Feast of St. Pamphilus of Caesarea and His Companions (June 1)   Leave a comment

Above:  Ruins of the Roman Aqueduct at Caesarea Maritima


Bible Scholar and Translator; Martyr

One of the pleasures of reading then writing about notable saints is feeding the intellectual side of my nature.  My blogging functions as a creative outlet.  Another associated pleasure is learning about long-dead people I would have liked to know.  Among these historical heroes was St. Pamphilus of Caesaria, born to a wealthy Beirut family in the late 200s.  The saint studied at the great catechetical school of Alexandria, Egypt.  There he came under the influence of Pierius, a follower of Origen, another person I admire greatly.  St. Pamphilus, who also taught at that school in time, became a priest at Caesarea Maritima.

St. Pamphilus was a great scholar.  During his lifetime the saint had a reputation for being well-informed and maintaining a large private library, one invaluable for research by himself and others.  Known as the leading Bible scholar of his time, St. Pamphilus taught, mentored, and befriended Eusebius of Caesarea, the great historian of early Christianity.  Eusebius described St. Pamphilus as

a most admirable man of our times and the glory of the church at Caesarea, whose illustrious deeds we have set forth….

Ecclesiastical History, Book 8, Chapter 13, (6), translated by C. F. Cruse

and as

that dearest of my friends and associates, a man who for every virtue was the most illustrious martyr of our times.

Ecclesiastical History, The Book of Martyrs, Chapter 7

St. Pamphilus, who lived simply and gave his wealth to the poor, also translated the Bible.  His library has long since ceased to exist, unfortunately, as has the biography Eusebius wrote about him.

On another note, the saint and Eusebius did collaborate on the Apology for Origen.  I approve of this, for Origen needed defenders; he had many detractors.

As Eusebius has informed us, the life of St. Pamphilus ended in martyrdom.  The scholarly saint refused to sacrifice to pagan gods at Caesarea Maritima in 308.  Imprisoned for over a year, he died by beheading in 309.  Also beheaded were St. Paul of Jamnia and St. Valens of Jerusalem, a deacon.  Their crime was to be a Christian.  The man who ordered their executions was Firmilian, the local Roman governor.  On that day he also oversaw the crucifixion of St. Theodolus of Caesarea, a former servant of his who was a Christian.  It was a bloody day at Caesarea Maritima.  One St. Porphyrius of Caesarea, a student of St. Pamphilius, requested the opportunity to bury his mentor’s body.  For this alleged offense Firmilian ordered him tortured then burned to death.  An on-looker named St. Seleucus of Cappadocia applauded the faith of St. Porphyrius.  So Firmilian had this man beheaded.

Such violence flows from fear.  One might wonder why Romans persecuted those Gentiles who refused to sacrifice to pagan gods and those who sympathized with such dissidents.  These violent acts flowed from the assumption that the gods, whose existence most Mediterranean people of the time affirmed, would bless the empire and cause it to prosper so long as people sacrificed to them.  The Romans, being relatively tolerant of religious differences, exempted Jews from this civic duty.  Yet this tolerance did not extend to dissident Gentiles, depending on who was governor in a particular region at a certain time.  Most persecutions were regional, and empire-wide persecutions were rare.  As the empire faced foreign and domestic turmoil, cracking down on these Gentiles who refused to sacrifice to imaginary deities seemed rational, from a certain point of view.  These Christians constituted a real threat to the health of the empire, persecutors thought.

May we know then remember that those who engage in persecution might not think of themselves as villains.  They can probably rationalize their actions to themselves and others.  That said, not every dispute in a church-state relationship indicates persecution; may we not “cry wolf.”  And may we not persecute either.


Dear God of life, who has endured us with the blessings of the intellect,

we thank you for the scholarship of Saint Pamphilus of Caesarea,

whose output influenced his contemporaries and his successors in the Christian faith positively.

We thank you also for his faith and that of his fellow martyrs,

Saint Paul of Jamnia,

Saint Valens of Jerusalem,

Saint Theodolus of Caesarea,

Saint Porphyrius of Caesarea,

and Saint Seleucus of Cappadocia,

each of whom took up his cross and followed you.

We mourn the violence which leads to martyrdom

while rejoicing that such violence has failed to crush Christianity.

May such violence cease,

tolerance increase,

and love of you flourish.

In the Name of God:  Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Wisdom of Solomon 3:1-9

Psalm 22

2 Timothy 4:6-8

Mark 8:31-38







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