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Eusebius of Caesarea
6th century Syriac portrait of St. Eusebius of Caesarea from the Rabbula Gospels
6th century Syriac portrait of St. Eusebius of Caesarea from the Rabbula Gospels
Born c. 260–265
Caesarea Maritima
Died 30 May 339
Occupation Bishop, historian, theologian
Period Constantinian dynasty
Notable works Ecclesiastical History, On the Life of Pamphilus, Chronicle, On the Martyrs
Eusebius of Caesarea
St. Eusebius T'oros Roslin Gospels.png
Icon portrait of the church historian Eusebius of Caesarea as a saint from T'oros Roslin Gospel manuscript in Armenia dated 1262
The Father of Church History
Venerated in Syriac Orthodox Church
Feast May 30 (ancient Syrian Church) February 29 (Syrian Orthodox)
June 21 (Roman Catholic; Suppressed by Pope Gregory XIII)
Influences Origen, St. Pamphilus of Caesarea, St. Constantine the Great, Sextus Julius Africanus, Philo, Plato
Influenced St. Palladius of Galatia, St. Basil the Great, Rufinus of Aquileia, St. Theodoret of Cyrus, Socrates of Constantinople, Sozomen, Evagrius Scholasticus, Gelasius of Cyzicus, Michael the Syrian, St. Jerome, Philostorgius, Victorius of Aquitaine, Pope St. Gelasius I, Pope Pelagius II, Henri Valois, George Bull, William Cave, Samuel Lee, J.B. Lightfoot, Henry Wace

Eusebius of Caesarea (/jˈsbiəs/; Greek: Εὐσέβιος Eusebios; c. 260/265 – 30 May 339), also known as Eusebius Pamphilus (from the Greek: Εὐσέβιος τοῦ Παμφίλου), was a Greek historian of Christianity, exegete, and Christian polemicist. In about AD 314 he became the bishop of Caesarea Maritima in the Roman province of Syria Palaestina. Together with Pamphilus, he was a scholar of the biblical canon and is regarded as one of the most learned Christians during late antiquity. He wrote Demonstrations of the Gospel, Preparations for the Gospel and On Discrepancies between the Gospels, studies of the biblical text. As "Father of Church History" (not to be confused with the title of Church Father), he produced the Ecclesiastical History, On the Life of Pamphilus, the Chronicle and On the Martyrs. He also produced a biographical work on Constantine the Great, the first Christian Roman emperor, who was augustus between AD 306 and AD 337.

Early life

Most scholars date the birth of Eusebius to some point between AD 260 and 265. He was most likely born in or around Caesarea Maritima. Nothing is known about his parents. He was baptized and instructed in the city, and lived in Syria Palaestina in 296, when Diocletian's army passed through the region (in the Life of Constantine, Eusebius recalls seeing Constantine traveling with the army).

Eusebius was made presbyter by Agapius of Caesarea. Some, like theologian and ecclesiastical historian John Henry Newman, understand Eusebius' statement that he had heard Dorotheus of Tyre "expound the Scriptures wisely in the Church" to indicate that Eusebius was Dorotheus' pupil while the priest was resident in Antioch; others, like the scholar D. S. Wallace-Hadrill, deem the phrase too ambiguous to support the contention.

Through the activities of the theologian Origen (185/6–254) and the school of his follower Pamphilus (later 3rd century – 309), Caesarea became a center of Christian learning. Origen was largely responsible for the collection of usage information, or which churches were using which gospels, regarding the texts which became the New Testament. The information used to create the late-fourth-century Easter Letter, which declared accepted Christian writings, was probably based on the Ecclesiastical History [HE] of Eusebius of Caesarea, wherein he uses the information passed on to him by Origen to create both his list at HE 3:25 and Origen's list at HE 6:25. Eusebius got his information about what texts were accepted by the third-century churches throughout the known world, a great deal of which Origen knew of firsthand from his extensive travels, from the library and writings of Origen.

On his deathbed, Origen had made a bequest of his private library to the Christian community in the city. Together with the books of his patron Ambrosius, Origen's library (including the original manuscripts of his works) formed the core of the collection that Pamphilus established. Pamphilus also managed a school that was similar to (or perhaps a re-establishment of) that of Origen. Pamphilus was compared to Demetrius of Phalerum and Pisistratus, for he had gathered Bibles "from all parts of the world". Like his model Origen, Pamphilus maintained close contact with his students. Eusebius, in his history of the persecutions, alludes to the fact that many of the Caesarean martyrs lived together, presumably under Pamphilus.

Soon after Pamphilus settled in Caesarea (ca. 280s), he began teaching Eusebius, who was then somewhere between twenty and twenty-five. Because of his close relationship with his schoolmaster, Eusebius was sometimes called Eusebius Pamphili: "Eusebius, son of Pamphilus". The name may also indicate that Eusebius was made Pamphilus' heir. Pamphilus gave Eusebius a strong admiration for the thought of Origen. Neither Pamphilus nor Eusebius knew Origen personally; Pamphilus probably picked up Origenist ideas during his studies under Pierius (nicknamed "Origen Junior") in Alexandria.

Eusebius' Preparation for the Gospel bears witness to the literary tastes of Origen: Eusebius quotes no comedy, tragedy, or lyric poetry, but makes reference to all the works of Plato and to an extensive range of later philosophic works, largely from Middle Platonists from Philo to the late 2nd century. Whatever its secular contents, the primary aim of Origen and Pamphilus' school was to promote sacred learning. The library's biblical and theological contents were more impressive: Origen's Hexapla and Tetrapla; a copy of the original Aramaic version of the Gospel of Matthew; and many of Origen's own writings. Marginal comments in extant manuscripts note that Pamphilus and his friends and pupils, including Eusebius, corrected and revised much of the biblical text in their library. Their efforts made the hexaplaric Septuagint text increasingly popular in Syria and Palestine. Soon after joining Pamphilus' school, Eusebius started helping his master expand the library's collections and broaden access to its resources. At about this time Eusebius compiled a Collection of Ancient Martyrdoms, presumably for use as a general reference tool.

Eusebius Ethiopian Icon
Eusebius of Caesarea and Carpianus depicted as Saints in a gospel book from monastery at Amba Geshan

In the 290s, Eusebius began work on his most important work, the Ecclesiastical History, a narrative history of the Church and Christian community from the Apostolic Age to Eusebius' own time. At about the same time, he worked on his Chronicle, a universal calendar of events from the Creation to, again, Eusebius' own time. He completed the first editions of the Ecclesiastical History and Chronicle before 300.

Bishop of Caesarea

Eusebius of Caesarea Armenian Gospel Icon
Icon of Eusebius of Caesarea as a Saint in Medieval Armenian Manuscript from Isfahan, Persia

Eusebius succeeded Agapius as Bishop of Caesarea soon after 313 and was called on by Arius who had been excommunicated by his bishop Alexander of Alexandria. An episcopal council in Caesarea pronounced Arius blameless. Eusebius enjoyed the favor of the Emperor Constantine. Because of this he was called upon to present the creed of his own church to the 318 attendees of the Council of Nicaea in 325. However, the anti-Arian creed from Palestine prevailed, becoming the basis for the Nicene Creed.

The theological views of Arius, that taught the subordination of the Son to the Father, continued to be controversial. Eustathius of Antioch strongly opposed the growing influence of Origen's theology as the root of Arianism. Eusebius, an admirer of Origen, was reproached by Eustathius for deviating from the Nicene faith. Eusebius prevailed and Eustathius was deposed at a synod in Antioch.

However, Athanasius of Alexandria became a more powerful opponent and in 334 he was summoned before a synod in Caesarea (which he refused to attend). In the following year, he was again summoned before a synod in Tyre at which Eusebius of Caesarea 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. Eusebius remained in the Emperor's favour throughout this time and more than once was exonerated with the explicit approval of the Emperor Constantine. After the Emperor's death (c. 337), Eusebius wrote the Life of Constantine, an important historical work because of eyewitness accounts and the use of primary sources.


Armenian translation of Eusebius Chronicon
Armenian translation of Chronicon. 13th century manuscript

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 lost.

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 Tyre 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 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 that extended over the whole of his life and that include both commentaries and an important treatise on the location of biblical place names and the distances between these cities.


Biblical text criticism

Fol. 10v-11r Egmond Gospels
Eusebius's canon tables were often included in Early Medieval Gospel books
Eusebius Ethiopian icon
Eusebius depicted in the page preceding his Eusebian Canons in the ancient Garima Gospels

Pamphilus and Eusebius occupied themselves with the textual criticism of the Septuagint text of the Old Testament and especially of the New Testament. An edition of the Septuagint seems to have been already prepared by Origen, which, according to Jerome, was revised and circulated by Eusebius and Pamphilus. For an easier survey of the material of the four Evangelists, Eusebius divided his edition of the New Testament into paragraphs and provided it with a synoptical table so that it might be easier to find the pericopes that belong together. These canon tables or "Eusebian canons" remained in use throughout the Middle Ages, and illuminated manuscript versions are important for the study of early medieval art, as they are the most elaborately decorated pages of many Gospel books. Eusebius detailed in Epistula ad Carpianum how to use his canons.


The Chronicle (Παντοδαπὴ Ἱστορία (Pantodape historia)) is divided into two parts. The first part, the Chronography (Χρονογραφία (Chronographia)), gives an epitome of universal history from the sources, arranged according to nations. The second part, the Canons (Χρονικοὶ Κανόνες (Chronikoi kanones)), furnishes a synchronism of the historical material in parallel columns, the equivalent of a parallel timeline.

The work as a whole has been lost in the original Greek, but it may be reconstructed from later chronographists of the Byzantine school who made excerpts from the work, especially George Syncellus. The tables of the second part have been completely preserved in a Latin translation by Jerome, and both parts are still extant in an Armenian translation. The loss of the Greek originals has given the Armenian translation a special importance; thus, the first part of Eusebius' Chronicle, of which only a few fragments exist in Greek, has been preserved entirely in Armenian, though with lacunae. The Chronicle as preserved extends to the year 325.

Church History

In his Church History or Ecclesiastical History, Eusebius wrote the first surviving history of the Christian Church as a chronologically ordered account, based on earlier sources, complete from the period of the Apostles to his own epoch. The time scheme correlated the history with the reigns of the Roman Emperors, and the scope was broad. Included were the bishops and other teachers of the Church, Christian relations with the Jews and those deemed heretical, and the Christian martyrs through 324. Although its accuracy and biases have been questioned, it remains an important source on the early church due to Eusebius's access to materials now lost.

Life of Constantine

Eusebius' Life of Constantine (Vita Constantini) is a eulogy or panegyric, and therefore its style and selection of facts are affected by its purpose, rendering it inadequate as a continuation of the Church History. As the historian Socrates Scholasticus said, at the opening of his history which was designed as a continuation of Eusebius, "Also in writing the life of Constantine, this same author has but slightly treated of matters regarding Arius, being more intent on the rhetorical finish of his composition and the praises of the emperor than on an accurate statement of facts." The work was unfinished at Eusebius' death. Some scholars have questioned the Eusebian authorship of this work.

Conversion of Constantine according to Eusebius

Writing after Constantine had died, Eusebius claimed that the emperor himself had recounted to him that some time between the death of his father – the augustus Constantius – and his final battle against his rival Maxentius as augustus in the West, Constantine experienced a vision in which he and his soldiers beheld a Christian symbol, "a cross-shaped trophy formed from light", above the sun at midday. Attached to the symbol was the phrase "by this conquer" (ἐν τούτῳ νίκα, en toútōi níka), a phrase often rendered into Latin as "in hoc signo vinces". In a dream that night "the Christ of God appeared to him with the sign which had appeared in the sky, and urged him to make himself a copy of the sign which had appeared in the sky, and to use this as a protection against the attacks of the enemy." Eusebius relates that this happened "on a campaign he [Constantine] was conducting somewhere". It is unclear from Eusebius's description whether the shields were marked with a Christian cross or with a chi-rho, a staurogram, or another similar symbol.

The Latin text De mortibus persecutorum contains an early account of the 28 October 312 Battle of the Milvian Bridge written by Lactantius probably in 313, the year following the battle. Lactantius does not mention a vision in the sky but describes a revelatory dream on the eve of battle. Eusebius's work of that time, his Church History, also makes no mention of the vision. The Arch of Constantine, constructed in AD 315, neither depicts a vision nor any Christian insignia in its depiction of the battle. In his posthumous biography of Constantine, Eusebius agrees with Lactantius that Constantine received instructions in a dream to apply a Christian symbol as a device to his soldiers' shields, but unlike Lactantius and subsequent Christian tradition, Eusebius does not date the events to October 312 and does not connect Constantine's vision and dream-vision with the Battle of the Milvian Bridge.

Minor historical works

Before he compiled his church history, Eusebius edited a collection of martyrdoms of the earlier period and a biography of Pamphilus. The martyrology has not survived as a whole, but it has been preserved almost completely in parts. It contained:

  • an epistle of the congregation of Smyrna concerning the martyrdom of Polycarp;
  • the martyrdom of Pionius;
  • the martyrdoms of Carpus, Papylus, and Agathonike;
  • the martyrdoms in the congregations of Vienne and Lyon;
  • the martyrdom of Apollonius.

Of the life of Pamphilus, only a fragment survives. A work on the martyrs of Palestine in the time of Diocletian was composed after 311; numerous fragments are scattered in legendaries which have yet to be collected. The life of Constantine was compiled after the death of the emperor and the election of his sons as Augusti (337). It is more a rhetorical eulogy on the emperor than a history but is of great value on account of numerous documents incorporated into it.

Apologetic and dogmatic works

To the class of apologetic and dogmatic works belong:

  • The Apology for Origen, the first five books of which, according to the definite statement of Photius, were written by Pamphilus in prison, with the assistance of Eusebius. Eusebius added the sixth book after the death of Pamphilus. We possess only a Latin translation of the first book, made by Rufinus.
  • A treatise against Hierocles (a Roman governor), in which Eusebius combated the former's glorification of Apollonius of Tyana in a work entitled A Truth-loving Discourse (Greek: Philalethes logos); in spite of manuscript attribution to Eusebius, however, it has been argued (by Thomas Hagg and more recently, Aaron Johnson) that this treatise "Against Hierocles" was written by someone other than Eusebius of Caesarea.
  • Praeparatio evangelica (Preparation for the Gospel), commonly known by its Latin title, which attempts to prove the excellence of Christianity over every pagan religion and philosophy. The Praeparatio consists of fifteen books which have been completely preserved. Eusebius considered it an introduction to Christianity for pagans. But its value for many later readers is more because Eusebius studded this work with so many lively fragments from historians and philosophers which are nowhere else preserved. Here alone is preserved Pyrrho's translation of the Buddhist Three marks of existence upon which Pyrrho based Pyrrhonism. Here alone is a summary of the writings of the Phoenician priest Sanchuniathon of which the accuracy has been shown by the mythological accounts found on the Ugaritic tables. Here alone is the account from Diodorus Siculus's sixth book of Euhemerus' wondrous voyage to the island of Panchaea where Euhemerus purports to have found his true history of the gods. And here almost alone is preserved writings of the neo-Platonist philosopher Atticus along with so much else.
  • Demonstratio evangelica (Proof of the Gospel) is closely connected to the Praeparatio and comprised originally twenty books of which ten have been completely preserved as well as a fragment of the fifteenth. Here Eusebius treats of the person of Jesus Christ. The work was probably finished before 311;
  • Another work which originated in the time of the persecution, entitled Prophetic Extracts (Eclogae propheticae). It discusses in four books the Messianic texts of Scripture. The work is merely the surviving portion (books 6–9) of the General elementary introduction to the Christian faith, now lost. The fragments given as the Commentary on Luke in the PG have been claimed to derive from the missing tenth book of the General Elementary Introduction (see D. S. Wallace-Hadrill); however, Aaron Johnson has argued that they cannot be associated with this work.

  • The treatise On Divine Manifestation or On the Theophania (Peri theophaneias), of unknown date.
  • A polemical treatise against Marcellus of Ancyra, the Against Marcellus, dating from about 337;
  • A supplement to the last-named work, also against Marcellus, entitled Ecclesiastical Theology, in which he defended the Nicene doctrine of the Logos against the party of Athanasius.

A number of writings, belonging in this category, have been entirely lost.

Exegetical and miscellaneous works

All of the exegetical works of Eusebius have suffered damage in transmission. The majority of them are known to us only from long portions quoted in Byzantine catena-commentaries. However these portions are very extensive. Extant are:

  • An enormous Commentary on the Psalms;
  • A commentary on Isaiah, discovered more or less complete in a manuscript in Florence early in the 20th century and published 50 years later;
  • Small fragments of commentaries on Romans and 1 Corinthians.

Eusebius also wrote a work Quaestiones ad Stephanum et Marinum, On the Differences of the Gospels (including solutions). This was written for the purpose of harmonizing the contradictions in the reports of the different Evangelists. This work was recently (2011) translated into the English language by David J. Miller and Adam C. McCollum and was published under the name Eusebius of Caesarea: Gospel Problems and Solutions. The original work was also translated into Syriac, and lengthy quotations exist in a catena in that language, and also in Arabic catenas.

Eusebius also wrote treatises on the biblical past; these three treatises have been lost. They were:

The addresses and sermons of Eusebius are mostly lost, but some have been preserved, e.g., a sermon on the consecration of the church in Tyre and an address on the thirtieth anniversary of the reign of Constantine (336).

Most of Eusebius' letters are lost. His letters to Carpianus and Flacillus exist complete. Fragments of a letter to the empress Constantia also exists.


Eusebius is fairly unusual in his preterist, or fulfilled, eschatological view. Saying "the Holy Scriptures foretell that there will be unmistakable signs of the Coming of Christ. Now there were among the Hebrews three outstanding offices of dignity, which made the nation famous, firstly the kingship, secondly that of prophet, and lastly the high priesthood. The prophecies said that the abolition and complete destruction of all these three together would be the sign of the presence of the Christ. And that the proofs that the times had come, would lie in the ceasing of the Mosaic worship, the desolation of Jerusalem and its Temple, and the subjection of the whole Jewish race to its enemies. ...The holy oracles foretold that all these changes, which had not been made in the days of the prophets of old, would take place at the coming of the Christ, which I will presently shew to have been fulfilled as never before in accordance with the predictions" (Demonstratio Evangelica VIII).

From a dogmatic point of view, Eusebius stands entirely upon the shoulders of Origen. Like Origen, he started from the fundamental thought of the absolute sovereignty (monarchia) of God. God is the cause of all beings. But he is not merely a cause; in him everything good is included, from him all life originates, and he is the source of all virtue. God sent Christ into the world that it may partake of the blessings included in the essence of God. Eusebius expressly distinguishes the Son as distinct from Father as a ray is also distinct from its source the sun.

Eusebius held that men were sinners by their own free choice and not by the necessity of their natures.

A letter Eusebius is supposed to have written to Constantine's daughter Constantina, refusing to fulfill her request for images of Christ, was quoted in the decrees (now lost) of the Iconoclast Council of Hieria in 754, and later quoted in part in the rebuttal of the Hieria decrees in the Second Council of Nicaea of 787, now the only source from which some of the text is known. The authenticity or authorship of the letter remains uncertain.


Eusebius of Caesarea died in either 339 or 340 CE, most likely due to old age.


Relic of St. Eusebius of Caesarea
Relic of St. Eusebius of Caesarea from the Shrine of All Saints in St. Martha's Catholic Church in Morton Grove, Illinois

The earliest recorded feast day of Eusebius is found in the earliest known Syrian Martyrology dating to the year 411 translated by William Wright. The Martyrology lists his feast day as May 30. Eusebius continues to be venerated as a Saint by the modern-day Syrian Orthodox Church as well, with a feast day on February 29 according to the official calendar of Saints created by Corbishop Rajan Achen.

Eusebius was long venerated in the Roman Catholic Church. Bishop J.B. Lightfoot writes in his entry for St. Eusebius in Henry Wace's Dictionary of Christian Biography and Literature to the End of the Sixth Century AD, with an Account of Principal Sects and Heresies (1911) that “in the Martyrologium Romanum itself he held his place for centuries" and in "Gallican service-books the historian is commemorated as a saint." However, Lightfoot notes that in “the revision of this Martyrology under Gregory XIII his name was struck out, and Eusebius of Samosata was substituted, under the mistaken idea that Caesarea had been substituted for Samosata by a mistake.” The Roman Catholic author Henri Valois includes in his translations on Eusebius' writings testimonies of ancient authors in favor and against Eusebius, to which in the favor category he includes evidence of Eusebius in several martyrologies and being called a "Blessed" dating back to Victorius of Aquitaine. Valois includes both Usuardus and Notker, who list his feast as June 21 in the Roman Martyrology, and a Gallican breviary is included for June 21 that reads as follows:

“Of the holy Eusebius, bishop and confessor.

Lesson 1. Eusebius, bishop of Cæsarea in Palestine, on account of his friendship with Pamphilus the martyr, took from him the surname of Pamphili; inasmuch as along with this same Pamphilus he was a most diligent investigator of sacred literature. The man indeed is very worthy of being remembered in these times, both for his skill in many things, and for his wonderful genius, and by both Gentiles and Christians he was held distinguished and most noble among philosophers. This man, after having for a time labored in behalf of the Arian heresy, coming to the council of Nicæa, inspired by the Holy Spirit, followed the decision of the Fathers, and thereafter up to the time of his death lived in a most holy manner in the orthodox faith.

Lesson 2. He was, moreover, very zealous in the study of the sacred Scriptures, and along with Pamphilus the martyr was a most diligent investigator of sacred literature. At the same time he has written many things, but especially the following books: The Præparatio Evangelica, the Ecclesiastical History, Against Porphyry, a very bitter enemy of the Christians; he has also composed Six Apologies in Behalf of Origen, a Life of Pamphilus the Martyr, from whom on account of friendship he took his surname, in three books; likewise very learned Commentaries on the hundred and fifty Psalms.

Lesson 3. Moreover, as we read, after having ascertained the sufferings of many holy martyrs in all the provinces, and the lives of confessors and virgins, he has written concerning these saints twenty books; while on account of these books therefore, and especially on account of his Præparatio Evangelica, he was held most distinguished among the Gentiles, because of his love of truth he contemned the ancestral worship of the gods. He has written also a Chronicle, extending from the first year of Abraham up to the year 300 a.d., which the divine Hieronymus has continued. Finally this Eusebius, after the conversion of Constantine the Great, was united to him by strong friendship as long as he lived.”

A bone fragment relic of Eusebius within its original reliquary is on display at the Shrine of All Saints located within St. Martha's Catholic Church in Morton Grove, Illinois.

See also

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