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Eusebius' Ecclesiastical History: Complete and Unabridged Hardcover – June 1, 1998
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Readers should ponder Eusebius's purposes and intentions in writing these ten volumes of "history" and his "Book of Martyrs" which deals with the Diocletian persecutions in Palestine. This is not in any sense modern objective history. Eusebius first attempts to illustrate that Christianity was a fulfillment of the Old Testament in every way possible. It is how Eusebius understood the justification of Christianity both spiritually and temporally. In the Roman world, old and venerable made a religion legal. New and innovative made a religion a superstition. After its eviction from the synagogues, Christianity was treated by the Romans as a superstition which made it illegal and it's adherents subject to persecution and death. Therefore, his first concerns were apologetic as well as historical. Second, he provides the reader with renditions of martyrdom after martyrdom during the persecutions from Domitian through those of Diocletian. This material is mixed in with other historical and theological data and writings of the Fathers that are timely. Here he purposely exaggerates the influence and pervasiveness of Christianity during the first three centuries of its existence. This leads him to declare the coming religious domination of the Roman Empire by Christianity under Constantine the Great. Here his purposes appear polemic in addition to historical.
Also, the book can be used as a resource to research a multitude of specific topics. For example, the Revelation of John is dealt with on at least on six different occasions. Looking at these as a unit, the reader may conclude that Eusebius and the Church accepted the Revelation as canonical by 300 CE. However, his arrangement and presentation of the material tends to lead to the conclusion that Eusebius does not ascribe authorship to the apostle John. Emphasis on certain persons or points should also be noted. Eusebius writes what amounts to a glowing biography of Origen within the pages of the book. As he does this for no other Early Church Father, one is lead to the conclusion that Eusebius considered Origen to be the greatest of the Fathers before his time.
Beyond this, there are valuable nuggets of information and insight throughout. The "Book of Palestinian Martyrs" refers to less than two hundred martyrs over the many years of the Diocletian persecutions. This may call into question the pervasiveness of Christianity at the time, or in the alternative, it might indicate a lack of systematic persecution by the Romans or both for that matter. Heresies and heretics are regularly abused by Eusebius, but their heresies are not explained. There is also much of interest in the Nicene materials. The 19th century history wrongly accuses the Melitians of abandoning Christianity in the face of persecution when just the opposite was true. In the documents section, Eusebius's letter back to his bishopric after Nicea is a remarkable document that attempts to minimize his prior Arian leanings in a most obviously dissembling fashion . These leanings are amply illustrated by Eusebius's earlier letter to Bishop Eusebius of Nicomedia which is also included.
That Eusebius of Caesarea's "Ecclesiastical History" is invaluable to the serious student and scholar of the Early Church is beyond question. It is our major source regarding the first three centuries of the Church and the Church fathers. Read it whole if you feel you can gain something from it. If not, and you are a more casual reader in the area, you may wish to own it as resource and reference that is easily checked against other more contemporary writings. In and of itself, it can tell you a great deal, however, this in large measure may depend on what you bring to the task. And yes, reading this book is a task. This is by no means an easy read.