Little more than cursory allusions to Sozomen occur in the works of contemporary writers; and the materials for a memoir of his life are therefore at best but few and scanty. We should, in fact, be destitute of almost all knowledge as to his birth, education, mode of life, and private history, had not some information on these points been furnished by himself. In the work before us, the only one which has caused his name to be handed down to posterity, he draws aside the curtain which would otherwise have concealed his origin and parentage, and makes known to us a portion of his family history. He tells us (book v. chap. xv.) that his grandfather was a native of Palestine, and of Pagan parentage; that he, with all his family, was converted to Christianity on witnessing a miracle wrought by St. Hilarion; and that, being possessed of great mental endowments, he afterwards became eminently useful to the men of Gaza and Ascalon, by his extraordinary power in expounding the most obscure passages of Holy Writ.
Our author himself seems to have been born about the beginning of the fifth century. He tells us that in his youth some of the founders of monasticism in Palestine were still living, although they had reached a very advanced period of life, and that he had enjoyed opportunities of intercourse with them. To this circumstance may probably be attributed the tone of reverential admiration in which Sozomen invariably speaks of the ascetic inhabitants of the desert.
The education of Sozomen was conducted with a view to the legal profession; and he studied for some years at Berytus, then noted for its school of law. He afterwards established himself at Constantinople, and, it has been conjectured, held some office at the court of Theodosius the Younger. He is reputed to have possessed some skill in the law, but it is certain that he never attained any eminence in his profession. It is only in the character of an historian that he has rendered himself conspicuous. His first work was an abridgment of Ecclesiastical History, from the ascension of our Lord to the deposition of Licinius (a.d. 324), but this is not extant. The work before us seems to have been commenced about the year 443. It embraces a period of 117 years; namely, from a.d. 323 to a.d. 439. It is generally admitted to have suffered many alterations and mutilations; and this may, in some measure, serve to account for the frequent inaccuracies in point both of narrative and of chronology which pervade the nine books of which it is composed. It is evident, from the very abrupt termination of this history, that it is but a fragmentary portion of a larger work. The precise object of Sozomen in undertaking to write this history is not apparent, as exactly the same ground had previously been gone over by Socrates, if we except the ninth book of the former, which is almost entirely devoted to the political history of the times. The learned Photius prefers the style of Sozomen to that of Socrates; yet Sozomen frequently evinces great deficiency in point of judgment, and on many occasions enlarges upon details which are altogether omitted by Socrates, as unworthy of the dignity of Ecclesiastical History. To us, there is manifest advantage in possessing these separate chronicles of the same events. Facts which might perhaps have been doubted, if not rejected, had they rested upon the sole authority of a single writer, are admitted as unquestionable when authenticated by the combined testimony of Socrates, of Sozomen, and of Theodoret. And, indeed, the very discrepancies which, on several minor points, are discernible in the histories of these writers, are not without their use, inasmuch as they tend to the removal of all suspicion of connivance or collusion.