EUSIGNIUS, SAINT, fourth-century martyr (feast day: 5 Tubah).
A manuscript of DAYR ANBA SHINUDAH of which a few leaves remain at Paris (National Library, nos. 129.14 fol. 99 and 129.16, fol. 105) contains the legend of Saint Eusignius. There are two sources of this legend: one comes through the Copto-Arabic Synaxarion, the other follows the various redactions of the Greek Passion of Saint Eusignius (Bibliotheca Hagiographica Graeca 638-640); the notice in the Synaxarion clearly states what is assumed in the Passion.
Saint Eusignius was the soldier commanded to explain to CONSTANTINE the meaning of the cross in the celebrated vision in which the words, “In this sign you will conquer” appeared. In the majority of the extremely numerous ways in which the story of this vision is told, the meaning of the cross is explained by the Christian soldiers in general. The name Eusignius (“the good sign”) is certainly connected with this basic function of evangelization— proclaiming the good news through the sign of the cross.
The Greek Passion of Saint Eusignius presents him as the victim of the persecution by JULIAN THE APOSTATE at Antioch, despite the fact that at that time Eusignius was already feeble with age. There is a parallel here to the role of Bishop Eusebius in the story of Julian that has been preserved in Syriac. Thus the persons involved in the conversion of Constantine are recalled to life to testify against Julian. From tales about Constantine, the Greek Passion draws on a story of the Empress Helena’s having been snatched out of a life of debauchery by Constantius Chlorus, the father of Constantine, and of her child being promised the imperial purple through the protection of God.
Here in summary is the story. Julian goes from Antioch to Caesarea in Palestine for the war against the Persians and summons Eusignius to him. Previously he had already told his secretary Dionysius to ignore the proceedings against the Christians. A relative of Eusignius, a certain Eustochius, a man of property and a God-fearing man, follows old Eusignius in secret. Eusignius recommends that Dionysius should secretly make use of a tachygrapher (shorthand writer) to conserve the memory of Eusignius’ destiny, the fatal outcome of which he is not aware of. Eustochius the deacon assures him that all the necessary steps will be taken. (Suidas mentions one Eustochius of Cappadocia who was a scholar and historiographer under Constantine. The choice of this name would thus be explained.)
The composition is certainly literary in the usual style of the Passions. In the saint’s testimony on Constantine’s vision, the latter is written by the stars according to what Philostorgos the historian and his generally Arian sources say. Constantine’s campaign against the Persians is presented basically in terms of a topography, which played a very illustrious role in the Coptic tradition. Clearly, in showing that Constantine was victorious thanks to his faith in the cross, whereas Julian was to be conquered by the Persians because of his unbelief, the Passion throws into greater relief the scandal of Julian’s apostasy and of the breach of the Constantinian peace.
The second paragraph of the Passion depicts Eusignius simply as beheaded in prison. There is no great torture scene. In contrast, the death of Julian is presented as an execution by an angel who strikes him with his lance. This version is particularly archaic, when we consider that in the parallel literature, Mar Qurios, one of the Forty Martyrs of Sebastia, strikes the apostate emperor with his lance on the Persian front.
These various circumstances make it necessary not to place the emergence of this symbolic martyr too late. It should be noted that Basil of Caesaraea, who collected his relics, is called “the blessed” (makarios, that is, deceased, but not “saint”) in the Greek recension published by V. Latysev (1915). It is probably not far wrong to accept that the text came into being in the final decade of the fourth century.
- Coquin, R. G., and E. Lucchesi. “Une Version copte de la passion de saint Eusignios.” Analecta Bollandiana 100 (1982):185-208.
- Devos, P. “Une Recension nouvelle de la passion grecque BHG 39 de Saint Eusignios.” Analecta Bollandiana 100 (1982):209-228.
- Latysev, V. T. “O zitiah sv. velikomuceniku Evsignija.” Zurnal Ministerstva Narodnogo Prosvescenija 2 (1915):131-91.
MICHEL VAN ESBROECK