« Soter, bp. of Rome Sozomen, author of a history Spyridon, bp. of Trimithus »

Sozomen, author of a history

Sozomen, author of a well-known Ecclesiastical History, born c. 400. In his book Sozomen has some notices of his birth and of his bringing up (v. 15). His family belonged to Bethelia, a small town near Gaza in Palestine, where his grandfather had been one of the first to embrace Christianity. Thus Sozomen was nurtured amidst Christian influences. He tells us (l.c.) that his grandfather was endowed with great natural ability, which he consecrated especially to the study of the sacred Scriptures, that he was much beloved by the Christians of those parts, who looked to him for explanations of the word of God and the unloosing of its difficulties. Sozomen came to the writing of ecclesiastical history in no spirit of indifference. He believed in Christianity, and even in the more ascetic forms of it, with a genuine faith, "for I would neither," he says, "be considered ungracious, and willing to consign their virtue [that of the monks] to oblivion, nor yet be thought ignorant of their history; but I would wish to leave behind me such a record of their manner of life that others, led by their example, might attain to a blessed and happy end" (i. 1).

He was probably educated at fast in Bethelia or Gaza, for some memories of his youth are connected with Gaza (vii. 28). Thence 915he seems to have gone to Berytus, a city of Phoenicia, to be trained in civil law at its famous school. His education finished, he proceeded to Constantinople, and there entered on his profession (ii. 3).

While thus engaged he formed the plan of his Ecclesiastical History (ii. 3), being attracted to the subject both by his own taste and the example of Eusebius. It appeared in 9 books, extending over the years 323–439, and was dedicated to Theodosius the Younger. It thus covers the same period as that of Socrates, and as both were written about the same time and have many resemblances, the question arises as to which was the original and which not unfrequently the copyist. Valesius, upon apparently good grounds, decides against Sozomen, although allowing that he often adds to and corrects his authority. Like Socrates, Sozomen is habitually trustworthy, and a conscientious and serious writer. In his account of the council of Nicaea, which may be taken as a favourable specimen of his work as a whole, he seems to have drawn from the best sources, to have proceeded with care, and to have made a sufficiently good choice among the apocryphal traditions and innumerable legends which in the 5th cent. obscured the reports of this great council (cf. De Broglie, iv. siècle, ii. 431). But he inserted in his history not a little that is trifling and superstitious. In style he is generally allowed to be superior, but in judgment inferior, to Socrates.

His History is especially valuable for its accounts of the monks, which, though by an admirer, are not therefore to be despised, or we should be equally entitled to set aside accounts by their detractors. It is impossible to read his repeated notices of the monastic institutions of his time or his long account of their manners and customs (i. 12), without feeling that here are statements as to the nature and influence of monasticism which cannot be set aside. He also gives not a few important particulars concerning both the events and men of the time covered by it, particularly of the council of Nicaea, the persecutions, the general progress of the gospel, the conversion of Constantine, the history of Julian, the illustrious Athanasius, and many bishops and martyrs of the age; and also a number of original documents.

The best ed., by Valesius, appeared at Paris in 1668, and was followed by one, with the notes of Valesius, at Cambridge, in 1720. The ed. of Hussey (Oxf. 1860) also deserves mention. An Eng. trans. in Bohn's Eccl. Lib. (1855) deserves high commendation; another was pub. by Baxter in 1847; and there is one in the Lib. of Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers.


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