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03.0 Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History

Eusebius is recognized as the father of Christian Church history.  Living from about 260 – 339A.D he was the first to undertake the task of recording the growth of Christianity from a small Jewish sect in Jerusalem to a preeminent religion in the then known world.  As he is the only person whose writings have survived from this early period his work is constantly referred to in writings on ancient Christianity.

Eusebius himself defines the goal of the work:

1. It is my purpose to write an account of the successions of the holy apostles, as well as of the times which have elapsed from the days of our Saviour to our own; and to relate the many important events which are said to have occurred in the history  of the Church; and to mention those who have governed and presided over the Church in the most prominent parishes, and those who in each generation have proclaimed the divine word  either orally or in writing. [1]

While this is a lofty goal Eusebius himself acknowledges that there are problems getting exact information regarding all the events.  As he goes through his history point by point he will use whatever reference material he has, acknowledging that some materials have already been lost.  He periodically will give facts that he has gathered, but give an opinion on the credibility and validity of the facts.

Nevertheless he is one of the greatest sources of information regarding early Christianity.  In his history are records of documents that exist nowhere else.  And he demonstrates that even those many centuries ago people were trying to resolve biblical discrepancies.  For example, he devotes a chapter on the problems of the genealogy of Jesus in the book of Matthew. [2]

Eusebius’ Bias

Eusebius was a participant in formulating the Nicene Creed which formally pronounced the deity of Christ.  The first major point in his history that Eusebius makes is a dissertation on the deity of Christ. [3]  Eusebius begins his history of Christ with his role as God the Son before history began.   His opening words are more doctrinal treatise than they are the recollection of historical facts:

Since in Christ  there is a twofold nature, and the one — in so far as he is thought of as God — resembles the head of the body, while the other may be compared with the feet — in so far as he, for the sake of our salvation, put on human nature with the same passions as our own — the following work will be complete only if we begin with the chief and lordliest events of all his history. In this way will the antiquity and divinity of Christianity be shown to those who suppose it of recent and foreign origin,  and imagine that it appeared only yesterday.[3]

This bold statement is well beyond anything found in the Bible, even the preamble of the Gospel of John.  While John speaks of the Word made flesh, an often used phrase by Trinitarians to establish the deity of Christ, Eusebius plainly states that somehow the divinity of Christ had been long established.  In fact, he argues in the above paragraph that he is stating Christ as God before time began to show those who suppose the divinity of Christ to be” of recent and foreign origin and imagine that it appeared only yesterday.”  This is obvious propaganda.  It is also in spite of the fact that despite the ratification of the Nicene creed the position on the Deity of Christ was so controversial that it would be reversed and re-reversed etc until the doctrine of the trinity would come out decades later.  Notice that neither God the Holy Spirit nor the “Trinity” are included in the arguments presented by Eusebius, only the Deity of Christ, the current controversial topic of the day.

This weakens his validity as a writer, as he is addressing doctrinal issues on the very first point of his history.  Not only is he addressing doctrinal issues but he is addressing then contemporary points about the issue.  This reeks of revisionist history where a historian gives their account of history to coincide with contemporary beliefs.

Eusebius also makes doctrinal statements on other issues. “Eusebius held to the position of the Early Church before Augustine, that men were sinners by their own free choice and not by the necessity of their natures.”[4]   This is in opposition to later doctrine developed by Augustine and others that men were sinners by nature, original sin had made them so.

The net result of Eusebius’ writing style to include these doctrinal elements is that it becomes obvious that one of the purposes of his writing is be propaganda for the orthodoxy of his day.

Reception

Eusebius has been for the most part highly honored and well-received.  As said above, he is the only source for some elements in Church history.  Most scholars, I would say, place a high degree of reliability on his writings, while watching out for his shortcomings.

There are, however, critics who say that Eusebius was a poor historian, and theologian.  “Edward Gibbon (18th century historian) dismissed his testimony on the number of martyrs and impugned his honesty by referring to a passage in the abbreviated version of the Martyrs of Palestine  attached to the Ecclesiastical History” Jacob Burckhardt (19th century cultural historian) dismissed Eusebus as “the first thoroughly dishonest historian of antiquity”. [5]

Conclusion

Eusebius’s Ecclesiastical History is an invaluable resource.  But Eusebius’ bias and other shortcomings must be watched out for.  Nevertheless it is impossible to get better insight into the growth of ancient, primitive Christianity without consulting this important book.

[1] Point 1 of  The Plan of The Work, found at http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/250101.htm
[2] ibid, Chapter 7. The Alleged Discrepancy in the Gospels in regard to the Genealogy of Christ.
[3] ibid, “Chapter 2. Summary View of the Pre-existence and Divinity of Our Saviour and Lord Jesus Christ.”
[4] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eusebius_of_Caesarea
[5] ibid

© copyright 2010 Mark W Smith, all rights reserved.

July 13th, 2010 Posted by | Movements | no comments

01.2.2 Ignatius’ Epistles Call For Unity against False Doctrine under the Catholic Hierarchy of Bishops

The epistles of Ignatius, most probably written on his path to martyrdom, sound in a lot of ways like the epistles of Paul.  He opens with loving greetings, he gives praise to the believers he writes to.  He has a theme in his writings of calling for unity.  And this call for unity is centered on being subject to your bishop as you would be subject to Christ.

“For we ought to receive everyone to whom the master of the house sends to be over his household, as we would do Him that sent him.”[1]

Ignatius says that anyone who doesn’t worship under the hierarchy of the God’s appointed bishops cuts himself off from the church.  Also “any activity or service that takes place without either his [the bishop’s] presence or permission has no validity”[2]:

He, therefore, that does not assemble with the Church, has even by this manifested his pride, and condemned himself. For it is written, “God resisteth the proud.” (Pro_3:34; Jam_4:6; 1Pe_5:5) Let us be careful, then, not to set ourselves in opposition to the bishop, in order that we may be subject to God.[3]

It is not lawful without the bishop either to baptize or to celebrate a love-feast; but whatsoever he shall approve of, that is also pleasing to God, so that everything that is done may be secure and valid.[4]

The above concepts are also part of the start of the Catholic movement, discussed in II.0 The Catholic Movement. This represents a major shift from the loose confederation of fellowships that most agree is the picture painted in Acts and the Epistles.  Ignatius’ emphasis on the authority and structure of church government is beyond anything previously written.   Ignatius makes the first reference to the Catholic Church in this focus of his on the authority of the bishop:

Wherever the bishop shall appear, there let the multitude [of the people] also be; even as, wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic (Emphasis added) Church.[5]

Ignatius’ emphasis is reasonable, but we must always remember that just because it is reasonable it isn’t right, or what God chose.    Solomon wrote, ” Every way of a man is right in his own eyes; But Jehovah weigheth the hearts. [Pro 21:2]

One other major theme is present in the epistles of Ignatius, that of martyrdom.  Ignatius wrote his epistles on his way to be martyred.  As the views of Ignatius concerning martyrdom them are unusual in some ways, that is the subject of the next article.

[1]  Introductory Note to the Epistle of Ignatius to the Ephesians, Chap. VI. — Have Respect to the Bishop as to Christ Himself, E-Sword Program

[2] THE APOSTOLIC FATHERS, edited by Michael W.  Holmes, Baker Books, Grand Rapids, 1999, p. 129

[3] The Epistle of Ignatius to the Ephesians, Chap. V. — The Praise of Unity, E-Sword Program

[4] The Epistle of Ignatius to the Smyrnaeans, Chap. VIII. — Let Nothing Be Done Without the Bishop. , E-Sword Program

July 13th, 2010 Posted by | Movements | no comments

Docetism

Docetism comes from the Greek word “dokein” which means “seem”. Docetism was a doctrine first promoted by the Gnostics that Jesus Christ wasn’t a real man, he only “seemed” to be a real man. “Docetic Gnosticism held that Jesus was actually a kind of Phantom, and only had the appearance of flesh.”[1] Docetism is a heresy that we read about in the first epistle of John:

Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God: and every spirit that confesseth not Jesus is not of God: and this is the spirit of the antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it cometh; and now it is in the world already [1John 4:2-3]

Docetism is recognized as the first of the Christian heresies.   Ignatius addresses Docetism when he uses the phrase “really, and not an appearance”.[2]  Ignatius uses it several times in the longer version of his epistles:

He was baptized by John, really and not in appearance;… He was crucified in reality, and not in appearance [3]

Now, He suffered all these things for us; and He suffered them really, and not in appearance only, even as also He truly rose again. But not, as some of the unbelievers, who are ashamed of the formation of man, and the cross, and death itself, affirm, that in appearance only, and not in truth[4]

All of the above are in the longer versions of the epistles of Ignatius which are generally treated as adulterated, with additions and textual changes from the originals.  However looking at the shorter version, which is deemed to be genuine, we see that Ignatius was addressing Docetism:

Now, He suffered all these things for our sakes, that we might be saved. And He suffered truly, even as also He truly raised up Himself, not, as certain unbelievers maintain, that He only seemed to suffer, as they themselves only seem to be [Christians]. And as they believe, so shall it happen unto them, when they shall be divested of their bodies, and be mere evil spirits.[4]

Harold Brown in his book on heresies says:

“A docetic view of Jesus Christ, which denies that he was truly a real, physical human being is often accompanied by an interest in the occult, in which the ‘spiritual’ activities of necromancy, words and magical gestures, produce a physical effect.  Human beings seem to need to have some aspect of their lives in which the spiritual and physical are seen as directly interrelated, and if this is not done in historic person of Jesus Christ, as it is in the Orthodox Christianity, other substitutes will be sought, as in magical and occult practices.  Despite the rise and apparent overwhelming dominance of the scientific worldview in the second half of the 20th century, there has been a wild proliferation of occult beliefs and practices, most pronounced in those areas where faith is the objective reality of Jesus Christ as the incarnate son of God has declined.”[5]

Docetism occurs and reoccurs throughout the ages. Key concepts to recognize Docetism include explanations where Christ’s life and resurrection are treated as metaphysical events as opposed to actual events, as well as claims that Jesus lived, died and was raised only symbolically or just in spirit.

[1] LECTURES IN SYSTEMATIC THEOLOGY, Henry C. Theissen, Erdmann’s, Grand Rapids, 1979, p. 206-207
[2]  HERESIES, Heresy and Orthodoxy In The History Of The Church, Harold O. J. Brown, Hendrickson Publishers, Peabody, Mass 2000, p. 52f
[3] Ignatius Epistle to the Magesians, Chap. X. — The Reality of Christ’s Passion, E-Sword program
[4] Ignatius Epistle to the Smyrnaeans its, Chap. II. — Christ’s True Passion., E-Sword Program
[5] HERESIES, p. 53

© copyright 2010 Mark W Smith, all rights reserved.

July 13th, 2010 Posted by | Heresies | one comment