Eusebius of Caesarea was a prolific polymath. Writing in the aftermath of Constantine’s accession, he was the author of biblical scholarship, apologetics, history, theological polemic, and celebrations of the new Constantinian order (such as the Vita Constantini). He worked at a major cusp of Christian history, when Christian thinkers tried to sort out their new relationship to a state that had persecuted them in the very recent past. Michael Hollerich’s Making Christian History focuses on the significance of Eusebius’s work as an ecclesiastical historian and on his enduring influence on the genre of ecclesiastical history.
Chapter 1 examines Eusebius’s Historia Ecclesiae (HE) itself. The HE can be read, in part, as the emplotment of a Roman civil war onto the biblical narrative of divine deliverance. But it was also a continuation of Luke-Acts, which saw bishops (and exegetes) as the successors to the apostles and Nicaea as a new Pentecost, and it describes the failed rebellions of the Jews and the Roman persecution of the Christians. As such, it has been seen as a novel kind of national history. Eusebius’s method was as innovative as his combination of historical genres. As a former copyist who had worked in Origen’s library at Caesarea, he makes generous use of quoted documents that have been a treasure trove for later scholars and inspired the methods of his successors. Hollerich provides a thorough introduction to the historian and his context, as well as considering his sources (e.g., Hegesippus and Josephus) and the fate of other texts that were often linked to the HE, both those by Eusebius (the Chronicle and the Vita Constantini) and those that were not (the Life of Sylvester).
Chapter 2 addresses the Greek and Latin continuators of Eusebius in the fifth century. There are useful and persuasive portraits of the key figures, including Socrates, Sozomen, and Theodoret, whose use of Eusebius and understanding of the parameters of the genre of ecclesiastical history would have an important influence on how Eusebius was received in later times. For Hollerich, Socrates (d. after 439 CE) was marked by his avoidance of the language of heresy and schism, his disavowal of the study of providence in human affairs, and the almost priestly role he was prepared to grant the emperor (Hollerich calls him a “royalist”). (For an opposing view, readers may wish to consult Luke Gardiner’s “‘The Truth Is Bitter’: Socrates Scholasticus and the Writing of a History,” a 2013 Cambridge dissertation that offers a model of Socrates that is much more critical of the emperor, and considers the historian’s later reception.) Sozomen (d. 450 CE), though he shared many of Socrates’s materials, was prepared to use more divisive language and had a greater interest in the history of asceticism and the Christian mission. Theodoret (d. 457 CE) gives much more space to Christological discussion, in which he was a major protagonist, and tends to displace the figure of the emperor much more than his peers. It is an excellent analysis, though I did wonder if we might also consider Zosimus (fl. 490s–510 s) as a kind of pagan anti-ecclesiastical history, reacting against Eusebius.
Chapter 3 addresses the continuation and adaptation of Eusebius in the Christian east under Arab rule, especially in Syriac, Coptic, and Armenian. Historians in the Miaphysite tradition wrote continuations (and sometimes adaptations) of the HE as early as the late fifth century. Hollerich gives the examples of John of Ephesus and the Coptic church history, but one might also think of the Greek historian Zachariah of Mytilene (d. after 536 CE), who is preserved and continued in Syriac by an anonymous historian who wrote circa 569. He correctly observes that these early efforts were as much about claiming the legacy of universal orthodoxy as they were about celebrating a distinct sectarian community. One aspect of the Eusebian inheritance is that the idea of a universal church continued to be attractive and influential for church historians, even those who lived under Muslim rule.
Chapter 4 considers ecclesiastical history in the west after the fall of Rome. For writers like Bede (d. 735) or Orderic Vitalis (d. 1142), Eusebius was influential for his interest in documents and his focus on bishops, exegetes, and heretics. But there was less attachment to his universal framework, and their works read more like ecclesiastical histories of specific “nations” of the English or the Normans than of the whole Christian people.
Chapter 5 addresses Byzantine use of Eusebius, both in terms of the adaptation of Eusebian historiographical practice and the use of specific data from the HE or the Chronicle. Hollerich notes, for instance, how George Syncellus (d. 810) employs the data sets of Eusebius’s Chronicle (reigns, events, notable persons, etc.) while abandoning the column structure that Eusebius had used. And he identifies Eusebius’s legacy in the annalistic format of Theophanes’s Chronicle, which had disappeared in Greek by the ninth century and may have been reintroduced from Syriac models.
Chapter 6 considers the reception of Eusebius in the renaissance, when his writings were reedited and widely translated into vernacular languages. On the one hand, Eusebius’s emphasis on documentation and chronology suited humanists’ desire for history writing that was accurate, as well as didactic and focused on a specific topic. If Joseph Scaliger (d. 1609) criticized Eusebius’s mistakes, this was only possible because Eusebius had ventured an opinion on so many points of chronology. But Eusebius was also useful for those wishing to score political points, both for Catholics who wish to defend the importance of the apostolic succession of bishops and for Protestants who saw Eusebius as a source of information on the apostolic church before its Catholic corruption. Nevertheless, critics of the pope could still find Constantine a positive figure. Philip Melanchthon (d. 1560) longed for a Protestant Constantine, a figure that John Foxe (d. 1587) believed he had found in Queen Elizabeth I. Henri de Valois (d. 1676) wrote under the patronage of Louis XIV, and several themes in his writing may prefigure key issues in the Gallican controversy, when Gallicans defended the rights of French bishops over those of the pope and the right of the king to convene church councils. De Valois showed the significance of the church of Gaul in ancient times and used Eusebius to argue for an ancient pattern of consensus between it and the see of Rome. De Valois dedicated his ecclesiastical history to Louis, on the model of Sozomen’s dedication to Theodosius II, and he reprised Socrates’s thesis that the harmony of the state would flow naturally from harmony within the church.
Chapter 7 considers the legacy of Eusebius in the modern period. Eusebius had always been subject to criticism for his Arianism and his Origenism. To Gottfried Arnold (d. 1714) he was a quisling who had survived persecution by collaboration, and to John Newman (d. 1890) he was a compromiser, insufficiently abhorrent of “the superstitions of paganism.” But the 20th century saw a much deeper assessment of the problems involved in the church’s adoption of the language of Roman universalism. Sebastian Brock has drawn our attention to Eusebius’s false equation between the Christian world and the Roman Empire, to the exclusion of Christians who lived under Persian rule. Walter Bauer and Robert Wilken have noted that Eusebius underplays the sheer diversity of forms of Christianity in the era before Nicaea. And Andrew Jacobs has stressed the supersessionist language of Eusebius’s works and his subordination of Josephus’s writings into Christian apologetic. Hollerich concludes by noting that Eusebius’s legacy presents a challenge for contemporary Christianity, which will need to pursue a universal calling while renouncing links to the coercive powers of the state.
This is a very useful book. The clear division of chapters make it a good resource for undergraduate teaching of church history, late Roman political history, and the history of reception. Crisp summaries are given for figures who often fall between the cracks of general surveys (Philostorgius, Gelasius of Caesarea, Theodore Lector). Hollerich does not claim expertise in all the periods that he covers. His approach is often to take one or two scholars as his guides to a given subject, to provide brief biographies of Eusebius’s various successors and the context in which they wrote, and then to summarize the areas where Eusebius exerted an influence, whether in the development of a genre or in the use of specific data. There is a wealth of raw material here, and it is a great service to provide this vision of the development of the ecclesiastical history through the lens of the reception of Eusebius.