Eusebius

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Eusebius : biography

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Alternate views have suggested that Gibbon’s dismissal of Eusebius is inappropriate:

  • With reference to Gibbon’s comments, Joseph Barber Lightfoot (late 19th century 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 shows 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 Habsburg 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.Averil Cameron, Stuart G. Hall, Eusebius’ Life of Constantine. Introduction, translation and commentary. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999. Pp. xvii + 395. ISBN 0-19-814924-7. Reviewed in
  • 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.

Doctrine

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 distinguishes the Son as distinct from Father as a ray is also distinct from its source the sun.

Eusebius was intent upon emphasizing the difference of the persons of the Trinity and maintaining the subordination of the Son (Logos, or Word) to God (Eusebius never calls Jesus o theós, but theós) because in all contrary attempts he suspected either polytheism (three distinct gods) or Sabellianism (three modes of one divine person). The Son (Jesus) is an hypostais of God the Father 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 transcendence is enthroned above and isolated from all the world. This Logos, the Son of God, owns divinity for participation (and not originally like the Father), could therefore change (Eusebius, with most early theologians, assumed God was immutable), and he assumed a human body without altering the immutable divine Father. Likewise, Eusebius described the relation of the Holy Spirit within the Trinity to that of the Son to the Father. No point of this doctrine is original with Eusebius, all is traceable to his teacher 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 Nicea in 325.