EUSEBIUS OF CAESAREA (c. 260-c. 340)
An author of the HISTORIA ECCLESIASTICA. The authentic biography of Eusebius, recorded by his own disciple and successor ACACIUS, has been lost. Historians have to assemble the scattered details of his rich life and the immense heritage of his literary productions from contemporary authors such as Socrates and Sozomen, in addition to writings of celebrated personalities of his time such as ATHANASIUS and JEROME. One of the most elaborate modern accounts of his life appears in the Dictionary of Christian Biography (Vol. 2, pp. 308ff.) by J. B. Lightfoot, who presents a detailed analysis of his multiple works, covering almost all fields of religious scholarship. However, Eusebius’ fame must principally rest on his immortal Historia ecclesiastica, which rightly earned for him the title of “Father of Church History.”
Neither the date of his birth nor his birthplace is known with precision. His life is associated mainly with Caesarea, where his parents resided and offered him a truly Christian education. This was completed under the surveillance of so illustrious a mentor as PAMPHILUS, who himself had attended the CATECHETICAL SCHOOL OF ALEXANDRIA under ORIGEN, whose works he had translated and many of which he had transcribed. As Caesarea became a center of persecution of Christians, Pamphilus was martyred probably in 309, when Eusebius decided to flee to Tyre, from which he went to Egypt. There he watched the fiercest of persecutions and was himself imprisoned for the faith, though not martyred. Shortly afterward, however, persecutions subsided and peace was restored, enabling Eusebius in 313 to return to Caesarea, where he was unanimously elected as its bishop in 315.
Throughout that period, he became involved in the universal conflict raging between Athanasius and ARIUS. He happened to be a supporter of the latter. Emperor Constantine decided to summon the first ecumenical council at NICAEA in 325 to settle all outstanding differences and restore peace to the church. Eusebius attended the council and argued for a compromise, producing his baptismal creed of Caesarea, in which the vital term homoousios was omitted to suit the Arian party. This was rejected as heretical, and instead, the Nicene Creed was adopted by the council.
Though Eusebius had to accept the decision of the council, he never really gave outright support to Athanasius and harbored his old hatred of SABELLIANISM and MONARCHIANISM, which allowed him to safeguard the conception of MONOTHEISM. After Nicaea, he continued to fight for reinvesting Arius, and Pope ALEXANDER I of Alexandria complained to the emperor about Eusebius and the Syrian bishops who stood by the side of Arius. In the interval, Eusebius’ indefatigable energy was demonstrated by his continued efforts at the synods of Caesarea, Tyre, Jerusalem, and Constantinople to outweigh the staunch stand of the bishop of Antioch, who supported the position of Athanasius, now the formidable successor of the deceased Alexander I. Eusebius also attended the dedication of the Cathedral Church of the Resurrection in Jerusalem. Emperor Constantine held him in high regard and summoned Eusebius to confer with him on the unflinching and uncompromising attitude of Athanasius in the Arian controversy. Presumably, this led to one of the successive exiles of the Alexandrian pope.
This universal conflict, however, came to an end with the death of Arius in 336, when Eusebius was relieved to devote his remaining few years to the completion of his literary works and especially his Historia ecclesiastica, which he was able to bring up to date.
It is amazing to think that in the midst of his enormous ecclesiastical activities, Eusebius was able to produce so much writing. In fact, his productivity encompassed all departments of ecclesiastical literature. In the field of history, however, his creativity is immortalized by the first serious history of the church from the apostolic age to his own time. Though occasionally described by critics as poor in style, this work deals with the main events in the history of the church, supplemented by documents that he managed to preserve in the course of his discussions. It deals mainly with the Eastern churches, including the patriarchate of Alexandria, and hardly touches the West. It consists of ten sections, of which the first seven were probably written before the Council of Nicaea. The remaining three sections dealing with the events of his own time, of which he was an eyewitness, must have been appended to the previous sections at a later period in his life. This work proved to be the beginning for subsequent historians such as Socrates and Sozomen, whose works were supplements to the initial attempt made by Eusebius. The work has survived in Greek as well as other versions in Latin, Syriac, and Armenian. In recent times, it has been translated into other languages, including Arabic, by Marcus Dawud (1960).
Another historical work by Eusebius is The Martyrs of Palestine.
Here he was an eyewitness of persecutions in the countries of the Middle East and of the martyrdom of people he knew between 303 and 310 in the reign of the emperor DIOCLETIAN. His Life of Constantine is a panegyric full of praise for a friendly master. Eusebius further compiled a Chronicle of universal history that he supplemented with chronological tables of some value.
Outside the realm of history, his contributions covered a number of vast theological terrains, of which an unknown number has perished. Of his apologetic works, the best known is a treatise addressed to the pagan governor of Bithynia entitled Against Hierocles, which is an eloquent defense of the Christian faith. On the New Testament, Eusebius wrote several works of which two stand out. These are Preparation for the Gospel (Preparatio Evangelica), which consists of fifteen books, and Demonstration of the Gospel (Demonstratio Evangelica) in twenty books. Through excerpts from the Old Testament, he establishes the prophesies to the coming of Christ. His treatise Against Porphyry in fifteen books refutes the most formidable of the heathen onslaughts against the Bible. His work entitled Theophania in five books cited by Jerome was written against Marcellus of Ancyra and consists of a defense of the revelation of God in the incarnation of the Divine Word. The heathen idea that Jesus was a sorcerer who achieved his aims by simple magic is discussed and refuted.
Eusebius composed numerous works of exegetic character on several biblical texts. Prominent among them is his work on the harmony of the Gospels, where he starts with the plan of the Diatessaron of Ammonius of Alexandria by dividing the Gospels into parallel sections and the construction of a table of ten canons, all working toward the coordination of the subject matter of the Gospels. His commentaries on the Psalms and the book of Isaiah are both works of exegetic excellence, in which he followed the allegorical system of interpretation formerly established in Alexandria by Origen. More such commentaries, extant or lost, on other books of the Scripture, have been listed in the sources.
Outside the field of exegesis is a joint work with his mentor Pamphilus entitled Defense of Origen (perhaps his most fitting treatise for inclusion in the Coptic Encyclopedia). This treatise consists of six books, of which five were written between 307 and 309 by Pamphilus while in prison before his martyrdom. He may have been assisted by his disciple Eusebius, who is responsible for the sixth book after the death of his master. Another work that was considered of vital importance by Emperor Constantine is on the subject of Easter and is entitled De Solemnitate Paschali, in which Eusebius addressed the emperor in 365 on the “mystical explanation of the significance of the festival.” Another work on biblical topography under the title Onomasticon contains an alphabetized enumeration of all names of places cited in the Bible. This work was written at the instance of Paulenus, bishop of the Tyrians, to whom it was dedicated. Of the literary remains of Eusebius, one should also mention his orations, his sermons, and his letters preserved mainly in his own works.
- Cross, F. L. The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, pp. 473-74. London, 1957. Useful bibliography included.
- Lightfoot, J. B. “Eusebius of Caesarea.” In DCB 2. New York, 1974.
AZIZ S. ATIYA