Eusebius of Emesa, “De Poenitentia” / “On Penitence” / “On Repentance” – now online in English

Eusebius of Emesa flourished in the 340s AD, and was identified with the anti-Nicene party.  Only one of his works has survived in the original Greek, a short homily on penitence.  The rest of his works existed only in fragments until Eligius Buytaert located 29 homilies in antique Latin translations in two manuscripts in France.

The Greek text of the Homilia de paenitentia (CPG 3530) is preserved in manuscript Paris BNF Coislin 913, online here.  Our text begins on folio 89:

There are also ancient versions in Armenian and Georgian.

The Greek text was edited by E. M. Buytaert, “L’heritage litteraire d’ Eusebe d’ Emese”, Louvain (1949) , p.16*-29* (i.e. in the second half of the book).  This book can be borrowed from here.  There is a useful article on the text on p.150.

Prior to the work of Buytaert, the Greek text was attributed to Basil of Caesarea, and appeared in editions of his works.  It may be found in the Patrologia Graeca 31, columns 1476-1488, online here.  The quality of the text is atrocious, however.

The only complete edition of the works of Basil in the original Greek with parallel Latin translation is that prepared by the Maurist fathers, Julien Garnier and Prudentius Maran, “Sancti Patris Nostri Basili Caesareae Cappacdociae … Opera Omnia“, 3 volumes (Paris, 1721–1730), reprinted in J.-P. Migne’s Patrologia Graeca, vols. 29–32 (Paris, 1857, 1886).  The volumes are here:

A correspondent asked me whether there was any English or French translation of De Paenitentia.  There does not seem to be. So, on a whim, I have scanned in the 1722 Latin translation, and passed it through Google translate, and the results (with a little intervention) are appended.  It has no scholarly value, but should help the interested find their way around the text.  I’ve appended my scan of the Latin.  As usual, I make this file and its contents public domain.  Do whatever you like with them!

I have also placed them at here.

The text is not of great interest.  Eusebius argues against some who say that sins are only forgiven through baptism, and sins after baptism cannot be forgiven.  This strange idea – to our eye – was common in the fourth century, and resulted in the common practice of death-bed baptism.

During the Great Persecution under Diocletian, many had apostasised.  Afterwards the question arose on what to do with those who had lapsed. Some of these were bishops; or ordained by them.  Fanatics demanded that they were expelled. Others saw no problem in the ordination of rank traditores, or traitors.

This in turn led to many undesirable consequences.   As we see in our own day, demands for ideological purity – whatever the ideology – where power and money are involved mean that those who are considered most “pure” have most authority.  This in turn creates a ratchet, as politicians race to take ever more extreme positions, to prove their “purity” and so gain power.  Dissenters are tracked down and purged, to keep the pressure on.  Any who fail to keep up with the very latest dogmas are marginalised.

It is a recipe for fanatics, and a very happy place for dishonest men.   The truly honest are repelled, while the cynical find that they can lie their way to power and profit.

This process appears again and again in Byzantine history, as new “heresies” are discovered, and new groups thrown into the darkness.  It had nothing whatever to do with Christianity.

Nor was this purely a Byzantine activity.  During the Commonwealth after the English Civil War, all sorts of awful things took place of this kind.  Some of the “preachers” proved to be utterly vile men.  Charles II’s minister, Lord Arlington, once a preaching presbyterian chaplain to a New Model Army regiment, when times changed became the mastermind of the vicious persecution of the Scottish presbyterians recorded by Bishop Burnet.

Probably something like this is the background to Eusebius of Emesa’s mild rebuttal.




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