A brief biography of the author
Eusebius is commonly referred to as ‘The Father of Ecclesiastical History’. He was born in Israel and received his education in Caesarea. He spent most of his years in this region and later became a bishop. He was among the first scholars to write about the history of the church. Therefore, he set an example to the rest of the people who have written about the church and its history. The literary texts by Eusebius trace the church history from the time when Christ was physically on earth, the persecution that befell the church after Christ ascended as well as the conversion of Emperor Constantine.
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His literary works have been grouped into four major categories namely: the historical, the apologetic, the Biblical, and the dogmatic. His writings were greatly inspired by Pamphilus, a church leader and a theologian. The persecution of the church did not dissuade Eusebius from writing the text known as the history of the church. Later, he also suffered persecution due to his faith. However, he was not killed and his life was spared by God. He was able to write literary texts that have been useful in the history of the church. He was born around 260 A.D. he lived in Caesarea until 339 when he died. During his time in Caesarea, he was a bishop from 313.
This book deals with the history of the early church, particularly what happened from the time of Christ to Constantine. To accurately give an account of the events that took place during this period, Eusebius mentions everyone who was there before him. This includes both Christians and non-Christians. He further notes all the legal decrees that were given by the various emperors during their reign and how they affected the church.
Eusebius also writes about the persecution of the church and the martyrs who suffered greatly because of their Christian faith. These are people who decided that it was better for them to be imprisoned, tortured, and even killed instead of them renouncing Christ.
An overview of the assigned reading from the author’s book and an evaluation of the writing as a historical document
Diocletian was one of the Roman emperors who started persecuting the early church. He is believed to have initiated ‘the great persecution’ among the Christians. This happened in A.D 303. He was motivated by his great desire to do away with the Christian faith. According to Pamphilius (259), the laws that were formulated during his reign were meant to weaken the Christian faith, wipe out all places that were used by Christians during worship, kill those who refused to obey his laws because of their Christian faith and encourage people to move away from Christianity. It is not clear how many people died because of their Christian faith during the reign of Emperor Diocletian.
However, numerous testimonies are explaining how Christians were tortured and killed because they refused to renounce their faith in Christ. Most of the Christians who refused to renounce their faith were taken in the Roman Coliseum, where fierce lions devoured them before cheering crowds. Although it was not possible to record everything that Christians went through because of their faith during the reign of Emperor Diocletian, Eusebius was able to document some of the atrocities that were committed against the Christian community at that time.
It was under the reign of Diocletian that the cathedral in Nicomedia was destroyed. Davids (1) notes that he also issued a decree that required all Christian writings to be destroyed completely. Christian meetings were also banned. The decree also required that all clergy be arrested and put in prison. This happened until all prisons were full. When Diocletian retired and his position was occupied by Galerius, the persecution of the Christians increased.
Persecutions attributed to Maximinus are also very significant in church history. His record in Christian history is not a positive one. This is because he is the one who rekindled persecution among the Christians after it was halted by his predecessor Galerius. Persecution among the Christians had been halted by Galerius when he published a document known as ‘the edict of toleration’. According to Pamphilius (289), he pretended that he was forced by several urban authorities to persecute the Christians. At first, he carried on the persecutions through forbidding Christians from gathering to worship as well as putting into prison and torturing those who continued to propagate the Christian faith.
Before his death, he eventually agreed to give the Christians some freedom by allowing them to congregate, put up houses where they can worship, and reinstating the church property that was previously destroyed. He did this by issuing his edict of tolerance like the one that was previously issued by Galerius. Maximinus became obsessed with a Christian girl known as Alexandria. This was mainly due to her education, wealth, and the fact that she was a virgin. However, the girl refused to give in to his advances. Consequently, he ordered that the girl be killed through beheading.
When Constantine, who had been ignored during the Diocletian succession, took over as the emperor, he decided to halt Christian persecution that had been going on for many years. Also, he offered to compensate Christians for whatever they had lost during the persecution period. This made him appear as a person who was concerned about the Christians. By around A.D 324, Constantine had converted to Christianity and was solely in charge of the whole empire.
He, therefore, became the first Christian emperor. The persecution of Christians stopped and the clergy was able to visit and dine with him without any fear. It is Constantine who set the ground for Christianity to be declared the state religion. During the Constantine period, the church enjoyed a lot of peace and recovered from the past era, when it had suffered immensely due to persecution. Constantine gave Christians the liberty to worship, an edict that became a form of cancellation of the laws that were previously in existence. The emperor also gave any other person the right to practice whatever faith they chose. In the same copy of imperial ordinances issued by Constantine, people who had occupied the places that were previously used by Christians as their worship centers were required to rededicate them to the Christians.
This was to take place without any further delay. People who had also taken over property belonging to Christians were also required to return them immediately. According to Pamphilius (310), Constantine continued to show favor to the Christians through acts such as giving out money to the churches and attending conferences and workshops organized for bishops and the clergy. However, he did not persecute those who belonged to a different faith.
Although Constantine became a Christian, his motive for becoming one was not right. This is because he was motivated by the fact that the Christian God was more effective in giving them military victory as opposed to other gods. His conversion to Christianity happened as a result of a vision that he had just before he went into war. In the vision, he was advised to tell each soldier to put the sign of Christ on their shields before they went into warfare. This was supposed to give them victory in the battle. When Constantine obeyed the instructions he was given in this vision, he and the entire army won the battle. This was one of the reasons why he chose to convert to Christianity.
He also admired the fact that Christians practiced monotheism. Additionally, he believed that it was easy for people who feared God to respect and obey the laws of the land. During his reign, there emerged a new type of Christianity that propagated the notion that the roman tradition was acceptable in Christianity. Constantine was advised by his advisor to allow Christians to practice their faith since the religion encouraged the fear of God as opposed to pagan religions which encouraged immorality. Although he is the one who legalized Christianity, Constantine was not a very good person. He took part in the killing of his son as well as his wife. He ordered his son’s execution because of treason charges. He also participated in civil wars so that he would start reigning in the empire.
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Davids, Joshua. History – The Christian Persecution According To Eusebius. Web.
Pamphilius, Eusebius. The History of the Church from Christ to Constantine, trans. G.A. Williamson, Baltimore: Penguin Books, 1989.