Eusebius of Caesarea The role that Eusebius has played in early Christianity has been overlooked and hidden from most Christians over the centuries and hence I hope my compilation may throw a little more light into his influence on the Bible and today’s Christianity. Eusebius was a Roman historian, of Greek descent, exegete and Christian polemicist. He became the Bishop of Caesarea about the year 314 A.D. Together with Pamphilus, he was a scholar of the Biblical canonand is regarded as an extremely well learned Christian of his time. He wrote Demonstrations of the Gospel, Preparations for the Gospel, and On Discrepancies between the Gospels, studies of the Biblical text. As “Father of Church History” he produced the Ecclesiastical History, On the Life of Pamphilus, the Chronicle and On the Martyrs. The Church agrees, saying:
“Our documentary sources of knowledge about the origins of Christianity and its earliest development are chiefly the New Testament Scriptures, the authenticity of which we must, to a great extent, take for granted.” (Catholic Encyclopedia, Farley ed., vol. iii, p. 712)
The Church makes extraordinary admissions about its New Testament. For example, when discussing the origin of those writings,
“the most distinguished body of academic opinion ever assembled” (Catholic Encyclopedias, Preface) admits that the Gospels “do not go back to the first century of the Christian era” (Catholic Encyclopedia, Farley ed., vol. vi, p. 137, pp. 655-6).
This statement conflicts with priesthood assertions that the earliest Gospels were progressively written during the decades following the death of the Gospel Jesus Christ. In a remarkable aside, the Church further admits that,
“the earliest of the extant manuscripts [of the New Testament], it is true, do not date back beyond the middle of the fourth century AD” (Catholic Encyclopedia, op. cit., pp. 656-7).
That is some 350 years after the time the Church claims that a Jesus Christ walked the sands of Palestine, and here the true story of Christian origins slips into one of the biggest black holes in history. There is, however, a reason why there were no New Testaments until the fourth century: they were not written until then, and here we find evidence of the greatest misrepresentation of all time. Constantine saw in this confused system of fragmented dogmas the opportunity to create a new and combined State religion, neutral in concept, and to protect it by law. Constantine Commissioned Eusebius to compile a New Testament Constantine then instructed Eusebius to organize the compilation of a uniform collection of new writings developed from primary aspects of the religious texts submitted at the council. His instructions were:
“Search ye these books, and whatever is good in them, that retain; but whatsoever is evil, that cast away. What is good in one book, unite ye with that which is good in another book. And whatsoever is thus brought together shall be called The Book of Books. And it shall be the doctrine of my people, which I will recommend unto all nations, that there shall be no more war for religions’ sake.” (God’s Book of Eskra, op. cit., chapter xlviii, paragraph 31) “Make them to astonish” said Constantine, and “the books were written accordingly” (Life of Constantine, vol. iv, pp. 36-39).
Eusebius amalgamated the “legendary tales of all the religious doctrines of the world together as one”, using the standard god-myths from the presbyters’ manuscripts as his exemplars. Merging the supernatural “god” stories of Mithra and Krishna with British Culdean beliefs effectively joined the orations of Eastern and Western presbyters together “to form a new universal belief” (ibid.). Constantine believed that the amalgamated collection of myths would unite variant and opposing religious factions under one representative story. Eusebius then arranged for scribes to produce,
“fifty sumptuous copies … to be written on parchment in a legible manner, and in a convenient portable form, by professional scribes thoroughly accomplished in their art” (ibid.). “These orders,” said Eusebius, “were followed by the immediate execution of the work itself … we sent him [Constantine] magnificently and elaborately bound volumes of three-fold and four-fold forms” (Life of Constantine, vol. iv, p. 36).
They were the “New Testimonies”, and this is the first mention (c. 331) of the New Testament in the historical record. With his instructions fulfilled, Constantine then decreed that the New Testimonies would thereafter be called the “word of the Roman Savior God” (Life of Constantine, vol. iii, p. 29) and official to all presbyters sermonizing in the Roman Empire. He then ordered earlier presbyterial manuscripts and the records of the council “burnt” and declared that “any man found concealing writings should be stricken off from his shoulders” (beheaded) (ibid.). As the record shows, presbyterial writings previous to the Council of Nicaea no longer exist, except for some fragments that have survived. Some council records also survived, and they provide alarming ramifications for the Church. Some old documents say that the First Council of Nicaea ended in mid-November 326, while others say the struggle to establish a god was so fierce that it extended “for four years and seven months” from its beginning in June 325 (Secrets of the Christian Fathers, op. cit.). Regardless of when it ended, the savagery and violence it encompassed were concealed under the glossy title “Great and Holy Synod”, assigned to the assembly by the Church in the 18th century. But what were the philosophies of Eusebius since he had such a great influence on the compilation of the Bible?
Doctrine of Eusebius
From a dogmatic point of view, Eusebius stands entirely upon the shoulders of Origen. Like Origen, he started from the fundamental thought of “the absolute sovereignty (monarchia) of God. God is the cause of all beings.” But he is not merely a cause; in him everything good is included, from him all life originates, and he is the source of all virtue. God sent Christ into the world that it may partake of the blessings included in the essence of God. Christ is God and is a ray of the eternal light; but the figure of the ray is so limited by Eusebius that he expressly distinguishes the Son as distinct from Father as a ray is also distinct from its source the sun Eusebius was intent upon emphasizing the difference of the persons of the Trinity and maintaining the subordination of the Son (Logos, or Word) to God (Eusebius never calls Jesus o theós, but theós) because in all contrary attempts he suspected either polytheism (three distinct gods) or Sabellianism (three modes of one divine person). The Son (Jesus) is an hypostasis of God the Father whose generation, for Eusebius, took place before time. Jesus acts as the organ or instrument of God, the creator of life, the principle of every revelation of God, who in his absoluteness and transcendence is enthroned above and isolated from all the world. This Logos, the Son of God, owns divinity for participation (and not originally like the Father), could therefore change (Eusebius, with most early theologians, assumed God was immutable), and he assumed a human body without altering the immutable divine Father. Likewise, Eusebius described the relation of the Holy Spirit within the Trinity to that of the Son to the Father. No point of this doctrine is original with Eusebius, all is traceable to his teacher Origen. The lack of originality in his thinking shows itself in the fact that he never presented his thoughts in a system. After nearly being excommunicated due to charges of heresy by Alexander of Alexandria, Eusebius submitted and agreed to the Nicene Creed at the First Council of Nicea in 325. Eusebius held that men were sinners by their own free choice and not by the necessity of their natures. Eusebius said, “The Creator of all things has impressed a natural law upon the soul of every man, as an assistant and ally in his conduct, pointing out to him the right way by this law; but, by the free liberty with which he is endowed, making the choice of what is best worthy of praise and acceptance, because he has acted rightly, not by force, but from his own free-will, when he had it in his power to act otherwise, As, again, making him who chooses what is worst, deserving of blame and punishment, as having by his own motion neglected the natural law, and becoming the origin and fountain of wickedness, and misusing himself, not from any extraneous necessity, but from free will and judgment. The fault is in him who chooses, not in God. For God has not made nature or the substance of the soul bad; for he who is good can make nothing but what is good. Everything is good which is according to nature. Every rational soul has naturally a good free-will, formed for the choice of what is good. But when a man acts wrongly, nature is not to be blamed; for what is wrong, takes place not according to nature, but contrary to nature, it being the work of choice, and not of nature”. By the time of the Byzantine Iconoclasm several centuries later, Eusebius had unfairly gained the reputation of having been an Arian, and was roundly condemned as such by Patriarch Nikephoros I of Constantinople. A letter Eusebius is supposed to have written to Constantine’s daughter Constanza, refusing to fulfill her request for images of Christ, was quoted in the decrees (now lost) of the Iconoclast Council of Hieria in 754, and later quoted in part in the rebuttal of the Hieria decrees in the Second Council of Nicaea of 787, now the only source from which some of the text is known. The authenticity, or authorship of the letter remain uncertain.
- Edward Gibbon openly distrusted the writings of Eusebius concerning the number of martyrs, by noting a passage in the shorter text of the Martyrs of Palestine attached to the Ecclesiastical History (Book 8, Chapter 2) in which Eusebius introduces his description of the martyrs of the Great Persecution under Diocletian with: “Wherefore we have decided to relate nothing concerning them except the things in which we can vindicate the Divine judgment. […] We shall introduce into this history in general only those events which may be useful first to ourselves and afterwards to posterity.“In the longer text of the same work, chapter 12, Eusebius states: “I think it best to pass by all the other events which occurred in the meantime: such as […] the lust of power on the part of many, the disorderly and unlawful ordinations, and the schisms among the confessors themselves; also the novelties which were zealously devised against the remnants of the Church by the new and factious members, who added innovation after innovation and forced them in unsparingly among the calamities of the persecution, heaping misfortune upon misfortune. I judge it more suitable to shun and avoid the account of these things, as I said at the beginning.“
- When his own honesty was challenged by his contemporaries, Gibbon appealed to a chapter heading in Eusebius’Praeparatio evangelica (Book XII, Chapter 31) in which Eusebius discussed “That it will be necessary sometimes to use falsehood as a remedy for the benefit of those who require such a mode of treatment.“
- Although Gibbon refers to Eusebius as the ‘gravest’ of the ecclesiastical historians, he also suggests that Eusebius was more concerned with the passing political concerns of his time than his duty as a reliable historian.
- Jacob Burckhardt (19th century cultural historian) dismissed Eusebius as “the first thoroughly dishonest historian of antiquity”.
- Other critics of Eusebius’ work cite the panegyrical tone of the Vita, plus the omission of internal Christian conflicts in the Canones, as reasons to interpret his writing with caution.
Alternate views have suggested that Gibbon’s dismissal of Eusebius is inappropriate:
- With reference to Gibbon’s comments, Joseph Barber Lightfoot (late 19th century theologian and former Bishop of Durham) pointed out that Eusebius’ statements indicate his honesty in stating what he was not going to discuss, and also his limitations as a historian in not including such material. He also discusses the question of accuracy. “The manner in which Eusebius deals with his very numerous quotations elsewhere, where we can test his honesty, is a sufficient vindication against this unjust charge.” Lightfoot also notes that Eusebius cannot always be relied on: “A far more serious drawback to his value as a historian is the loose and uncritical spirit in which he sometimes deals with his materials. This shows itself in diverse ways. He is not always to be trusted in his discrimination of genuine and spurious documents.”
- Averil Cameron (professor at King’s College and Oxford) and Stuart Hall (historian and theologian), in their recent translation of the Life of Constantine, point out that writers such as Burckhardt found it necessary to attack Eusebius in order to undermine the ideological legitimacy of the Habsburg empire, which based itself on the idea of Christian empire derived from Constantine, and that the most controversial letter in the Life has since been found among the papyri of Egypt.
- In Church History (Vol. 59, 1990), Michael J. Hollerich (assistant professor at the Jesuit Santa Clara University, California) replies to Burckhardt’s criticism of Eusebius, that “Eusebius has been an inviting target for students of the Constantinian era. At one time or another they have characterized him as a political propagandist, a good courtier, the shrewd and worldly adviser of the Emperor Constantine, the great publicist of the first Christian emperor, the first in a long succession of ecclesiastical politicians, the herald of Byzantinism, a political theologian, a political metaphysician, and a caesaropapist. It is obvious that these are not, in the main, neutral descriptions. Much traditional scholarship, sometimes with barely suppressed disdain, has regarded Eusebius as one who risked his orthodoxy and perhaps his character because of his zeal for the Constantinian establishment.” Hollerich concludes that “… the standard assessment has exaggerated the importance of political themes and political motives in Eusebius’s life and writings and has failed to do justice to him as a churchman and a scholar”.
While many have shared Burckhardt’s assessment, particularly with reference to the Life of Constantine, others, while not pretending to extol his merits, have acknowledged the irreplaceable value of his works which may principally reside in the copious quotations that they contain from other sources, often lost. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eusebius
Discussion: Eusebius’ influence on the New Testament
In order to attempt to visualise the way Eusebius might have influenced the final format of the New testament is to closely study his doctrines and this will clarify why the New Testament appears as it does.
The following are the highlights of Eusebius’ doctrines:
(1) Eusebius is a disciple of Origen whose doctrines will be examined later.
(2) Eusebius was commissioned by Emperor Constantine to draw up a collection of the variant myths to one acceptable unified myth that would unite the peoples.
(3) Eusebius amalgamated the “legendary tales of all the religious doctrines of the world together as one”, using the standard god-myths from the presbyters’ manuscripts as his exemplars. Merging the supernatural “god” stories of Mithra and Krishna with British Culdean beliefs effectively joined the orations of Eastern and Western presbyters together “to form a new universal belief” (ibid.)
(4) Eusebius believed in the absolute sovereignty (monarchia) of God. (Omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent.)
(5) Eusebius believe that God is the cause of all beings. He was the creator of the Universe and of Man.
(6) Eusebius believed in him (God) everything good is included, There is nothing but goodness in God.
(7) Eusebius believed in the incarnation of Jesus Christ, son of God. who walk the earth to bring the message to the people.
(8) Eusebius believed in the Trinity, the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost.
(9) Eusebius also believed, The Son (Jesus) is an hypostasis of God the Father whose generation, for Eusebius, took place before time.
(10) Finally:Constantine then decreed that the New Testimonies would thereafter be called the “word of the Roman Savior God” (Life of Constantine, vol. iii, p. 29) and official to all presbyters sermonizing in the Roman Empire. He then ordered earlier presbyterial manuscripts and the records of the council “burnt” and declared that “any man found concealing writings should be stricken off from his shoulders” (beheaded) (ibid.).
It cannot be coincidental that everyone of the doctrines mentioned above are a part of the modern New Testament doctrines. To doubt that Eusebius, through the commission of Emperor Constantine, did not play an important part in the foundations of the New Testament would be unreasonable denial. Origen’s Theology, if it was Origen who had a great influence on Eusebius, warrants further study.
By this term is understood not so much Origen’s theology and the body of his teachings, as a certain number of doctrines, rightly or wrongly attributed to him, and which by their novelty or their danger called forth at an early period a refutation from orthodox writers. They are chiefly:
- Allegorism in the interpretation of Scripture
- Subordination of the Divine Persons
- The theory of successive trials and a final restoration.
Before examining how far Origen is responsible for these theories, a word must be said of the directive principle of his theology.
The Church and the Rule of Faith
In the preface to the “De principiis” Origen laid down a rule thus formulated in the translation of Rufinus: “Illa sola credenda est veritas quae in nullo ab ecclesiastica et apostolica discordat traditione”. The same norm is expressed almost in equivalent terms in many other passages, e.g., “non debemus credere nisi quemadmodum per successionem Ecclesiae Dei tradiderunt nobis (In Matt., ser. 46, Migne, XIII, 1667). In accordance with those principles Origen constantly appeals to ecclesiastical preaching, ecclesiastical teaching, and the ecclesiastical rule of faith (kanon). He accepts only four Canonical Gospels because tradition does not receive more; he admits the necessity of baptism of infants because it is in accordance with the practice of the Church founded on Apostolic tradition; he warns the interpreter of the Holy Scripture, not to rely on his own judgment, but “on the rule of the Church instituted by Christ”. For, he adds, we have only two lights to guide us here below, Christ and the Church; the Church reflects faithfully the light received from Christ, as the moon reflects the rays of the sun. The distinctive mark of the Catholic is to belong to the Church, to depend on the Church outside of which there is no salvation; on the contrary, he who leaves the Church walks in darkness, he is a heretic. It is through the principle of authority that Origen is wont to unmask and combat doctrinal errors. It is the principle of authority, too, that he invokes when he enumerates the dogmas of faith. A man animated with such sentiments may have made mistakes, because he is human, but his disposition of mind is essentially Catholic and he does not deserve to be ranked among the promoters of heresy.
The principal passages on the inspiration, meaning, and interpretation of the Scriptures are preserved in Greek in the first fifteen chapters of the “Philocalia”. According to Origen, Scripture is inspired because it is the word and work of God. But, far from being an inert instrument, the inspired author has full possession of his faculties, he is conscious of what he is writing; he is physically free to deliver his message or not; he is not seized by a passing delirium like the pagan oracles, for bodily disorder, disturbance of the senses, momentary loss of reason are but so many proofs of the action of the evil spirit. Since Scripture is from God, it ought to have the distinctive characteristics of the Divine works: truth, unity, and fullness. The word of God cannot possibly be untrue; hence no errors or contradictions can be admitted in Scripture (Commentary on John X.3). The author of the Scriptures being one, the Bible is less a collection of books than one and the same book (Philoc., V, iv-vii), a perfect harmonious instrument (Philoc., VI, i-ii). But the most Divine note of Scripture is its fullness: “There is not in the Holy Books the smallest passage (cheraia) but reflects the wisdom of God” (Philoc., I, xxviii, cf. X, i). True there are imperfections in the Bible: antilogies, repetitions, want of continuity; but these imperfections become perfections by leading us to the allegory and the spiritual meaning (Philoc., X, i-ii). At one time Origen, starting from the Platonic trichotomy, distinguishes the body, the soul, and the spirit of Holy Scripture; at another, following a more rational terminology, he distinguishes only between the letter and the spirit. In reality, the soul, or the psychic signification, or moral meaning (that is the moral parts of Scripture, and the moral applicationsof the other parts) plays only a very secondary rôle, and we can confine ourselves to the antithesis: letter (or body) and spirit. Unfortunately this antithesis is not free from equivocation. Origen does not understand by letter (or body) what we mean today by the literal sense, but the grammatical sense, the proper as opposed to the figurative meaning.Just so he does not attach to the words spiritual meaning the same signification as we do: for him they mean the spiritual sense properly so called (the meaning added to the literal sense by the express wish of God attaching a special signification to the fact related or the manner of relating them), or the figurative as contrasted with the proper sense, or theaccommodative sense, often an arbitrary invention of the interpreter, or even the literal sense when it is treating of things spiritual. If this terminology is kept in mind there is nothing absurd in the principle he repeats so often: “Such a passage of the Scripture has no corporal meaning.” As examples Origen cites the anthropomorphisms, metaphors, and symbols which ought indeed to be understood figuratively. Though he warns us that these passages are the exceptions, it must be confessed that he allows too many cases in which the Scripture is not to be understood according to the letter; but, remembering his terminology, his principle is unimpeachable. The two great rules of interpretation laid sown by the Alexandria catechist, taken by themselves and independently of erroneous applications, are proof against criticism. They may be formulated thus:
- Scripture must be interpreted in a manner worthy of God, the author of Scripture.
- The corporal sense or the letter of Scripture must not be adopted, when it would entail anything impossible, absurd, or unworthy of God.
The abuse arises from the application of these rules. Origen has recourse too easily to allegorism to explain purely apparent antilogies or antinomies. He considers that certain narratives or ordinances of the Bible would be unworthy of God if they had to be taken according to the letter, or if they were to be taken solely according to the letter. He justifies the allegorism by the fact that otherwise certain accounts or certain precepts now abrogated would be useless and profitless for the reader: a fact which appears to him contrary to the providence of the Divine inspirer and the dignity of Holy Writ. It will thus be seen that though the criticisms directed against his allegorical method by St. Epiphanius and St. Methodius were not groundless, yet many of the complaints arise from a misunderstanding.
Subordination of the divine persons
The three Persons of the Trinity are distinguished from all creatures by the three following characteristics: absolute immateriality, omniscience, and substantial sanctity. As is well known many ancient ecclesiastical writers attributed to created spirits an aerial or ethereal envelope without which they could not act. Though he does not venture to decide categorically, Origen inclines to this view, but, as soon as there is a question of the Divine Persons, he is perfectly sure that they have no body and are not in a body; and this characteristic belongs to the Trinity alone (De Principiis IV.27, I.6, II.2.2, II.4.3, etc.). Again the knowledge of every creature, being essentially limited, is always imperfect and capable of being increased. But it would be repugnant for the Divine Persons to pass from the state of ignorance to knowledge. How could the Son, who is the Wisdom of the Father, be ignorant of anything (Commentary on John I.27; Against Celsus VI.17). Nor can we admit ignorance in the Spirit who “searcheth the deep things of God” (De Principiis I.5.4, I.6.2,I.7.3; “In Num. him.”, XI, 8 etc.). As substantial holiness is the exclusive privilege of the Trinity so also is it the only source of all created holiness. Sin is forgiven only by the simultaneous concurrence of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost; no one is sanctified at baptism save through their common action; the soul in which the Holy Ghost (in) dwells possesses likewise the Son and the Father. In a word the three Persons of the Trinity are indivisible in their being, their presence, and their operation. Along with these perfectly orthodox texts there are some which must be interpreted with diligence, remembering as we ought that the language of theology was not yet fixed and that Origen was often the first to face these difficult problems. It will then appear that the subordination of the Divine Persons, so much urged against Origen, generally consists in differences of appropriation (the Father creator, the Son redeemer, the Spirit sanctifier) which seem to attribute to the Persons an unequal sphere of action, or in the liturgical practice of praying the Father through the Son in the Holy Ghost, or in the theory so widespread in the Greek Church of the first five centuries, that the Father has a pre-eminence of rank (taxis) over the two other Persons, inasmuch as in mentioning them He ordinarily has the first place, and of dignity (axioma) because He represents the whole Divinity, of which He is the principle (arche), the origin (aitios), and the source (pege). That is why St. Athanasius defends Origen’s orthodoxy concerning the Trinity and why St. Basil and St. Gregory of Nazianzus replied to the heretics who claimed the support of his authority that they misunderstood him.
The origin and destiny of rational beings
Here we encounter an unfortunate amalgam of philosophy and theology. The system that results is not coherent, for Origen, frankly recognizing the contradiction of the incompatible elements that he is trying to unify, recoils from the consequences, protests against the logical conclusions, and oftentimes corrects by orthodox professions of faith the heterodoxy of his speculations. It must be said that almost all the texts about to be treated of, are contained in the “De principiis”, where the author treads on most dangerous ground. The system may be reduced to a few hypotheses, the error and danger of which were not recognized by Origen. (1) Eternity of Creation Whatever exists outside of God was created by Him: the Alexandrian catechist always defended this thesis most energetically against the pagan philosophers who admitted an uncreated matter (De Principiis II.1.5; “In Genes.”, I, 12, in Migne, XII, 48-9). But he believes that God created from eternity, for “it is absurd”, he says, “to imagine the nature of God inactive, or His goodness inefficacious, or His dominion without subjects” (De Principiis III.5.3). Consequently he is forced to admit a double infinite series of worlds before and after the present world. (2) Original Equality of the Created Spirits “In the beginning all intellectual natures were created equal and alike, as God had no motive for creating them otherwise” (De Principiis II.9.6). Their present differences arise solely from their different use of the gift of free will. The spirits created good and happy grew tired of their happiness (op. cit., I, iii, 8), and, though carelessness, fell, some more some less (I, vi, 2). Hence the hierarchy of the angels; hence also the four categories of created intellects: angels, stars (supposing, as is probable, that they are animated, De Principiis I.7.3),men, and demons. But their rôles may be one day changed; for what free will has done, free will can undo, and the Trinity alone is essentially immutable in good. (3) Essence and Raison d’Être of Matter Matter exists only for the spiritual; if the spiritual did not need it, matter would not exist, for its finality is not in itself. But it seems to Origen – though he does not venture to declare so expressly – that created spirits even the most perfect cannot do without an extremely diluted and subtle matter which serves them as a vehicle and means of action (De PrincipiisII.2.1, I.6.4, etc.). Matter was, therefore, created simultaneously with the spiritual, although the spiritual is logically prior; and matter will never cease to be because the spiritual, however perfect, will always need it. But matter which is susceptible of indefinite transformations is adapted to the varying condition of the spirits. “When intended for the more imperfect spirits, it becomes solidified, thickens, and forms the bodies of this visible world. If it is serving higher intelligences, it shines with the brightness of the celestial bodies and serves as a garb for the angels of God, and the children of the Resurrection” (De Principiis II.2.2). (4) Universality of the Redemption and the Final Restoration Certain Scriptural texts, e.g., 1 Corinthians 15:25-28, seem to extend to all rational beings the benefit of the Redemption, and Origen allows himself to be led also by the philosophical principle which he enunciates several times, without ever proving it, that the end is always like the beginning: “We think that the goodness of God, through the mediation of Christ, will bring all creatures to one and the same end” (De Principiis I.6.1-3). The universal restoration (apokatastasis) follows necessarily from these principles. On the least reflection, it will be seen that these hypotheses, starting from contrary points of view, are irreconcilable: for the theory of a final restoration is diametrically opposed to the theory of successive indefinite trials. It would be easy to find in the writings of Origen a mass of texts contradicting these principles and destroying the resulting conclusions. Heaffirms, for instance, that the charity of the elect in heaven does not fail; in their case “the freedom of the will will be bound so that sin will be impossible” (In Roman., V, 10). So, too, the reprobate will always be fixed in evil, less from the inability to free themselves from it, than because they wish to be evil (De Principiis I.8.4), for malice has become natural to them, it is as a second nature in them (In Joann., xx, 19). Origen grew angry when accused of teaching the eternal salvation of the devil. But the hypotheses which he lays down here and there are none the less worthy of censure. What can be said in his defence, if it be not with St. Athanasius (De decretis Nic., 27), that we must not seek to find his real opinion in the works in which he discusses the arguments for and against doctrine as an intellectual exercise or amusement; or, with St. Jerome (Ad Pammach. Epist., XLVIII, 12), that it is one thing to dogmatize and another to enunciate hypothetical opinions which will be cleared up by discussion?
The discussions concerning Origen and his teaching are of a very singular and very complex character. They break out unexpectedly, at long intervals, and assume an immense importance quite unforeseen in their humble beginnings. They are complicated by so many personal disputes and so many questions foreign to the fundamental subject in controversy that a brief and rapid exposé of the polemics is difficult and well-nigh impossible. Finally they abate so suddenly that one is forced to conclude that the controversy was superficial and that Origen’s orthodoxy was not the sole point in dispute.
First Origenist Crisis
It broke out in the deserts of Egypt, raged in Palestine, and ended at Constantinople with the condemnation of St. Chrysostom (392-404). During the second half of the fourth century the monks of Nitria professed an exaggerated enthusiasm for Origen, whilst the neighbouring brethren of Sceta, as a result of an unwarranted reaction and an excessive fear of allegorism, fell into Anthropomorphism. These doctrinal discussions gradually invaded the monasteries of Palestine, which were under the care of St. Epiphanius, Bishop of Salamis, who, convinced of the dangers of Origenism, had combatted it in his works and was determined to prevent its spread and to extirpate it completely. Having gone to Jerusalem in 394, he preached vehemently against Origen’s errors, in presence of the bishop of that city, John, who was deemed an Origenist. John in turn spoke against Anthropomorphism, directing his discourse so clearly against Epiphanius that no one could be mistaken. Another incident soon helped to embitter the dispute. Epiphanius had raised Paulinian, brother of St. Jerome, to the priesthood in a place subject to the See of Jerusalem. John complained bitterly of this violation of his rights, and the reply of Epiphanius was not of a nature to appease him. Two new combatants were now ready to enter the lists. From the time when Jerome and Rufinus settled, one at Bethlehem and the other at Mt. Olivet, they had lived in brotherly friendship. Both admired, imitated, and translated Origen, and were on most amicable terms with their bishop, when in 392 Aterbius, a monk of Sceta, came to Jerusalem and accused them both of Origenism. St. Jerome, very sensitive to the question of orthodoxy, was much hurt by the insinuation of Aterbius and two years later sided with St. Epiphanius, whose reply to John of Jerusalem he translated into Latin. Rufinus learnt, it is not known how, of this translation, which was not intended for the public, and Jerome suspected him of having obtained it by fraud. A reconciliation was effected sometime later, but it was not lasting. In 397 Rufinus, then at Rome, had translated Origen’s “De principiis” into Latin, and in his preface followed the example of St. Jerome, whose dithyrambic eulogy addressed to the Alexandrian catechist he remembered. The solitary of Bethlehem, grievously hurt at this action, wrote to his friends to refute the perfidious implication of Rufinus, denounced Origen’s errors to Pope Anastasius, tried to win the Patriarch of Alexandria over to the anti-Origenistcause, and began a discussion with Rufinus, marked with great bitterness on both sides. Until 400 Theophilus of Alexandria was an acknowledged Origenist. His confidant was Isidore, a former monk of Nitria, and his friends, “the Tall Brothers”, the accredited leaders of theOrigenist party. He had supported John of Jerusalem against St. Epiphanius, whose Anthropomorphism he denounced to Pope Siricius. Suddenly he changed his views, exactly why was never known. It is said that the monks of Sceta, displeased with his paschal letter of 399, forcibly invaded his episcopal residence and threatened him with death if he did not chant the palinody. What is certain is that he had quarreled with St. Isidore over money matters and with “the Tall Brothers”, who blamed his avarice and his worldliness. As Isidore and “the TallBrothers” had retired to Constantinople, where Chrysostom extended his hospitality to them and interceded for them, without, however, admitting them to communion till the censures pronounced against them had been raised, the irascible Patriarch of Alexandria determined on this plan: to suppress Origenism everywhere, and under this pretext ruin Chrysostom, whom he hated and envied. For four years he was mercilessly active: he condemned Origen’s books at the Council of Alexandria (400), with an armed band he expelled the monks from Nitria, he wrote to the bishops of Cyprus and Palestine to win them over to his anti-Origenist crusade, issued paschal letters in 401, 402, and 404 against Origen’s doctrine, and sent a missive to Pope Anastasius asking for the condemnation of Origenism. He was successful beyond his hopes; the bishops of Cyprus accepted his invitation. Those of Palestine, assembled at Jerusalem, condemned the errors pointed out to them, adding that they were not taught amongst them. Anastasius, while declaring that Origen was entirely unknown to him, condemned the propositions extracted from his books. St. Jerome undertook to translate into Latin the various elucubrations of the patriarch, even his virulent diatribe against Chrysostom. St. Epiphanius, preceding Theophilus to Constantinople, treated St. Chrysostom as temerarious, and almost heretical, until the day the truth began to dawn on him, and suspecting that he might have been deceived, he suddenly left Constantinople and died at sea before arriving at Salamis. It is well known how Theophilus, having been called by the emperor to explain his conduct towards Isidore and “the Tall Brothers”, cleverly succeeded by his machinations in changing the rôles. Instead of being the accused, he became the accuser, and summoned Chrysostom to appear before the conciliabule of the Oak (ad Quercum), at which Chrysostom was condemned. As soon as the vengeance of Theophilus was satiated nothing more was heard of Origenism. The Patriarch of Alexandria began to read Origen, pretending that he could cull the roses from among the thorns. He became reconciled with “the Tall Brothers” without asking them to retract. Hardly had the personal quarrels abated when the spectre of Origenism vanished.
Second Origenistic Crisis
In 514 certain heterodox doctrines of a very singular character had already spread among the monks of Jerusalem and its environs. Possibly the seeds of the dispute may have been sown by Stephen Bar-Sudaili, a troublesome monk expelled from Edessa, who joined to an Origenism of his own brand certain clearly pantheistic views. Plotting and intriguing continued for about thirty years, the monks suspected of Origenism being in turn expelled from their monasteries, then readmitted, only to be driven out anew. Their leaders and protectors were Nonnus, who till his death in 547 kept the party together, Theodore Askidas and Domitian who had won the favour of the emperor and were named bishops, one to the See of Ancyra in Galatia, the other to that of Caesarea in Cappadocia, though they continued to reside at court (537). In these circumstances a report against Origenism was addressed to Justinian, by whom and on what occasion it is not known, for the two accounts that have come down to us are at variance (Cyrillus of Scythopolis, “Vita Sabae”; and Liberatus, “Breviarium”, xxiii). At all events, the emperor then wrote his “Liber adversus Origenem”, containing in addition to an exposé of the reasons for condemning it twenty-four censurable texts taken from the “De principiis”, and lastly ten propositions to be anathematized. Justinian ordered the patriarch Mennas to call together all the bishops present in Constantinopleand make them subscribe to these anathemas. This was the local synod (synodos endemousa) of 543. A copy of the imperial edict had been addressed to the other patriarchs, including Pope Vigilius, and all gave their adhesion to it. In the case of Vigilius especially we have the testimony of Liberatus (Breviar., xxiii) and Cassiodorus (Institutiones, 1). It had been expected that Domitian and Theodore Askidas, by their refusal to condemn Origenism, would fall into disfavour at Court; but they signed whatever they were asked to sign and remained more powerful than ever. Askidas even took revenge by persuading the emperor to have Theodore of Mopsuestia, who was deemed the sworn enemy of Origen, condemned (Liberatus, “Breviar.”, xxiv; Facundas of Hermianus, “Defensio trium capitul.”, I, ii; Evagrius, “Hist.”, IV, xxxviii). Justinian’s new edict, which is not extant, resulted in theassembling of the fifth ecumenical council, in which Theodore of Mopsuestia, Ibas, and Theodoretus were condemned (553). Were Origen and Origenism anathematized? Many learned writers believe so; an equal number deny that they were condemned; most modern authorities are either undecided or reply with reservations. Relying on the most recent studies on the question it may be held that:
- It is certain that the fifth general council was convoked exclusively to deal with the affair of the Three Chapters, and that neither Origen nor Origenism were the cause of it.
- It is certain that the council opened on 5 May, 553, in spite of the protestations of Pope Vigilius, who though at Constantinople refused to attend it, and that in the eight conciliary sessions (from 5 May to 2 June), the Acts of which we possess, only the question of the Three Chapters is treated.
- Finally it is certain that only the Acts concerning the affair of the Three Chapters were submitted to the pope for his approval, which was given on 8 December, 553, and 23 February, 554.
- It is a fact that Popes Vigilius, Pelagius I (556-61), Pelagius II (579-90), Gregory the Great (590-604), in treating of the fifth council deal only with the Three Chapters, make no mention of Origenism, and speak as if they did not know of its condemnation.
- It must be admitted that before the opening of the council, which had been delayed by the resistance of the pope, the bishops already assembled at Constantinople had to consider, by order of the emperor, a form of Origenism that had practically nothing in common with Origen, but which was held, we know, by one of the Origenist parties in Palestine. The arguments in corroboration of this hypothesis may be found in Dickamp (op. cit., 66-141).
- The bishops certainly subscribed to the fifteen anathemas proposed by the emperor (ibid., 90-96); and admitted Origenist, Theodore of Scythopolis, was forced to retract (ibid., 125-129); but there is no proof that the approbation of the pope, who was at that time protesting against the convocation of the council, was asked.
- It is easy to understand how this extra-conciliary sentence was mistaken at a later period for a decree of the actual ecumenical council.
Discussions of Origen’s Doctrines that influenced Eusebius
(1) Eusebius was a disciple of Origen and so reflects most of Origen’s ecclesiastical views and influenced his compiling of the New Testament.
(2) Origen believed that the Scriptures are the inspired Word of God, hence there can be no errors or contradictions in it. Any contradictions or imperfections can be attributed to the allegorical meanings, or the spiritual interpretations of the words. Any contradiction can be rationalised.
(3) Origen believed that the three Persons of the Trinity are indivisible in their being, their presence, and their operation. Hence, Sin is forgiven only by the simultaneous concurrence of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost; no one is sanctified at baptism save through their common action; the soul in which the Holy Ghost (in) dwells possesses likewise the Son and the Father.
(4) Origen accepts only four Canonical Gospels because tradition does not receive more. [This establishes the existence of the 4 Gospels during Origen’s time.]
(5) Origen admits the necessity of baptism of infants because it is in accordance with the practice of the Church founded on Apostolic tradition. [A practice still observed today.]
(6) Origen warns the interpreter of the Holy Scripture, not to rely on his own judgment, but “on the rule of the Church instituted by Christ”. For, he adds, we have only two lights to guide us here below, Christ and the Church; the Church reflects faithfully the light received from Christ, as the moon reflects the rays of the sun.[This is as exclusive an attitude as that in Islam. Total inflexibility.]
(7) Origen believed The distinctive mark of the Catholic is to belong to the Church, to depend on the Church outside of which there is no salvation; on the contrary, he who leaves the Church walks in darkness, he is a heretic. It is through the principle of authority that Origen is wont to unmask and combat doctrinal errors. It is the principle of authority, too, that he invokes when he enumerates the dogmas of faith. A man animated with such sentiments may have made mistakes, because he is human, but his disposition of mind is essentially Catholic and he does not deserve to be ranked among the promoters of heresy. [Again the total exclusivity of Catholicism is exposed.]
(8) Origen had many enemies who disputed his views. But many of his views have survived to this day.
The First Official Christian Bible
Around 325 A.D., Constantine summons all the Christian Bishops to assemble at Nicea to unify the teachings regarding the life and ministry of Jesus. After they had reached an agreement on what would be taught on the most significant point of contention, that Jesus was indeed both God and man, and not just the highest created being by God, they set their sights on determining which of the existing writings would make up the first official Christian Bible. With such a vast number of varying opinions, beliefs, cultures and teachings within the Roman Empire, a key factor in this compilation would be that the books considered for inclusion most be those that were acceptable to the entire church. Eusebius Pamphili was a historian and considered expert by his peers. He would often be called upon to explain or interpret difficult sections of written works. He also became the Bishop of Caeserea in Palestine around 312 A.D., and was one of the most prominent of the church fathers assembled at Nicea. In that very same year that the council at Nicea met, Eusebius had already published his work on church history, which contained eighteen books that he felt should make up the new Christian Bible, and thus was asked to present it to the council. It is interesting to note that in his presentation, Eusebius makes reference to the “books or writings that were accepted by the people, which were currently being utilized”, such as the four gospels, the Acts of the Apostles and Paul’s letter. He also mentions what he called “disputed books” some of which we currently have in the canon such as 2nd & 3rd John, James and Jude. Eusebius also insisted that the epistles of John and Peter must be included, although being very aware that many of his fellow Bishops struggled with the thought of including the revelation of John. They thought that his apocalypse of violent metaphors directly conflicted with Christ’s message of peace. The council would adjourn without reaching a resolution on which books would make up the canon. However in 331 A.D., six years after the Nicean council, the Emperor Constantine would send a letter to Eusebius, granting him the responsibility of creating the official Christian Bible, and to produce 50 copies for the churches in Constantinople. Eusebius would simply take the 18 books that he believed worthy of inclusion, from the church history he had written in 325. In addition, he included the Hebrew Bible, creating both an Old, and a New Testament. Unfortunately, this Bible commissioned by Constantine, and thus the list of books that it contained, was lost with time. And even though Constantine’s Bible, created by Eusebius was sent to each of the churches in Constantinople, 40 more years would pass before the church would officially canonize an ultimate list of 27 New Testament books.
When Were the Gospels Written?
by D.M. Murdock/Acharya S
What are the most accurate dates for the canonical gospels in the New Testament as we have them? Are these texts really the faithful accounts of eyewitnesses written shortly after Jesus’s advent? Or does the evidence point to the gospels as anonymous compositions dating to the late second century?
The Gospel Dates
“It’s important to acknowledge that strictly speaking, the gospels are anonymous.”
Dr. Craig L. Blomberg, The Case for Christ (26)
Because of the lack of original texts, it has been very difficult to date the canonical gospels as to when they were written or even when they first emerge in the historical record, as these two dates may differ. The gospels have been dated variously from shortly after the crucifixion, traditionally placed around 30 ad/ce, to as late as a century and a half afterwards. The currently accepted dates are as follows, from the earliest by conservative, believing scholars to the latest by liberal and sometimes secular scholars:
Matthew: 37 to 100 ad/ce
Mark: 40 to 73 ad/ce
Luke: 50 to 100 ad/ce
John: 65 to 100 ad/ce
Many reasons have been given for these dates, from one end of the spectrum to the other, the earliest dates being based on the events recounted in the gospels themselves. The later dates are based also on this timeframe, but the difference is that they account for the mention of the destruction of the Jerusalem temple, which occurred in 70 ad/ce. According to this scholarship, the gospels must have been written after the devastation because they refer to it. However, conservative believers maintain the early dates and assert that the destruction of the temple and Judea mentioned in the gospels constitutes “prophecy,” demonstrating Jesus’s divine powers. The substantiation for this early, first-century range of dates, both conservative and liberal, is internal only, as there is no external evidence, whether historical or archaeological, for the existence of anygospels at that time. Nevertheless, fundamentalist Christian apologists such as Norman Geisler make misleading assertions such as that “many of the original manuscripts date from within twenty to thirty years of the events in Jesus’ life, that is, from contemporaries and eyewitnesses.” Scrutinizing the evidence forensically, however, it is impossible honestly to make such a conclusion.
Moreover, even the latest of the accepted gospel dates are not based on evidence from the historical, literary or archaeological record, and over the centuries a more “radical” school of thought has placed the creation or emergence of the canonical gospels as we have them at a much later date, more towards the end of the second century.
Based on the dating difficulties and other problems, many scholars and researchers over the centuries have become convinced that the gospels were not written by the people to whom they are ascribed. As can be concluded from the remarks of fundamentalist Christian and biblical scholar Dr. Craig L. Blomberg, the gospels are in fact anonymous. Indeed, the belief in the authorship of the gospels by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John is a matter of faith, as such an opinion is not merited in light of detailed textual and historical analysis. In reality, it was a fairly common practice in ancient times to attribute falsely to one person a book or letter written by another or others, and this pseudepigraphical attribution of authorship was especially rampant with religious texts, occurring with several Old Testament figures and early Church fathers, for example, as well as with known forgeries in the name of characters from the New Testament such as the Gospel of Peter, et al.
In actuality, there were gospels composed in the name of everyapostle, including Thomas, Bartholomew and Phillip, but these texts are considered “spurious” and unauthorized. Although it would be logical for all those directly involved with Jesus to have recorded their own memoirs, is it not odd that there are so many bogus manuscripts? What does it all mean? If Peter didn’t write the Gospel of Peter, then who did? And why? Is not the practice of pseudepigraphy—the false attribution of a work by one author to another—an admission that there were many people within Christianity engaging in forgery? If these apostles themselves had gospels forged in their names, how can we be certain that Matthew, Mark, Luke and John did not likewise have gospels falsified in their names?
What we do know for a fact—admitted even by the Catholic Encyclopedia—is that the titles attached to the gospels, “The Gospel According to Matthew,” etc., are not original to the texts but were added later. Indeed, the term “according to” in the original Greek—kata—could be interpreted to suggest that the texts were understood to be relating a tradition of these individuals, rather than having beenwritten by them. In reality, none of the evangelists identifies himself as a character in the gospel story. As one glaring example of this detachment, it is claimed that Matthew was recording events he himself had witnessed, but the gospel attributed to him begins before he had been called by Jesus and speaks of Matthew in the third person….
This subject of attribution is extremely important, because, as Tenney asserts, “if it could be shown that any of the books of the New Testament was falsely attributed to the person whose name it bears, its place in the canon would be endangered.”
Furthermore, there are places in the New Testament that imply the books were written long after the purported events, such as when the text reads, “In the days of John the Baptist,” which indicates that the writer is set far ahead in time and is looking back. As another example, regarding Jesus’s body being stolen, Matthew’s gospel claims that “this story has been spread among the Jews to this day.” The phrase “to this day” indicates that the writer is talking about a significant length of time, not shortly after the resurrection as some have attempted to place the composition and emergence of this gospel. In fact, we do not have any mention in the historical record of the story of Christ’s body being stolen having been spread among the Jews until the second century. It is possible that this particular verse was not added until that time, which means that it is not original to the gospel and that Matthew certainly is not its author. Also, Luke’s gospel discusses an apparent myriad of preceding gospels written “by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses…” The phrase “from the beginning” likewise implies a passage of time, as does the fact that there were “many” who preceded Luke in writing gospels.
Discussion of the Editing of the New Testament by Eusebius
From the above it is obvious that the Gospels were already in circulation by the time of Origen. However, that would not mean that it could not have been edited or altered when Eusebius was commissioned to compile an acceptable Bible for Emperor Constantine.