Eusebius' Ecclesiastical History Book Review Paper
History of the Christian Church Title: Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History; Complete and Unabridged; Translated by C. F. Cruse Biographical citation: Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History; Hendrickson Publishers: Peabody, Massachusetts; 1998. Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History is a historical record of the primitive Christian church for the first three centuries that began with the birth of Jesus Christ going through the time of Emperor Constantine taking power in the Roman world leading up to the Council of Nicea. Eusebius’ work was completed in A. D. 324. Part of this historical record included many of the Christian doctrines.
Eusebius’ thesis statement could be stated in his purpose for writing the book that encompassed two parts: 1) Record the ecclesiastical history beginning with Jesus Christ through the apostles in the formulation of the church that focused on the writings and teachings of these apostles and other Christian leaders at that time in contrast to the heretics who were trying to corrupt the church by false teachings; 2) Record the historical devastation that took place in the Jewish nation following the death and resurrection of Christ followed by the martyrdom of Christians at the hands of those in opposition to Christianity.
The author’s thesis, the book’s table of contents and my reading of the subsequent chapters lead to the conclusion that all three parts logically relate to one another as Eusebius begins his work starting in a chronological fashion giving much detail to each point. This book was divided into ten books within the larger work itself numbering one through ten with an additional book before Book Nine entitled The Book of Martyrs. The entire work of Eusebius within the eleven books consisted of 264 chapters.
In Book One, Eusebius gives the historical data in support of the birth of Christ quoting the Scriptures and secular authorities who affirm and attest to this historical fact. Jesus Christ’s trial and subsequent crucifixion were given. Interaction between John the Baptist and Jesus Christ was given by Eusebius. What I found most interesting in this book was a translation given by Eusebius from the records of Edessa in which Jesus and King Agbarus had written correspondence (chapter 13). I had never heard of this until I read this book.
Eusebius seems convinced that this is authentic. Book Two gave the accounts of the early Christian martyrs (Stephen and James the Just – Jesus’ half-brother). The church is organized in Jerusalem and then dispersed due to persecutions. Eusebius heavily references the work of Philo. Eusebius presents good biographical information on James the Just (chapter 23). This book concludes with the events leading up to the destruction of Jerusalem. Book Three gives the horrific account of the destruction of Jerusalem by heavily referencing and quoting Josephus.
Eusebius comments on the heresies that are now starting to come into the church that needs to be refuted. Early church fathers Irenaeus, Clement, and others are referenced as they refute these heresies. Eusebius comments several times on the residence and place of death of the apostle John being at Ephesus (chapters 1, 20, 23, & 31). Papias is referenced (chapter 39) in which the millennium is discussed. Eusebius disagrees with Papias’ view on the millennium being a literal reign of Christ on the earth.
Book Four gives more reviews of heresies taking place; churches in Rome and Alexandria are established. Eusebius comments heavily on Dionysius of Corinth along with the writings of Theophilus and Philip of Gortyna. Chapters 14 and 15 are devoted to the life and martyrdom of Polycarp. In chapter 26 there is a listing of the Old Testament books. Book Five is a detailed account of Christians persecuted for their faith. The historical account of Blandina’s martyrdom was particularly moving due to her being a young female (chapter 1). Eusebius provides the succession of Roman bishops that came from Irenaeus.
Of particular interest to me was chapter 20 in which Eusebius provides the historical link between Polycarp and Irenaeus. The book ends with Paul of Samasota’s heresy in which the deity of Jesus is denied (chapter 28). Book Six is a lengthy discourse on the life of Origen that included his biography in addition to his numerous works. It is chapter 8 that gives us the historical account of Origen’s self-castration. In chapter 25 Eusebius mentions the tradition that was handed down to him when he states that it is upon Peter that the church of Christ is built. This is roubling for Protestants in their view of the Roman Catholic claims. Book Seven is a continuation of persecutions and new heresies coming into the church (Sabellianism – modalism). Paul of Samasota is refuted by Malchion. Many of the people that we are introduced to in this book were personal associates of Eusebius. Eusebius argues against an earthly millennial reign of Christ in his opposition to Nepos in chapter 24. Book Eight is a continuation of persecutions on the Christians throughout the region. The evil of Maxentius and Maximian were painfully detailed in their hatred of Christ and His followers.
It is between this book and Book Nine that The Book of Martyrs is inserted. In The Book of Martyrs, Eusebius seems to have in mind the non-literal view of the millennium again when he mentions the “heavenly Jerusalem” (Heb 12:22) in chapter 11. Book Nine brings the reader up to the time of Constantine as the decrees against Christianity are revoked. Those leaders that persecuted the Christians are now coming to their own deaths. In Book Ten, chapter 4, Eusebius presents a strong defense of the deity of Christ. Chapter 5 sums up this book with Christians being given the freedom to worship.
Eusebius didn’t directly raise any questions in his historical treatise. Many statements were made as if based upon fact. It can only be assumed by the reader that Eusebius either verified the accuracy of the account or claim or that the tradition passed down to him was satisfactory enough to include it in his Ecclesiastical History. Eusebius relies heavily on the historical accounts of other notable men before and during his life. This would include Philo, Josephus, Origen, and others. Long quotations from Josephus were given throughout the early part of the work in reference to the perils of the Jews.
Eusebius takes Josephus’ account as reliable and accurate. Eusebius seems to give an unbalanced amount of attention to Origen especially in Book Six. Many of the other church fathers were either not mentioned or only briefly referenced. It would appear that Eusebius had a personal bias of Origen being the greatest of the church fathers despite the unorthodox teachings and doctrines that Origen held (universal salvation, the pre-existence of spirits, etc. ). Eusebius’ detailed personal accounts of persecution to individuals and the eans by which they were tortured seems to captivate Eusebius’ interest. Much of this work reads like Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, which came much later in history. Maybe it could be said that Eusebius’ account of horrific torture and persecution accounts inspired Foxe’s work that came later. Eusebius is highly critical of the Roman government and its tyranny on Christians. Eusebius is a Christian historian so naturally one would expect a scathing presentation of this ungodly empire that inflicted severe persecution on the Christian church and its people for over three centuries.
Eusebius is a Christian of strong orthodox faith, which is readably noticed from the beginning of his work to the conclusion. In modern times Eusebius would be considered an ultra- conservative. His theological and ideological bias would today be considered in favor Roman Catholicism with Eusebius’s position on the millennium not being literal, Holy Communion is the literal body and blood of Jesus, and the Christian church being built on the apostle Peter. Eusebius’ book offered new discoveries for me that I had never heard mention before (written correspondence between Jesus and Agbarus, relationship of John-Polycarp-Irenaeus, etc. . For the reader that had never studied any church history this work would be a recap of many accounts from the Bible gospels that the Christian would be familiar. Heresies, the demise of the Jews in Jerusalem, persecutions and martyrdoms at the hands of the Romans, and Christian doctrine welcome the novice of Christian history in this work by Eusebius. Eusebius personally knew many of the people that he wrote about in the latter years that were covered in the book. This added strength to the validity of Eusebius’ report and claims.
Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History can be a difficult book to follow depending on whether the reader is reading an abridged or unabridged translation of Eusebius’ original writing. The historical account is thorough and technical in places. Many parts of the book leave the reader sitting in suspense as one is taken back in time to the persecutions of individual Christians at the hands of infidels who despise Jesus Christ. One is moved to compassion and a sense of awe-struck respect for those Christians who stood fast and resolute in their faith at the vicious hands of their captors.
Much of this information is repetitive throughout the book. Several accounts listed in the book are covered repeatedly throughout the various books and chapters (the residence and death of John the Apostle at Ephesus, etc. ). Eusebius gives special attention to people that would in otherwise never be mentioned outside a work like the one he produced. Other notables in church history prior to A. D. 324 were barely mentioned in regards to the amount of writing that the individual contributed to the Christian faith and community (Tertullian, etc. ).
Eusebius provided the Christian reader with a magnificent account of the life and times of the primitive Christian church from the Incarnation of Jesus Christ all the way until A. D. 324 which brought the church to its first council to affirm the deity of Jesus Christ against the heretics who claimed that Jesus Christ was not truly God in substance, essence, and nature with the Father. Eusebius’ thesis statement at the beginning of the book was fulfilled in its purpose at the conclusion of his work, which Christians today and for all times can be thankful.