He is the author of a Historia Ecclesiastica ("Church History", ? ?) which covers the history of late ancient Christianity during the years 305–439.
He was born at Constantinople. Even in ancient times nothing seems to have been known of his life except what can be gathered from notices in his Historia Ecclesiastica, which departed from its ostensible model, Eusebius of Caesarea, in emphasizing the place of the emperor in church affairs and in giving secular as well as church history.
Socrates' teachers, noted in his prefaces, were the grammarians Helladius and Ammonius, who came to Constantinople from Alexandria, where they had been pagan priests. A revolt, accompanied by an attack on the pagan temples, had forced them to flee. This attack, in which the Serapeum was vandalized and destroyed, is dated about 391.
It is not proved that Socrates of Constantinople later profited by the teaching of the sophist Troilus. No certainty exists as to Socrates' precise vocation, though it may be inferred from his work that he was a layman.
The history covers the years 305–439, and experts believe it was finished in 439 or soon thereafter, and certainly during the lifetime of Emperor Theodosius II, i.e., before 450. The purpose of the history is to continue the work of Eusebius of Caesarea (1.1). It relates in simple Greek language what the Church experienced from the days of Constantine to the writer's time. Ecclesiastical dissensions occupy the foreground, for when the Church is at peace, there is nothing for the church historian to relate (7.48.7). In the preface to Book 5, Socrates defends dealing with Arianism and with political events in addition to writing about the church.
The Historia Ecclesiastica is one of the few sources of knowledge of Hypatia, the female mathematician and philosopher of Alexandria.
Socrates' account is in many respects well-balanced. He is careful not to use hyperbolic titles when referring to prominent personalities in Church and State.
He is often assumed to have been a follower of Novatianism, but this is based on the fact that he gives a lot of details about the Novatianists, and speaks of them in generous terms, as he does of Arians and other groups. He speaks of himself as belonging to the Church.
Socrates asserts that he owed the impulse to write his work to a certain Theodorus, who is alluded to in the proemium to the second book as "a holy man of God" and seems therefore to have been a monk or one of the higher clergy. The contemporary historians Sozomen and Theodoret were combined with Socrates in a sixth-century compilation, which has obscured their differences until recently, when their individual portrayals of the series of Christian emperors were distinguished one from another and contrasted by Hartmut Leppin, Von Constantin dem Großen zu Theodosius II (Göttingen 1996).
The Historia Ecclesiastica was first edited in Greek by Robert Estienne, on the basis of Codex Regius 1443 (Paris, 1544); a translation into Latin by Johannes Christophorson (1612) is important for its variant readings. The fundamental early modern edition, however, was produced by Henricus Valesius (Henri Valois) (Paris, 1668), who used the Codex Regius, a Codex Vaticanus, and a Codex Florentinus, and also employed the indirect tradition of Theodorus Lector (Codex Leonis Alladi).
The new critical edition of the text is edited by G.C. Hansen, and published in the series Die Griechischen Christlichen Schriftsteller (Berlin:Akademie Verlag) 1995.
An English translation by A. C. Zenos was published in Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, Vol. 2. Edited by Philip Schaff and Henry Wace. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1890.) (online editions: newadvent.org ccel.orgmunseys.com .