The Roman provinces in Africa were for a long time one of the richest and most noble portions of the empire. The Carthaginian barbarism and perfidy had given place to the most flourishing reign of the sciences, arts, and religion. The nobles of this country were all princes, and for riches and state, seemed to vie with kings; its peace seemed on every side secure. But the strongest cities and empires are often nearest a fall; they are founded, to be again sooner or later torn to pieces. Every state has even within itself the seeds of its own destruction; these will occasion the dissolution of every body politic no less certainly than the internal weakness of the animal body must bring it to a fatal period. This was the condition of the Roman empire in its decline, when its rulers, to preserve Italy which they regarded as its heart or head, abandoned its extremities to the Goths and Vandals. At a time when Africa thought of no danger, in the reign of the emperor Valentinian the III in 428, Genseric, king of the Vandals and Alans, having lately made a settlement in part of Spain, passed into this country, and in a short time became master of those fertile provinces. This politic barbarian king kept great armies perpetually prepared for any expedition, by which he prevented the vigilance of his enemies, and astonished all the world with the rapidity of his enterprises. The Vandals, who were mostly Christians but infected with the Arian heresy, laid the whole country waste by fire and sword, plundered all places, even churches and monasteries; burned alive two bishops, and tortured others to extort from them the treasures of their churches; razed the public buildings at Carthage, and banished Quodvultdeus, bishop of that city, with many others. But in 454, at the request of the emperor Valentinian, Genseric allowed the Catholics to choose a bishop of Carthage, and Saint Deogratias was raised to that dignity, who died soon after Genseric was returned from the plunder of Rome. The persecution growing hotter, many suffered torments for the faith, and several received the crown of martyrdom. The Arians, by a sacrilege never before heard of, made themselves shirts and breeches of the altar-cloths, and at Tinuzuda spilt and scattered the body and blood of Christ on the pavement. Catholics being by an edict disqualified for bearing any office in the government, Armogastes, a nobleman who held an honourable post in the household of Theodoric the king’s son, was condemned by the tyrant to keep cattle. Genseric dying after a reign of thirty-seven years, was succeeded by his son Huneric, a more barbarous persecutor than his father had ever been.
The episcopal see of Carthage had remained vacant twenty-four years, when in 481, Huneric permitted the Catholics on certain conditions to choose one who should fill it. The people impatient to enjoy the comfort of a pastor, pitched upon Eugenius, a citizen of Carthage, eminent for his learning, zeal, piety, and prudence; and such was his deportment in this dignity, that he was venerable to the very heretics, and so dear to the Catholics that every one of them would have thought it a happiness to lay down his life for him. His charities to the distressed were excessive, especially considering his poverty. But he always found resources for their necessities in the hearts of his people; and he refused himself every thing that he might give all to the poor. When others put him in mind that he ought to reserve something for his own necessaries, his answer was: “If the good pastor must lay down his life for his flock, can it be excusable for me to be solicitous for the necessities of my body?” He fasted every day, and often allowed himself only a most slender evening refection of bread and water. His virtue gained him the respect and esteem even of the Arians; but at length envy and blind zeal got the ascendant in their breasts, and the king sent him an order never to sit in the episcopal throne, preach to the people, or admit into his chapel any Vandals among whom several were Catholics. The saint boldly answered the messenger, that the laws of God commanded him not to shut the doors of his church to any who desired to serve him in it. Huneric, enraged at this answer, persecuted the Catholics many ways, especially the Vandals who had embraced, the faith. He commanded guards to be placed at the doors of the Catholic churches, who when they saw any man or woman going in clothed in the habit of the Vandals, struck them on the head with short staffs jagged and indented, which being twisted into their hair, and drawn back with great violence, tore off the hair and skin together. Some lost their eyes by this means, and others died with the extreme pain; but many lived a long time after. Women with their heads flayed in this manner, were publicly led through the streets, with a crier going before them to show them to the people. But this barbarous usage did not cause any one to forsake the true religion. Next, the tyrant deprived the Catholics who were at court of their pensions, and sent them to work in the country. He also ordered that none should be admitted to bear any office in his palace, or any public charge who was not an Arian. He afterwards turned them out of their houses, stripped them of all their wealth, and sent them to Sicily or Sardinia. After this his persecution fell on all Catholics. One edict followed another against them, and the cloud thickened every day over their heads. Many nuns were so cruelly tortured that several died on the rack. Great numbers of bishops, priests, deacons, and eminent Catholic laymen were banished to the number of four thousand nine hundred and seventy-six, all of whom the tyrant sent into a desert, where they were fed with barley like horses. This desert was filled with scorpions and venemous serpents; but they did not destroy any of the servants of God. The people followed their bishops and priests with lighted tapers in their hands, and mothers carried their little babes in their arms, and laid them at the feet of the confessors, all crying out with tears: “Going yourselves to your crowns, to whom do you leave us? Who will baptize our children? Who will impart to us the benefit of penance, and discharge us from the bonds of sins by the favour of reconciliation and pardon? Who will bury us with solemn supplications at our death? By whom will divine sacrifices be made?”
The bishop Eugenius was spared in the first storm, probably that the inhabitants of the capital might seem to be somewhat considered. But in May 483, the king sent him a summons requiring the Catholics, whom he called Homoousians, to hold a conference or disputation with his Arian bishops at Carthage on the 1st day of February ensuing. Eugenius answered, the terms were not equal, seeing their enemies were to be judges; and that as it was the common cause of all churches, other foreign churches ought to be invited and consulted, “especially the church of Rome, which is the head of all churches.” 4 About that time one Felix, who had been long blind, addressed himself to Saint Eugenius desiring him to pray that he might recover his sight, saying he had been admonished by a vision so to do. The bishop showed great reluctance and confusion, alleging that he was a base sinner; but at length, after blessing the font for the solemn administration of baptism on the Epiphany, he said to the blind man: “I have told you that I am a sinner, and the last of all men; but I pray God that he show you mercy according to your faith, and restore to you your sight.” Then he made the sign of the cross on his eyes, and the blind man saw: the whole city was witness to the triumph of the faith. The king sent for Felix, and examined himself all the circumstances of the miracle, which he found too evident to be called in question. However, the Arian bishops told him that Eugenius had performed it by recourse to art magic. The Catholics made choice of ten disputants for the conference, which was opened on the 5th of February. Cyrila, patriarch of the Arians, was seated on a throne; the Catholics who were standing, asked who were the commissaries to take down in writing what should pass in the disputation; and were answered that Cyrila would perform that office. The Catholics asked by what authority he claimed the jurisdiction and rank of patriarch? The Arians not being able to produce any sufficient warrant for his usurpation, filled the hall with noise and tumult, and obtained an order that every lay Catholic there present should receive a hundred bastinadoes. Cyrila sought various pretences to defer the conference. The Catholics, however presented a written confession of their faith. This takes up the whole third book of Victor’s history, though he has only inserted the first part in which the consubstantiality of God the Son is proved from the scriptures. The second part, which confirmed the same from the writings of the fathers, is lost. This confession seems to have been drawn up by Saint Eugenius, to whom Gennadius ascribes a confession of faith against the Arians.
When this was read the Arians quarrelled that the orthodox took the name of Catholics, though this was given them by the whole world, even by the heretics themselves, as Saint Austin observed a little before this time in that very country. Upon this, however, the Arians abruptly broke up the conference, and the king, on the 25th of February, in 484, published a severe edict for a general persecution, which he had already prepared for that purpose. By this all the Catholic clergy were banished out of towns, and forbidden to perform any functions, even in the country; all Catholics were declared incapable of inheriting, or disposing, of any estates, real or personal, with other such articles. Executioners were despatched to all parts of the kingdom, and many Catholics were put to barbarous deaths, and many more inhumanly tormented. One Dionysia, after having been herself cruelly scourged, seeing her son Majoricus, a tender youth, tremble at the sight of the torments prepared for him, she looked on him with a stern countenance, and said: “Remember, son, we were baptized in the name of the Trinity, and in the bosom of our mother the church.” The young man, encouraged by these words, suffered martyrdom with undaunted resolution, and his mother buried him within her own house, that she might every day offer to the holy Trinity her prayers over his grave, in the lively hope of a glorious resurrection with him at the last day. Her cousin Emilius, her sister Dativa, and innumerable others in different parts of Africa received the like crowns. At Typasus, in Mauritania Cæsariensis, certain Catholics who had assisted at the celebration of the divine mysteries in a private house, were informed against; and by the king’s order had their tongues plucked out, and their right hands cut off; yet they spoke as well as ever, as Saint Victor Vitensis, an eye-witness, assures us. He says, Reparatus, a subdeacon, one of this number, was entertained when he wrote, in the court of the Emperor Zena, at Constantinople, and was there highly honoured, especially by the empress; and that, though entirely deprived of his tongue, he spoke gracefully, and without the least defect or imperfection. Æneas, of Gaza, a platonic philosopher, who was then at Constantinople, and wrote in 533, says he himself had seen them in that city, and had heard them speak distinctly; and not being able to believe his own ears, he had examined their mouths, and seen that their tongues were plucked out to the very roots, so that he wondered they could have survived so cruel a torment. Procopius, who wrote soon after, says also that he had seen these persons at Constantinople, and had heard them speak freely, without feeling any thing of their punishment; but that two of them, by falling into a grievous sin of the flesh, lost the use of their speech, which they had till then enjoyed.
The tyrant wreaked his impotent vengeance on many others, especially on Vandals who had been converted to the Catholic faith; but was not able to overcome their heroic constancy. The streets of Carthage were filled with spectacles of his cruelty; and one was there meeting continually some without hands, others without eyes, nose, or ears; others whose heads appeared sunk in between their shoulders, by having been hung up by the hands on the tops of houses for sights to the people. Above four hundred and sixty bishops were brought to Carthage, in order to be sent into banishment: of this number eighty-eight died under great hardships at Carthage, some few made their escape, and the rest were banished. Saint Eugenius after having long encouraged others to the conflict, was himself at length on a sudden carried into exile, without being allowed to take leave of his friends. He found means, however, to write a letter to his flock, which Saint Gregory of Tours has preserved. In it he says: “I with tears beg, exhort, and conjure you by the dreadful day of judgment, and the awful light of the coming of Christ, that you hold fast the Catholic faith. Preserve the grace of the holy baptism, and the unction of the chrism. Let no man born again of water return to the water.” This he mentions, because the Arians in Africa, like the Donatists, rebaptized those who came over to their sect. Saint Eugenius protests to his flock that if they remain constant, no distance nor death could separate him from them in spirit; but that he was innocent of the blood of those who should perish, and that this his letter would be read before the tribunal of Christ at the last day for the severer condemnation of such base apostates. “If I return to Carthage,” says he, “I shall see you in this life; if not, I shall meet you in the other. Pray for us, and fast; fasting and alms have never failed to move God to mercy. Above all things, remember that we are not to fear those who can only kill the body.”
We have a catalogue of all the bishops of the provinces of Africa who came to the conference, and were sent into banishment; namely, fifty-four of the proconsular province, one hundred and twenty-five of Numidia, one hundred and seven of the province of Byzacena, one hundred and twenty of the province of Mauritania Cæsariensis, forty-four from the province of Sitifi, five from that of Tripolis, besides ten from Sardinia and other places; in all four hundred and sixty-four bishops, of which number eighty-eight died at Carthage, before their departure into exile, forty-six were banished to Corsica, three hundred and three to other places, and twenty-eight made their escape. Saint Eugenius was carried into the uninhabited desert country in the province of Tripolis, and committed to the guard of Antony, an inhuman Arian bishop, who treated him with the utmost barbarity. The saint added to his sufferings voluntary austerities, wore a rough hair-shirt, lay on the ground, and passed great part of the night in prayer and tears. When he was afflicted with a palsy, Antony, because vinegar was contrary to his distemper, obliged him to drink it in large quantities. Yet God was pleased to restore his servant to his health. It is observed by our historian, that the Arian bishops were all cruel persecutors, and went through the cities and provinces, filling all places with scenes of horror, rebaptizing persons by force and violence, scourging, mangling, torturing, and banishing even women and children. The fifth book of the history of this persecution is filled with examples. The apostates signalized themselves above others by the cruelties which they exercised upon the orthodox. Elpidophorus, one of this number, was appointed judge at Carthage to condemn the more zealous to be tortured. Muritta, the deacon who had assisted when he was baptized in the bosom of the Catholic church, being brought before him, took with him the chrismale or white garment, with which at the time he received the apostate coming out of the font he had clothed him, as an emblem of that innocence which he engaged himself to preserve always unspotted; and producing it before the whole assembly, he said: “This robe will accuse you when the judge shall appear in majesty at the last day. It will bear testimony against you to your condemnation.” This relation is gathered from Saint Victor, bishop of Vita, in the province of Byzacena; who being banished by King Huneric for the faith in 487, retired to Constantinople, and wrote (probably in that city) in five books, the history of the Vandalic persecution.
Saint Victor relates that Huneric, the great persecutor of the church, died miserably, being devoured by worms, in December, 484, having reigned almost eight years. Nor was he succeeded, as he had earnestly desired, by his son Hilderic; but by Gontamund, a nephew, whom the maturity of his age rendered better able to bear the burden of the state. This prince, in the year 488, which was the fourth of his reign, recalled Saint Eugenius to Carthage, and at his request opened the churches of the Catholics, and permitted the exiled priests also to return. Gontamund died in 496, and his brother, Thrasimund, was called to the crown, of whom mention hath been made in the life of Saint Fulgentius. Though this king often affected a show of moderation, he sometimes used the sword and every other violent measure to depress the cause of truth, which at other times he pretended to seek after. But his inconstancy betrayed his want of sincerity. True virtue is steady, but the fool changeth like the moon; he who is governed by his passions is every thing by fits, and if he one day pretend to condemn his vices, he by relapses soon repents again of this very repentance, which frequently springs rather from a disgust of sin, than from any principle of true virtue. Thrasimund by this levity or hypocrisy never deserved to arrive at the light of the true faith, and often persecuted its most holy champions, of which, among many others, the sufferings of Saint Eugenius are an instance. Saint Gregory of Tours relates 13 that by his authority the judges condemned our saint, one Longinus, and Saint Vindemial, bishop of Capsa, in Africa, to be beheaded. Saint Vindemial died by the sword; but the tyrant commanded Saint Eugenius to be led to the place of execution, and though he protested under the axe that he would rather lose his life than depart from the Catholic faith, he was again brought back to Carthage, and banished into Languedoc, which country was then subject to Alaric, king of the Visigoths, who was also an Arian. He died in his exile in a monastery which he built and governed at Viance, (since called Saint Amaranth’s, from the tomb of that martyr,) about a mile from Albi. He passed to a better life in 505, on the 13th of July. King Hilderic afterwards recalled the surviving exiled prelates; but peace was not perfectly restored to that church before the year 534, when Belisarius, a general who was master of all the maxims of the first Romans with regard to the art of war, vanquished Gelimer, the last Vandal king in Africa, and sent him prisoner to Constantinople.
The saints chose to suffer every temporal loss, torment, or death with which the world could threaten them rather than lose the holy treasure of faith. This gift is a light which shineth upon us from God, to direct us amidst our darkness in the path to eternal life, as the pillar of fire conducted the Israelites through the wilderness. It is the seed, or rather the root of a spiritual life, and of every virtue that is meritorious of everlasting glory. “Faith is the solid foundation of all virtues,” says Saint Ambrose. And in another place he cries out: “O faith, richer than all treasures! more healing and sovereign than all medicines!” Our faith, if true, must have three conditions, or qualities.
1. It must be firm, admitting no doubt or wavering; ready to brave all dangers, torments, and death; thus it filled the martyrs with joy under the most affrighting trials, and made them triumph over fires and the sword.
2. It must be entire; for the least wilful obstinate error concerning one article destroys the whole fabric of faith, by rejecting its motive, which is every where the same testimony of divine revelation. “You who believe what you please, and reject what you please, believe yourselves, or your own fancy, rather than the gospel,” as Saint Austin says.
3. Faith must be active, animated by charity, fruitful in good works. A dead or a barren faith is compared by Saint James to a carcass without a soul, and to the faith of the devils, who believe and tremble. How active and animated was faith in the souls of all the saints! the eminent virtues which we admire in them were all the fruit of their faith, and sprang from this root. With what care ought we to nourish and improve this holy seed in our breasts? Gardeners cultivate most diligently those seeds which are most precious.
- Father Alban Butler. “Saint Eugenius, Bishop of Carthage, and His Companions, Confessors”. , 1866. Saints.SQPN.com. 12 July 2013. Web. 13 December 2013. <>