Eusebius of Caesarea Biography


(Historic Lives: The Ancient World, Prehistory-476)

Article abstract: Eusebius formulated the political philosophy of unity of church and state under the providence of God that became standard in the East.

Early Life

Relatively little is known of the early life of Eusebius (yew-SEE-bee-uhs). He was likely born near Caesarea to peasant parents. The church historian Socrates, writing in the fifth century, states that Eusebius received Christian teaching and baptism at Caesarea and was later ordained a presbyter there.

Eusebius’s mentor, a presbyter from the church at Alexandria named Pamphilus, was one of the leading biblical and theological scholars of the day, a disciple of the Christian philosopher Origen. He founded a school in Caesarea and gathered a large library of both pagan and Christian works there. Eusebius read widely under his teacher’s guidance. By 303 Eusebius had completed early versions of at least two of his most important historical works, Chronicon (c. 300, 325 c.e.; Chronicle, 1583) and Historia ecclesiastica (c. 300, 324 c.e.; Ecclesiastical History, 1576-1577, better known as Eusebius’s Church History).

Eusebius grew very close to Pamphilus, eventually adopting the surname Pamphili (son of Pamphilus). During the persecution begun by the emperor Diocletian, Pamphilus was imprisoned for two years, eventually suffering martyrdom in 309 or 310. Before his teacher’s death, Eusebius assisted him in completing five volumes of a six-volume defense of Origen.

It is possible that Eusebius was jailed for his faith for a short period in Egypt following Pamphilus’s death. At the 335 Synod of Tyre, which dealt with the continuing Arian controversy, Eusebius was accused by Potammon, a rival bishop from Egypt, of having sacrificed to the emperor cult to avoid torture while in prison. The charge probably was false, judging by the harsh stance the Church took toward Christians who lapsed into such actions and by the honors Eusebius received immediately after the persecution. These honors included his consecration as bishop of Caesarea about 314, shortly after the proclamation of peace by Constantine and Licinius.

Life’s Work

Eusebius lived during the period when one of the most dramatic events in the Church’s existence occurred: the transformation of the Roman Empire, under Constantine’s direction, from persecutor to supporter and protector of Christianity. Eusebius’s work cannot be fully understood without recognizing the importance of this apparent miracle for his thought. The first editions of his works, however, were certainly composed before Constantine’s rise, probably during the first years of Diocletian’s reign. A cautious optimism pervaded Christian circles at that time as a result of the lack of persecution, and Eusebius seems to have developed his idea of Christianity as the culmination of the course of human history in the first editions of his Chronicle and Ecclesiastical History.

It was when the Church again came under attack in 303 that Eusebius felt compelled to set forth his views at length, doing so primarily in the works Praeparatio evangelica (c. 314-318; Preparation for the Gospel, 1903) and Demonstratio evangelica (after 314; Proof of the Gospel, 1920). Eusebius’s notions of history and its meaning were greatly influenced by his work in and interpretation of the Scriptures. For him, the Bible was the key to a correct understanding of human history. His beliefs were deeply rooted in the study of the Old Testament, where he saw the beginning of Christianity—not in Judaism proper but rather in the earlier era of the patriarchs.

Christianity from its earliest days had been extremely sensitive to the charge that it was of recent origin. In Kata Kelsou (248; also known as Contra Celsum; Origen Against Celsus, 1660), Origen quoted the pagan writer Aulus Cornelius Celsus as scornfully saying, “A few years ago he [Christ] began to teach.” The earliest Christian apologists tied Christianity to its Jewish roots and insisted that the loftiest ideas of paganism had actually been borrowed from the Hebrews. Eusebius did not consider that explanation to be adequate; he reinterpreted the biblical accounts to show that Christianity was, in fact, the most ancient of all the religions of humankind.

Eusebius, like Origen, saw history as having begun with a fall away from God, as illustrated in the Old Testament by the sin of Adam and Eve. Human beings after the Fall were characterized by savagery and superstition. There were some, however, who were able to see that God transcended the created world. These friends of God were the patriarchs, to whom were made known divine truths by the Logos (Christ). The patriarchs were the original Christians, knowing both God the Father and His Son, the divine Word. The unenlightened contemporaries of the patriarchs were the original pagans.

Judaism came into Eusebius’s scheme as a purely transitional phase, to prepare the way for the new covenant of Jesus that would...

(The entire section is 2076 words.)