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Eusebius of Caesarea

(c. 263 - 339 CE)

This post is also available in: Polish (polski)

Eusebius of Caesarea

Eusebius of Caesarea, active in the time of Constantine the Great, is considered the most outstanding Christian historian of antiquity.

He was born in about 263 in Palestine, probably in Caesarea. There he was also educated by Pamphilius, the most gifted student of Origen. Eusebius felt so much reverence and gratitude towards his master that he decided to call himself “Eusebius son of Pamphilus” (Eusebios tu Pamphilus u), and from him he took over his worship of Origen. A sign of his devotion and admiration for his master was also in commemorating Pamphilius’ death in 310, during the persecution of Diocletian when Pamphilius was martyred by writing down Eusebius escaped death by going to Tire, then took refuge in the Egyptian desert of Tebaida, where he was found by his persecutors, arrested and imprisoned.

Around 313 CE he was elevated to the bishop of Caesarea. Thanks to the close relationship he had with the emperor, he exercised a significant influence over him. In 335, during the solemn celebration of the thirtieth anniversary of the reign of Constantine, he gave a solemn eulogy in his honour. Eusebius’ ecclesiastical career proceeded smoothly. At the Council of Antioch, however, he was excommunicated because he refused to refuse the profession of faith made by the Alexandrian priest Arius, whom he had previously sheltered in 320 CE Then he called a synod to Caesarea, which recognized the orthodoxy of Arius’ teaching. At the Council of Nicaea in 325, he appeared as the leader of a conciliation group, and he signed a confession of faith, which included the expression homousios, at the behest of the emperor. He was on the side of the anti-Nice party. He took part in the Aryan synods in 330 in Antioch, in 335 in Tire, and in 336 in Constantinople. In the patrological literature it is emphasized that “Eusebius was not such a great theologian as a significant historian, who with his successful writings, usually also critical of sources, laid the foundations of historical church writings in antiquity” (B. Altaner- A. Stuiber).

Eusebius based his historical works not only on the biblical and ecclesiastical tradition but also used in them some historical works of ancient authors, various archival documents, as well as testimonies of witnesses of the described events. He had the opportunity to become acquainted with the ancient historiographic legacy thanks to the library, famous in his time, which was located at the exegetical school founded by Origen in Caesarea. He developed two important historical works. The first was the “Chronicles” written in Greek. The first part included a concise outline of the history of ancient peoples, based on the works of Greek and Roman historians and the Old Testament available to him: the Chaldeans, Assyrians, Hebrews, Egyptians, and finally the Greeks and Romans. of this work, called the “chronological canon”, consisted of synchronic chronological tables modelled on the work of Sextus Julius the African, in which the author compiled information from sacred, Jewish-Christian, secular and pagan history in separate columns. They included a chronological list of the most important historical events, from the birth of Abraham to 324. Eusebius adopted in his work a diagram of the division of history into six centuries. In their course to date, he distinguished five epochs: 1. From Abraham to the fall of Troy, 2. from that event to the first Olympics, 3. from it to the second year of Darius’ reign, 4. from the 2nd year of his reign until the death of Christ and finally 5. from it to the reign of Constantine the Great. The sixth-century has been reserved for later times. Eusebius published his work around 303. In the original Greek, it has survived to our times in fragments, but the whole is known from an Armenian translation made in the 6th century. The chronology of universal history developed by Eusebius was later adopted by the Christian historiography of the Middle Ages.

The second important historical work of Eusebius of Caesarea was also written in Greek in “Church history”, contained in 10 books, it is the first attempt to present the history of the Church from its foundation to the victory of Constantine the Great over Licinius in 324. Eusebius, presenting the succession of bishops in the most important local Churches (from apostolic times), the views of church teachers and writers, errors of heresy, the fate of the Jewish people, the persecution and martyrdom of Christians, and the final victory over paganism, wished to show that Christianity is divine The work is arranged according to the rules of chronology, although it does not show the events in their causal relationship, it nevertheless has a lasting value due to the numerous citations contained in it from documents and lost works. Books I-VII were written a year ago 303. The development of important events forced the author to make numerous modifications and descriptions His contemporaneous events – the persecution of Galerius in Book VIII and Maximin Daji in Book DC and the victories of the Church for Constantine the Great in Book X. He completed his final editing after 324. In 403, Rufinus of Aquileia translated the work of Eusebius into Latin (often using paraphrases and misinterpretation of the original) and included a description of the events up to CE 395. In this form, Eusebius’s work became an oracle in the historiography of the Church for the next ten centuries.

“On Palestinian Martyrs”, edited by Eusebius in two versions – a shorter one, in addition to Book VIII of his Ecclesiastical History, and a longer one, fully preserved in Syrian and Georgian translations. only fragments have survived. Eusebius, as an eyewitness, reported in chronological order the course of the persecution of Christians in Palestine between 303 and 311. Taking into account the fearless heroism of the 83 victims, he did not omit information about the numerous apostasy.

In addition to items with historical content, Eusebius of Caesarea also wrote works on other topics, such as panegyrics in honour of Constantine. They were: “In honour of the life of the blessed Emperor Constantine” contained in 4 books, known under the Latin title Vita Constantini (Life of Constantine), written after the death of Constantine The Great (337), is a praise of the emperor, not a historical biography, as the Latin title of the work falsely suggests. As a rule, Eusebius idealized the figure of the deceased emperor, consciously ignoring the negative features. The second panegyric is the “Praise of Constantine”, composed of two parts, i.e. the speech given by Eusebius at the Emperor’s Palace in Constantinople in 335, on the 30th anniversary of the reign of Constantine, and the theological treatise he presented to the emperor on the occasion of the dedication of the Basilica of the Sepulcher Of the Lord in Jerusalem in 335 CE.

Moreover, he wrote apologetic works. A novelty in Eusebius’ apologetic method was the abundant quotation of ancient sources and authors to justify his theses. For this reason, his works are invaluable help in the reconstruction of lost writings. The most famous are “Preparation for the Gospel”, in which he fights against pagan myths and their allegorical interpretations, pagan oracles and the notion of fate. He justifies that Christians were right to prefer Judaism to paganism younger than him. In the “Explaining the Gospel,” he explained why Christianity, the continuation of the universal religion of the patriarchs, adopts the Old Testament except for the specific regulations of Mosaic law. prophecies concerning Christ’s humanity, divinity, incarnation and earthly life, passion and death In both works he argued with Porphyry Against Christians, following Origen’s apologetic method.

Eusebius also distinguished himself in terms of textual criticism as well as biblical geography and chronology. For this purpose, he wrote, inter alia, “Canons of the Gospel” which constitute a kind of concordance of parallel places of the Gospel. Eusebius divided the Gospels into small sections and numbered them successively. Then he prepared a table of 10 Canons, each containing a list of the common places of the four Gospels in various possible combinations, for example, Canon I contained a list of the common places of the four Gospels; Canon II – synoptics; Canon VI – Matthew and Marcus. Eusebius’ system passed into the Syrian and Latin manuscripts called “Eusebian canons” (canones eusebiani). Saint Jerome took it over to the Vulgate and explained it in a Letter to Pope Damasus., contains an alphabetical list of places occurring in the Bible with the basic historical and geographical information as well as names used in the time of Eusebius and the “Commentary on the Psalms”, the most important and greatest of Eusebius’ exegetical works.

Moreover, he also wrote dogmatic items, ie “The Defense of Origen”, contained in 6 books, is the work of Pamphilius and Eusebius. “Against Marcellus”, written after the resignation of Bishop Marceli of Ancyra by the Arian Council of Constantinople in 336, to justify the decision of the synod and “On ecclesiastical theology”, which elaborates on Eusebius’ accusations against Marcello, his homilies and speeches were often given in the presence of the emperor, most of them were lost. from the numerous correspondence of Eusebius, there are two letters of dedication to Flacilla, placed at the beginning of the work “On Ecclesiastical Theology, a letter to Karpianus, placed at the beginning of “Canons of the Gospels”, a letter to the faithful in Caesarea after the closure of the First Council of Nicaea, in which Eusebius explains his concession to the phrase homousios. There are also fragments of letters to Alexander, bishop of Alexandria, in defence of Arius, and to Constance, sister of Constantine the Great, in which Eusebius rejects all forms of veneration of images.

The significance of the historiographic legacy of Eusebius of Caesarea for the further development of Christian historiography was indeed enormous. With his works, he finally overcame the reluctance of Christians to deal with history. In the 4th century, he inspired more and more Christian authors to deal with the work of historians on their own. Following the example of Eusebius, it developed as two different kinds of historiography: as the history of the Church and as Universal History. The contribution of Eusebius of Caesarea that cannot be overestimated was that he created patterns that were subsequently adopted in Christian writings and determined how each of these kinds of history should henceforth be practised. Extremely meritorious to the history of the Church of the first centuries, he was called “Father of Church History”. He died in 339 in Caesarea, Palestinian.

Author: Natalia Olszewska (translated from Polish: Jakub Jasiński)

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