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The Post-Nicene Greek Fathers

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THE POST-NICENE GREEK FATHERS.

 

EUSEBIUS.

The Father of Church History. He was born and educated in Palestine, where he was made a presbyter of the church at Cesarea. Here he became connected with the library and school of theology founded by the presbyter Pamphilus, an enthusiastic admirer of Origen, and collector of ecclesiastical writings. His close friendship for this man gave to Eusebius his surname Pamphilus. In the persecution of Diocletian he constantly visited Pamphilus in prison, and together they composed a work in defense of Origen. After the martyrdom of his friend, Eusebius went first to Tyre and then to Egypt, where he was himself imprisoned, but was released without suffering bodily injury. With this escape he was afterward taunted by a bishop who, as his fellow-prisoner, had lost an eye; but this reproach seems to have been ill founded, for on his return to Caesarea he was well received, and about A. D. 314 he was chosen bishop of that see. In this position he remained until his death, A. D. 340, having nine years before declined the patriarchate of Antioch. He did not need this preferment, however, to give him prominence and influence in the Church. Born about the time of Origen's death, and living until near the birth of Jerome, he was a scholar worthy to connect the author of the "Hexapla" with the author of the "Vulgate." Among his earlier works were the elaborate apologetic writings, "Evangelic Preparation" and "Demonstration." These were followed before the Council of Nice by the "Chronicon" and his chief work, the "Church History." Either from the reputation gained by his earlier labors, or through his native talents as a courtier, he became a favorite of the Emperor Constantine, who admitted him to familiar personal intercourse and placed at his command the archives of the state as helps to his historical studies. On the breaking out of the Arian difficulty, Arius appealed to the Eastern bishops for support, claiming that his opinions were like their own. Some of them, under the leadership of Eusebius of Nicomedia, wrote to Alexander in behalf of Arius. Among these was Eusebius of Csesarea, of whose support of Arius Alexander complains somewhat bitterly. But, while assenting to the views which Arius at first propounded, Eusebius did not assume a position antagonistic to the Church. When the council convened at Nice, he held a mediate position between the parties of Alexander and Arius, and made an address to the emperor in the name of the whole synod. It was he also who submitted the first draft of the symbol adopted by the council, the only important addition to his language being the phrases "very God of very God" and "of one substance with the Father." Though demurring to these expressions, he subscribed the symbol, wrote to his church that the council was substantially in accord with their own confession, and never afterward repudiated the Nicene faith. He did not, however, sympathize with Athanasius, and in consequence was denounced by some of the later fathers as an Arian, particularly by Jerome, who called him the ringleader of those heretics. This charge is palpably untrue, and, had it come from a less learned and more candid man than Jerome, might have arisen from the confusing of the two Eusebii. Eusebius of Nicomedia was an extreme Arian who avowed doctrines far in advance of those first propounded by Arius and approved by the bishop of Caesarea. The doctrinal position of the latter has been characterized as "chameleon-hued," "a mirror of the unsolved problems of the Church of that age." If he is classified at all, we should place him in the right wing of the Arianizing party, which in time separated from the radicals and was known as semi-Arian. Of this party Athanasius came to speak as "blessed and truly religious men," "brothers who mean what we mean and dispute only about the word [Greek letters]." Most of these went over in time into full accord with the Catholic bishops. We may define the general position of the Catholics and semi-Arians by saying that, until the traditional doctrines of the Church as defined at Nice had been scientifically examined and approved by the reason and faith of the fourth century, the semi-Arians always approached these doctrines from the side of reason, the Athanasians from the side of faith. Their ultimate agreement was assured by the substantial truth of the Nicene utterance; but such agreement could not come until the doctrines were thought through. It is noticeable that the above language of Athanasius was used as late as A. D. 356. Had Eusebius lived until the period of Gregory Nyssa, he and Gregory and Athanasius would doubtless have been brothers who not only meant, but also said, the same things.

 

The EVANGELICAL PREPARATION.

The object of this work, which is in fifteen books, is to predispose the thoughtful to receive the Christian religion by dissipating their pagan prejudices. The first six books are employed in demolishing the pagan systems of religion, which the author shatters by his learned elucidations. The pure and reasonable character of the Christian theology and the blessings which the faith has brought to the world are set forth in contrast with the absurd teachings of polytheism. This system Eusebius first traces back to its cradle among the Egyptians, whose alleged antiquity he attacks as chimerical, affirming that their annals are based upon a gross interpolation of Scripture records. He then follows the system as it spread among the Greeks and the other peoples of the world. He confutes the argument of pagans from the predictions of their oracles; and combats the doctrine of a fatality or destiny stronger than the gods themselves, opposing to it the principle of human freedom. Then comes an examination of the Hebrew legislation in comparison with that of the other nations, the legislator of the chosen people being shown to be the Sovereign Author and Creator of all things. The remaining books oppose to the extravagance of paganism the Christian faith, which is first viewed in its origin as the religion of the Hebrews. Its wisdom is made to appear by showing the purity and sublimity of its dogmas upon the unity of God, the immortality of the soul, etc.; the character of the Mosaic law, which was confessedly only figurative and preparatory; and the holiness of the patriarchs, prophets, and Essenes. The most celebrated men among the Greeks have borne honorable witness to this faith; and philosophers, among others Plato, have borrowed from it some of their dogmas. Three books are occupied in tracing Plato's indebtedness to Scripture, and the conclusion is reached that this philosopher teaches truthfully only when he copies; left to himself he abounds in errors. The fourteenth and fifteenth books examine the other leading writers of antiquity, showing how they oppose and contradict one another. From all this the author concludes that Christians are right in abandoning a false theology in favor of that of the Jews.

 

The EVANGELICAL DEMONSTRATION.

Ten only of the twenty books of this work are extant. The exordium declares that the Christian religion is established by the prophecies which foretold the birth at Bethlehem, the sufferings and death of Christ; and announced the establishment and marvelous propagation of Christianity. In the first book the author proves that the law of the Jews was given for one only nation, while the New Testament is for all people in the world; and that the religion of the patriarchs did not differ from that of Christians, both having the same God and the same Word whom they adore. This is confirmed, says the second book, by prophecies applicable only to Jesus Christ. In book three Christ is shown to be the Saviour of the world; and that he was no seducer is proved by his doctrines and his miracles. Book four proves that Jesus Christ is the Son of God; sets forth the reason why he became man; explains the name "Christ"; and shows how the prophecies and other scriptures, as well as the events of Jewish history and the ceremonies of the Mosaic ritual, looked forward to him. Then we are shown how, before his advent, the precise time of his appearing was predicted, his ancestors were designated, the place of his birth was fixed, his forerunner was spoken of, the mission of his apostles was characterized, and the circumstances of the treason of one of them were noted. Christ, having fulfilled all these prophecies, is proved to be the true Messiah, and there is no excuse for the incredulity of the synagogue. The extant books end with the words of Christ upon the cross, the ten lost books having cited the prophecies concerning his death, burial, resurrection, and ascension, and concerning the conversion of the Gentiles.

Of these two books Du Pin says: "The 'Evangelical Preparation' and 'Demonstration' are the largest work that has been made by any of the ancients upon this subject; where a man may find more proofs, testimonies, and arguments for the truth of the Christian religion than in any other. They are very proper to instruct and convince all those that sincerely search after truth. In fine, Eusebius has omitted nothing which might serve to undeceive men of a false religion or convince them of the true."

 

ECCLESIASTICAL HISTORY.

This first of church histories was written before the Council of Nice. The work must not be judged by modern canons of the historic art; nor is its value to be gauged by its literary merit, in which respect it illustrates what has been said of the early ecclesiastical literature as a whole. It is, however, a well-filled store-house of the facts and documents out of which history is made. To appreciate its value rightly, we must imagine that the book had perished during the dark ages, and think of the gap which it would have left in our knowledge of the Church from the last days of Paul to the conversion of Constantine. Eusebius himself was not unaware of the importance of his labors. Announcing the subject of his book - to recount the succession of the apostles and the important transactions of the Church; to notice her distinguished individuals and the characters of the innovators; as well as to set forth the calamities of the Jews and the progress of the Church through hostility and martyrdom he says that he is the first to enter this broad field, and that he has culled his materials from the writers of the past, with the purpose of rescuing them from oblivion. Nor was this Father of Church History inappreciative of the lofty nature of the subject upon which he was entering. For he begins, not on a terrestrial level, nor in cloudy myths, but by treating boldly of the Son of God, existing before the worlds, whose advent and advancing work among men is his noble theme. His history consists of ten short books, or, better, chapters. Though his method may be likened to that of the first rude miner with his pan, and though he has thrown away unknown wealth and preserved some earth, the sands were so rich and the heavier nuggets were so easily gathered that these chapters are invaluable. Among other topics treated are the movements of the more prominent apostles in founding the leading churches; the succession of bishops in these churches; various ecclesiastical writings; the persecutions of the Church, and her martyrs; the demolition of the churches under Diocletian; the death of the enemies of the Church; and her relief and exaltation under Constantine. The design of our books makes it unnecessary to characterize further the Ecclesiastical History, since happily it is an exception among patristic writings in being accessible to all, and in the possession of most persons who are much interested in the early Church.

 

List of Eusebius's most Important Works now extant.

HISTORICAL. The "Chronicon," a summary universal history, giving chronological tables and a sketch of the most important historical events from Abraham to Constantine, a work of much value for the study of ancient history. The "Ecclesiastical History." "Life of Constantine," a work in four books, of which the "Panegyric" may be called a fifth; indeed, the whole is a panegyric rather than a biography.

APOLOGETIC AND DOGMATIC. "Preparatio Evangelica." "Demonstratio Evangelica." "Book against Hierarchs," written in refutation of a work against the Christians, published at the outbreak of the Diocletian persecution, and one of the last attempts to brand Christianity by comparing its author to Apollonius of Tyana. "Against Marcellus," and "On the Doctrine of the Church." In opposing Arianism, Marcellus had virtually revived Sabellianism; and in the above works Eusebius opposes him and reasserts the hypostatical distinctions. The "Theophania." "On the Easter Festival," a book deemed by Constantine so important that he caused its immediate translation into Latin.

EXEGETICAL. Commentaries on "The Psalms" (voluminous), "Isaiah" and "Luke." The "Onomasticon," an alphabetical description of places mentioned in the Scriptures.

 

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