All Christian flights were not created equal. With the aid of pro-Nicene authors, Athanasius of Alexandria's multiple flights quickly became the standard for an orthodox exile. The charge of cowardice, or worse, heresy, was not so easily dismissed, however. While the famed Athanasius would explain away such charges in his own writings, as did many of his later defenders, not all fleeing bishops could escape a damning verdict. In this article, I explore how the enemies of Nicaea, re-read as the enemies of Athanasius, also found themselves in exile. Their episcopal flights were no testament to their virtue but within pro-Nicene Christian memory of fifth-century ecclesiastical historians, the exiles of anti-Nicene bishops, such as Eusebius of Nicomedia, were remembered as evidence of guilt. To show how this memory-making exercise took place we will turn to the imperial landscape and assess how the space someone was exiled from greatly shaped how exile was deemed either orthodox or heretical.
In the fifth-century C.E. ecclesiastical histories written by Socrates (c. 380–440), Sozomen (c.400–450), and Theodoret (c.393–457), among others, the council of Nicaea's victory was already assumed and a Christian empire—however imaginary—was firmly in place.1 These pro-Nicene historians recount, and re-order, for their readers all the harried details that occupied the majority of the fourth century and created larger-than-life enemies to reinforce their status as woebegone victims, whether they be emperors or heretics.2
Despite the best efforts of these authors, those anti-Nicene villains had not always been representative of a minority point of view. In fact, from c.325–343, it appeared as if Nicaea's ideals would be overthrown.3 The death of Constantine (337) and a series of councils in the eastern Roman empire appeared to have replaced its more controversial claims such as the now (in)famous term homoousios. Many cities within Asia Minor were decidedly anti-Nicene and had begun to rally around particular figures to combat what they perceived to be heretical ideas espoused by Alexander of Alexandria and his successor Athanasius. And yet, this is not the history that survives: Nicaea's legacy was preserved in the ecclesiastical histories composed during and after the turn of the fifth century when the theological and imperial landscape had significantly changed.
These later writers relied upon the writings of Athanasius as well as other heresiologists to reconstruct their version of a pro-Nicene story already decided and her enemies displaced. And in their most revealing moments, these historians deviate from earlier narratives (and evidence) to follow and resituate their heroes and foes into theologically infused territories. In this article, I examine one such deviation: The exile and triumphant return of Eusebius of Nicomedia.
As we will come to see, even though Eusebius died the bishop of Constantinople, his memory was tied to another city. More specifically, Eusebius’ flight from and return to the city of Nicomedia remained an essential detail for why he was later condemned as a heretic. While nearly all the fifth-century pro-Nicene authors readily condemned the anti-Nicene bishop, it is particularly Socrates of Constantinople's revisionist project that reveals a great deal about how space and place functioned in the memory-making enterprise.4 It was Eusebius’ inheritance of the Constantinopolitan see and his various claims to that city that posed the most significant challenge for this historian. Both Nicomedia and Constantinople were central to Eusebius’ story—or, at least, how Socrates would remember him. While scholars have noted the significance of the city of Constantinople in the shaping of Nicaea's legacy, few have interrogated the discursive role exile, and the city of Nicomedia, had in this process.
As Christine Shepardson has recently argued, an assessment of space and place is particularly helpful for identifying orthodox spaces during this period.5 Shepardson skirts the more familiar field of sacred space and instead incorporates the work of geographers, memory theorists, and those scholars who have studied maps as political tools. Here, I build on Shepardson's theoretical interventions and show how the space from which a bishop fled played a key role in the construction of orthodoxy and heresy. Moreover, I argue that we must move beyond an overtly doctrinal and theological reconstruction (although these details do and will play a role) to examine how exile and, more specifically, the legacy of the city of Nicomedia, and her failed bishop, were at the heart of a smear campaign against Eusebius.6
EUSEBIUS OF NICOMEDIA
Eusebius of Nicomedia, the so-called leader of “the Eusebians,” and therefore “Arian” party after the council of Nicaea, lived on in infamy primarily for his ongoing support of Arius and his staunch opposition to Athanasius.7 Socrates reports that in the preceding events and the aftermath of the Nicene council, Alexander of Alexandria condemned Eusebius and his efforts to rehabilitate Arius.8 Then Athanasius, after his mentor's death, followed closely in his mentor's stead and targeted Eusebius and his followers for his own polemical purposes.
Although little is known about Eusebius’ life beyond this polemic, much is known about his relationships. If we visualize just the contacts Eusebius made in the context of clerical exile (as an exiled cleric himself and as involved in other bishops’ exiles), it is obvious that Eusebius sat in the middle—or was remembered to have sat in the middle—of a vast social network (Fig. 1).
In addition to what Fig. 1 presents, Eusebius had precious connections with members of the imperial family. According to the early-fifth-century anti-Nicene ecclesiastical historian, Philostorgius, Eusebius was a student under Lucian of Antioch (also known as Lucian the Martyr, venerated by Constantine's mother Helena) and quickly rose through the ranks of both political and ecclesiastical importance.9 He appeared to have had some relation with Julius Julianus, who was the praetorian prefect for the eastern Emperor Licinius (315–324), that is, the emperor who quickly lost his life when Constantine had had enough of shared rule.10 Surprisingly, even after Licinius’ defeat, Eusebius remained an important member of the inner circle of Constantine. This connection was due to Licinius’ wife Constantia, Constantine's half-sister.11 The imperial inter-family politics—however brutal the outcome was for many—continued to work in Eusebius’ favor throughout his life.
A few other connections, more dubious in nature, were frequently commented on. For instance, there was a rumor that Eusebius briefly tutored the future emperor and Christian apostate, Julian.12 His association with or influence over the young Julian might be another attempt to malign the bishop's reputation. Regardless, Eusebius’ relationship with the imperial household was an intimate, if not a tense, one. His most significant relationship, however, was with the Emperor Constantine. Eusebius’ ties to this emperor, more than any other imperial family member, have continued to vex later writers as they sought to deflect and undermine the bishop's legacy.
In pro-Nicene memory, Eusebius’ influence across the Roman Empire was remembered as a dark period as he abused his political alliances and spread his heretical lies. For example, historians often reflect that his very earliest arrival within ecclesial politics was suspect.13 After a brief time as bishop of Berytus, he was appointed to the much larger and significant see of Nicomedia. As we will explore later, the legality of this career move was questionable in its own right, but it was around 314 in Nicomedia that his most nefarious activities and alliances were forged.
According to Theodoret, Arius, desperate for a powerful ally, wrote to Eusebius soon after he was condemned by Alexander of Alexandria in 318.14 Socrates also preserves Alexander's intense disdain of Eusebius’ harboring of Arius, and directly quotes the Alexandrian bishop, saying, “Eusebius, currently in Nicomedia, thinks that the fate of the church rests under him…he has now established himself at the head of these apostates. He dares even to write in all directions to reassure them and to gather the ignorant into the anti-Christian heresy.”15
Many have argued that Eusebius’ reception of Arius (and his compatriots) was the obvious reason why later pro-Nicene historians condemned the bishop. If we follow Athanasius’ lead, the company one keeps was surely enough reason to upend the reputation of a bishop.16 And while this explanation remained influential and undoubtedly one of the chief reasons why this bishop was so easily maligned by later writers (ancient and modern), we might also consider how Eusebius’ appointment to—and, more importantly, exile from—Nicomedia, helped to ensure that his memory would be a damned one.
In many respects, Eusebius followed the orthodox formula that later writers would identify as an orthodox exile. In fact, Eusebius’ experience appears almost identical to Athanasius’ first exile.17 First, the bishop is cast out of his position of power. As the perceived victim of persecution, the cleric then retreats for an appropriate amount of time. Next, the victim, during his temporary flight, undergoes a critical transformation much like Christ, whose experience in the desert (Matt 4.1–11) prepared him for his final victory, and also like Christ, the experience cloaked the bishop with spiritual authority and ushered in his return. The problem arises when a heretical bishop's exile is indistinguishable from an orthodox flight.
Undeniably, Eusebius, like Nicaea's champion, found himself the victim of exile in the aftermath of that famous council. Both bishops were sent to Gaul, presumably under Constantine's orders (discussed below). And, also like Athanasius, Eusebius too returns to his episcopal post a triumphant victor. Although we have differing reports on the length of Eusebius’ exile, he appears to have been absent from Nicomedia anywhere from eighteen months to three years between 325 and 328. Athanasius was absent for a very brief period from 335 to 337, and yet, the evidence surrounding both exiles is difficult to reconstruct.
For example, it is unclear whether it was Constantine who initiated Eusebius’ removal in September/October 325 or a particularly active pro-Nicene council of bishops.18 Eusebius’ personal reflection on the matter is mostly lost to us and any writings that do remain record only traces of his theological position and scattered correspondence.19 Even these documents should be read cautiously as they were preserved primarily by his opponents. His Letter to Arius is found in Athanasius’ On the Synod and Theodoret preserves his Letter to Paulinus of Tyre.20 It is also telling that a questionable text titled Letter of Recantation, which we will explore shortly, makes it into Socrates’ Ecclesiastical History.21
Eusebius’ return from exile is equally as complicated to reconstruct. We are left to ask: was Eusebius eventually restored to his episcopal see due to the reconnaissance efforts initiated by his friends at court? Or was he allowed to return because his version of orthodoxy was slowly becoming the favored interpretation among eastern bishops? The actual causes and effects of Eusebius’ flight to and from Nicomedia will thus remain unanswered here. What we are able to discern is that once Eusebius returned from his temporary displacement, his life and career took off. The pinnacle of his achievements was his final move to and control over the coveted Constantinopolitan bishopric in 338. He remained the uncontested bishop of Constantinople until his death in 342.
Despite this successful outcome, Eusebius is not remembered as Eusebius of Constantinople. And it is not enough to say that this title is ignored simply because he only held the position for six years. His control over Constantinople was a troubling reality for ecclesiastical historians. I, therefore, suggest we pay attention to how others viewed the city of Nicomedia to gain a better understanding of how exile and space play into his legacy as an illegitimate bishop and not the true inheritor of Constantinople.22
The city of Nicomedia, founded in 264 B.C.E., was given its name by Nicomedes I. It was the capital of Bithynia Prima, and as its neighbor, the city of Nicaea was frequently referred to as Bithynia Secunda.23 Lactantius, among other contemporaneous fourth-century historians, notes that Nicomedia was the favored imperial residence of that nefarious Emperor Diocletian, who made it the eastern Roman capital in 286 C.E.24 It was also in Nicomedia that the young Constantine was tutored and where he prepared for his position as the future Caesar—which he was ultimately denied in favor of Severus. Most significantly for Christian authors, Nicomedia was the location where the great imperial persecution began in 303, which will be discussed in greater detail below.
Other cities also took on political as well as theological significance in this new era. For instance, Constantine chose to move the eastern capital away from Diocletian's Nicomedia to the small port town of Byzantium. And, as intimated before, the pro-Nicene theological legacy shifted to Constantinople. For pro-Nicene historians, Nicaea would not be the chief competitor to Nicomedia. By the fifth century, the Nicene (read: Athanasian) legacy had been transplanted, instead, to Constantine's holy city. Fig. 2 shows the location of Nicomedia, Nicaea, and Byzantium-Constantinople in the region around the Eastern Propontis, as well as the role they played in the history of late antique clerical exile (size of nodes represents frequency of a place mentioned as a location related to exile in late antique sources). If, as Elisabeth O'Connell argues in this volume, late antique clerical exile lent authority and legitimacy to both individuals and spaces, the relative infrequency at which Nicomedia was mentioned in relation to other cases of clerical exile – in particular in comparison with Constantinople – is compelling.
Nicomedia thus continued to be a tripping point as ecclesiastical historians fought to re-shape Constantinople's significance.25 To damn the competitor city, these writers stressed Nicomedia's history as the site of Christian persecution and the seedbed of the most horrific enemies of the Church. These writers also took note how military attacks from neighboring Gothic troops along with a divinely inspired natural disaster would ultimately bring the city to its knees.26 In the minds of later pro-Nicene Christian historians, the city never regained its former glory for good reason.
And still, Nicomedia continued to pose a set of historical challenges for those who were invested in condemning its memory. For example, it was in Nicomedia that Constantine died in 337, and, to the chagrin of his contemporaries, Eusebius of Nicomedia, at least in some versions of the event, was awarded the sole honor of baptizing the emperor on his deathbed. And while Lucifer of Cagliari would happily see this as proof of Constantine's (and later his son's) heretical leanings at the end of his life, as Richard Flower has pointed out, other pro-Nicene historians were compelled to secure the emperor's memory as an orthodox one.27 It was not without theological significance, for example, that the emperor was portrayed as the koinos episkopos.28 And yet, this looming detail threatened to undermine both this honorific and the theological import of Constantinople.
This problem was due in part to the ambivalent role Nicomedia played in the works of earlier fourth-century writers who set the standard for later writers including Socrates. Both Lactantius and Eusebius of Caesarea, for example, spent a great deal of their career either in, or thinking with, Nicomedia.29 Lactantius, for instance, was the first to report that Diocletian's persecution was sparked within her walls.
While it was still twilight the prefect came to the church with military leaders, tribunes, and accountants. They forced open the doors and searched for the image of God. They found the Scriptures and burnt them; all were granted booty; the scene was one of plunder, panic, and confusion…bringing axes and other iron tools, and after being ordered from every direction they leveled the lofty edifice to the ground within a few hours (Lactantius, Deaths of the Persecutors 12.2–5).30
The burning of books, destruction of churches, and the first execution of Christians took place in Nicomedia. Eusebius of Caesarea also reported that even after Constantine's edict of toleration took effect, persecutions in the city would not cease.31 He insisted this was because Licinius took control of Nicomedia and its surrounding territory after Maxentius’ defeat. Licinius, the weaker leader, thus fell prey to its nefarious past. He could not help but persecute the Nicomedian Christians.32
Not all visions of Nicomedia were necessarily negative, however. These same authors understood how space could be imbued with both cultural and religious significance under the right circumstances. Jeremy Schott has argued that Nicomedia was the site where Constantine's Speech to the Assembly of Saints, was delivered.33
In this speech, it is clear that only Constantine could be the true victor over this troubled city. Unlike Licinius, only the koinos episkopos could redeem the city and restore it to its former glory.34
The great city acknowledges this and praises with acclamation; and also the people of the dearest city wish <to do the same>, even if formerly, deceived by false hopes, it chose a champion unworthy of itself, who was at once caught in a manner appropriate to and worthy of his rash deeds, which it is not right to record, especially for me as I speak to you and take all care to address you with holy and auspicious utterances.35
For Constantine to reside and then die in Nicomedia was then no small detail. It symbolized his authority as the true champion of both the Roman empire and Christianity. According to Lactantius and Eusebius of Caesarea, Constantine's presence in Nicomedia was a natural outcome of his rise to the imperial throne and status as the first Christian emperor. Eusebius of Caesarea, who served as the model for later ecclesiastical historians, took note that Constantine, after summoning the bishops to Nicomedia, was also the first to receive Christian baptism.36 And, as T. D. Barnes describes it, he went on to baptize the imperial capital and its corrupt landscape with this final imperial act.37
This act, this deathbed baptism, however, was not enough to wash away the stain of persecution. Contrary to the portrayals set by Lactantius and Eusebius of Caesarea, for later authors, Nicomedia and its memory must be defeated in order to ensure not just a Christian victory, but a specifically Nicene victory. And yet, Nicomedia—and her bishop—must be dealt with precisely because Constantine was baptized and died there. Eventually, both Constantine's memory and the memory of that doomed city was transformed and Constantine's body (along with his memory) safely transferred to Constantinople to preserve the orthodoxy of the emperor and his true city.
While all of the pro-Nicene authors would deal with Nicomedia, the most spatially-motivated ecclesiastical historian remains Socrates of Constantinople. In his reconstruction, Nicomedia stood in direct contrast to Constantinople. His strong bias for the holy city, as we will soon see, would greatly influence how he would construct orthodox and heretical exiles and the spaces from which they fled.
SOCRATES OF CONSTANTINOPLE
Socrates Scholasticus’ life remains a mystery much like Eusebius’ discussed above. What we learn of his life is pulled directly from his Ecclesiastical History.38 This major work was composed in Constantinople where, we learn, the author was born and raised and the scope of the history covers the period from 325–439. The early chapters begin with Constantine's journey to Christianity and his defeat of her known persecutors. And after the death of Licinius, Constantine is faced with a new challenge: Arianism. Socrates describes this heresy as spreading like a fire and would remain the most significant threat to the well-being of the orthodox Church. Socrates writes:
As from a little spark a large fire was kindled: for the evil which began in the Church at Alexandria, ran throughout all Egypt, Libya, and the upper Thebes, and at length diffused itself over the rest of the provinces and cities. Many others also agreed with Arius’ opinion; Eusebius, in particular, attached himself to it: not he of Caesarea, but the one who had before been bishop of the church at Berytus, and was then somehow in possession of the bishopric of Nicomedia in Bithynia. (EH, 1.6.1–2)
According to Socrates, the Arian heresy, although the invention of a deviant presbyter in Alexandria, could not have succeeded without the help of Eusebius. Not just any Eusebius, but, “the one who had before been bishop of Berytus, and was then somehow in possession of the bishopric of Nicomedia in Bithynia.” And it is here that Socrates’ discourse on exile begins.
Eusebius, according to Socrates, was justly exiled from Nicomedia. And while he reluctantly admitted that Eusebius, and his companion Theognis, were only in exile a short while, their return to Nicomedia was worse than their temporary banishment to Gaul. Unlike his earlier portrayal of Athanasius’ flight to and from Gaul, Eusebius’ departure and return was not victorious. Instead, it confirmed his corruption. As evidence, Socrates preserved a letter in which Eusebius and his fellow exile Theognis were forced to confess their support of the term homoousios. This confession was a prerequisite for their readmittance. Socrates makes it clear that their so-called confession was a blatant lie. He then supplies a number of letters that further blurred their actual theological positions. One letter, in particular, is conspicuously not quoted from directly, but still heavily commented upon. Socrates summarizes for his readers the most significant points. In this letter, addressed to the Nicomedians from the emperor, Socrates reports: “writing to the Nicomedians against Eusebius and Theognis, he [Constantine] censures the misconduct of Eusebius, not only on account of his Arianism, but because also having formerly been well-affected to the ruler, he had traitorously conspired against his affairs.”39 Here Socrates stresses that Constantine clearly understood the truth about Eusebius and his co-heretics. And yet, Constantine's ongoing involvement in the ecclesiastical affairs continues to undermine such a defense. A series of subsequent events even point to an emperor easily duped and attests to the staying power of an anti-Nicene (read: Arian) position.
Thus, to steer his readers away from such conclusions, Socrates presents as evidence yet another letter, the so-called “Letter of Recantation,” in which Eusebius and Theognis explicitly state, and, therefore, we are to conclude, falsely claim, why they had not subscribed to Nicaea's anathemas: “As to the anathemas, we did not sign, not to criticize the faith, but because we did not think that the accused was as he had been presented to us. We were not convinced he was represented accurately because of the letters we received and our personal conversations with him” (EH 1.14.3). Here Eusebius and Theognis insist their only guilt was of trusting Arius.
In a curious move, and worth exploring for its spatial arguments, Socrates then notes that Arius devised a way to return to Alexandria before Eusebius’ own journey back to Nicomedia. Socrates states: “This is evident from the fact that he [Arius] afterwards contrived a way to return both into the church and into Alexandria by means of a false repentance as we shall show in its proper place” (emphasis mine, EH, 1.14.7). To return from exile under one's own volition was unwise in the best of circumstances (as Athanasius’ return from his third exile demonstrates). To plot such an illegal return ensured one's guilt. This heretical formula, a false confession plus an illegal return, is how Socrates will begin to distinguish an orthodox bishop from a heretical one. We must not stop there, however. Socrates will go one step further. If Eusebius’ parallels to Arius’ flight are not enough evidence to condemn the man as a heretic, then we should re-evaluate the cities from which a true bishop or heretic flees. As we will soon learn, the city one flees from will make all the difference.
CONSTANTINOPLE VERSUS NICOMEDIA
It is not without cause that Socrates expels a great deal of energy to vilify the city of Nicomedia in Book One of his Ecclesiastical History. As we have seen so far, this is the city where the most nefarious of plots found their beginnings. This is where Diocletian's persecution was sparked and Arius’ madness was harbored. Constantinople, by way of contrast, is where truth must reign. This is evident in the very material structures of Constantine's holy city:
This was done in various cities including in the city named after him, which was formerly called Byzantium, he enlarged, surrounded with massive walls, and adorned with various edifices; and having made it equal to imperial Rome, he named it Constantinople, establishing by law that it would be called New Rome. This law is engraved on a stele of stone erected in public view in the Stregium, near the emperor's equestrian statue. He built also in the same city two churches, one of which he named Irene, and the other The Apostles. (EH, 1.16.1–2)
The walls of the city along with its edifices, statues, pillars and two great churches signal to the outsider that this is an orthodox city and was planned to be the defense of the faith from its very inception. To ensure its orthodox legacy, Socrates remarks on how holy relics were found, transferred, and placed in the very heart of the city. These choice items were reportedly discovered by Constantine's mother Helena during her pilgrimage across the empire. Her most significant find was the holy cross. While a piece remained in Jerusalem, Helena sent the remainder of the true cross to Constantine, who hid a piece of the relic in his statue:
…the other part [of the cross] she sent to the emperor. When he had received it, he hid it in his own statue. That is the statue on that large column of porphyry, which is installed in the forum called Constantine at Constantinople. He believed the city where the cross was preserved would be perfectly protected. (EH, 1.17.8)
As will soon become clear, the hidden relic within the emperor's image would serve to protect both the city and the emperor's reputation. For Socrates, Constantine's all too frequent departures from the city and journeys to Nicomedia continued to pose an ongoing threat. No good could come from Nicomedia. And so, his holy likeness would remain behind to guard the faith and defend the holy city. In order to better understand the significance of the passage cited above, we must examine the events that led up to Constantine's death outside the walls of the holy city.
Socrates soon turns his full attention back to Nicomedia. He reminds his readers that a war had been waged within the empire with the rise of Arianism. Eusebius of Nicomedia and his henchman caused even greater mischief than before once the heretical bishop had now devised some way to return from his exile. Not only were these men infected with the Arian heresy, but, adding to Arius’ previously divulged plot regarding his own return, the Eusebians also made it their chief objective to fully reinstate Arius within the church.
Socrates states that Eusebius wrote to Athanasius demanding he re-admit Arius. Athanasius, of course, refused to listen to the Nicomedian bishop and so Eusebius sent an appeal to the emperor Constantine. This first attempt failed, but Eusebius was not easily deterred. He wormed his way into the emperor's favor via an alternate route.
According to Socrates, Eusebius decided to target the emperor's sister Constantia, who resided in Nicomedia, to bring about his plan.40 As if we had forgotten, Socrates reminds his readers that Constantia was the widow of Licinius, the last known imperial persecutor of the faith. A questionable character indeed, whose link to Nicomedia and persecution of the orthodox during his brief control of that territory ought not escape our attention.
Socrates then intentionally introduces an unnamed presbyter who works on behalf of Eusebius. He succeeds in winning Constantia's sympathies and, upon becoming gravely ill, she appeals to her brother, who is called to Nicomedia at her request. Upon her death-bed, she implores her brother to trust her new Nicomedian advisor. Constantine, in his grief, and under the influence of his surroundings, is taken in by this new Eusebian intermediary. With his new advisory role established, this unnamed go-between continues to advocate on the behalf of both Eusebius and Arius. Eventually, the heretical plots succeed and Arius is granted an imperial clemency.
Athanasius, ever the orthodox defender, predictably refuses, once again, to re-admit Arius. Constantine, not one to back down from a challenge, then threatens to exile Athanasius. Seizing this opportunity, the “partisans of Eusebius” continued to pressure the emperor during his stay in Nicomedia. To add insult to injury, the Eusebians also conspired with the Melitians and invented all manner of charges against Athanasius and a council is called at Tyre to settle the matter once and for all.41
Socrates notes that Athanasius was hesitant to attend this council and we soon learn why. At first, the absurdity of the charges brought against him appears to point toward a favorable outcome. In a particularly humorous scene, the Melitian representatives accused Athanasius of murder and presented a severed hand as evidence. The charge was soon dismissed when the supposedly deceased Arsenius was found in the audience. Socrates gleefully reports: “Then addressing himself to those present, he [Athanasius] said, ‘Arsenius, as you see, is found to have two hands: let my accusers show the place whence the third was cut off.’” (EH, 1.24).
Despite this outcome, Eusebius and his supporters bring forward another charge stating that Athanasius may not have had a hand in killing Arsenius, but he is guilty of tampering with the grain trade. This second accusation proves Athanasius’ initial misgivings regarding the legitimacy of the council and he swiftly departs the council to appeal his cause directly before the emperor in Constantinople. The Eusebians, hot on Athanasius’ trail, bring with them the same charges of treason. His accusers are successful and Constantine sends Athanasius into exile. He does not return from Gaul until after the emperor's death.
I will stress here that in Socrates’ narrative, Athanasius is sent to Gaul from Constantinople.42 As noted before, Eusebius was also sent to Gaul. However, Eusebius was exiled from Nicomedia and not Constantinople. The following events are only possible to understand with these spatial details in mind.
After making this distinction very clear, Socrates turns his attention back to Arius. As briefly noted above, Arius returned of his own volition to Alexandria where he predictably stirred up trouble and was forced to flee. This time, he does not flee to Nicomedia, but to Constantinople where another Alexander awaits the heretical presbyter. Compelled by both the Eusebians and now Constantine, we learn that Alexander of Constantinople is being forced to readmit Arius to the church. Arius’ very presence in Constantinople, however, divides the city. To ensure Arius’ re-admittance, Eusebius threatens to excommunicate Alexander if he refuses. Under intense duress, the then bishop of Constantinople spent the night in prayer in the holy Church Irene (recently built and dedicated to Constantine). The next day, Arius and his supporters parade through the city center. And upon passing the porphyry column, Arius is suddenly struck with an intense pain in his stomach. He quickly retreats to a nearby privy to relieve himself. And, as Ellen Muehlberger has recently observed, in Socrates’ more detailed account of his demise than even Athanasius could dream up, Arius dies an ignominious and very public death.43
We pause here to recall that this column is the very one upon which sits the image of Constantine. This is the very one where the holy relic of the true cross is hidden safely within but out of sight. While Arius and his supporters may have been able to fool the real emperor, the heretic is unable to fool his holy likeness. The statue and the cross are one and the same substance. And it is under the emperor's image, in the likeness of the divine, that the heretic is ultimately exposed.
According to Socrates, the battle over orthodoxy did not end with Arius’ grotesque death. The stones of Constantinople were infected with the disease of heresy and the lingering stench of Arius’ memory continued to divide the city.44 Constantine fell victim to this stench, too, and he soon became ill and left Constantinople to seek out the healing baths of Helenopolis. But even these soothing waters were not enough to wash away the stain of error. The ailing emperor returns one final time to Nicomedia. Socrates is careful to note that this journey did not end in the city center of Nicomedia but in one of the surrounding suburbs (EH, 1.39). It was there that the emperor is finally baptized. And in Socrates’ account, there is no mention of Eusebius’ hand in the baptism.45 Socrates stresses that it was only after his final acceptance of Nicaea and baptism—not by Eusebius—that Constantine finds relief and dies. Book one then closes with Constantine's final return to Constantinople where his body rests in the Church of the Apostles. Thus, Constantine's memory, like the true cross, is safely preserved.
After Constantine's death, Socrates turns to yet another death in book two. Alexander of Constantinople quickly passed after the holy Emperor and it appeared as if both church and empire were doomed. Two successors were proposed to take his place. Paul, who was supported by a pro-Nicene contingent, and Macedonius, who was supported by the so-called Arians in Constantinople. Both were rejected, however, by the new emperor of the east, Constantius II. And we learn that Eusebius of Nicomedia is awarded the coveted post.
The first agenda pursued by Eusebius, now of Constantinople, is to bring the Arian heresy to completion. To do so, he calls for a Synod at Antioch to undermine the Nicene position. Socrates writes:
He therefore causes a Synod to be convened at Antioch in Syria, under pretense of dedicating the church which the father of the Augusti had commenced, and which his son Constantius had finished in the tenth year after its foundations were laid, but with the real intention of subverting and abolishing the doctrine of the homoousion (EH, 2.8).
It appeared as if all was lost. But one final flight and return had yet to come. To restore Constantine's memory and dispel the Arian threat once and for all, Socrates includes a lengthy discussion on Athanasius’ second exile.
After Constantine's death, Athanasius returned to Alexandria. Despite this return, Eusebius, while in control of the Constantinopolitan see, sends Gregory of Cappadocia to Alexandria to replace Athanasius and make his intentions clear.46 Here Socrates inserts a narrative about the miraculous nature of Athanasius’ second flight to further strengthen his definition of an orthodox exile. Athanasius, we learn, was hidden in the midst of his congregants singing Psalms. And like Christ (Luke 4:30), he was able to slip by his pursuers unnoticed. He then flees safely to Rome. It was only after he departs Alexandria that the imposter bishop, Gregory, set the Great Church of Alexandria on fire. An allusion to the Nicomedian persecutions is all too clear here. The bishop may have been taken out of Nicomedia, but the city's influence was too firmly imbedded in her false bishops. Thus, the Arian heresy threatened to spread across the empire. But this would not be the end to Socrates’ story. The true bishop of Alexandria proved to be a worthy champion and the holy city of Constantine was too great to be overrun by persecution or heresy.
One final death scene would usher in the end of Socrates’ exilic reflections and Nicomedian commentary, and the episode remains buried beneath his narrative on Athanasius’ second flight. Unlike Arius’ death, Eusebius of Constantinople's death was neither graphic nor detailed. Eusebius did not live long enough to hear of the bishop of Rome's support for Athanasius and his second triumphant return. Eusebius simply “died a short time after the Synod was held” (EH, 2.12).47 But why was this death so quickly passed over by Socrates? The death of such a formidable enemy was certainly newsworthy.
As Socrates’ portrait of Constantinople compels us to conclude, Eusebius must ultimately be remembered as the bishop of a cursed landscape and not the space of Christian, read pro-Nicene, orthodoxy. His temporary control of Constantinople, not unlike his brief exile, was proof of his corruption not confirmation of his orthodoxy, unlike Athanasius, whose frequent flights aligns his legacy with Christ. Eusebius, who might have initially appeared to follow the same path, ultimately proved to be more like his heretical counterpart Arius. His return from Gaul to Nicomedia aligned closer to Arius’ deceptive entry into Alexandria rather than Athanasius’ triumphant return. His hold on Constantinople was tenuous at best, but, like his move from Berytus to Nicomedia, his episcopal career was false from the very start. Eusebius’ memory is thus easily overshadowed by Athanasius’ tireless defense of the faith, whose Christian flight from Constantinople would ultimately ensure his success and the victory of Nicaea. For it is in Constantinople that the Nicene creed would find its final resting place safely preserved within Constantine's holy city.
To conclude, in Socrates’ ecclesiastical history, Nicomedia served as a spatial framing for where the most horrific events of the Nicene struggle took place, only to be buried among the rubble of history. Nicomedia was where persecution and heresy were indistinguishable and only truly defeated with the rise of a Christian empire. By asserting such claims, Socrates was forced to explain Constantine's links to that city. Whenever Constantine surfaced in Nicomedia, Socrates was careful to stress that it was only ever a temporary stay and always filled with confusion. Constantine's first stop in Nicomedia was when he was made aware of the dispute between Arius and Alexander (EH 1.7). His next appearance led to Athanasius’ first exile. His final journey to Nicomedia's suburbs resulted in his death. As we have seen, his body was promptly returned to Constantinople and his orthodoxy secured.
Eusebius, on the other hand, was continuously distanced from the emperor. Socrates intentionally inserts named and unnamed conspirators in Nicomedia into his narrative to further stress this point. They worked on behalf of Eusebius whenever the emperor appeared in or near Nicomedia: first, when his sister passed away and then, when the emperor received his final baptism. Finally, at the end of Eusebius’ life, we are left to wonder where his body would find its final resting place. We might assume it was moved. Eusebius, ever the bishop of Nicomedia, must be expunged from the holy streets of Constantinople and sent back to where he once fled--if not his body, then, certainly, his legacy.
What stands out when we begin to look at the spatial reconstruction of exile and its use in the memory making process of later ecclesiastical historians is the way authentic Christian flight (and therefore orthodoxy) was tied to specific cities. When Eusebius was compared to Athanasius, their careers appear to mirror one another—at least at first. To tease apart these stories of flight, we have explored how the space one was exiled from was more significant than has been previously explored.
As detailed above, one story that frequently tripped up pro-Nicene historians, ancient and contemporary, was that after Eusebius returned to Nicomedia, he not only took back his bishopric, but also went on to advise and direct the ecclesiastical affairs of the eastern empire first under Constantine and then Constantius II. This fact was crystallized in Eusebius’ baptism of the Emperor Constantine on his deathbed in the city of Nicomedia. Soon after the emperor's death in 337, Eusebius was then appointed the bishop of Constantine's glowing city of orthodoxy—a detail that could not be overlooked. And yet pro-Nicene historians reconstructed the imperial landscape in such a way as to undermine this narrative and conclude that Eusebius could only ever be remembered as the bishop of Nicomedia (which, in fact, he is to this day).
And while Nicomedia was the favored imperial residence prior to Constantine's move, it remained a significant site for theological reflection. As stated before, Diocletian's persecution was sparked within her walls. Eusebius of Caesarea also noted that even after Constantine's successful military offensive, persecutions did not stop but continued with vigor under Licinius. It appeared as if whoever inhabited the throne in Nicomedia was unable to resist the temptation to persecute the Church—whether it was from the imperial or episcopal throne one was seated on. It is therefore not insignificant that fifth-century authors continuously placed Eusebius back into that space he was exiled from. It is clear that the place from which a bishop was exiled could make or break Christian orthodoxy during this period. And the memory of place was just as important as those men who inhabited them.
In sum, these ecclesiastical historians of the fifth century damned the Nicomedian landscape and everyone associated with it as it transformed from a location of imperial persecution-- as described by Lactantius and Eusebius of Caesarea-- to one infected with heresy-- as stressed by Socrates among other pro-Nicene authors. Nicomedia's failure was Constantinople's success. Eusebius, that failed bishop, was thus safely re-placed where he rightfully belonged. The ecclesiastical historians thus altered the way we remember Christian flight. To do so, they point to those spaces bishops were exiled from in order to infuse them with theological meaning. They did so to shape how we tell the heroes from the villains, particularly in those moments when it was not entirely clear who was who. Some spaces were just too powerful to erase. In order to damn the man, we have learned, you must also damn the city.