views updated May 21 2018


EUSEBIUS (c. 260/70c. 339), a Christian bishop of Caesarea in Palestine from 314, was a leading early Christian historian, exegete, and apologist. A disciple of Pamphilus at Caesarea, Eusebius wrote a life of his master and called himself "of Pamphilus." He traced his intellectual descent to Origen, and with Pamphilus wrote a defense of Origen against the theological and personal criticisms current during the persecution of 303313. Little is known of Eusebius's early life, but it seems clear that he wrote his Historia ecclesiastica (History of the church) at Caesarea during the persecution, possibly though not certainly after composing at a slightly earlier date a first draft of it as well as a first draft of his Chronicon (Chronicle). At the end of the persecution, in spite of occasional slanders concerning apostasy spread by his enemies, he became bishop of Caesarea. During this time he continued to update his Historia and composed other significant works, such as the Demonstratio evangelica and Praeparatio evangelica. He gradually became involved in the Arian controversy; his defense of a traditional subordinationist Christology partly resembling Origen's was criticized by many fellow bishops. Indeed, a synod held at Antioch in 324 or 325 condemned him and a few others, though he was given the right of later appeal. At the synod held at Nicaea Eusebius set forth the local creed of Caesarea but accepted the Alexandrian term homoousios ("of the same substance"), which transformed the creed's meaning. Thereafter he helped drive the pro-Nicene bishop Eustathius out of Antioch, acted as a judge when Athanasius was brought before several synods, and attacked Marcellus of Ancyra as a Sabellian. At the celebration of Constantine's thirtieth anniversary Eusebius delivered a panegyric on the emperor and his divinely inspired deeds. Similar themes appear in his Life of Constantine, written after 337. Eusebius died before the synod of Antioch in 341.

Eusebius is known less for his deeds than for his multitudinous writings, some of which are lost. Constant revision and the transfer of materials from one work to another make his development as a writer difficult to assess. He was an exegete, an apologist, a historian, and a panegyrist, but his various roles cannot be completely separated.

As exegete he followed the example of Origen in his textual criticism and made some use of the latter's works in his commentaries on Isaiah and Psalms. In addition, he produced "canons" for finding gospel parallels and wrote an introduction to theology (General Elementary Introduction, of which parts survive in his Eclogae propheticae ). Biblical exegesis recurs throughout the Demonstratio, primarily in regard to Old Testament prophecies of Christ and the church.

Eusebius's apologetic is implicit throughout the Historia and explicit in the Praeparatio (sages and seers anticipated Christianity, although inadequately), the treatise Against Hierocles (Christ superior to Apollonius of Tyana, a first-century wonder-worker), and the twenty-five lost books against the Neoplatonist philosopher Porphyry, who had written against Christians and criticized Origen. A treatise that survived only in a Syriac version is titled On the Theophany; it combines materials from other books.

As historian, Eusebius is best known for his ten books on the history of the church from its divine origin to Constantine's defeat of the pagan emperor Licinius in 324. The work does not discuss the later conflicts over Arianism, Melitianism, and Donatism, or the synods of 324 and 325. A late edition deletes Eusebius's expectation that Constantine's son Crispus would be the emperor's heir; the deletion must have been made after Crispus's execution in 326. The main sources of the Historia lay in the church archives and libraries at Caesarea and Jerusalem, where there was no documentation for the churches of the West or for many churches of the East. Eusebius seems to have known little about the church of Antioch and had the good sense to refuse translation there in about 330. His strong emphasis on Alexandrian Christianity results from his love for the school of Origen.

Eusebius's panegyrics usually start from his own experiences. Thus his work The Martyrs of Palestine (two editions) was based largely on his own acquaintance with the persecution in 303313; he visited Egypt perhaps in 312, where he witnessed mass executions of Christians. He praised also other martyrs (especially of Gaul), the benefactors who rebuilt the ruined church at Tyre, and above all the emperor Constantine as the divinely appointed champion of Christianity.

It may be that Eusebius's major contribution was as librarian or bibliographer. To him is owed the collections of Origen's letters and the stories of "ancient martyrdoms." The Chronicon, Historia, Praeparatio, and Demonstratio are essentially collections of collections or even source books without very full annotation. In other words, his materials may be more important than what he did with them. Although one has to watch for deletions, misconceptions, and other errors, Eusebius does not usually falsify his materials, but his changing attitudes have left strange juxtapositions in the text of the Historia.

He was conciliatory toward pagan philosophy and politics but hostile toward pagan religion, in which he could see a main cause of the Great Persecution. In this regard he was aligned with Origen, but he underestimated the ultimate force of the newer Alexandrian theology and its preference for orthodoxy over the harmony that Eusebius, like Constantine, had supported. During his lifetime he enjoyed good fortune. He was in imperial favor at least during his last decade, and by 340 his opponent Eustathius was dead, Athanasius in exile, and Marcellus about to be deposed. The question of his supposed Arianism has agitated historians of doctrine for centuries, but it cannot be answered without greater knowledge of the theology of the early fourth century.

His place in the history of Christian learning and literature was high during his lifetime and continued so for centuries. Those who wrote the history of the Eastern church in the fifth and sixth centuries invariably refered to his work as basic and irrefutable. Less innovative or skilled in philosophy than Origen, he was more concerned with tradition, and this concern led him to an exegesis often more sober and literal. It was this concern, also, that led to his search for early Christian documents. Perhaps he succeeded to the headship of Origen's school at Caesarea. It is possible that the lost life of Eusebius by his successor Acacius resembled the panegyric that a disciple, probably Gregory Thaumaturgus, addressed to Origen. If so, there must have been significant differences. A disciple of Eusebius would have insisted on the importance of history, not philosophical theology, as the key to exegesis and apologetics.


Most of Eusebius's works have been critically edited by Ivar A. Heikel and others in Eusebius Werke: Die griechischen christlichen Schriftsteller der ersten drei Jahrhunderte (Berlin, 19021975). Most important in this collection is the three-volume Kirchengeschichte, edited by Eduard Schwartz (Leipzig, 1908). Other texts can be located through Johannes Quasten's Patrology, vol. 3 (Utrecht and Westminster, Md., 1960), pp. 309345. Quasten also takes note of the modern literature. Important secondary sources include Glenn F. Chesnut's The First Christian Histories (Paris, 1977), Pierre Nautin's Origène: Sa vie et son œuvre (Paris, 1977), Robert M. Grant's Eusebius as Church Historian (Oxford, 1980), and Timothy D. Barnes's Constantine and Eusebius (Cambridge, Mass., and London, 1981).

Robert M. Grant (1987)


views updated Jun 27 2018

Eusebius (c.260–c.340). Bishop of Caesarea in Palestine and church historian. Eusebius's most important work was the Ecclesiastical History, containing an immense range of material, including many extracts from earlier writers, about the Church from the beginning to his own time. Among his other historical works are a Chronicle, containing tables synchronizing events in ancient history; a Life of Constantine, to whom he was theological advisor; and an account of the Martyrs of Palestine in the persecution of 303–10. His most important theological writings are the two apologetic works, Preparation for the Gospel (refuting Greek polytheism) and Demonstration of the Gospel (proving Christianity from the Old Testament).


views updated May 14 2018

Eusebius (c.264–c.340 ad), bishop and Church historian; known as Eusebius of Caesaria. His Ecclesiastical History is the principal source for the history of Christianity (especially in the Eastern Church) from the age of the Apostles until 324.