Salminius Hermias Sozomen

Author: Catholic Encyclopedia


Salminius Hermias Sozomen

One of the famous historians of the early Church, born at Bethelia, a small town near Gaza in Palestine, in the last quarter of the fourth century; died probably in 447 or 448. What the epithet Salaminius means cannot be determined. The supposition that it had some connection with Salamis in Cyprus has no foundation. On the authority of Sozomen himself ("Hist. eccl.", V, xv) we learn that his grandfather became a Christian through witnessing miracle wrought by St. Hilarion. Through many years of persecution the family remained faithful, and Sozomen thus enjoyed the advantage of being trained in a Christian household. 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. A reference to Berytos has led to the mistaken supposition that he pursued legal studies in the famous law school of that place. Wherever his professional training was acquired, he settled in Constantinople, probably about the beginning of the fifth century, to commence his career as a lawyer. While thus engaged he conceived the project of writing a history of the Church. A preliminary study containing a summary of the history of Christianity from the Ascension to 323 had been lost. He purposed to continue the history of Eusebius, and to deal with the period between 323 and 439. The period actually covered in his work ends at 425. Sozomen dedicated his work (Historia ecclesiastica) to Theodosius the Younger. It is divided into nine books, distributed according to the reigns of Constantine (323-37); III and IV the reigns of his sons (337-61); books V and VI the reigns of Julian, Jovian, Valentinian I, and Valens (361-75); books VII and VIII the reigns of Gratian, Valentinian II, Theodosius I, and Arcadius (375-408). Valentinian II, Theodosius I, and Arcadius (375-408). Book IX deals with the reign of Theodosius the Younger (408-39). As the work of Socrates appeared at the same time as that of Sozomen and dealt with the same subject and the same period, an important question arises as to the relation, if any, which existed between the two authors. There can be no doubt that the work of Socrates antedated that of Sozomen, and that the latter made use of the work of his predecessor. The extent of this dependence cannot be accurately determined. At most it would appear that, while Sozomen used the work of Socrates as a guide, as well in regard to materials as to order, and while at times he did not hesitate to use it as a secondary source, he was, nevertheless, neither an indiscriminate borrower nor a plagiarist. In some matters, however, as in regard to the Novatians, Sozomen is entirely dependent on Socrates. The ninth book, which Sozomen expressly declared would terminate at the year 439, is manifestly incomplete. There is no reason to think that portion of it has been lost. It is more likely that, because of advancing age or some other cause, he was unable to carry the work to the date he had set before himself. Internal evidence points to the fact that Sozomen undertook to write his history about 443, and that what he succeeded in doing was accomplished in a comparatively short time.

The work of Sozomen suffers in many ways by comparison with that of Socrates. Though the style is reputed to be better, the construction of the work is inferior, and the author's grasp of the significance of historical movements is less sure. Nevertheless, Sozomen made a painstaking effort to be acquainted with all the sources of information on the subjects which he touched, and he had a passionate desire for the truth. He was filled with a profound conviction of the Providential purpose of Christianity, and of its mission, under Divine guidance, for the regulation of the affairs of mankind. In doctrinal matters he aimed constantly at being in thorough accord with the Catholic party, and was a consistent opponent of heresy in all its forms. But, while he maintained a constant attitude of hostility to Arianism, Gnosticism, Montanism, Apollinarianism, etc., he never assailed the leaders of these heresies or allowed himself to indulge in bitter personal attacks. "Let it not be accounted strange", he says, "if I have bestowed commendations upon the leaders or enthusiasts of the above-mentioned heresies. I admire their eloquence and their impressiveness in discourse. I leave their doctrine to be judged by those whose right it is" (III, xv). The work of Zosomen is interesting and valuable for many reasons. In the first place he pays more attention than any of the older historians to the missionary activity of the Christians, and to him we are indebted for much precious information about the introduction of Christianity among the Armenians, the Saracens, the Goths, and other peoples. The history is especially rich in information regarding the rise and spread of monasticism. His account of the labours of the early founders of monasteries and monastic communities, though sympathetic, cannot be said to be overdrawn. The history as a whole is fairly comprehensive, and though his treatment of affairs in the Western Church is not full, his pages abound in facts not available elsewhere and in documentary references of the highest importance. In his attitude towards the Church, in his treatment of the Scriptures, and in his views of the hierarchy and ecclesiastical order and dignity, he is always animated by feelings of submission and respect. There are many faults and shortcomings in his work. Of many of these he himself was conscious, but it was not in his power to correct them. Frequently it was hard for him to know the truth because of the mass of divergent evidence with which he had to deal, frequently there was not enough evidence, but in every case he aimed at expressing the truth and at making his work serve some useful purpose in the defence or elucidation of Christian ideas. The work of Sozomen was printed at Paris in 1544. There are later editions by Christophorson and Ictrus (Cologne, 1612) and be Valesius (Paris, 1668). The text of Valesius was reprinted by Hussey (Oxford, 1860), and by Migne (P. G., LXVII). There is an excellent English translation by Hartranft, with a learned though somewhat diffuse introduction, in the "Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers", II (New York, 1890).


Transcribed by Janet Grayson

Taken from the New Advent Web Page (

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