Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers: Series II/Volume I/Church History of Eusebius/Book I/Chapter 1
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The Church History of Eusebius.
Chapter I.—The Plan of the Work.
1. It is my purpose to write an account of the successions of the holy apostles, as well as of the times which have elapsed from the days of our Saviour to our own; and to relate the many important events which are said to have occurred in the history of the Church; and to mention those who have governed and presided over the Church in the most prominent parishes, and those who in each generation have proclaimed the divine word either orally or in writing.
2. It is my purpose also to give the names and number and times of those who through love of innovation have run into the greatest errors, and, proclaiming themselves discoverers of knowledge falsely so-called have like fierce wolves unmercifully devastated the flock of Christ.
3. It is my intention, moreover, to recount the misfortunes which immediately came upon the whole Jewish nation in consequence of their plots against our Saviour, and to record the ways and the times in which the divine word has been attacked by the Gentiles, and to describe the character of those who at various periods have contended for it in the face of blood and of tortures, as well as the confessions which have been made in our own days, and finally the gracious and kindly succor which our Saviour has afforded them all. Since I propose to write of all these things I shall commence my work with the beginning of the dispensation of our Saviour and Lord Jesus Christ.
4. But at the outset I must crave for my work the indulgence of the wise, for I confess that it is beyond my power to produce a perfect and complete history, and since I am the first to enter upon the subject, I am attempting to traverse as it were a lonely and untrodden path. I pray that I may have God as my guide and the power of the Lord as my aid, since I am unable to find even the bare footsteps of those who have traveled the way before me, except in brief fragments, in which some in one way, others in another, have transmitted to us particular accounts of the times in which they lived. From afar they raise their voices like torches, and they cry out, as from some lofty and conspicuous watch-tower, admonishing us where to walk and how to direct the course of our work steadily and safely.
5. Having gathered therefore from the matters mentioned here and there by them whatever we consider important for the present work, and having plucked like flowers from a meadow the appropriate passages from ancient writers, we shall endeavor to embody the whole in an historical narrative, content if we preserve the memory of the successions of the apostles of our Saviour; if not indeed of all, yet of the most renowned of them in those churches which are the most noted, and which even to the present time are held in honor.
6. This work seems to me of especial importance because I know of no ecclesiastical writer who has devoted himself to this subject; and I hope that it will appear most useful to those who are fond of historical research.
7. I have already given an epitome of these things in the Chronological Canons which I have composed, but notwithstanding that, I have undertaken in the present work to write as full an account of them as I am able.
9. for it is necessary, inasmuch as we derive even our name from Christ, for one who proposes to write a history of the Church to begin with the very origin of Christ’s dispensation, a dispensation more divine than many think.
- Cf. 1 Tim. vi. 20.
- Greek οἰκονομία. Suicer (Thesaurus Eccles.) points out four uses of this word among ecclesiastical writers: (1) Ministerium Evangelii. (2) Providentia et numen (i.e. of God). (3) Naturæ humanæ assumtio. (4) Totius redemptionis mysterium et passionis Christi sacramentum. Valesius says, “The ancient Greeks use the word to denote whatever Christ did in the world to proclaim salvation for the human race, and thus the first οἰκονομία τοῦ χριστοῦ is the incarnation, as the last οἰκονομία is the passion.” The word in the present case is used in its wide sense to denote not simply the act of incarnation, but the whole economy or dispensation of Christ upon earth. See the notes of Heinichen upon this passage, Vol. III. p. 4 sq., and of Valesius, Vol. I. p. 2.
- Five mss., followed by nearly all the editors of the Greek text and by the translators Stigloher and Crusè, read τοῦ θεοῦ after χριστόν. The words, however, are omitted by the majority of the best mss. and by Rufinus, followed by Heinichen and Closs. (See the note of Heinichen, Vol. I. p. 4).
- All the mss. followed by the majority of the editors read εὐγνωμονῶν, which must agree with λόγος. Heinichen, however, followed by Burton, Schwegler, Closs, and Stigloher, read εὐγνωμόνων, which I have also accepted. Closs translates die Nachsicht der Kenner; Stigloher, wohlwollende Nachsicht. Crusè avoids the difficulty by omitting the word; an omission which is quite unwarranted.
- Eusebius is rightly called the “Father of Church History.” He had no predecessors who wrote, as he did, with a comprehensive historical plan in view; and yet, as he tells us, much had been written of which he made good use in his History. The one who approached nearest to the idea of a Church historian was Hegesippus (see Bk. IV. chap. 22, note 1), but his writings were little more than fragmentary memoirs, or collections of disconnected reminiscences. For instance, Eusebius, in Bk. II. chap 23, quotes from his fifth and last book the account of the martyrdom of James the Just, which shows that his work lacked at least all chronological arrangement. Julius Africanus (see Bk. VI. chap. 31, note 1) also furnished Eusebius with much material in the line of chronology, and in his Chronicle Eusebius made free use of him. These are the only two who can in any sense be said to have preceded Eusebius in his province, and neither one can rob him of his right to be called the “Father of Church History.”
- One of the greatest values of Eusebius’ History lies in the quotations which it contains from earlier ecclesiastical writers. The works of many of them are lost, and are known to us only through the extracts made by Eusebius. This fact alone is enough to make his History of inestimable worth.
- On Eusebius’ Chronicle, see the Prolegomena, p. 31, above.
- οἰκονομία. See above, note 2.
- θεολογία. Suicer gives four meanings for this word: (1) Doctrina de Deo. (2) Doctrina de SS. Trinitate. (3) Divina Christi natura, seu doctrina de ea. (4) Scriptura sacra utriusque Testamenti. The word is used here in its third signification (cf. also chap. 2, §3, and Bk. V. chap. 28, §5). It occurs very frequently in the works of the Fathers with this meaning, especially in connection with οἰκονομία, which is then quite commonly used to denote the “human nature” of Christ. In the present chapter οἰκονομία keeps throughout its more general signification of “the Dispensation of Christ,” and is not confined to the mere act of incarnation, nor to his “human nature.”