catholique (Paris 190350) 5.2:153951. j. quasten, Patrology 3:190193. m. spanneut, Dictionnaire d'histoire et de géographie ecclésiastiques (Paris 1912) 15:146671.

[v. c. de clercq]