Eusebius : biography

– 339

Church History

In his Church History or Ecclesiastical History, Eusebius wrote the first surviving history of the Christian Church as a chronologically-ordered account, based on earlier sources 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. Although its accuracy and biases have been questioned, it remains an important source on the early church due to Eusebius’s access to materials now lost..

Life of Constantine

Eusebius’ Life of Constantine (Vita Constantini) is a eulogy or panegyric, 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. Some scholars have questioned the Eusebian authorship of this work.

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 have yet 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), 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 (Eclogae propheticae). 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 fragments given as the Commentary on Luke in the PG have been claimed to derive from the missing tenth book of the General Elementary Introduction (see D. S. Wallace-Hadrill); however, Aaron Johnson has argued that they cannot be associated with this work (see "The Tenth Book of Eusebius’ General Elementary Introduction: A Critique of the Wallace-Hadrill Thesis," Journal of Theological Studies, 62.1 (2011): 144-160).
  • the treatise On Divine Manifestation or On the Theophania (Peri theophaneias), of unknown date. 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. Samuel Lee, the editor (1842) and translator (1843) of the Syriac Theophania thought that the work must have been written "after the general peace restored to the Church by Constantine, and before either the ‘Praeparatio,’ or the ‘Demonstratio Evengelica,’ was written . . . it appears probable . . . therefore, that this was one of the first productions of Eusebius, if not the first after the persecutions ceased."Eusebius, Bishop of Caesarea On the Theophania, or Divine Manifestation of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ (Cambridge, 1843), pp. xxi-xxii. Lee’s full passage is as follows: "As to the period at which it was written, I think it must have been, after the general peace restored to the Church by Constantine, and before either the "Praeparatio", or the "Demonstratio Evangelica", was written. My reason for the first of these suppositions is: Our author speaks repeatedly of the peace restored to the Church; of Churches and Schools restored, or then built for the first time : of the nourishing state of the Church of Caesarea; of the extended, and then successfully extending, state of Christianity : all of which could not have been said during the times of the last, and most severe persecution. My reasons for the second of these suppositions are, the considerations that whatever portions of this Work are found, either in the "Praeparatio", |22 the "Demonstratio Evangelica", or the " Oratio de laudibus Constantini", they there occur in no regular sequence of argument as they do in this Work: especially in the latter, into which they have been carried evidently for the purpose of lengthening out a speech. Besides, many of these places are amplified in these works, particularly in the two former as remarked in my notes; which seems to suggest, that such additions were made either to accommodate these to the new soil, into which they had been so transplanted, or, to supply some new matter, which had suggested itself to our author. And again, as both the "Praeparatio" and "Demonstratio Evangelica", are works which must have required very considerable time to complete them, and which would even then be unfit for general circulation ; it appears probable to me, that this more popular, and more useful work, was first composed and published, and that the other two,–illustrating as they generally do, some particular points only,–argued in order in our Work,– were reserved for the reading and occasional writing of our author during a considerable number of years, as well for the satisfaction of his own mind, as for the general reading of the learned. It appears probable to me therefore, that this was one of the first productions of Eusebius, if not the first after the persecutions ceased." Hugo Gressmann, noting in 1904 that the Demonstratio seems to be mentioned at IV. 37 and V. 1, and that II. 14 seems to mention the extant practice of temple prostitution at Hieropolis in Phoenica, concluded that the Theophania was probably written shortly after 324. Others have suggested a date as late as 337.Barnes, Constantine and Eusebius (Harvard, 1981), p. 367, n.176. Note that Lee (p. 285) thinks that the passage in V. 1 refers to an earlier section within the Theophania itself, rather than to the Demonstratio.
  • A polemical treatise against Marcellus of Ancyra, the Against Marcellus, dating from about 337;
  • a supplement to the last-named work, also against Marcellus, entitled Ecclesiastical Theology, in which he defended the Nicene doctrine of the Logos against the party of Athanasius.