Dictionary of Christian Biography and Literature to the End of the Sixth Century/Eusebius, bishop of Rome
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Eusebius, bishop of Rome
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Eusebius (1), succeeded Marcellus as bp. of Rome, a.d. 309 or 310. He was banished by Maxentius to Sicily, where he died after a pontificate of four months (Apr. 18 to Aug. 17). His body was brought back to Rome, and buried in the cemetery of Callistus on the Appian Way. Hardly anything was known with certainty about this bishop till the discoveries of de Rossi in the catacombs. That he was buried in the cemetery of Callistus rested on the authority of the Liberian Deposit. Episc. and the Felician catalogue. But ancient itineraries, written by persons who had visited these tombs, described his resting-place as not being the papal crypt in that cemetery, where all the popes (with two exceptions) since Pontianus had been laid, but in a separate one some distance from it. De Rossi found this crypt, and therein discovered, in 1852 and 1856, fragments of the inscription placed by pope Damasus over the grave, and known from copies taken before the closing of the catacombs. But it was previously uncertain whether it referred to Eusebius the pope or to some other Eusebius. All such doubt was now set at rest by the discovery, in the crypt referred to, of 46 fragments of a slab bearing a copy of the original inscription, and of the original slab, identified by the peculiar characters of Damasine inscriptions. The inscription is as follows:—
"Damasus Episcopus feci.
Heraclius vetuit lapsos peccata dolere
Eusebius miseros docuit sua crimina flere
Scinditur in partes populus gliscente furore
Seditio caedes bellum discordia lites
Extemplo pariter pulsi feritate tyranni
Integra cum rector servaret foedera pacis
Pertulit exilium domino sub judice laetus
Litore Trinacrio mundum vitamque reliquit.
Eusebio Episcopo et martyri."
We thus have revealed a state of things at Rome of which no other record has been preserved. It would seem that, on the cessation of Diocletian’s persecution, the church there was rent into two parties on the subject of the terms of readmission of the lapsed to communion: that one Heraclius headed a party who were for readmission without the penitential discipline insisted on by Eusebius; that the consequent tumults and bloodshed caused "the tyrant" Maxentius to interpose and banish the leaders of both factions; and that Eusebius, dying during his exile in Sicily, thus obtained the name of martyr. It appears further, from the similar Damasine inscription on Marcellus, that the contest had begun before the accession of Eusebius, who, like Marcellus, had required penance from the lapsi. [Marcellus (3).] The way in which the name of Heraclius occurs in the inscription on Eusebius suggests that he may have been elected as an antipope (so Lipsius, Chronologie der römischen Bischöfe). At any rate, the subject of dispute was the same as had led to the first election of an antipope, viz. Novatian, after the Decian persecution, some 50 years before; though on the earlier occasion the question was whether the lapsi were to be readmitted to communion at all or not, the schismatics being on the side of severity; on the later occasion the question was only about the conditions of their readmission, the dissentients being on the side of laxity. In both instances the church of Rome, as represented by her lawful bishops, seems to have held a consistent and judicious course.