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Wednesday's Audience - On St. Eusebius of Vercelli

10/22/2007 - PST

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"He Governed the Church With the Austerity of Fasting"

VATICAN CITY, OCT. 22, 2007 (Zenit) - Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI delivered Wednesday at the general audience in St. Peter's Square on St. Eusebius of Vercelli. After the discourse, the Pope announced the names of 23 who will be made cardinals in a consistory Nov. 24.

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Dear Brothers and Sisters:

This morning I invite you to reflect on St. Eusebius of Vercelli, the first bishop of northern Italy of whom we have sure knowledge. Born in Sardinia at the beginning of the fourth century, at a young age he transferred to Rome with his family. Later he was instituted as a lector: In this way he came to form part of the clergy of Urbe, during the time that the Church was suffering the difficult test of the Arian heresy.

The great esteem that many had for Eusebius explains his election, in 345, as the bishop of Vercelli. The new bishop immediately began an intense program of evangelization in a territory that was still to a large extent pagan, especially in the rural areas.

Inspired by St. Athanasius -- who had written "The Life of St. Anthony," founder of Eastern monasticism -- founded in Vercelli a community of priests, similar to a monastic community. This monastery gave to the clergy of northern Italy a significant character of apostolic sanctity, and inspired important bishops such as Limenio and Honoratus, successors of Eusebius in Vercelli, Gaudentius in Novara, Exuperantius in Tortona, Eustasius in Aosta, Eulogius in Ivrea, Maximus in Turin, all venerated by the Church as saints.

Solidly formed in the faith of the Council of Nicaea, Eusebius defended with all his strength the full divinity of Jesus Christ, defined by the Nicene Creed as "of the same nature" as the Father. With this objective he allied himself with the great fathers of the fourth century, above all St. Athanasius, the herald of the Nicene orthodoxy, against the pro-Arian politics of the emperor.

For the emperor the simpler Arian faith was more useful politically as an ideology of the empire. For him the truth didn't count, only the political opportunity: He wanted to use religion as a tie to unite the empire. But these great fathers resisted, defending the truth over and against political domination. For this reason, Eusebius was condemned to exile, as were other bishops of the East and the West: such as Athanasius, Hilary of Poitiers -- of whom we spoke last week -- and Osius of Cordoba. At Scythopolis in Palestine, where he was confined from 355 to 360, Eusebius wrote a wonderful page of his life. Here too he founded a monastery with a small group of disciples, and from there maintained correspondence with this faithful in Piedmont, which is demonstrated best by the second of the three letters of Eusebius that have been recognized as authentic.

After 360 he was exiled to Cappadocia and in Thebaid, where he suffered severe physical maltreatment. In 361, Emperor Constantius II died, and was succeeded by Emperor Julian, known as the Apostate, who was not interested in Christianity as the religion of empire, but rather wanted to restore paganism. He ended the exile of bishops and in this way permitted Eusebius to take back his see.

In 362 Eusebius was invited by Athanasius to participate in the Council of Alexandria, which decided to pardon Arian bishops provided they reverted to the lay state. Eusebius was able to exercise his episcopal ministry for another decade, until he died, establishing with his city an exemplary relationship, which inspired the pastoral service of other bishops of northern Italy, whom we shall talk about in future catecheses, such as St. Ambrose of Milan and St. Maximus of Turin.

The relationship between the bishop of Vercelli and his city is made clear above all by two epistolary testimonies. The first is found in the letter we already cited, which Eusebius wrote from exile in Scythopolis "to my most delightful brethren and to my beloved priests, as well as to the holy peoples of Vercelli, Novara, Ivrea and Tortona, keeping firm in the faith" ("Ep. secunda," CCL 9, p. 104).

These greetings, which show the emotion of the good shepherd when speaking to his flock, is confirmed to a large extent at the end of the letter, in the warm greetings of the father to each and every one of his sons in Vercelli, with expressions overflowing with affection and love.

One must underline above all the explicit relationship that unites the bishop to the "sanctae plebes" [holy people] not only of Vercelli -- the first, and for many more years, the only diocese of the Piedmont region -- but also of Novara, Ivrea and Tortona, that is to say, those Christian communities within his diocese that had reached a certain consistency and autonomy.

Another interesting element can be found in the farewell of the letter: Eusebius ...

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