November 25, 2018

Did Eusebius Write About Saint Katherine in the Early Fourth Century?

The information we have about Saint Katherine of Alexandria primarily comes from sources dating from the tenth and eleventh centuries, such as the Menologion of Basil II, the Synaxarion of Constantinople, and the detailed Life written by Symeon Metaphrastes. But there is another possible source that dates much closer to her time, within a generation in fact, written around the year 320 by Eusebius, in his Ecclesiastical History (Bk. 8, Ch. 14). There he writes about how Emperor Maximinus II (308-313), who seized high-born women for licentious and adulterous purposes during the time he persecuted Christians in the East, attempted the same while visiting the city of Alexandria. Eusebius records the following:

"One only of those who were seized for adulterous purposes by the tyrant, a most distinguished and illustrious Christian woman in Alexandria, conquered the passionate and intemperate soul of Maximinus by most heroic firmness. Honorable on account of wealth and family and education, she esteemed all of these inferior to chastity. He urged her many times, but although she was ready to die, he could not put her to death, for his desire was stronger than his anger. He therefore punished her with exile, and took away all her property."

Could this be the earliest account written about Saint Katherine of Alexandria? The resemblance is uncanny. Remember, her unique Greek name Aikaterini, translated into Latin as Katherine, means "Ever-Pure One." The details fit the legend, except that Eusebius says she was exiled, while later accounts say she was beheaded. Both could be true however. Nonetheless, it seems that Eusebius did indeed write about Saint Katherine of Alexandria not many years after her death.