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§ 204. Eusebius, Lactantius, Hosius.
On Eusebius see vol. III. 871–879—Add to Lit. the exhaustive article of Bp. Lightfoot in Smith and Wace, II. (1880), p. 308–348; Dr. Salmon, on the Chron. of Eus. ibid. 354–355; and Semisch in Herzog2 IV. 390–398.
On Lactantius see vol. III. 955–959.—Add to Lit. Ebert: Gesch. der christl. lat. Lit. I. (1874), p. 70–86; and his art. in Herzog2 VIII. 364–366; and E. S. Ffoulkes in Smith and Wace III. 613–617.
On Hosius, see § 55 p. 179 sqq.; and vol. III. 627, 635, 636.—Add to Lit. P. Bonif. Gams (R.C.): Kirchengesch. v. Spanien, Regensb. 1862 sqq, , Bd II. 137–309 (the greater part of the second vol. is given to Hosius); W. Möller in Herzog2 VI. 326–328; and T. D. C. Morse in Smith and Wace III. 162–174.
At the close of our period we meet with three representative divines, in close connection with the first Christian emperor who effected the politico-ecclesiastical revolution known as the union of church and state. Their public life and labors belong to the next period, but must at least be briefly foreshadowed here.
Eusebius, the historian, Lactantius, the rhetorician, and Hosius, the statesman, form the connecting links between the ante-Nicene and Nicene ages; their long lives—two died octogenarians, Hosius a centenarian—are almost equally divided between the two; and they reflect the lights and shades of both.15921592 Eusebius died a.d. 340; Lactantius between 320 and 330; Hosius between 357 and 360.593 Eusebius was bishop of Caesarea and a man of extensive and useful learning, and a liberal theologian; Lactantius, a professor of eloquence in Nicomedia, and a man of elegant culture; Hosius, bishop of Cordova and a man of counsel and action.15931593 Hosius left no literary work. The only document we have from his pen is his letter to the Arian Emperor Constantius, preserved by Athanasius (Hist. Arian. 44). See Gains, l.c. II. 215 sqq. It begins with this noble sentence: "I was a confessor of the faith long before your grandfather Maximian persecuted the church. If you persecute me, I am ready to suffer all rather than to shed innocent blood and to betray the truth." Unfortunately, in his extreme old age he yielded under the infliction of physical violence, and subscribed an Arian creed, but bitterly repented before his death. Athanasius expressly says (l. c. 45), that "at the approach of death, as it were by his last testament, he abjured the Arian heresy, and gave strict charge that no one should receive it." It is a disputed point whether he died at Sirmium in 357, or was permitted to return to Spain, and died there about 359 or 360. We are only informed that he was over a hundred years old, and over sixty years a bishop. Athan. l.c.; Sulpicius Severus, Hist. II. 55.594 They thus respectively represented the Holy Land, Asia Minor, and Spain; we may add Italy and North Africa, for Lactantius was probably a native Italian and a pupil of Arnobius of Sicca, and Hosius acted to some extent for the whole western church in Eastern Councils. With him Spain first emerges from the twilight of legend to the daylight of church history; it was the border land of the west which Paul perhaps had visited, which had given the philosopher Seneca and the emperor Trajan to heathen Rome, and was to furnish in Theodosius the Great the strong defender of the Nicene faith.
Eusebius, Lactantius, and Hosius were witnesses of the cruelties of the Diocletian persecution, and hailed the reign of imperial patronage. They carried the moral forces of the age of martyrdom into the age of victory. Eusebius with his literary industry saved for us the invaluable monuments of the first three centuries down to the Nicene Council; Lactantius bequeathed to posterity, in Ciceronian Latin, an exposition and vindication of the Christian religion against the waning idolatry of Greece and Rome, and the tragic memories of the imperial persecutors; Hosius was the presiding genius of the synods of Elvira (306), Nicaea (325), and Sardica (347), the friend of Athanasius in the defense of orthodoxy and in exile.
All three were intimately associated with Constantine the Great, Eusebius as his friend and eulogist, Lactantius as the tutor of his eldest son, Hosius as his trusted counsellor who probably suggested to him the idea of convening the first Œcumenical synod; he was we may say for a few years his ecclesiastical prime minister. They were, each in his way, the emperor’s chief advisers and helpers in that great change which gave to the religion of the cross the moral control over the vast empire of Rome. The victory was well deserved by three hundred years of unjust persecution and heroic endurance, but it was fraught with trials and temptations no less dangerous to the purity and peace of the church than fire and sword.
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