Patristic Evidence

Sozomen on Constantine
(c. 400 A.D.)

Excerpt of: Sozomen, Eccl. History,
Book I, Chapter V

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Last Updated: Feb 15, 2009

Prologue: - Introduction to Sozomen

Excerpt: - Sozomen on Constantine: and the murder of Crispus

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Salaminius Hermias Sozomen - (ca. 400-450), historian of the Christian Church Sozomen was born around or before 400 in Bethelia, a small town near Gaza, from a wealthy Christian family of Palestine. During his childhood, the family experienced many years of persecution under Emperor Julian (the Apostate, 331-363 A.D.). His grandfather persisted at scriptural interpretation even in the time of persecution. At one point, they even had to flee to safety from the persecution for a period of time. Despite this, the family remained faithful, and Sozomen thus enjoyed the advantage of being trained in a Christian household.

Sozomen seems to have been brought up in the circle of Alaphrion and acknowledges a debt of gratitude to the monastic order. His early education was directed by the monks in his native place. It is impossible to ascertain what curriculum he followed in these monastic schools, but his writings give clear evidence of the thoroughness with which he was grounded in Greek studies.

As an adult he acquired training as a lawyer. He studied law in Beirut and then went to Constantinople to start his career as a lawyer. While thus engaged he conceived the project of writing a history of the Church. Sozomen wrote two works on church history. His first work covered the history of the Church, from the Ascension of Jesus Christ to the defeat of Licinius in 323, in twelve books. Sozomen's second and longer work was a continuation of the first. He planned to continue the history of Eusebius, covering the period between 323 and 439. The period actually covered in his work ends at 425. He wrote it in Constantinople, somewhere around the years 440-443. He dedicated this work to Emperor Theododosius the Younger.

The source for about three-fourths of his material was the writings of Socrates Scholasticus. The literary relationship of these writers appears everywhere. The extent of this dependence cannot be accurately determined. Sozomen used the work of Socrates as a guide to sources and order. In some matters, such as in regard to the Novatians, Sozomen is entirely dependent on Socrates.

But Sozomen did not simply copy Socrates. He went back to the principal sources used by Socrates and other sources, often including more from them than Socrates did. He used the writings of Eusebius, the first major Church historian. The Vita Constantini of Eusebius is expressly cited in the description of the vision of Constantine. Sozomen appears also to have consulted the the works of Athanasius, Rufinus, Sabinus ond Olympiodorus of Thebes as well as other authorities. He also used oral tradition, adding some of the most unique value to his work.


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Sozomen on Constantine

Sozomen's record corroborates several important facts concerning Emperor Constantine:

(1) Constantine did indeed murder his son Crispus, over an allegation of adultery and/or plotting, put forward by Constantine's second Queen, Fausta.

(2) The approximate date falls (as Philostorgius places it) about a year prior to the Council of Nicea. This is important for corroboration of Theodoret's interesting testimony concerning that council.

(3) Constantine later murdered the philosopher Sosipater, on a pretext. This again reveals something of the temperment and questionable quality of Constantine as a Christian.

(4) Sozomen is concerned to defend the sincerity and time of Constantine's conversion, which he places well before the murders of his family members.

But it is important to note that Sozomen does not go so far as to deny the essential facts surrounding Constantine's execution of several relatives. This makes both his own witness, and the basic facts as reported by others about Constantine carry a weight and reliability that otherwise might not be granted by modern historians.

The following excerpt is taken from:
The Ecclesiastical History of Sozomen: 324-440 A.D.
Translated by Edward Walford, M.A., (London, Bohn, 1855)



'I AM aware that it is reported by the Greeks that Constantine, after slaying some of his nearest relations, and particularly after assenting to the murder of his son Crispus, repented of his evil deeds, and inquired of Sosipater, 1 the philosopher, who was then master of the school of Plotinus, concerning the means of purification from guilt.

The philosopher (so the story goes) replied that such moral defilement could admit of no purification ; the emperor was grieved at this repulse, but happening to meet with some bishops who told him that he would be cleansed from sin on repentance and on submitting to baptism, he was delighted with their representations and doctrines, and became a Christian, and the leader of those who were converted to the same faith.

It appears to me that this story was the invention of persons who desired to vilify the Christian religion.

Crispus 2 - on whose account, it is said, Constantine required purification, did not die till the twentieth year of his father's reign ; he held the second place in the empire and bore the name of Caesar, and many laws, framed with his sanction, in favour of Christianity, are still extant.

That this was the case, can be proved by referring to the dates affixed to these laws, and to the lists of the legislators.

It does not appear likely that Sosipater had any intercourse with Constantine, whose government was then centred in the regions near the ocean and the Rhine ; for his dispute with Maxentius, the governor of Italy, had created so much dissension in the Roman dominions, that it was then no easy matter to dwell in Gaul, in Britain, or in the neighbouring countries, in which, it is universally admitted, Constantine embraced the religion of the Christians, previous to his war with Maxentius, and prior to his return to Rome and Italy : and this is evidenced by the dates of the laws which he enacted in favour of religion.

But even granting that Sosipater chanced to meet the emperor, or that he had epistolary correspondence with him, it cannot be imagined the philosopher was ignorant that Hercules, the son of Alcmena, obtained purification at Athens by the celebration of the mysteries of Ceres, after the murder of his children, and of Iphitus, 3 his guest and friend. That the Greeks held that purification from guilt of this nature could be obtained, is obvious from the instance I have just alleged, and he is a false calumniator who claims that Sosipater taught the contrary. I cannot admit the possibility of the philosopher's having been ignorant of these facts ; for he was at that period esteemed the most learned man in Greece.'

Original Footnotes:

1. Or Sopater. A philosopher of Apamia in Syria, and an intimate friend of Constantine the Great, who however put him to death upon some pretext.

2. Crispus was put to death by Constantine on account of a false accusation preferred against him by his step-mother Fausta. See St. Chrysostom, Horn. XT. in Philipp. Arnmian. Marccllinus, xiv. 11.

3. See Sophocles Trachiniae.

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