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Three Millennia of Greek Literature

Vasilief, A History of the Byzantine Empire

The empire from Constantine the Great to Justinian

Literature, learning, education, and art 


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Page 4

From the Palestinian city of Caesarea came the father of ecclesiastical history, Eusebius, who lived in the second half of the third century and the early part of the fourth century. He died about the year 340. He has been cited earlier as the chief authority on Constantine the Great. Eusebius lived on the threshold of two highly significant historical epochs: on one hand, he witnessed the severe persecutions of Diocletian and his successors and suffered much personally because of his Christian convictions; on the other hand, after the Edict of Galerius he lived through a period of gradual triumph of Christianity under Constantine and participated in the Arian disputes, inclining sometimes to the Arians. He later became one of the greatly trusted and intimate friends of the Emperor. Eusebius wrote many theological and historical works. The Evangelic Preparation (Εὐαγγελικὴ προπαρασκευή, Praeparatio evangelica), the large work in which he defends the Christians against the religious attacks of the pagans, The Evangelic Demonstration (Εὐαγγελικὴ ἀπόδειξις, Demonstratio evangelica), in which he discusses the merely temporal significance of the Mosaic law and the fulfillment of the prophecies of the Old Testament by Jesus Christ; his writings in the field of criticism and interpretation of the Holy Scriptures, as well as several other works entitle him to a high place of honor in the field of theological literature. These works also contain valuable extracts from older writings which were later lost.

For this study the historical writings of Eusebius are of greater importance. The Chronicle, written apparently before Diocletian's persecutions, contains a brief survey of the history of the Chaldeans, Assyrians, Hebrews, Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans and in its main portion gives chronological tables of the most important historical events. Unfortunately it has survived only through an Armenian translation and partly through a Latin adaptation of St. Jerome. Thus no accurate conception of the form and contents of the original exists today, especially since the translations which have survived were made not from the original Greek, but from an adaptation of The Chronicle which appeared soon after Eusebius' death.

His outstanding historical work is the Ecclesiastical History, ten books covering the period from the time of Christ to the victory of Constantine over Licinius. According to his own statement, he did not aim to tell of wars and the trophies of generals, but rather to record in ineffaceable letters the most peaceful wars waged in behalf of the peace of the soul, and to tell of men doing brave deeds for truth rather than country, for piety rather than dearest friends. Under the pen of Eusebius, church history became the history of martyrdom and persecutions, with all the accompanying terror and atrocities. Because of its abundance of documentary data, his history must be recognized as one of the very important sources for the first three centuries of the Christian era. Besides, Eusebius was important also because he was the first to write a history of Christianity, embracing that subject from all possible aspects. His Ecclesiastical History, which brought him much fame, became the basis for the work of many later church historians and was often imitated. As early as the fourth century it became widely spread in the West through the Latin translation of Rufinus.

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