Eusebius of Caesarea (c 263 – 339?) (often called Eusebius Pamphili, "Eusebius [the friend] of Pamphilus") became the bishop of Caesarea Palaestina c 314. He is often referred to as the Father of Church History because of his work in recording the history of the early Christian church, especially Chronicle and Ecclesiastical History.
His exact date and place of birth are unknown and little is known of his youth, however it is estimated that he was born in 265. He became acquainted with the presbyter Dorotheus in Antioch and probably received exegetical instruction from him. In 296 he was in Palestine and saw Constantine who visited the country with Diocletian. He was in Caesarea when Agapius was bishop and became friendly with Pamphilus of Caesarea, with whom he seems to have studied the text of the Bible, with the aid of Origen's Hexapla and commentaries collected by Pamphilus, in an attempt to prepare a correct version.
In 307, Pamphilus was imprisoned, but Eusebius continued their project. The resulting defence of Origen, in which they had collaborated, was finished by Eusebius after the death of Pamphilus and sent to the martyrs in the mines of Phaeno located in modern Jordan. Eusebius then seems to have gone to Tyre and later to Egypt, where he first suffered persecution.
Eusebius is next heard of as bishop of Caesarea Maritima. He succeeded Agapius, whose time of office is not certain, but Eusebius must have become bishop soon after 313. Nothing is known about the early years of his tenure. When the Council of Nicaea met in 325, Eusebius was prominent in its transactions. He was not naturally a spiritual leader or theologian, but as a very learned man and a famous author who enjoyed the special favour of the emperor, he came to the fore among the members of the council (traditionally given as 318 attendees). The confession that he proposed became the basis of the Nicene Creed.
Eusebius was involved in the further development of the Arian controversies. For instance he was involved in the dispute with Eustathius of Antioch who opposed the growing influence of Origen, including his practice of an allegorical exegesis of scripture. Eustathius perceived in Origen's theology the roots of Arianism. Eusebius was an admirer of Origen and was reproached by Eustathius for deviating from the Nicene faith - he was even alleged to hold to Sabellianism. Eustathius was accused, condemned and deposed at a synod in Antioch. Part of the population of Antioch rebelled against this action and the anti-Eustathians proposed Eusebius as its new bishop - he declined.
After Eustathius had been removed, Athanasius of Alexandria, a more powerful opponent, was attacked by the anti-Nicene party headed by Eusebius of Nicomedia. In 334, Athanasius was summoned before a synod in Caesarea; he did not attend. In the following year, he was again summoned before a synod in Tyre at which Eusebius of Caesarea presided. Athanasius, foreseeing the result, went to Constantinople to bring his cause before the emperor. Constantine called the bishops to his court, among them Eusebius. Athanasius was condemned and exiled at the end of 335. At the same synod, another opponent was successfully attacked: Marcellus of Ancyra had long opposed the ant-Nicene party and had protested against the reinstitution of Arius. He was accused of Sabellianism and deposed in 336. Constantine died the next year, and Eusebius did not long survive him. Eusebius date of death is unknown. It is estimated that he died between 337 and 340 after the death of Constantine.
Of the extensive literary activity of Eusebius, a relatively large portion has been preserved. Although posterity suspected him of Arianism
, Eusebius had made himself indispensable by his method of authorship; his comprehensive and careful excerpts from original sources saved his successors the painstaking labor of original research. Hence, much has been preserved, quoted by Eusebius, which otherwise would have been destroyed.
The literary productions of Eusebius reflect on the whole the course of his life. At first, he occupied himself with works on Biblical criticism under the influence of Pamphilus and probably of Dorotheus of Tyre of the School of Antioch. Afterward, the persecutions under Diocletian and Galerius directed his attention to the martyrs of his own time and the past, and this led him to the history of the whole Church and finally to the history of the world, which, to him, was only a preparation for ecclesiastical history.
Then followed the time of the Arian controversies, and dogmatic questions came into the foreground. Christianity at last found recognition by the State; and this brought new problems—apologies of a different sort had to be prepared. Lastly, Eusebius wrote eulogies in praise of Constantine. To all this activity must be added numerous writings of a miscellaneous nature, addresses, letters, and the like, and exegetical works which extend over the whole of his life, and which include both commentaries and treatises on Biblical archaeology.
Biblical text criticism
Pamphilus and Eusebius occupied themselves with the textual criticism
of the Septuagint
text of the Old Testament
and especially of the New Testament
. An edition of the Septuagint seems to have been already prepared by Origen, which, according to Jerome
, was revised and circulated by Eusebius and Pamphilus. For an easier survey of the material of the four Evangelists, Eusebius divided his edition of the New Testament into paragraphs and provided it with a synoptical table so that it might be easier to find the pericopes
that belong together. These canon tables
or "Eusebian canons" remained in use throughout the Middle Ages, and illuminated manuscript
versions are important for the study of early medieval art.
The two greatest historical works of Eusebius are his Chronicle
and his Church History
. The former (Greek Παντοδαπὴ Ἱστορία (Pantodape historia
), "Universal History") is divided into two parts. The first part (Χρονογραφία (Chronographia
), "Annals") gives an epitome of universal history from the sources, arranged according to nations. The second part (Χρονικοὶ Κανόνες (Chronikoi kanones
), "Chronological Canons") furnishes a synchronism of the historical material in parallel columns, the equivalent of a parallel timeline
The work as a whole has been lost in the original, but it may be reconstructed from later chronographists of the Byzantine school who made excerpts from the work with untiring diligence, especially George Syncellus. The tables of the second part have been completely preserved in a Latin translation by Jerome, and both parts are still extant in an Armenian translation. The loss of the Greek originals has given an Armenian translation a special importance; thus, the first part of Eusebius's "Chronicle", of which only a few fragments exist in the Greek, has been preserved entirely in Armenian. The "Chronicle" as preserved extends to the year 325. It was written before the "Church History."
In his Church History
or Ecclesiastical History
, Eusebius wrote what was in fact the first attempted history of the Christian Church, as a chronologically-ordered account, based on earlier sources, and complete from the period of the Apostles to his own epoch. The time scheme correlated the history with the reigns of the Roman Emperors, and the scope was broad. Included were the bishops and other teachers of the Church; Christian relations with the Jews and those deemed heretical; and the Christian martyrs.
Life of Constantine
Eusebius' Life of Constantine
) is a eulogy
, and therefore its style and selection of facts are affected by its purpose, rendering it inadequate as a continuation of the Church History.
As the historian Socrates Scholasticus
said, at the opening of his history that was designed as a continuation of Eusebius, "Also in writing the life of Constantine, this same author has but slightly treated of matters regarding Arius
, being more intent on the rhetorical finish of his composition and the praises of the emperor, than on an accurate statement of facts." The work was unfinished at Eusebius' death.
Minor historical works
Before he compiled his church history, Eusebius edited a collection of martyrdoms of the earlier period and a biography of Pamphilus. The martyrology has not survived as a whole, but it has been preserved almost completely in parts. It contained:
- an epistle of the congregation of Smyrna concerning the martyrdom of Polycarp;
- the martyrdom of Pionius;
- the martyrdoms of Carpus, Papylus, and Agathonike;
- the martyrdoms in the congregations of Vienne and Lyon;
- the martyrdom of Apollonius.
Of the life of Pamphilus, only a fragment survives. A work on the martyrs of Palestine in the time of Diocletian was composed after 311; numerous fragments are scattered in legendaries which still have to be collected. The life of Constantine was compiled after the death of the emperor and the election of his sons as Augusti (337). It is more a rhetorical eulogy on the emperor than a history but is of great value on account of numerous documents incorporated in it.
Apologetic and dogmatic works
To the class of apologetic
and dogmatic works belong:
- the Apology for Origen, the first five books of which, according to the definite statement of Photius, were written by Pamphilus in prison, with the assistance of Eusebius. Eusebius added the sixth book after the death of Pamphilus. We possess only a Latin translation of the first book, made by Rufinus;
- a treatise against Hierocles (a Roman governor and Neoplatonic philosopher), in which Eusebius combated the former's glorification of Apollonius of Tyana in a work entitled "A Truth-loving Discourse" (Greek, Philalethes logos);
- Praeparatio evangelica ('Preparation for the Gospel'), commonly known by its Latin title, which attempts to prove the excellence of Christianity over every pagan religion and philosophy. The Praeparatio consists of fifteen books which have been completely preserved. Eusebius considered it an introduction to Christianity for pagans. But its value for many later readers is more because Eusebius studded this work with so many fascinating and lively fragments from historians and philosophers which are nowhere else preserved. Here alone is preserved a summary of the writings of the Phoenician priest Sanchuniathon of which the accuracy has been shown by the mythological accounts found on the Ugaritic tables, here alone is the account from Diodorus Siculus's sixth book of Euhemerus' wondrous voyage to the island of Panchaea where Euhemerus purports to have found his true history of the gods, and here almost alone is preserved writings of the neo-Platonist philosopher Atticus along with so much else.
- Demonstratio evangelica ('Proof of the Gospel') is closely connected to the Praeparatio and comprised originally twenty books of which ten have been completely preserved as well as a fragment of the fifteenth. Here Eusebius treats of the person of Jesus Christ. The work was probably finished before 311;
- another work which originated in the time of the persecution, entitled "Prophetic Extracts" (Eklogai prophetikai). It discusses in four books the Messianic texts of Scripture. The work is merely the surviving portion (books 6-9) of the General elementary introduction to the Christian faith, now lost.
- the treatise "On Divine Manifestation" (Peri theophaneias), dating from a much later time. It treats of the incarnation of the Divine Logos, and its contents are in many cases identical with the Demonstratio evangelica. Only fragments are preserved in Greek, but a complete Syriac translation of the Theophania survives in an early 5th century manuscript.
- A polemical treatises against Marcellus of Ancyra, the "Against Marcellus," dating from about 337;
- a supplement to the last-named work, also against Marcellus, entitled "The Ecclesiastical Theology," in which he defended the Nicene doctrine of the Logos against the party of Athanasius.
A number of writings, belonging in this category, have been entirely lost.
Exegetical and miscellaneous works
All of the exegetical works of Eusebius have suffered damage in transmission. The majority of them are known to us only from long portions quoted in Byzantine catena-commentaries. However these portions are very extensive. Extant are:
- An enormous Commentary on the Psalms.
- A commentary on Isaiah, discovered more or less complete in a manuscript in Florence early in the 20th century and published 50 years later.
- Small fragments of commentaries on Romans and 1 Corinthians.
Eusebius also wrote a work Quaestiones ad Stephanum et Marinum, "On the Differences of the Gospels" (including solutions). This was written for the purpose of harmonizing the contradictions in the reports of the different Evangelists. The work existed in the 16th century, but has since been lost. However a long epitome was discovered in the 19th century, and there are also long quotations in the Catena on Luke of Nicetas. The original work was also translated into Syriac, and lengthy quotations exist in a catena in that language, and also in Coptic and Arabic catenas.
Eusebius also wrote treatises on Biblical archaeology:
- A work on the Greek equivalents of Hebrew Gentilic nouns;
- A description of old Judea with an account of the loss of the ten tribes;
- A plan of Jerusalem and the Temple of Solomon.
These three treatises have been lost.
A work known as the Onomasticon, entitled in the main Greek manuscript "Concerning the Place-names in Sacred Scripture", is still in existence. This is an alphabetical dictionary of Biblical place names, often including identifications with places existing in Eusebius' own time.
The addresses and sermons of Eusebius are mostly lost, but some have been preserved, e.g., a sermon on the consecration of the church in Tyre and an address on the thirtieth anniversary of the reign of Constantine (336).
Most of Eusebius' letters are lost. His letters to Carpianus and Flacillus exist complete. Fragments of a letter to the empress Constantia also exists.
Estimate of Eusebius
From a dogmatic
point of view, Eusebius stands entirely upon the shoulders of Origen
. Like Origen, he started from the fundamental thought of the absolute sovereignty (monarchia
) of God. God is the cause of all beings. But he is not merely a cause; in him everything good is included, from him all life originates, and he is the source of all virtue. God sent Christ into the world that it may partake of the blessings included in the essence of God. Christ is God and is a ray of the eternal light; but the figure of the ray is so limited by Eusebius that he expressly emphasizes the self-existence of Jesus.
Eusebius was intent upon emphasizing the difference of the persona of the Trinity and maintaining the subordination of the Son (Logos, or Word) to God (he never calls him theos) because in all contrary attempts he suspected polytheism or Sabellianism. The Son (Jesus), as Arianism asserted, is a creature of God whose generation, for Eusebius, took place before time. Jesus acts as the organ or instrument of God, the creator of life, the principle of every revelation of God, who in his absoluteness and transcendent is enthroned above and isolated from all the world. This Logos, as a derivative creature and not truly God as the Father is truly God, could therefore change (Eusebius, with most early theologians, assumed God was immutable), and he assumed a human body without altering the immutable divine Father. The relation of the Holy Spirit within the Trinity Eusebius explained similarly to that of the Son to the Father. No point of this doctrine is original with Eusebius, all is traceable to his teachers Arius and Origen. The lack of originality in his thinking shows itself in the fact that he never presented his thoughts in a system. After nearly being excommunicated for his heresy by Alexander of Alexandria, Eusebius submitted and agreed to the Nicene Creed at the First Council of Nicaea.
Notwithstanding the great influence of his works on others, the accuracy of Eusebius' accounts has sometimes been questioned.
- In the Ecclesiastical History, book 8, chapter 2, in which he introduces his discussion of the Great Persecution under Diocletian with: "Wherefore we have decided to relate nothing concerning them except the things in which we can vindicate the Divine judgment. [...] We shall introduce into this history in general only those events which may be useful first to ourselves and afterwards to posterity."
- In the Martyrs of Palestine, chapter 12, in which Eusebius provides a list of events which are omitted from the text: "I think it best to pass by all the other events which occurred in the meantime: such as [...] the lust of power on the part of many, the disorderly and unlawful ordinations, and the schisms among the confessors themselves; also the novelties which were zealously devised against the remnants of the Church by the new and factious members, who added innovation after innovation and forced them in unsparingly among the calamities of the persecution, heaping misfortune upon misfortune. I judge it more suitable to shun and avoid the account of these things, as I said at the beginning."
- In his Praeparatio evangelica (xii, 31), Eusebius declares that it is "lawful and fitting" to use fictions (pseudos) as medicine.
- His treatment of source documents is also in doubt, since his Ecclesiastical History quotes extensively from a fictional exchange of letters between Abgar V of Edessa and Jesus.
- The panegyrical tone of the Vita, plus the omission of internal Christian conflicts in the Canones, suggests to many that his writings should be trusted with caution..
These and other issues have invited controversy and the condemnation of historians. Gibbon noted that "He indirectly confesses that he has related whatever might redound to the glory, and has suppressed all that could tend to the disgrace, of religion"., while the Swiss historian Jacob Burckhardt was considerably blunter and dismissed Eusebius as "the first thoroughly dishonest historian of antiquity".
In response, Eusebius' supporters have noted as follows:
- With reference to Gibbon's comments, Joseph Barber Lightfoot (theologian and former Bishop of Durham) pointed out that Eusebius' statements indicate his honesty in stating what he was not going to discuss, and also his limitations as a historian in not including such material. He also discusses the question of accuracy. "The manner in which Eusebius deals with his very numerous quotations elsewhere, where we can test his honesty, is a sufficient vindication against this unjust charge." Lightfoot also notes that Eusebius cannot always be relied on: "A far more serious drawback to his value as a historian is the loose and uncritical spirit in which he sometimes deals with his materials. This shews itself in diverse ways. He is not always to be trusted in his discrimination of genuine and spurious documents."
- Averil Cameron (professor at King's College and Oxford) and Stuart Hall (historian and theologian), in their recent translation of the Life of Constantine, point out that writers such as Burckhardt found it necessary to attack Eusebius in order to undermine the ideological legitimacy of the Hapsburg empire, which based itself on the idea of Christian empire derived from Constantine, and that the most controversial letter in the Life has since been found among the papyri of Egypt.
- In Church History (Vol. 59, 1990), Michael J. Hollerich (assistant professor at the Jesuit Santa Clara University, California) replies to Burckhardt's criticism of Eusebius, that "Eusebius has been an inviting target for students of the Constantinian era. At one time or another they have characterized him as a political propagandist, a good courtier, the shrewd and worldly adviser of the Emperor Constantine, the great publicist of the first Christian emperor, the first in a long succession of ecclesiastical politicians, the herald of Byzantinism, a political theologian, a political metaphysician, and a caesaropapist. It is obvious that these are not, in the main, neutral descriptions. Much traditional scholarship, sometimes with barely suppressed disdain, has regarded Eusebius as one who risked his orthodoxy and perhaps his character because of his zeal for the Constantinian establishment." Hollerich concludes that "... the standard assessment has exaggerated the importance of political themes and political motives in Eusebius's life and writings and has failed to do justice to him as a churchman and a scholar".
While many have shared Burckhardt's assessment, particularly with reference to the Life of Constantine, others, while not pretending to extol his merits, have acknowledged the irreplaceable value of his works which may principally reside in the copious quotations that they contain from other sources, often lost.
- Initial text from Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religion, subjected to edits for style.