Letter from Prison

Dearly beloved, I know now that you are safe, as I was hoping, and I felt that I had paid you a visit, by being suddenly transported over the face of the earth like Habakkuk, when the angel brought him to Daniel. When I receive a letter from one of you and see in your writings your goodness and love, joy mingles with tears, and my desire to continue reading is checked by my weeping. Both emotions are inescapable, as they vie with each other in discharging their duty of affection, when such a letter satisfies my longing for you.

Days pass in this way as I imagine myself in conversation with you, and so I forget my past sufferings. Consolations surround me on all sides: your firm faith, your love, your good works. In the midst of so many great blessings I soon imagine myself in your company, in exile no longer.

Dearly beloved, I rejoice in your faith, in the salvation that comes from faith, in your good works, which are not confined to your own surroundings but spread far and wide. Like a farmer tending a sound tree, untouched by axe or fire because of its fruit, I want not only to serve you in the body, good people that you are, but also to give my life for your well-being.

Somehow or other I have managed with difficulty to complete this letter. I asked God constantly to keep the guards away hour by hour, and to allow the deacon to bring you some kind of greeting in writing, not simply news of my suffering. So I beg you to keep the faith with all vigilance, to preserve harmony, to be earnest in prayer, to remember me always, so that the Lord may grant freedom to his Church which is suffering throughout the world, and that I may be set free from the sufferings that weigh upon me, and so be able to rejoice with you.

I also ask and beseech you in God’s mercy, that each one of you should add his own name to the greeting in this letter. Of necessity I cannot write to each of you as was my custom. So in this letter I ask you all – brothers and holy sisters, sons and daughters, men and women, old and young – to be content with this greeting and to be good enough to give my respectful good wishes to those who are outside the community and are kind enough to be my friends.

In a period when the government of the Roman Empire is commonly thought to have been Christian, Eusebius, bishop of Vercelli, was imprisoned and exiled for his faith in the full Divinity of Jesus Christ. As such, he was numbered as a “confessor,” one who faithfully confessed the Catholic faith in the face of persecution. Eusebius died in 371 AD, and his liturgical feast day is August 2. The following is an excerpt from a letter by Eusebius of Vercelli (Epist. 2, 1, 3-2, 3, 10, 1-11, 1: CCL 9, 104-105, 109) written from prison and is used in the Roman Office of readings on the liturgical memorial of St. Eusebius on August 2.

 

Eusebius of Vercelli, St.

St. Eusebius of Vercelli was born on the island of Sardinia in the early fourth century AD, just about the time that Constantine ended the persecution of the Christians. Eusebius became the first bishop of Vercelli in 340AD and worked to establish monastic life in his new diocese. He struggled ceaselessly against the Arian heretics who denied the full divinity of Jesus Christ. St. Eusebius was exiled to the Eastern Mediterranean for his Christological views by the emperor Constantius, but returned to the West around 363 where he lived and wrote until his death in 371. Only a few works of this Early Church Father survive till the present day, some of them customarily ascribed to others.