| The Earth and Its Peoples: A Global History, Second Edition
| Questions to Consider
Eusebius of Caesarea
Eusebius (ca. 260-339 or 340), bishop of the church of Caesarea
in Palestine, was a prolific writer. His single most enduring work is his
Ecclesiastical History, which traces the fortunes of the Christian
Church from its earliest days to the early fourth century. This history
has rightly earned Eusebius the title Father of Church history, inasmuch
as it is the most complete and coherent account that we possess of the
Church's first three centuries.
More than simply a scholar, Eusebius was active in the affairs of the
early fourth-century Church and suffered in the process. He had been imprisoned
during the era of the Great Persecution (303-311) and had seen many of
his friends tortured and martyred. But he also lived to see the miracle
of the Emperor Constantine's conversion to Christianity after the emperor's
victory in 312. Following his elevation to the bishopric of Caesarea around
313, Eusebius came to enjoy the Christian emperor's patronage and friendship.
The excerpts below come from Book 5, an appendix to Book 8 entitled
"The Martyrs of Palestine", and Book 10. Note the significant differences
in tone and message between the first two excerpts and the third, which
deals with Constantine's victory in 324 over Licinius, his former coemperor.
Questions to Consider
Other writers of history record the victories of war and trophies
won from enemies, the skill of generals, and the manly bravery of soldiers,
defiled with blood and with innumerable slaughters for the sake of children
and country and other possessions. But our narrative of the government
of God will record in ineffaceable letters the most peaceful wars waged
in behalf of the peace of the soul, and will tell of men doing brave deeds
for truth rather than country, and for piety rather than dearest friends.
It will hand down to imperishable remembrance the discipline and the much-tried
fortitude of the athletes of religion, the trophies won from demons, the
victories over invisible enemies, and the crowns placed upon their heads.
- What lessons did Eusebius intend his reader to draw from his history?
What significance did he attach to the suffering of early Christians?
According to Eusebius, under what circumstances could Church and State
co-exist in harmony? What does this say about the political goals of
Eusebius and his fellow Christians?
Up to the sixth year the storm had been incessantly raging against us.
Before this time there had been a very large number of confessors of religion
in the so-called Porphyry quarry in Thebais, which gets its name from the
stone found there. Of these, one hundred men, lacking three, together with
women and infants, were sent to the governor of Palestine. When they confessed
the God of the universe and Christ, Firmilianus, who had been sent there
as a governor in the place of Urbanus, directed, in accordance with the
imperial command, that they should be maimed by burning the sinews of the
ankles of their left feet, and that their right eyes with the eyelids and
pupils should first be cut out, and then destroyed by hot irons to the
very roots. And he then sent them to the mines in the province to endure
hardships with severe toil and suffering.
But it was not sufficient that these only who suffered such miseries
should be deprived of their eyes, but those natives of Palestine also,
who were mentioned just above as condemned to pugilistic combat, since
they would neither receive food from the royal storehouse nor undergo the
necessary preparatory exercises. Having been brought on this account not
only before the overseers, but also before Maximinus himself, and having
manifested the noblest persistence in confession by the endurance of hunger
and stripes, they received like punishment with those whom we have mentioned,
and with them other confessors in the city of Caesarea. Immediately afterwards
others who were gathered to hear the Scriptures read, were seized in Gaza,
and some endured the same sufferings in the feet and eyes; but others were
afflicted with yet greater torments and with most terrible tortures in
the sides. One of these, in body a woman, but in understanding a man, would
not endure the threat of rape, and spoke directly against the tyrant who
entrusted the government to such cruel judges. She was first scourged and
then raised aloft on the stake, and her sides lacerated. As those appointed
for this purpose applied the tortures incessantly and severely at the command
of the judge, another, with mind fixed, like the former, on virginity as
her aim, -- a woman who was altogether mean in form and contemptible in
appearance, but, on the other hand, strong in soul, and endowed with an
understanding superior to her body, -- being unable to bear the merciless
and cruel and inhuman deeds, with a boldness beyond that of the combatants
famed among the Greeks, cried out to the judge from the midst of the crowd:
"And how long will you thus cruelly torture my sister?" But he was greatly
enraged and ordered the woman to be immediately seized. Thereupon she was
brought forward and having called herself by the august name of the Savior,
she was first urged by words to sacrifice, and as she refused she was dragged
by force to the altar. But her sister continued to maintain her former
zeal, and with intrepid and resolute foot kicked the altar, and overturned
it with the fire that was on it. Thereupon the judge, enraged like a wild
beast, inflicted on her such tortures in her sides as he never had on any
one before, striving almost to glut himself with her raw flesh. But when
his madness was satiated, he bound them both together, this one and her
whom she called sister, and condemned them to death by fire. It is said
that the first of these was from the country of Gaza; the other, by name
Valentina, was of Caesarea, and was well known to many.
Thanks for all things be given unto God the Omnipotent Ruler and King
of the universe, and the greatest thanks to Jesus Christ the Savior and
Redeemer of our souls, through whom we pray that peace may be always preserved
for us firm and undisturbed by external troubles and troubles of the mind.
Since in accordance with your wishes, my most holy Paulinus, we have added
the tenth book of the Church History to those which have preceded, we will
inscribe it to you, proclaiming you as the seal of the whole work; and
we will fitly add in a perfect number the perfect panegyric upon the restoration
of the churches, obeying the Divine Spirit which exhorts us in the following
words: "Sing unto the Lord a new song, for he hath done marvelous things.
His right hand and his holy arm hath saved him. The Lord hath made known
his salvation, his righteousness hath he revealed in the presence of the
nations." And in accordance with the utterance which commands us to sing
the new song, let us proceed to show that, after those terrible and gloomy
spectacles which we have described, we are now permitted to see and celebrate
such things as many truly righteous men and martyrs of God before us desired
to see upon earth and did not see, and to hear and did not hear. But they,
hastening on, obtained far better things, being carried to Heaven and the
paradise of divine pleasure. But, acknowledging that even these things
are greater than we deserve, we have been astonished at the grace manifested
by the author of the great gifts, and rightly do we admire him, worshiping
him with the whole power of our souls, and testifying to the truth of those
recorded utterances, in which it is said, "Come and see the works of the
Lord, the wonders which he hath done upon the earth; he removeth wars to
the ends of the world, he shall break the bow and snap the spear in sunder,
and shall burn the shields with fire." Rejoicing in these things which
have been clearly fulfilled in our day, let us proceed with our account.
The whole race of God's enemies was destroyed in the manner indicated,
and was thus suddenly swept from the sight of men. So that again a divine
utterance had its fulfillment: "I have seen the impious highly exalted
and raising himself like the cedars of Lebanon; and I have passed by, and
behold, he was not; and I have sought his place, and it could not be found."
And finally a bright and splendid day, overshadowed by no cloud, illuminated
with beams of heavenly light the churches of Christ throughout the entire
world. And not even those outside our communion were prevented from sharing
in the same blessings, or at least from coming under their influence and
enjoying a part of the benefits bestowed upon us by God.
All men, then, were freed from the oppression of the tyrants, and being
released from the former ills, one in one way and another in another acknowledged
the defender of the pious to be the only true God. And we especially who
placed our hopes in the Christ of God had unspeakable gladness, and a certain
inspired joy bloomed for all of us, when we saw every place which shortly
before had been desolated by the impieties of the tyrants reviving as if
from a long and death-fraught pestilence, and temples again rising from
their foundations to an immense height, and receiving a splendor far greater
than that of the old ones which had been destroyed. But the supreme rulers
also confirmed to us still more extensively the munificence of God by repeated
ordinances in behalf of the Christians; and personal letters of the emperor
were sent to the bishops, with honors and gifts of money. It may not be
unfitting to insert these documents, translated from the Roman into the
Greek tongue, at the proper place in this book, as in a sacred tablet,
that they may remain as a memorial to all who shall come after us....
To him, therefore, God granted, from Heaven above, the deserved fruit
of piety, the trophies of victory over the impious, and he cast the guilty
one with all his counselors and friends prostrate at the feet of Constantine.
For when Licinius carried his madness to the last extreme, the emperor,
the friend of God, thinking that he ought no longer to be tolerated, acting
upon the basis of sound judgement, and mingling the firm principles of
justice with humanity, gladly determined to come to the protection of those
who were oppressed by the tyrant, and undertook, by putting a few destroyers
out of the way, to save the greater part of the human race. For when he
had formerly exercised humanity alone and had shown mercy to him who was
not worthy of sympathy, nothing was accomplished; for Licinius did not
renounce his wickedness, but rather increased his fury against the people
that were subject to him, and there was left to the afflicted no hope of
salvation, oppressed as they were by a savage beast. Wherefore, the protector
of the virtuous, mingling hatred for evil with love for good, went forth
with his son Crispus, a most beneficent prince, and extended a saving right
hand to all that were perishing. Both of them, father and son, under the
protection, as it were, of God, the universal King, with the Son of God,
the Savior of all, as their leader and ally, drew up their forces on all
sides against the enemies of the Deity and won an easy victory; God having
prospered them in the battle in all respects according to their wish. Thus,
suddenly, and sooner than can be told, those who yesterday and the day
before breathed death and threatening were no more, and not even their
names were remembered, but their inscriptions and their honors suffered
the merited disgrace. And the things which Licinius with his own eyes had
seen come upon the former impious tyrants he himself likewise suffered,
because he did not receive instruction nor learn wisdom from the chastisements
of his neighbors, but followed the same path of impiety which they had
trod, and was justly hurled over the same precipice. Thus he lay prostrate.
But Constantine, the mightiest victor, adorned with every virtue of
piety, together with his son Crispus, a most God-beloved prince, and in
all respects like his father, recovered the East which belonged to them;
and they formed one united Roman empire as of old, bringing under their
peaceful sway the whole world from the rising of the sun to the opposite
quarter, both north and south, even to the extremities of the declining
day. All fear therefore of those who had formerly afflicted them was taken
away from men, and they celebrated splendid and festive days. Everything
was filled with light, and those who before were downcast beheld each other
with smiling faces and beaming eyes. With dances and hymns, in city and
country, they glorified first of all God the universal King, because they
had been thus taught, and then the pious emperor with his God-beloved children.
There was oblivion of past evils and forgetfulness of every deed of impiety;
there was enjoyment of present benefits and expectation of those yet to
come. Edicts full of clemency and laws containing tokens of benevolence
and true piety were issued in every place by the victorious emperor. Thus
after all tyranny had been purged away, the empire which belonged to them
was preserved firm and without a rival for Constantine and his sons alone.
And having obliterated the godlessness of their predecessors, recognizing
the benefits conferred upon them by God, they exhibited their love of virtue
and their love of God, and their piety and gratitude to the Deity, by the
deed which they performed in the sight of all men.
Eusebius of Caesarea, "Ecclesiastical History," in Alfred Andrea and James Overfield, eds. The Human Record: Sources in Global History, Volume I, 3rd Edition (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1998): 206-210.