Eusebius of Caesarea

views updated Jun 08 2018


Bishop of Caesarea in Palestine, apologist, Biblical exegete, and the earliest Church historian; b. c. 260; d. c. 339. Nothing is known of his family; but it was at Caesarea that he was baptized, as an adult, and entered the ranks of the clergy. In a city where origen had taught for so many years, Eusebius was heir to a scholarly tradition mediated to him through pamphilus, who had been a pupil of Pierius at Alexandria. Pamphilus had also collected a library, which was a center for scholarly work. So close did Eusebius draw to his older companion in friendship and in the furtherance of literary and textual labors that he adopted the name Eusebius Pamphili, the son or servant of Pamphilus, and it is by this name that he was commonly designated.

Life. The work of the scholars of Caesarea was not disrupted by the persecution of 303 to 313. Eusebius was himself at times away from the city, e.g., at Tyre and in Egypt, where, as at Caesarea itself, he witnessed martyrdoms. The imprisonment (308) and martyrdom (310) of Pamphilus deeply affected him. He commemorated his friend in a Life, in three books, no longer extant. He may himself have been imprisoned, but the accusation of apostasy, made long afterward at the Council of Tyre (335), cannot be regarded as more than another of the reckless accusations current at that period; it is most unlikely that an apostate would have been chosen as bishop of Caesarea c. 313.

By this time Eusebius was a voluminous writer whose interests covered every field of Christian literary activity. He also had close friendships with other bishops, such as Paulinus of Tyre and Theodotus of Laodicea in Syria. Eusebius preached at the dedication of a church at Tyre c. 316.

When the Arian controversy began (c. 318), Eusebius had already had occasion to express his opinion on the

issues involved, particularly in his Demonstratio Evangelica. His support was well worth having; arius (c. 320) regarded him as one of his chief supporters. In theology Eusebius was the heir to Origen and later Alexandrian teachers, but in his statement on the relations between Father and Son, it is the subordinationism of Origen that is most prominent. At the Council of Antioch (c. 324), Eusebius and two others were provisionally excommunicated for their adherence to Arian views. Their case was referred to a great council called to meet at Ancyra; but Emperor constantine i changed the venue of the council to Nicaea. After the council Eusebius explained what had happened in a letter to his own church.

It has commonly been held that Eusebius presented the creed of Caesarea as a basis on which the creed of the council was constructed, but, in view of his personal excommunication, it is more likely that he produced his creed, with a declaration of his lifelong fidelity to it, as evidence of his own right faith. His creed was approved by the emperor, but the Creed of Nicaea, which Eusebius regarded as derived from his own, contains little that is distinctively Caesarean, and the key word homoousios and the description of the Son as "true God" are not Eusebian.

There is clearly some misunderstanding in Eusebius's letter, or a clumsy endeavor to minimize the consequences of the acceptance of the Council's terms. He appears to have shared the feelings of others that the use of homoousios of the Son implied a rending of the divine substance. Eusebius signed both creed and anathemas, more from a desire for peace and under the influence of Constantine than from genuine conviction.

He was soon involved in the quarrels and intrigues of the following years, during which the leading supporters of Nicaea were attacked, and Arius, without assenting to the Nicene decisions, was rehabilitated. Eusebius quarreled with eustathius of antioch, a leading supporter of Nicaea. Eustathius accused Eusebius of perverting the Nicene faith; and the latter replied with an accusation of sabellianism; the quarrel may also have had its roots in Eustathius's outspoken criticism of Origen. That Eusebius took part in the expulsion of Eustathius about 330 there can be no doubt, but he refused translation to Antioch, a refusal for which he was warmly commended by Constantine.

St. athanasius and marcellus of ancyra, among others, were also exiled. Athanasius failed to appear at a council called by the emperor in 334 to meet at Caesarea to deal with accusations (nondoctrinal) against him, because of his suspicions of Eusebius; but in 335, under threat of imperial displeasure, he came to the Council of Tyre. Eusebius was one of the judges and was the subject of the taunt about his behavior in the persecution. Athanasius did not wait for condemnation, but appealed to Constantine, who summoned the council to assemble at Constantinople. Eusebius and a few others obeyed after attending the dedication of the church of the Holy Sepulchre at Jerusalem. Athanasius was sent into exile.

Thereafter the celebration of Constantine's Tricennalia took place, at which Eusebius delivered a panegyric on the emperor, for whom he had conceived an extreme admiration: he elaborated a new theory of the relations of Church and Empire, made necessary by the changed circumstances of the time. The final controversy of Eusebius's life was with Marcellus of Ancyra, a strong supporter of Nicaea, whose theology was regarded as Sabellian. Marcellus and Eusebius had long been antipathetic to each other: after Marcellus was exiled in 336, Eusebius wrote two works, Against Marcellus (2 books) and On the Theology of the Church (3 books), in which, while pointing out the errors of Marcellus and defending various friends, he did not himself stand forth as a supporter of Nicaea, though it is clear he had by then moved somewhat nearer to the theology of the council.

Late in his life Eusebius produced his Theophania, on the manifestation of God in the work of His Word. The five books are extant in Syriac, and are largely repetitions of passages and topics culled from his other works. After the death of Constantine in 337, Eusebius wrote his Life of Constantine, a panegyric on the benefactor of the Church, who had shown singular favor to the author. It is wrong, however, to regard Eusebius as a toady of the Emperor; they probably met only twice, at the Council of Nicea and at the Tricennalia. Eusebius was dead by the time of the Council of Antioch in 341. His life, written by Acacius, his pupil and successor at Caesarea, is not extant.

Writings. A noteworthy tendency in his writings is an almost excessive reliance on sources, which sometimes reduces his work to strings of quotations. This may be described as the writing of fully documented apologetic or history, but it can also be considered as a failure to digest what he had read and to consolidate the results of his reading. He himself disclaimed originality. This is not to say that on occasion he did not write well; and in view of prevailing fashions his rhetoric can be excused. In numerous cases he preserved portions of works no longer extant. His works may be grouped under the heads of (1) text, exegesis, and topography of Holy Scripture, (2) apologetic works, and (3) historical works and panegyric.

Exegete. His textual work was undertaken both in collaboration with Pamphilus and by himself. Surviving manuscripts bear witness to this work, carrying inscriptions such as "corrected by the hand of Eusebius Pamphili." It is no wonder that Constantine sent to Eusebius for texts of Scripture for use in the churches of Constantinople.

Eusebius wrote also extensive commentaries, still largely extant, on isaiah (after 324) and on the Psalms (c. 330335) and may have written others; his method of exegesis is a blend of allegorism and literalism. He wrote Gospel Questions and Solutions (before 312) in which he examined divergencies in the narrative of the Gospels, and a General Elementary Introduction in ten books covering the whole course of Christian instruction; four books (710) are extant under the title of Eclogae Propheticae. Of several works dealing with Biblical topography only the Onomasticon survives. This is a geographical dictionary of the Bible, but it has many gaps and shows great inconsistency in the treatment of different entries.

Apologist. Eusebius was primarily an apologist, and this designation of him extends even to his Ecclesiastical History, which is a vindication of Christianity against heathens and heretics. Some of his apologetic works were directed to the needs of his own time; such is his Against Porphyry, the Neoplatonist detractor of Christianity, in 25 books (before 303). This work is lost, but large portions of it are probably embedded in other writings, as Eusebius constantly reused materials.

In his Against Hierocles he refuted the comparison made by Hierocles, a high official and notorious persecutor, between Christ and apollonius of tyana. Pamphilus and Eusebius collaborated in writing a Defence of Origen, who had been attacked by methodius of olympus and others. Eusebius himself added a sixth book. Only book 1 is extant, in the Latin translation of rufinus of aquileia.

Of wider significance are the Praeparatio and Demonstratio Evangelica (in 15 and 20 books respectively). The former is a refutation of pagan mythology, oracles, and astrology; an exposition of the Jewish Scripture, with testimonies from heathen writers that support these; and a demonstration of the so-called plagiarisms of the philosophers from the Old Testament and of the contradictions of Greek philosophical teaching. The Demonstratio (the first ten books are extant) deals with the fulfillment of prophecy in Christ, His Incarnation and earthly life, and the resumption in Christianity of a pure religion professed by the ancient Patriarchs. The Theophania has already been mentioned.

Historian. The Chronicle of Eusebius, an epitome of world history down to 303, based partly on the work of julius africanus, is extant only in Armenian and in Jerome's Latin adaptation (continued to 378). Eusebius prefaced to the actual chronological tables accounts of various nations, in which he made cross-references to events of Jewish history. Chronological works of this kind had long been used by Christians to demonstrate the antiquity of Jewish achievements on which Christianity was based.

This annalistic method was carried over by Eusebius into his Ecclesiastical History, in which his narrative is divided by notices of the accessions of Roman emperors and by the episcopal successions of the sees of Rome, Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem. In its final form the History consists of ten books and extends to the victory of Constantine over Licinius in 324. But it is clear from indications in certain manuscripts, and from internal evidence of rehandling of material in books 810, that earlier editions of the History existed. The last three books deal with the years of persecution, followed by peace, from 303 onward, and, with this restriction of subject matter, are very different from the books in which Eusebius dealt with the general history of the Church.

In his preface Eusebius listed the subjects with which he intended to deal, and the last two, the martyrdoms of his own time and the divine succor afforded at the last, look like additions. It is therefore quite likely that the history was first in seven books, down to a.d. 303. Eusebius was well aware that he was a pioneer; while his history is still our chief primary source for its period, it must be noted that Eusebius was limited by the sources available to him. These are practically all Greek sources: he is almost entirely ignorant of the rise and development of the Latin Church. Moreover, it is hardly to be expected that he could handle adequately a subject such as heresy. Mention must be made also of the Martyrs of Palestine, which exists in longer and shorter versions: the former is extant only in a Syriac version; the latter is closely attached to book eight of the Ecclesiastical History.

Constantinian Panegyric. The Life of Constantine must have been written between 337 and 339. It is a panegyric; Eusebius himself regarded it as such and it should not be judged otherwise. But certain doubts have been expressed about this work. It appears to be unknown to other 4th-century authors, and some have thought that it was written much later by someone who embodied genuine documents in it. Others have suspected the genuineness of the documents included by the author; however, one of these has been discovered on papyrus, quite apart from the Life, and the tenor of the others is well suited to the Constantinian period. The whole theory of the Christian empire, elaborated in this work (and in Eusebius's oration at the Tricennalia ), is in keeping with the first days of tolerance and collaboration that were so soon blighted by the reigns of constantius ii and julian the apostate.

Later authors vary in their estimate of Eusebius, as his great services to Christian scholarship were countered by his attachment to the Arians.

Bibliography: Works. Patrologia Graeca v.1924; Die griechischen christlichen schriftsteller der ersten drei Jahrhunderte (1902-); Eng. editions of his Ecclesiastical History, tr. k. lake and j. e. l. oulton, 2 v. (Loeb Classical Library ; New York 192632:) ed. and tr. h. j. lawlor and j. e. l. oulton, 2 v. (Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge; 192728), with introd. and commentary; French ed. and tr. g. bardy, 4 v. (Sources Chrétiennes 31, 41, 55, 73; 195260), with introd., nn., and indexes; Oration at the Tricennalia, ed. and tr. e. c. richardson (A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers 2d ser. 1; 1890) 581610, rev. tr. with introd. and nn.; Evangelica Praeparatio, ed. e. h. gifford, 4 v. in 5 (Oxford 1903), with tr. and nn.; Evangelica Demonstratio, tr. w. j. ferrar, 2 v. (London 1920); Against Hierocles, tr. f. c. conybeare in philostratus, The Life of Apollonius, 2 v. (Loeb Classical Library ; New York 1912) 2:484605; Life of Constantine, ed. and tr. e. c. richardson, loc. cit. 411580. Literature. d. s. wallace-hadrill, Eusebius of Caesarea (London 1960), with bibliog. r. laqueur, Eusebius als Historiker seiner Zeit (Berlin 1929). h. berkhof, Die Theologie des Eusebius von Caesarea (Amsterdam 1939). j. n. d. kelly, Early Christian Doctrines (2d ed. New York 1960), theology. j. r. laurin, Orientations maîtresses des Apologistes chrétiens de 270 à 361 (Analecta Gregoriana 61; 1954) 94145, 344401. n. h. baynes, Byzantine Studies and Other Essays (New York 1955) 168172. k. m. setton, Christian Attitude towards the Emperor in the 4th Century (New York1941) 4056. a. a. t. ehrhardt, Politische Metaphysik von Solon bis Augustin, 2 v. (Tübingen 1959) 2:259292.

[j. stevenson]


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).