Eusebius, referred to as Eusebius of Caesarea, was the first and most prominent historian of early Christianity. He lived most of his life in Caesarea Maritima. He was also known as Eusebius Pamphili, taking the surname from his friend and mentor Pamphilus of Caesarea, whose expansive library—founded by Origen—provided Eusebius with historical records for his later works. Eusebius fled to the Egyptian desert following the martyrdom of Pamphilus during the persecutions under Diocletian, but was arrested and imprisoned. After his release, Eusebius became bishop of Caesarea, around 313 or 314. As a supporter of Arius and the leader of the Origenist Semi-Arians, the middle party in the Arian conflict over the theological issue of whether belief in Christ as being fully God could be reconciled with strict monotheism, Eusebius held that the nature of the Trinity could not be rationally understood. He was excommunicated by the synod of Antioch for this view; however, he was later exonerated by the emperor Constantine I. Eusebius played a role in the council of Nicaea in 325, where he tried to reconcile the opposing parties while repudiating extreme Arianism.
Appointed under Constantine as court historian, Eusebius wrote both religious and secular histories, as well as several Christian apologies. He was an immensely prolific writer, although his treatments of some issues are inadequate and his historical accounts are often selective and difficult to distinguish from apologetics; some have denounced him as dishonest, though his works are nevertheless of great value, preserving in excerpts many sources that would have otherwise been lost. Eusebius was the author of the Chronicon, a history of the world from the famous peoples of antiquity to the year 303 (later continued to 325), and the Historia Ecclesiastica, a history of the Church from its beginning up to the year 324, as well as many apologetic, exegetical, and dogmatic works. The Ecclesiastical History is the first major attempt to explain the relationship of Christianity and the Roman Empire; its approach in describing the development of the church is primarily historical, and it has been described as both a political theology and a theology of history.
In Book 2 of the Ecclesiastical History, Eusebius narrates the suicide of a woman of Antioch—by legend, St. Pelagia—and her two daughters who, to avoid sexual violation by the Roman soldiers guarding them, ended their lives by throwing themselves into a river. This account occurs among reports of other martyrs who endured extraordinary suffering without resorting to suicide and, as does the more celebratory account of the self-drowning of Pelagia later given by Ambrose [q.v.], implicitly recognizes the challenges in distinguishing between suicide and genuine martyrdom among Christians who did kill themselves to avoid violence.
The Church History of Eusebius, Book 8, ch. 12, tr. Rev. Arthur Cushman McGiffert. From Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, Philip Schaff, ed., New York: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1890, Vol. I: Eusebius Pamphilus. Available online from the Christian Classics Ethereal Library.
from ECCLESIASTICAL HISTORY
Many Others, both Men and Women, who suffered in Various Ways
Why need we mention the rest by name, or number the multitude of the men, or picture the various sufferings of the admirable martyrs of Christ? Some of them were slain with the axe, as in Arabia. The limbs of some were broken, as in Cappadocia. Some, raised on high by the feet, with their heads down, while a gentle fire burned beneath them, were suffocated by the smoke which arose from the burning wood, as was done in Mesopotamia. Others were mutilated by cutting off their noses and ears and hands, and cutting to pieces the other members and parts of their bodies, as in Alexandria.
Why need we revive the recollection of those in Antioch who were roasted on grates, not so as to kill them, but so as to subject them to a lingering punishment? Or of others who preferred to thrust their right hand into the fire rather than touch the impious sacrifice? Some, shrinking from the trial, rather than be taken and fall into the hands of their enemies, threw themselves from lofty houses, considering death preferable to the cruelty of the impious.
A certain holy person,—in soul admirable for virtue, in body a woman,—who was illustrious beyond all in Antioch for wealth and family and reputation, had brought up in the principles of religion her two daughters, who were now in the freshness and bloom of life. Since great envy was excited on their account, every means was used to find them in their concealment; and when it was ascertained that they were away, they were summoned deceitfully to Antioch. Thus they were caught in the nets of the soldiers. When the woman saw herself and her daughters thus helpless, and knew the things terrible to speak of that men would do to them,—and the most unbearable of all terrible things, the threatened violation of their chastity,—she exhorted herself and the maidens that they ought not to submit even to hear of this. For, she said, that to surrender their souls to the slavery of demons was worse than all deaths and destruction; and she set before them the only deliverance from all these things,—escape to Christ.
They then listened to her advice. And after arranging their garments suitably, they went aside from the middle of the road, having requested of the guards a little time for retirement, and cast themselves into a river which was flowing by.
Thus they destroyed themselves. But there were two other virgins in the same city of Antioch who served God in all things, and were true sisters, illustrious in family and distinguished in life, young and blooming, serious in mind, pious in deportment, and admirable for zeal. As if the earth could not bear such excellence, the worshipers of demons commanded to cast them into the sea. And this was done to them.
In Pontus, others endured sufferings horrible to hear. Their fingers were pierced with sharp reeds under their nails. Melted lead, bubbling and boiling with the heat, was poured down the backs of others, and they were roasted in the most sensitive parts of the body.
Others endured on their bowels and privy members shameful and inhuman and unmentionable torments, which the noble and law-observing judges, to show their severity, devised, as more honorable manifestations of wisdom. And new tortures were continually invented, as if they were endeavoring, by surpassing one another, to gain prizes in a contest.
But at the close of these calamities, when finally they could contrive no greater cruelties, and were weary of putting to death, and were filled and satiated with the shedding of blood, they turned to what they considered merciful and humane treatment, so that they seemed to be no longer devising terrible things against us.
For they said that it was not fitting that the cities should be polluted with the blood of their own people, or that the government of their rulers, which was kind and mild toward all, should be defamed through excessive cruelty; but that rather the beneficence of the humane and royal authority should be extended to all, and we should no longer be put to death. For the infliction of this punishment upon us should be stopped in consequence of the humanity of the rulers.
Therefore it was commanded that our eyes should be put out, and that we should be maimed in one of our limbs. For such things were humane in their sight, and the lightest of punishments for us. So that now on account of this kindly treatment accorded us by the impious, it was impossible to tell the incalculable number of those whose right eyes had first been cut out with the sword, and then had been cauterized with fire; or who had been disabled in the left foot by burning the joints, and afterward condemned to the provincial copper mines, not so much for service as for distress and hardship. Besides all these, others encountered other trials, which it is impossible to recount; for their manly endurance surpasses all description.
In these conflicts the noble martyrs of Christ shone illustrious over the entire world, and everywhere astonished those who beheld their manliness; and the evidences of the truly divine and unspeakable power of our Saviour were made manifest through them. To mention each by name would be a long task, if not indeed impossible.