1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Eusebius of Caesarea
EUSEBIUS [of Caesarea] (c. 260–c. 340), ecclesiastical historian, who called himself Eusebius Pamphili, because of his devotion to his friend and teacher Pamphilus, was born probably in Palestine between A.D. 260 and 265, and died as bishop of Caesarea in the year 339 or 340. We know little of his youth beyond the fact that he became associated at an early day with Pamphilus, presbyter of the Church of Caesarea, and founder of a theological school there (see Hist. Eccl. vii. 32). Pamphilus gathered about him a circle of earnest students who devoted themselves especially to the study of the Bible and the transcription of Biblical codices, and also to the defence and spread of the writings of Origen, whom they regarded as their master. Pamphilus had a magnificent library, which Eusebius made diligent use of, and a catalogue of which he published in his lost Life of Pamphilus (Hist. Eccl. vi. 32). In the course of the Diocletian persecution, which broke out in 303, Pamphilus was imprisoned for two years, and finally suffered martyrdom. During the time of his imprisonment (307–309) Eusebius distinguished himself by assiduous devotion to his friend, and assisted him in the preparation of an apology for Origen’s teaching (Hist. Eccl. vi. 33), the first book of which survives in the Latin of Rufinus (printed in Routh’s Reliquiae sacrae, iv. 339 sq., and in Lommatzsch’s edition of Origen’s Works, xxiv. p. 293 sq.). After the death of Pamphilus Eusebius withdrew to Tyre, and later, while the Diocletian persecution was still raging, went to Egypt, where he seems to have been imprisoned, but soon released. He became bishop of Caesarea between 313 and 315, and remained such until his death. The patriarchate of Antioch was offered him in 331, but declined (Vita Constantini, iii. 59 sq.).
Eusebius was a very important figure in the church of his day. He was not a great theologian nor a profound thinker, but he was the most learned man of his age, and stood high in favour with the emperor Constantine. At the council of Nicaea in 325 he took a prominent part, occupying a seat at the emperor’s right hand, and being appointed to deliver the panegyrical oration in his honour. He was the leader of the large middle party of Moderates at the council, and submitted the first draft of the creed which was afterwards adopted with important changes and additions. In the beginning he was the most influential man present, but was finally forced to yield to the Alexandrian party, and to vote for a creed which completely repudiated the position of the Arians, with whom he had himself been hitherto more in sympathy than with the Alexandrians. He was placed in a difficult predicament by the action of the council, and his letter to the Caesarean church explaining his conduct is exceedingly interesting and instructive (see Socrates, Hist. Eccl. i. 8, and cf. McGiffert’s translation of Eusebius’ Church History, p. 15 sq.). To understand his conduct, it is necessary to look briefly at his theological position. By many he has been called an Arian, by many his orthodoxy has been defended. The truth is, three stages are to be distinguished in his theological development. The first preceded the outbreak of the Arian controversy, when, as might be expected in a follower of Origen, his interest was anti-Sabellian and his emphasis chiefly upon the subordination of the Son of God. In his works written during this period (for instance, the Praeparatio evangelica and Demonstratio evangelica), as in the works of Origen himself and other ante-Nicene fathers, expressions occur looking in the direction of Arianism, and others looking in the opposite direction. The second stage began with the outbreak of the controversy in 318, and continued until the Nicene Council. During this period he took the side of Arius in the dispute with Alexander of Alexandria, and accepted what he understood to be the position of Arius and his supporters, who, as he supposed, taught both the divinity and subordination of the Son. It was natural that he should take this side, for in his traditional fear of Sabellianism, in which he was one with the followers of Origen in general, he found it difficult to approve the position of Alexander, who seemed to be doing away altogether with the subordination of the Son. And, moreover, he believed that Alexander was misrepresenting the teaching of Arius and doing him great injustice (cf. his letters to Alexander and Euphration preserved in the proceedings of the second council of Nicaea, Act. vi. tom. 5: see Mansi’s Concilia, xiii. 316 sq.; English translation in McGiffert, op. cit. p. 70). Meanwhile at the council of Nicaea he seems to have discovered that the Alexandrians were right in claiming that Arius was carrying his subordinationism so far as to deny all real divinity to Christ. To this length Eusebius himself was unwilling to go, and so, convinced that he had misunderstood Arius, and that the teaching of the latter was imperilling the historic belief in the divinity of Christ, he gave his support to the opposition, and voted for the Nicene Creed, in which the teachings of the Arians were repudiated. From this time on he was a supporter of Nicene orthodoxy over against Arianism (cf., e.g., his Contra Marcellum, De ecclesiastica theologia, and Theophania). But he never felt in sympathy with the extreme views of the Athanasian party, for they seemed to him to savour of Sabellianism, which always remained his chief dread (cf. his two works against Marcellus of Ancyra). His personal friends, moreover, were principally among the Arians, and he was more closely identified with them than with the supporters of Athanasius. But he was always a man of peace, and while commonly counted one of the opponents of Athanasius, he did not take a place of leadership among them as his position and standing would have justified him in doing, and Athanasius never spoke of him with bitterness as he did of other prominent men in the party. (For a fuller description of the development of Eusebius’ Christology and of his attitude throughout the Arian controversy, see McGiffert, op. cit. p. 11 sq.)
Eusebius was one of the most voluminous writers of antiquity, and his labours covered almost every field of theological learning. If we look in his works for brilliancy and originality we shall be disappointed. He was not a creative genius like Origen or Augustine. His claim to greatness rests upon his vast erudition and his sound judgment. Nearly all his works possess genuine and solid merits which raise them above the commonplace, and many of them still remain valuable. His exegesis is superior to that of most of his contemporaries, and his apologetic is marked by fairness of statement, breadth of treatment, and an instinctive appreciation of the difference between important and unimportant points. His style, it is true, is involved and obscure, often rambling and incoherent. This quality is due in large part to the desultory character of his thinking. He did not always clearly define his theme before beginning to write, and he failed to subject what he produced to a careful revision. Ideas of all sorts poured in upon him while he was writing, and he was not always able to resist the temptation to insert them whether pertinent or not. His great learning is evident everywhere, but he is often its slave rather than its master. It is as an historian that he is best known, and to his History of the Christian Church he owes his fame and his familiar title “The Father of Church History.” This work, which was published in its final form in ten books in 324 or early in 325, is the most important ecclesiastical history produced in ancient times. The reasons leading to the great undertaking, in which Eusebius had no predecessors, were in part historical, in part apologetic. He believed that he was living at the beginning of a new age, and he felt that it was a fitting time, when the old order of things was passing away, to put on record for the benefit of posterity the great events which had occurred during the generations that were past. He thus wrote, as any historian might, for the information and instruction of his readers, and yet he had all the time an apologetic purpose, to exhibit to the world the history of Christianity as a proof of its divine origin and efficacy. His plan is stated at the very beginning of the work:—
“It is my purpose to write an account of the successions of the holy Apostles as well as of the times which have elapsed from the day of our Saviour to our own; to relate how many and important events are said to have occurred in the history of the church; and to mention those who have governed and presided over the church in the most prominent parishes, and those who in each generation have proclaimed the divine word either orally or in writing. It is my purpose also to give the names and number and times of those who through love of innovation have run into the greatest errors, and proclaiming themselves discoverers of knowledge, falsely so called, have like fierce wolves unmercifully devastated the flock of Christ. It is my intention, moreover, to recount the misfortunes which immediately came on the whole Jewish nation in consequence of their plots against our Saviour, and to record the ways and times in which the divine word has been attacked by the Gentiles, and to describe the character of those who at various periods have contended for it in the face of blood and tortures, as well as the confessions which have been made in our own day, and the gracious and kindly succour which our Saviour has accorded them all.”
The value of the work does not lie in its literary merit, but in the wealth of the materials which it furnishes for a knowledge of the early church. Many prominent figures of the first three centuries are known to us only from its pages. Many fragments, priceless on account of the light which they shed upon movements of far-reaching consequence, have been preserved in it alone. Eusebius often fails to appreciate the significance of the events which he records; in many cases he draws unwarranted conclusions from the given premises; he sometimes misinterprets his documents and misunderstands men and movements; but usually he presents us with the material upon which to form our own judgment, and if we differ with him we must at the same time thank him for the data that enable us independently to reach other results. But the work is not merely a thesaurus, it is a history in a true sense, and it has an intrinsic value of its own, independent of its quotations from other works. Eusebius possessed extensive sources of knowledge no longer accessible to us. The number of books referred to as read is enormous. He also had access to the archives of state, and gathered from them information beyond the reach of most. But the value of his work is due, not simply to the sources employed, but also to the use made of them. Upon this matter there has been, it is true, some diversity of opinion among modern scholars, but it is now generally admitted, and can be abundantly shown, that he was not only diligent in gathering material, but also far more thorough-going than most writers of antiquity in discriminating between trustworthy and untrustworthy reports, frank in acknowledging his ignorance, scrupulous in indicating his authorities in doubtful cases, less credulous than most of his contemporaries, and unfailingly honest. His principal faults are his carelessness and inaccuracy in matters of chronology, his lack of artistic skill in the presentation of his material, his desultory method of treatment, and his failure to look below the surface and grasp the real significance and vital connexion of events. He commonly regards an occurrence as sufficiently accounted for when it is ascribed to the activity of God or of Satan. But in spite of its defects the Church History is a monumental work, which need only be compared with its continuations by Socrates, Sozomen, Theodoret, Rufinus and others, to be appreciated at its true worth.
In addition to the Church History we have from Eusebius’ pen a Chronicle in two books (c. 303; later continued down to 325), the first containing an epitome of universal history, the second chronological tables exhibiting in parallel columns the royal succession in different nations, and accompanied by notes marking the dates of historical events. A revised edition of the second book with a continuation down to his own day was published in Latin by St Jerome, and this, together with some fragments of the original Greek, was our only source for a knowledge of the Chronicle until the discovery of an Armenian version of the whole work, which was published by Aucher in 1818 (Latin translation in Schoene’s edition), and of two Syriac versions published in Latin translation respectively in 1866 (by Roediger in Schoene’s edition) and in 1884 (by Siegfried and Gelzer). Other historical works still extant are the Martyrs of Palestine and the Life of Constantine. The former is an account of martyrdoms occurring in Palestine during the years 303 to 310, of most of which Eusebius himself was an eye-witness. The work exists in a longer and a shorter recension, the former in a Syriac version (published with English translation by Cureton, 1861), the latter in the original Greek attached to the Church History in most MSS. (printed with the History in the various editions). The Life of Constantine, in four books, published after the death of the emperor, which occurred in 337, is a panegyric rather than a sober history, but contains much valuable material. Of Eusebius’ apologetic works we still have the Contra Hieroclem, Praeparatio evangelica, Demonstratio evangelica, and Theophania. The first is a reply to a lost work against the Christians written by Hierocles, a Roman governor and contemporary of Eusebius. The second and third, taken together, are the most elaborate and important apologetic work of the early church. The former, in fifteen books, aims to show that the Christians are justified in accepting the sacred writings of the Hebrews, and in rejecting the religion and philosophy of the Greeks. The latter, in twenty books, of which only the first ten and fragments of the fifteenth are extant, endeavours to prove from the Hebrew Scriptures themselves that the Christians are right in going beyond the Jews and adopting new principles and practices. The former is thus a preparation for the latter, and the two together constitute a defence of Christianity against all the world, heathen as well as Jews. In grandeur of conception, comprehensiveness of treatment, and breadth of learning, this apology surpasses all other similar works of antiquity. The Praeparatio is also valuable because of its large number of quotations from classical literature, many of them otherwise unknown to us. The Theophania, though we have many fragments of the original Greek, is extant as a whole only in a Syriac version first published by Lee in 1842. Its subject is the manifestation of God in the incarnation of the Word, and it aims to give with an apologetic purpose a brief exposition of the divine authority and influence of Christianity. Of Eusebius’ dogmatic and polemic writings, we still have two works against his contemporary, Marcellus, bishop of Ancyra, the one known as Contra Marcellum, the other as De theologia ecclesiastica. The former and briefer aims simply to expose the errors of Marcellus, whom Eusebius accuses of Sabellianism, the latter to refute them. We also have parts of a General Introduction (Ἡ καθόλου στοιχειώδης εἰσαγωγή), which consisted of ten-books (the sixth to the ninth books and a few other fragments still extant), under the title of Prophetical Extracts (Προφητικαὶ ἐκλογαί). Although this formed part of a larger work it was complete in itself and circulated separately. It contains prophetical passages from the Old Testament relating to the person and work of Christ, accompanied by explanatory notes. Of Biblical and exegetical works we have a considerable part of Eusebius’ Commentaries on the Psalms and on Isaiah, which are monuments of learning, industry and critical acumen, though marred by the use of the allegorical method characteristic of the school of Origen; also a work on the names of places mentioned in Scripture, or the Onomasticon, the only one extant of a number of writings on Old Testament topography; and an epitome and some fragments of a work in two parts on Gospel Questions and Solutions, the first part dealing with the genealogies of Christ given in Matthew and Luke, the second with the apparent discrepancies between the various gospel accounts of the resurrection. Other important works which have perished wholly or in large part, and some orations and minor writings still extant, it is not necessary to refer to more particularly. (See Preuschen’s list in Harnack’s Alt-christliche Litteraturgeschichte, i. 2, p. 55 sq. Preuschen gives thirty-eight titles, besides orations and letters, but it is doubtful whether all of the Commentaries mentioned really existed.)
Bibliography.—The only edition of Eusebius’ extant works which can lay claim even to relative completeness is that of Migne (Patrologia graeca, tom, xix.-xxiv.). The publication of a new critical edition was begun in 1902 in the Berlin Academy’s Greek Fathers (Die griechischen christlichen Schriftsteller der ersten drei Jahrhunderte, Leipzig). Many of Eusebius’ works have been published separately. Thus the Church History, first by Stephanus (Paris, 1554); by Valesius with copious notes, together with the Life of Constantine, the Oration in Praise of Constantine, and the Histories of Socrates, Sozomen, Theodoret, &c. (best edition that of Reading (Cambridge, 1720), in three volumes, folio); by Heinichen (1827, second edition 1868–1870 in three volumes, a very useful edition, containing also the Life of Constantine and the Oration in Praise of Constantine, with elaborate notes); by Burton (1838; a handy reprint in a single volume by Bright, 1881), and by many others. The most recent and best edition is that of Schwartz in the Berlin Academy’s Greek Fathers, of which the first half has appeared, accompanied by the Latin version of Rufinus edited by Mommsen. The history was early put into Syriac (edited by Bedjan, Leipzig, 1897; also by Wright, McLean and Merx, London, 1898), Armenian (edited by Djarian, Venice, 1877), and Latin, and has been translated into many modern languages, the latest English version being that of McGiffert, in the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, second series, volume i. (New York, 1890). Of the Chronicle, the best edition is by Schoene in two volumes (Berlin, 1866–1875). The Life of Constantine and the Oration in Praise of Constantine are published by Valesius, Heinichen and others in their editions of the Church History, also in the first volume of the Berlin Academy’s edition (ed. by Heikel), and an English translation by Richardson in the volume containing McGiffert’s translation of the Church History. Gaisford published the Prophetical Extracts (Oxford, 1842), the Praeparatio evangelica (1843), the Demonstratio evangelica (1852), and the works against Hierocles and Marcellus (1852); and the works against Marcellus have appeared in the edition of the Berlin Academy (vol. iv.). The Onomasticon has been published frequently, among others by Lagarde (Göttingen, 1870; 2nd ed., 1887), and is contained in the edition of the Berlin Academy (vol. iii.). The Theophania was first published by Lee (Syriac version, 1842; English translation, 1843). A German translation of the Syriac version, with the extant fragments of the original Greek, is given in the edition of the Berlin Academy (vol. iii.).
Acacius, the pupil of Eusebius and his successor in the see of Caesarea, wrote a life of him which is unfortunately lost. His own writings contain little biographical material, but we get information from Athanasius, Philostorgius, Socrates, Sozomen, Theodoret, Jerome’s De vir. ill., and Photius. Among the many modern accounts in church histories, histories of Christian literature, encyclopaedias, &c., may be mentioned a monograph by Stein, Eusebius Bischof von Caesarea (Würzburg, 1859), meagre but useful as far as it goes; the magnificent article by Lightfoot in the Dictionary of Christian Biography; the account by McGiffert in his translation of the Church History; Erwin Preuschen’s article in Herzog-Hauck, Realencyklop. (3rd ed., 1898); the treatment of the Chronology of Eusebius writings in Harnack’s Alt-christliche Litteraturgeschichte, ii. 2, p. 106 sq.; and Bardenhewer’s Patrologie, p. 2260 f. The many special discussions of Eusebius’ separate works, particularly of his Church History, and of his character as an historian, cannot be referred to here. Elaborate bibliographies will be found in McGiffert’s translation, and in Preuschen’s article in Herzog-Hauck. (A. C. McG.)