[St. Pachomius Library]

Eusebius Pamphilius, Bishop of Cæsarea in Palestine

Eusebius is remembered today chiefly as the author of the Ecclesiastical History, a carefully organised, well written, and thoroughly researched account of the pre-Constantinian Church which from his time to ours has been the main (and on some matters only) available source of information about the subject. In spite of its immense importance, however, the History exhibits a certain lack of intellectual and theological depth; this quality of mediocrity was unfortunately characteristic in many ways of the book's author.

Eusebius, chronicler of the Church's past, was also an important participant in Church affairs of his own day. As a student and researcher at the college of Cæsarea, he was so impressed by his instructor and co-worker St. Pamphilus that he adopted the surname "Pamphili". The great persecution of 307, in which Pamphilus was executed, gave Eusebius the subject matter for his first important historical work, The Martyrs of Palestine.

Made bishop a short while afterward, he became entangled in the earliest phase of the Arian controversy. Eusebius tried to steer a middle course between Arius and St. Alexander, but found himself being classified as an Arian anyway. He hoped that the council at Nicæa would resolve the theological issue with some sort of compromise (as did the Emperor). Apparently one of the "keynote speakers" at the council, Eusebius submitted a draught creed; although nearly all of his proposed language was adopted, he was unenthusiastic about the additions made to his text by other bishops, and in particular about the word homoousios ("consubstantial"). He eventually signed, however, and wrote an interesting letter to his diocese justifying the use of the disputed term.

The matter was far from over, of course, and in his subsequent career Eusebius was never able to grasp that compromise was not an option. He effectively became a semi-Arian, although perhaps not in his own mind, and his fortunes rose or fell with those of moderate Arianism. Later generations, readers of the Ecclesiastical History, were troubled by the great author's muddled theology (and by his admiration for Origen, although this perhaps had more to do with Origen's founding of the college in Cæsarea than with his occult speculations). The Seventh Council, centuries after his death, issued an especially harsh condemnation:

"But if from time to time, on account of circumstances or from different causes, he has become confused or has changed around, sometimes praising those who hold to the doctrines of Arius, and at other times reigning the truth, he shows himself to be, according to James the brother of our Lord, a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways; and let him not think that he shall receive anything of the Lord. For if with the heart he had believed unto righteousness, and with the mouth had confessed the truth unto salvation, he would have asked forgiveness for his writings, at the same time correcting them."

Norman Hugh Redington


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