Tuesday, April 09, 2019

"He hated the entire city intensely" ~ St. Eupsychius and Julian the Apostate's reaction to the destruction of the Temple of Fortune in Caesarea in Cappadocia

A mosaic portrait of an anonymous young saint from the Rotunda
of St. George in Thessaloniki, Greece, 4th century AD.
April 9 is the traditional feast day of the little known saint, Eupsychius of Caesarea in Cappadocia. Though he lived after the time of Constantine, Eupsychius was a martyr who suffered during the reign of Julian the Apostate. His crime, apparently, was his role in the destruction of the Temple of Fortune in Caesarea ca. AD 362 immediately after the accession of Julian to the imperial throne. The historian Hermias Sozomen, writing about 80 years after the event, provides the only close-contemporary account of Eupsychius’s death:
It is said that about this period, Basil, presbyter of the church of Ancyra, and Eupsychius, a noble of Caesarea in Cappadocia, who had but just taken to himself a wife and was still a bridegroom, terminated their lives by martyrdom. I believe that Eupsychius was condemned in consequence of the demolition of the temple of Fortune, which, as I have already stated, excited the anger of the emperor against all the inhabitants of Caesarea. Indeed, all the actors in this transaction were condemned, some to death, and others to banishment. [The Ecclesiastical History of Sozomen, Book V, Chapter XI]
Later accounts add legendary details to the trial and passion of Eupsychius, but these are not considered reliable. For more information, see this article in the journal Harvard Ukrainian Studies, "The Two Faces of Saint Eupsychius."

Sozomen goes on to say explicitly that these executions and banishments were “perpetrated contrary to the will of the emperor,” who had adopted a less rigorous method of dealing with his former co-religionists. However, Julian was apparently so angry with the destruction of the temple of Fortune in Caesarea that he decided to inflict a severe punishment on the city’s reputation, the Christian clerics living therein, and the Christian community in the city more generally:
[T]he emperor erased Caesarea, the large and wealthy metropolis of Cappadocia, situated near Mount Argeus, from the catalogue of cities, and even deprived it of the name of Caesarea, which had been conferred upon it during the reign of Claudius Caesar, its former name having been Mazaca. He had long regarded the inhabitants of this city with extreme aversion, because they were zealously attached to Christianity, and had formerly destroyed the temple of the ancestral Apollo and that of Jupiter, the tutelar deity of the city. The temple dedicated to Fortune, the only one remaining in the city, was overturned by the Christians after his accession; and on hearing of the deed, he hated the entire city intensely and could scarce endure it. [The Ecclesiastical History of Sozomen, Book V, Chapter IV]
Julian as depicted on a bronze coin.
This passage is interesting because it shows that as early as AD 360, this major city which is located right in the middle of Asia Minor had a large, active and predominately Christian population who frequently came into conflict with their pagan neighbors. A century before, Caesarea had been taken and pillaged by the Persians in the aftermath of the defeat of Valerian. The Byzantine historian Zonaras, writing some 700 years later, claims that the city had a population of some 400,000 at the time of the sack and that Persians “destroyed everyone” after penetrating the city’s defenses. [The History of Zonaras, Book XII]

The city recovered during the intervening hundred years, perhaps becoming a haven for Christians at this time. In the late 4th century, it would go on to become the most important bishopric under the Patriarchate of Constantinople, the see of Saint Basil the Great, and an important center of learning and culture. In his funeral oration for Saint Basil in AD 381, Saint Gregory Nazianzen describes Caesarea as: "this illustrious city of ours...the guide and mistress of my studies, the metropolis of letters, no less than of the cities which she excels and reigns over." [Gregory Nazianzen, Oration XLIII)

Julian’s anger at the destruction of the Temple of Fortune extended to frustration with the lukewarm pagan population of the city who, he felt, should have resisted more stoutly, even to the point of giving their lives for their gods as the Christians undeniably did for Christ. Though stopping short of enforcing capital punishment upon the destroyers of the temple himself, Julian’s nonetheless exacted a heavy penalty from the Christian community in Caesarea and threatened much worse:
Click for more info.
He also blamed the pagans, who were few in number, but who ought, he said, to have hastened to the temple, and, if necessary, to have suffered cheerfully for Fortune. He caused all possessions and money belonging to the churches of the city and suburbs of Caesarea to be rigorously sought out and carded away; about three hundred pounds of gold, obtained from this source, were conveyed to the public treasury. He also commanded that all the clergy should be enrolled among the troops under the governor of the province, which is accounted the most arduous and least honorable service among the Romans. He ordered the Christian populace to be numbered, women and children inclusive, and imposed taxes upon them as onerous as those to which villages are subjected.

He further threatened that, unless their temples were speedily re-erected, his wrath would not be appeased, but would be visited on the city, until none of the Galileans remained in existence, for this was the name which, in derision, he was wont to give to the Christians. There is no doubt but that his menaces would have been fully executed had not death quickly intervened. [The Ecclesiastical History of Sozomen, Book V, Chapter IV]
Julian perished shortly thereafter during his ill-fated campaign against Persia, thereby ending the brief resurgence of paganism.

Sozomen proceeds to offer an explanation of Julian’s strategy for dealing with his hated Christian foes — certainly a more nuanced approach than that of his predecessors:
It was not from any feeling of compassion towards the Christians that he treated them at first with greater humanity than had been evinced by former persecutors, but because he had discovered that paganism had derived no advantage from their tortures, while Christianity had been especially increased, and had become more honored by the fortitude of those who died in defense of the faith. [The Ecclesiastical History of Sozomen, Book V, Chapter IV]
Sozomen’s observations here seem to be borne out by Julian’s own writings and surviving edicts which emphasize, at the same time, his hatred for Christianity and his desire to use less violent methods to defeat the followers of Christ.

Based on Sozomen’s comments, it is most likely that the martyrdom of Saint Eupsychius was ordered and carried out by the local governor in Caesarea without consulting the emperor, rather than overtly or surreptitiously commanded by Julian himself. However, the harsh punishments inflicted by Julian upon the entire Caesarean Christian community in the aftermath of the destruction of the Temple of Fortune seem like an overreaction. Perhaps Julian, like Galerius and Diocletian before him, was anxious to use such rash acts by groups of overly zealous Christians as a rationale for the enactment of more repressive measures against the Christian community.

It is also possible that the martyrdom of Saint Eupsychius was another example of the type of spontaneous mob violence against Christians that seemed to erupt across the Greek east during Julian's reign. Given Sozomen's comment that the pagans in Caesarea were few in number, however, this seems less likely.


Catholic Legal Beagle said...

Really enjoyed this entry as I had never heard of St. Eupsychius before. I noticed you are utilizing the Orthodox Calendar, was curious if you are Orthodox or Byzantine Catholic?

Florentius said...

I am a Latin Rite Catholic, but am sympathetic to the Eastern Church, particularly to the history prior to AD 1054.