It is the 30th of May 2023. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org, I’m Dan van Voorhis.
We are sticking with a theme from last week as we remember some of the great church historians who just happen to have their days fall together here at the end of May.
Let me ask you a question first. Have you ever told your own story to someone else? Do you tell it the same way despite the audience? Probably not. Perhaps a potential employer hears one story, potential in-laws hear another, your children one version, and your therapist another. Are you being disingenuous? No. You collect certain facts and tell them in a certain manner depending on what you are trying to do, your point of view, and what you’d like to express or teach. It is only the Uber-Modernist that expects everything to be encyclopedic and dispassionate all the time.
I tell you this as an introduction to one of the great Church historians- and perhaps the first: Eusebius of Caesarea, who died on this, the 30th of May in 339 AD.
We do not know much about him, he didn’t write an autobiography, and one biography that we know existed has been lost to history. So we do our best to look at his context and works. The name he gave himself was Eusebius Pamphilus- as he was a student of Pamphilus, who was a student of the great, if not always Orthodox Origen. And Eusebius’ theology was at times suspect. He was a supporter of Arius- that is, the guy who thought there was a time when Jesus didn’t exist. Eusebius, like many Christians, before the Council of Nicaea in 325, was afraid of 1. Polytheism (seeing two Gods in the Father and Jesus), and 2. Greek philosophical words were dictating Christian theology. But, this theology that would be condemned at the Council of Nicaea Eusebius would reject it in favor of the consensus of the Council. Like Origen before him, he wasn’t afraid to hold positions and be willing to change his mind or bow to the consensus teachings of the church.
The context of Eusebius’ life was earth-shaking for the Christian and the Christian church. When he was a young man, the church was persecuted by the likes of Diocletian, and he lived to see its complete reversal under Constantine, the church being given a most favored status in the Roman Empire. No wonder he wanted to write down what was happening for posterity.
His life of Constantine is less standard biography and more Greek panegyric- that is, a work praising the Emperor and his mighty deeds. It is not a modern biography, but neither did anyone expect it to be. His 4 volume history of the church laid the foundations for much of what Church history would come to do. He would take care to list the Bishops and archbishops at the important church centers- trying to legitimize the succession of Bishops from St. Peter to the present. He would list the various heresies the church fought, list persecutions, and the stories of martyrs who died for the faith.
He attempted to gather all extant histories- from Assyrian and Egyptian to the Hebrews, Greeks, and Romans. He laid out these histories in parallel tables- a popular process we still use today in the “Kulturfahrplan” or timetables of history (one of which I have worn down since I started writing these shows years ago).
Eusebius was a historian for the church- his work was often apologetic. He wrote a concordance of the Gospels as well as commentaries on the Psalms and Isaiah. He wanted to show, through ancient history, sacred and pagan and up to the present, that the plan of God in history came to a head in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. This does not make an “objective” in the modern sense, and not all “church history” does this because as audiences change, so do the way we tell our stories. But, his was the first of real significance, one that would be translated, taught, and studied up through the time of Bede, and it is still a useful text (especially for its long quotations of texts long lost). He helped cement the idea that what happened in the Christian Faith did not happen in secret, in a corner, or somehow out of time and space- but rather in time and recorded history. Today we remember him, the father of Church history: Eusebius of Caesarea, who died on this, the 30th of May in 339.
The last word for today comes from the daily lectionary from Romans 8- again, appropriate for this time of Pentecost and the Spirit:
26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. 27 And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 30th of May 2023, brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org.
The show is produced by a man whose in-laws heard he was the heir of a Swiss banker, set to inherit a Dukedom, but most importantly in the line of the Wyneken’s of Fort Wayne fame- then he was in, he is Christopher Gillespie.
The show is written and read by a man who shakes his fist at every car so loud it penetrates the insulated solace of the Almanac studios… These are usually one-take affairs now, except those dang cars… I’m Dan van Voorhis.
You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.