Lives of the Saints

Our Models and Protectors

December 16
  August 2

Saint Eusebius of Vercelli

Bishop
(† 370)

Saint Eusebius of Vercelli
Saint Eusebius of Vercelli

Saint Eusebius was born of a noble family on the island of Sardinia, where his father is said to have died in prison for the Faith. He was brought up in Rome in the practice of piety, and studied in Vercelli, a city of Piedmont. Eusebius was ordained a priest there, and served the Church of Vercelli with such zeal that when the episcopal chair became vacant he was unanimously chosen, by both clergy and people, to fill it.

The holy bishop saw that the best and principal means to labor effectually for the edification and sanctification of his people was to have a zealous clergy. Saint Ambrose assures us that he was the first bishop who in the West united the monastic life with the clerical, living and having his clergy live almost like the monks of the East in the deserts. They shared a common life of prayer and penance, in a single residence, that of the bishop, as did the clergy of Saint Augustine in his African see. Saint Eusebius was very careful to instruct his flock in the maxims of the Gospel. The force of the truth which he preached, together with his example, brought many sinners to a change of life.

When a Council was held in Italy, under the influence of the Emperor Constans and the Arian heretics, with the intention of condemning Saint Athanasius, bishop of Alexandria, Saint Eusebius courageously resisted the heretics. He attempted to have all present sign the Nicene Creed, but the paper was torn out of his hands and his pen was broken. With Saint Dionysus of Milan, he refused to sign the condemnation of the bishop of Alexandria. The Emperor therefore had him banished to Scythopolis in Palestine with Saint Dionysus of Milan, then to Cappadocia, where Saint Dionysus died; and finally he was taken to the Upper Thebaid in Egypt, where he suffered grievously. The Arians of these places loaded him with outrages and treated him cruelly, and Saint Eusebius confounded them wherever they were.

At the death of Constans in 361, he was permitted to return to his diocese, where he continued to combat Arianism, concertedly with Saint Hilarion of Poitiers. He has been called a martyr in two panegyrics appended to the works of Saint Ambrose. Two of his letters, written from his dungeons, are still extant, the only ones of his writings which have survived. One is addressed to his church, the other to the bishop of Elvira to encourage him to oppose a fallen heretic and not fear the power of princes. He died in about the year 370. His relics are in a shrine in the Cathedral of Vercelli.

Little Pictorial Lives of the Saints, a compilation based on Butler's Lives of the Saints and other sources, by John Gilmary Shea (Benziger Brothers: New York, 1894); Les Petits Bollandistes: Vies des Saints, by Msgr. Paul Guérin (Bloud et Barral: Paris, 1882), Vol. 14