Eusebius of Caesarea (circa 275 to 339) was bishop of Caesarea in Palestine and is often referred to as the father of church history because of his work in recording the history of the early
Christian church. An earlier history by Hegesippus that he referred to has not survived.
His exact date and place of birth are unknown, and little is known of his youth. He became acquainted with the presbyter Dorotheus in Antioch and probably received exegetical instruction from him. In 296 he was in Palestine and saw Constantine who visited
the country with Diocletian. He was in Caesarea when Agapius was bishop and became friendly with Pamphilus of Caesarea, with whom he seems to have studied the text of the Bible, with the aid of Origen's
Hexapla, and commentaries collected by Pamphilus, in an attempt to prepare a correct version.
In 307 Pamphilus was imprisoned, but Eusebius continued their project. The resulting defence of Origen, in which they had collaborated, was finished by Eusebius after the death of Pamphilus and sent to the martyrs in the mines of
Phaeno in Egypt. Eusebius then seems to have gone to Tyre and later to Egypt, where he first suffered persecution.
Eusebius is next heard of as bishop of Caesarea Palaestina. He succeeded Agapius, whose time of office is not known, but Eusebius must have become bishop soon after 313. Nothing is known about the early years of his tenure. When the
Council of Nicaea met in 325, Eusebius was prominent in its transactions. He was not naturally a spiritual leader or theologian, but as a very learned man and a famous author who enjoyed the special favour of the emperor, he came to the fore among the
300 members of the council. The confession which he proposed became the basis of the
Eusebius was involved in the further development of the
Arian controversies. For instance, in the dispute with Eustathius of Antioch, who opposed the growing influence of Origen and his practice of an allegorical exegesis of scripture, seeing in his theology the roots of Arianism,
Eusebius, an admirer of Origen, was reproached by Eustathius for deviating from the Nicene faith, and was charged in turn with
Sabellianism. Eustathius was accused, condemned and deposed at a synod in Antioch. The people of Antioch rebelled against this action, while the anti-Eustathians proposed Eusebius as the new bishop, but he declined.
After Eustathius had been removed, the Eusebians proceeded against Athanasius of Alexandria, a much more dangerous opponent. In 334 Athanasius was summoned before a synod in Caesarea; he did not attend. In the following year he was again summoned before
a synod in Tyre at which Eusebius presided. Athanasius, foreseeing the result, went to Constantinople to bring his cause before the emperor. Constantine called the bishops to his court, among them Eusebius. Athanasius was condemned and exiled at the
end of 335. At the same synod, another opponent was successfully attacked: Marcellus of Ancyra had long opposed the Eusebians, and had protested against the reinstitution of Arius. He was accused of Sabellianism and deposed in 336. Constantine died
the next year and Eusebius did not long survive him. Eusebius died (probably at Caesarea), in 340 at the latest and probably on May 30, 339.
Of the extensive literary activity of Eusebius, a relatively large portion has been preserved. Although posterity suspected him of Arianism, Eusebius had made himself indispensable by his method of authorship; his comprehensive and careful excerpts from
original sources saved his successors the painstaking labor of original research. Hence much has been preserved, quoted by Eusebius, which otherwise would have been destroyed.
The literary productions of Eusebius reflect on the whole the course of his life. At first he occupied himself with works on Biblical criticism, under the influence of Pamphilus and probably of Dorotheus of the School of Antioch. Afterward the persecutions
under Diocletian and Galerius directed his attention to the martyrs of his own time and the past. And this led him to the history of the whole Church and finally to the history of the world, which to him was only a preparation for ecclesiastical history.
Then followed the time of the Arian controversies, and dogmatic questions came into the foreground. Christianity at last found recognition by the State; and this brought new problems—apologies of a different sort had to be prepared. Lastly, Eusebius,
the court theologian, wrote eulogies in praise of Constantine. To all this activity must be added numerous writings of a miscellaneous nature, addresses, letters, and the like, and exegetical works which include both commentaries and treatises on Biblical
archeology and extend over the whole of his life.
The Church History
In his Church History or Ecclesiastical History (
Historia Ecclesiastica), Eusebius attempted according to his own declaration (I.i.1) to present the history of the Church from the apostles to his own time, with special regard to the following points:
(1) the successions of bishops in the principal sees; (2) the history of Christian teachers; (3) the history of heresies; (4) the history of the Jews; (5) the relations to the heathen; (6) the martyrdoms. He grouped his material according to the reigns
of the emperors, presenting it as he found it in his sources. The contents are as follows:
- Book i: detailed introduction, on Jesus Christ
- Book ii: The history of the apostolic time to the destruction of Jerusalem by Roman Emperor Titus
- Book iii: The following time to Trajan
- Books iv and v: the second century
- Book vi: The time from Severus to Trajan Decius
- Book vii: extends to the outbreak of the persecution under Diocletian
- Book viii: more of this persecution
- Book ix: history to Constantine's victory over Maxentius in the West and over Maximinus in the East
- Book x: The reestablishment of the churches and the rebellion and conquest of Licinius.
In its present form the work was brought to a conclusion before the death of Crispus (July, 326), and, since book x is dedicated to Paulinus of Tyre who died before 325, at the end of 323 or in 324. This work required the most comprehensive preparatory
studies, and it must have occupied him for years. His collection of martyrdoms of the older period may have been one of these preparatory studies.
Portions of this material have also been adapted from
The Introduction to Eusebius' Church History in Schaff's Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers.