Eusebius of Caesarea

Eusebius of Caesarea (~275 – May 30, 339) (often called Eusebius Pamphili, “Eusebius [the friend] of Pamphilus”) was a bishop of Caesarea in Palestine and is often referred to as the father of church history because of his work in recording the history of the early Christian church. An earlier history by Hegesippus that he referred to has not survived.

Biography

His exact date and place of birth are unknown, and little is known of his youth. 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 in Egypt. 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 Palaestina. He succeeded Agapius, whose time of office is not known, 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 300 members of the council. The confession which he proposed became the basis of the Nicene Creed.

Eusebius was involved in the further development of the Arian controversies. For instance, in the dispute with Eustathius of Antioch, who opposed the growing influence of Origen and his practice of an allegorical exegesis of scripture, seeing in his theology the roots of Arianism, Eusebius, an admirer of Origen, was reproached by Eustathius for deviating from the Nicene faith, and was charged in turn with Sabellianism. Eustathius was accused, condemned and deposed at a synod in Antioch. The people of Antioch rebelled against this action, while the anti-Eustathians proposed Eusebius as the new bishop, but he declined.

After Eustathius had been removed, the Eusebians proceeded against Athanasius of Alexandria, a much more dangerous opponent. 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 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 Eusebians, 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 died (probably at Caesarea), in 340 at the latest and probably on May 30, 339.

Works

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 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, the court theologian, 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 include both commentaries and treatises on Biblical archeology and extend over the whole of his life.

The two greatest historical works of Eusebius are his Chronicle and his Church History. The former (Greek, Pantodape historia, “Universal History”) is divided into two parts. The first part (Greek, Chronographia, “Annals”) purports to give an epitome of universal history from the sources, arranged according to nations. The second part (Greek, Chronikoi kanones, “Chronological Canons”) attempts to furnish 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.”