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A History Of The Church In Six Books by Evagrius

THE very few particulars which are known respecting the author of the following History, are gathered from the history itself.

Evagrius was a native of Epiphania on the Orontes, and his birth may be fixed about A. D. 536. He was by profession a Scholasticus, or advocate, and by this title he is commonly distinguished from other persons of the same name. The earliest circumstance which the historian mentions respecting himself, is his visit when a child, in company with his parents, to Apamea, to witness the solemn display of the wood of the cross, amidst the consternation caused by the sack of Antioch by Chosroes (Book IV. chap. xxvi). The history, in many places, shows a minute familiarity with the localities of Antioch: and the prominent interest which the writer variously manifests in that city and its fortunes, can only be accounted for by supposing that it was his ordinary residence, and the principal scene of his professional practice. In his description of the great pestilence which continued its ravages throughout the empire for more than fifty years, he mentions that he himself was attacked by the disease in his childhood, and that subsequently he lost by it his first wife, besides several relatives and members of his household, and among them in particular a daughter with her child (Book IV. chap. xxix).

Evagrius accompanied Gregory, patriarch of Antioch, as his professional adviser, when he appeared before a synod at Constantinople to clear himself from a charge of incest (Book VI. chap. vii). On his return to Antioch after the acquittal of the patriarch, he married a young wife: and a proof of the important position which he occupied, is incidentally afforded by the circumstance that his nuptials were made an occasion for a public festival (Book VI. chap. viii). Some of his memorials, drawn up in the service of the patriarch, obtained for him from the emperor Tiberius the honorary rank of Exquæstor; and a composition on occasion of the birth of an heir to the emperor Maurice was rewarded with the higher dignity of Expræfect (Book VI. chap. xxiv). With the mention of these last circumstances the history closes.

The only extant work of Evagrius is the “Ecclesiastical History,” commencing with the rise of the Nestorian controversy, and ending with the twelfth year of the reign of Maurice. He professes, at the outset, an intention of including in his narrative matters other than ecclesiastical; and this he has done so far as to give a secular appearance to some parts of it. As might be expected from an author of that period, his style is frequently affected and redundant. The modern reader will, however, be principally struck by the credulity manifested in his cordial detail of prodigies and miracles. But on this point it must be remembered, that the bent of the age was strongly in favour of the marvellous: and this frame of the public mind was a soil which would both spontancously produce an abundant crop of wonders, in a fond distortion and exaggeration of ordinary occurrences, and also would not fail to be cultivated by the hand of imposture. This feature of the historian’s character ought therefore in no way to affect his reputation for honesty, or his claim to general credence. It is only a proof that he was not one of the few whose intellectual course is independent of the habits of their age. There is no reason for confounding him with those in whom a heated mind has at length admitted the idea, that the maintenance of what is believed to be a good cause may be rightfully aided by attestations knowingly bestowed upon falsehoods. Upon the whole, the preservation of his work must be a matter of satisfaction to the studious in history, whether ecclesiastical or civil. It was used by Nicephorus Callisti in the composition of his own History, and has received a favourable notice in the Myriobiblion of the patriarch Photius.

Evagrius also published a collection of his memorials and miscellaneous compositions, which may now be regarded as lost (Book VI. chap. xxiv). He also intimates an intention (Book V. chap. xx.) of composing a distinct work, embracing an account of the operations of Maurice against the Persians: but there is no reason for supposing that this design was ever executed.








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