Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers: Series II/Volume I/Constantine/The Oration of Eusebius/Chapter VI

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Chapter VI.

1. And God himself, as an earnest of future reward, assigns to him now as it were tricennial crowns[1] composed of prosperous periods of time; and now, after the revolution of three circles of ten years, he grants permission to all mankind to celebrate this general, nay rather, this universal festival.

2. And while those on earth thus rejoice, crowned as it were with the flowers of divine knowledge, surely, we may not unduly suppose that the heavenly choirs, attracted by a natural sympathy, unite their joy with the joy of those on earth: nay, that the Supreme Sovereign himself, as a gracious father, delights in the worship of duteous children, and for this reason is pleased to honor the author and cause of their obedience through a lengthened period of time; and, far from limiting his reign to three decennial circles of years, he extends it to the remotest period, even to far distant eternity.

3. Now eternity[2] in its whole extent is beyond the power of decline or death: its beginning and extent alike incapable of being scanned by mortal thoughts. Nor will it suffer its central point to be perceived, nor that which is termed its present duration to be grasped by the inquiring mind. Far less, then, the future, or the past: for the one is not, but is already gone; while the future has not yet arrived, and therefore is not. As regards what is termed the present time, it vanishes even as we think or speak, more swiftly than the word itself is uttered. Nor is it possible in any sense to apprehend this time as present; for we must either expect the future, or contemplate the past; the present slips from us, and is gone, even in the act of thought. Eternity, then, in its whole extent, resists and refuses subjection to mortal reason.

4. But it does not refuse to acknowledge its own Sovereign and Lord,[3] and bears him as it were mounted on itself, rejoicing in the fair trappings which he bestows.[4] And he himself, not binding it, as the poet imagined, with a golden chain,[5] but as it were controlling its movements by the reins of ineffable wisdom, has adjusted its months and seasons, its times and years, and the alterations of day and night, with perfect harmony, and has thus attached to it limits and measures of various kinds. For eternity, being in its nature direct, and stretching onward into infinity, and receiving its name, eternity, as having an everlasting existence,[6] and being similar in all its parts, or rather having no division or distance, progresses only in a line of direct extension. But God, who has distributed it by intermediate sections, and has divided it, like a far extended line, in many points, has included in it a vast number of portions; and though it is in its nature one, and resembles unity itself, he has attached to it a multiplicity of numbers, and has given it, though formless in itself, an endless variety of forms.

5. For first of all he framed in it formless matter, as a substance capable of receiving all forms. He next, by the power of the number two, imparted quality to matter, and gave beauty to that which before was void of all grace. Again, by means of the number three, he framed a body compounded of matter and form, and presenting the three dimensions of breadth, and length, and depth. Then, from the doubling of the number two, he devised the quaternion of the elements, earth, water, air, and fire, and ordained them to be everlasting sources for the supply of this universe. Again, the number four produces the number ten. For the aggregate of one, and two, and three, and four, is ten.[7] And three multiplied with ten discovers the period of a month: and twelve successive months complete the course of the sun. Hence the revolutions of years, and changes of the seasons, which give grace, like variety of color in painting, to that eternity which before was formless and devoid of beauty, for the refreshment and delight of those whose lot it is to traverse therein the course of life.

6. For as the ground is defined by stated distances for those who run in hope of obtaining the prize; and as the road of those who travel on a distant journey is marked by resting-places and measured intervals, that the traveler’s courage may not fail at the interminable prospect; even so the Sovereign of the universe, controlling eternity itself within the restraining power of his own wisdom, directs and turns its course as he judges best. The same God, I say, who thus clothes the once undefined eternity as with fair colors and blooming flowers, gladdens the day with the solar rays; and, while he overspreads the night with a covering of darkness, yet causes the glittering stars, as golden spangles, to shine therein. It is he who lights up the brilliancy of the morning star, the changing splendor of the moon, and the glorious companies of the starry host, and has arrayed the expanse of heaven, like some vast mantle, in colors of varied beauty. Again, having created the lofty and profound expanse of air, and caused the world in its length and breadth to feel its cooling influence, he decreed that the air itself should be graced with birds of every kind, and left open this vast ocean of space to be traversed by every creature, visible or invisible, whose course is through the tracts of heaven. In the midst of this atmosphere he poised the earth, as it were its center, and encompassed it with the ocean as with a beautiful azure vesture.

7. Having ordained this earth to be at once the home, the nurse, and the mother of all the creatures it contains, and watered it both with rain and water-springs, he caused it to abound in plants and flowers of every species, for the enjoyment of life. And when he had formed man in his own likeness, the noblest of earthly creatures, and dearest to himself, a creature gifted with intellect and knowledge, the child of reason and wisdom, he gave him dominion over all other animals which move and live upon the earth. For man was in truth of all earthly creatures the dearest to God: man, I say, to whom, as an indulgent Father, he has subjected the brute creation; for whom he has made the ocean navigable, and crowned the earth with a profusion of plants of every kind; to whom he has granted reasoning faculties for acquiring all science; under whose control he has placed even the creatures of the deep, and the winged inhabitants of the air; to whom he has permitted the contemplation of celestial objects, and revealed the course and changes of the sun and moon, and the periods of the planets and fixed stars. In short, to man alone of earthly beings has he given commandment to acknowledge him as his heavenly Father, and to celebrate his praises as the Supreme Sovereign of eternity itself.

8. But the unchangeable course of eternity the Creator has limited by the four seasons of the year, terminating the winter by the approach of spring, and regulating as with an equal balance that season which commences the annual period. Having thus graced the eternal course of time with the varied productions of spring, he added the summer’s heat; and then granted as it were a relief of toil by the interval of autumn: and lastly, refreshing and cleansing the season by the showers of winter, he brings it, rendered sleek and glossy, like a noble steed, by these abundant rains, once more to the gates of spring.

9. As soon, then, as the Supreme Sovereign had thus connected his own eternity by these cords of wisdom with the annual circle, he committed it to the guidance of a mighty Governor, even his only begotten Word, to whom, as the Preserver of all creation, he yielded the reins of universal power. And he, receiving this inheritance as from a beneficent Father, and uniting all things both above and beneath the circumference of heaven in one harmonious whole, directs their uniform course; providing with perfect justice whatever is expedient for his rational creatures on the earth, appointing its allotted limits to human life, and granting to all alike permission to anticipate even here the commencement of a future existence. For he has taught them that beyond this present world there is a divine and blessed state of being, reserved for those who have been supported here by the hope of heavenly blessings; and that those who have lived a virtuous and godly life will remove hence to a far better habitation; while he adjudges to those who have been guilty and wicked here a place of punishment according to their crimes.

10. Again, as in the distribution of prizes at the public games, he proclaims various crowns to the victors, and invests each with the rewards of different virtues: but for our good emperor, who is clothed in the very robe of piety, he declares that a higher recompense of his toils is prepared; and, as a prelude to this recompense, permits us now to assemble at this festival, which is composed of perfect numbers, of decades thrice, and triads ten times repeated.

11. The first of these, the triad, is the offspring of the unit, while the unit is the mother of number itself, and presides over all months, and seasons, and years, and every period of time. It may, indeed, be justly termed the origin, foundation, and principle of all number, and derives its name from its abiding character.[8] For, while every other number is diminished or increased according to the subtraction or addition of others, the unit alone continues fixed and steadfast, abstracted from all multitude and the numbers which are formed from it, and resembling that indivisible essence which is distinct from all things beside, but by virtue of participation in which the nature of all things else subsists.

12. For the unit is the originator of every number, since all multitude is made up by the composition and addition of units; nor is it possible without the unit to conceive the existence of number at all. But the unit itself is independent of multitude, apart from and superior to all number; forming, indeed, and making all, but receiving no increase from any.

13. Kindred to this is the triad; equally indivisible and perfect, the first of those sums which are formed of even and uneven numbers. For the perfect number two, receiving the addition of the unit, forms the triad, the first perfect compound number. And the triad, by explaining what equality is, first taught men justice, having itself an equal beginning, and middle, and end. And it is also an image of the mysterious, most holy, and royal Trinity, which, though itself without beginning or origin, yet contains the germs, the reasons, and causes of the existence of all created things.

14. Thus the power of the triad may justly be regarded as the first cause of all things. Again, the number ten, which contains the end of all numbers, and terminates them in itself, may truly be called a full and perfect number, as comprehending every species and every measure of numbers, proportions, concords, and harmonies. For example, the units by addition form and are terminated by the number ten; and, having this number as their parent, and as it were the limit of their course, they round this as the goal of their career.

15. Then they perform a second circuit, and again a third, and a fourth, until the tenth, and thus by ten decades they complete the hundredth number. Returning thence to the first starting point, they again proceed to the number ten, and having ten times completed the hundredth number, again they recede, and perform round the same barriers their protracted course, proceeding from themselves back to themselves again, with revolving motion.

16. For the unit is the tenth of ten, and ten units make up a decade, which is itself the limit, the settled goal and boundary of units: it is that which terminates the infinity of number; the term and end of units. Again, the triad combined with the decade, and performing a threefold circuit of tens, produces that most natural number, thirty. For as the triad is in respect to units, so is the number thirty in respect to tens.

17. It is also the constant limit to the course of that luminary which is second to the sun in brightness. For the course of the moon from one conjunction with the sun to the next, completes the period of a month; after which, receiving as it were a second birth, it recommences a new light, and other days, being adorned and honored with thirty units, three decades, and ten triads.

18. In the same manner is the universal reign of our victorious emperor distinguished by the giver of all good, and now enters on a new sphere of blessing, accomplishing, at present, this tricennalian festival, but reaching forward beyond this to far more distant intervals of time, and cherishing the hope of future blessings in the celestial kingdom; where, not a single sun, but infinite hosts of light surround the Almighty Sovereign, each surpassing the splendor of the sun, glorious and resplendent with rays derived from the everlasting source of light.

19. There the soul enjoys its existence, surrounded by fair and unfading blessings; there is a life beyond the reach of sorrow; there the enjoyment of pure and holy pleasures, and a time of unmeasured and endless duration, extending into illimitable space; not defined by intervals of days and months, the revolutions of years, or the recurrence of times and seasons, but commensurate with a life which knows no end. And this life needs not the light of the sun, nor the lustre of the moon or the starry host, since it has the great Luminary himself, even God the Word, the only begotten Son of the Almighty Sovereign.

20. Hence it is that the mystic and sacred oracles reveal him to be the Sun of righteousness, and the Light which far transcends all light. We believe that he illumines also the thrice-blessed powers of heaven with the rays of righteousness, and the brightness of wisdom, and that he receives truly pious souls, not within the sphere of heaven alone, but into his own bosom, and confirms indeed the assurances which he himself has given.

21. No mortal eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor can the mind in its vesture of flesh understand what things are prepared for those who have been here adorned with the graces of godliness; blessings which await thee too, most pious emperor, to whom alone since the world began has the Almighty Sovereign of the universe granted power to purify the course of human life: to whom also he has revealed his own symbol of salvation, whereby he overcame the power of death, and triumphed over every enemy. And this victorious trophy, the scourge of evil spirits, thou hast arrayed against the errors of idol worship, and hast obtained the victory not only over all thy impious and savage foes, but over equally barbarous adversaries, the evil spirits themselves.


  1. [Alluding (says Valesius) to the crowns of gold which the people of the several provinces were accustomed to present to the Roman emperors on such occasions as the present.—Bag.] In his prologue to the Life, Eusebius calls this very oration a weaving of tricennial crowns (or garlands). These crowns had their historical origin in the triumphal crowns under the Roman system. Cf. Rich, in Smith, Dict. Gr. and Rom. Ant. p. 361.
  2. [It is perhaps difficult to find a better word to express the original αἰ& 240·ν.—Bag.]
  3. Compare 1 Tim. i. 17 (marg.), “King of the ages” (“æons,” or according to this translation “eternity”).
  4. [Days, months, years, seasons, &c., are here intended. Valesius, ad loc.—Bag.]
  5. Hom. Il. 8, 19.
  6. [Αἰ& 241·ν, ὥσπερ ἀεὶ ὤν.—Bag.]
  7. From what source Eusebius draws this particular application of the Pythagorean principle is uncertain. This conception of the derivation of ten from four is found in Philo, de Mund. Opif. ch. 15, and indeed it is said (Ueberweg) that with the earliest Pythagoreans four and ten were the especially significant numbers in creation. This mixture of Neo-Pythagoreanism with Platonism and Philonism was characteristic of the time.
  8. [Μονὰς, παρὰ τὸ μένειν ὠνομασμένη. The analogies from number in this chapter (which the reader will probably consider puerile enough) seem to be an imitation of some of the mystical speculations of Plato.—Bag.]