Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers: Series II/Volume I/Constantine/The Oration of Eusebius/Prologue to the Oration

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The Oration


Eusebius Pamphilus,

in praise of

the Emperor Constantine.

Pronounced on the thirtieth anniversary of his reign.


Prologue to the Oration.[1]

1. I come not forward prepared with a fictitious narrative, nor with elegance of language to captivate the ear, desiring to charm my hearers as it were, with a siren’s voice; nor shall I present the draught of pleasure in cups of gold decorated with lovely flowers (I mean the graces of style) to those who are pleased with such things. Rather would I follow the precepts of the wise, and admonish all to avoid and turn aside from the beaten road, and keep themselves from contact with the vulgar crowd.

2. I come, then, prepared to celebrate our emperor’s praises in a newer strain; and, though the number be infinite of those who desire to be my companions in my present task, I am resolved to shun the common track of men,[2] and to pursue that untrodden path which it is unlawful to enter on with unwashed feet. Let those who admire a vulgar style, abounding in puerile subtleties, and who court a pleasing and popular muse, essay, since pleasure is the object they have in view, to charm the ears of men by a narrative of merely human merits. Those, however who are initiated into the universal science,[3] and have attained to Divine as well as human knowledge, and account the choice of the latter as the real excellence, will prefer those virtues of the emperor which Heaven itself approves, and his pious actions, to his merely human accomplishments; and will leave to inferior encomiasts the task of celebrating his lesser merits.

3. For since our emperor is gifted as well with that sacred wisdom which has immediate reference to God, as with the knowledge which concerns the interests of men; let those who are competent to such a task describe his secular acquirements, great and transcendent as they are, and fraught with advantage to mankind (for all that characterizes the emperor is great and noble), yet still inferior to his diviner qualifies, to those who stand without the sacred precincts.

4. Let those, however, who are within the sanctuary, and have access to its inmost and untrodden recesses, close the doors against every profane ear, and unfold, as it were, the secret mysteries of our emperor’s character to the initiated alone. And let those who have purified their ears in the streams of piety, and raised their thoughts on the soaring wing of the mind itself, join the company which surrounds the Sovereign Lord of all, and learn in silence the divine mysteries.

5. Meanwhile let the sacred oracles, given, not by the spirit of divination (or rather let me say of madness and folly), but by the inspiration of Divine truth,[4] be our instructors in these mysteries; speaking to us of sovereignty, generally: of him who is the Supreme Sovereign of all, and the heavenly array which surrounds the Lord of all; of that exemplar of imperial power which is before us, and that counterfeit coin: and, lastly, of the consequences which result from both. With these oracles, then, to initiate us in the knowledge of the sacred rites, let us essay, as follows, the commencement of our divine mysteries.


  1. The conventional heading has been retained. Literally it is “Tricennial oration of Eusebius, addressed to the Emperor Constantine. Prologue to the praises addressed to Constantine.” The translation of this oration shows, even more than that of the Life or Constantine’s Oration, a sympathy on the part of the translator with the florid style of Eusebius, and, trying as the style itself is, the success of Bag. in presenting the spirit of the original with, on the whole, very considerable accuracy of rendering has been a constant matter of surprise during the effort to revise.
  2. Cf. Hom. Il. 6. 202, tr. Bryant, 6. 263–4, “shunning every haunt of human-kind.”
  3. Eusebius seems to use this phrase much as the modern phrases “The final philosophy,” “The science of sciences,” “The queen of sciences,” when applied to theology.
  4. “Divine light.”