Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History: the highlights, I

Along with being almost halfway through War and Peace (a heartwarming tale about a variety of people all highlighting tomfoolery in different ways…or as most people call it: life!), I am also now the proud completionist of Eusebius’ most notable work.

Who is Eusebius? Eusebius (Yoo-se-vius) was a church historian (ecclesiastical is a fancy word for “concerning church”) and the Bishop of Caesarea in the land of Israel about the time of Constantine’s ascension. His history concludes one year prior to the Nicean Council, but the translator from the 1850’s, C.F. Cruise provides other records to cover the council.

I made it a goal to delve into this 430 page work of 1,700 year-old history because Eusebius lived within striking distance of the Shellachim (Apostles). As a Messianic, I believe the original church practiced a Messiah-restored Judaism. The early talmidim (disciples) could freely worship in the Temple and synagogues, because they practiced most of the same things, but from the heart of the Brit Chadasha (Renewed Covenant). Naturally then, I have believed that if you look back into history prior to the Protestants, the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox, you would find records to this effect.

And I did find, I believe, quite a bit of support for this view, but being wary of my own presuppositions, I also have enough honesty, to say I also found a great deal of very catholic flavored history. There can be little doubt that the roots of Catholicism go back very far, and frankly deeper than Protestantism. But I would also add that it definitely was not the Catholicism of today, and Catholicism of today was in many ways repudiated in those first three centuries.

Eusebius for his part is the most catholic of all the contributors, and you can see that in much of his recording and theology, however most of his history is compiled from the writings of early historians who were farther from what we would recognize as catholic.

But let’s get to those highlights (literally taken from what I highlighted)…

Eusebius and the Basar 

Book One (of ten) is Eusebius’ mission statement, includes a laying out of the orthodox understanding of the faith, which being from him is a more catholic version, being recorded from somewhere near 324 AD. So it’s less useful for understanding the first couple centuries, but it does tell you what was considered the consensus of his time:

  • Mashiach was pre-existant, with Elohim at creation and agent of creation.
  • The way in which he is ‘begotton’ is pure mystery.
  • Mashiach is separate from the Father because the unchanging God can’t ‘become’ human.
  • Mashiach is self-existant because people like Moshe saw Elohim in the form of a human.

I might take issue with the attempt to distill Elohim’s infinitude down to so certain a creed, so don’t mistake me for agreeing with that entire consensus, but also don’t take me for denying it. I can see all those statements as true, but also incorrect or lacking. For example, self-existing and ‘begotten’ are opposites. The fact that ‘self-existent’ is never in scripture describing Mashiach, while ‘begotten’, ‘firstborn of creation’, ‘HaShem created me’ are all through scripture. So I would argue that there is a mystical nuance that is not captured by self-existent (though again, paradoxically, I would say it’s also true).

Eusebius goes on to make interesting observations about the Basar (Good News):

  • Man wasn’t ready for the revelation of Mashiach until the Torah had elevated/prepared men
  • The Basar was foretold, not alien and unexpected. It was supported by the prophets.
  • Mashiach’s doctrine would not be alien.
  • The name Yeshua was prefigured as the name of Mashiach because Moshe changed Oshea’s name to Yehoshua (a longer form of Yeshua) in Numbers 13:16
  • Mashiach would be a unifying of priestly and kingly function because Yehoshua was from Y’hudah (David’s tribe), yet the priest was called ‘anointed’, the word for which is Mashiach.

Concerning the subject of Torah, the historian further says:

  • Torah was a “fragrant odor . . . spread abroad among all men…” by which “the dispositions of men, even among most of the Gentiles, were improved [by teachers], who softened their wild and savage ferocity so as to enjoy settled peace, friendship, and mutual intercourse.” Apparently, the Torah as rigid, cruel, and impossible was not known in the beginning of the 4th century.
  • The Hebrews were well-known for honor, “excelling in piety, righteousness, and every virtue.” To Eusebius, the accepted church position, was not that the Hebrews were cruel, theological cave-men, but that they were actually righteous. A statement impossible to say, unless the Torah they kept encouraged such things

Eusebius’ recap of the Basar and of Yeshua’s ministry includes one very interesting omission. Miryam (Mary) doesn’t hit the radar. That might be an oversight on Eusebius’ part, because she was obviously important. But his omission demonstrates that ‘Mary’s immaculate ascension is not an original catholic thought. Catholic apologists will of course explain that the vocabulary of doctrine was ‘evolving’ and so ‘Mary’s’ emaculate conception and work of co-redemptrix was ‘present’ but not clearly articulated. However, Eusebius doesn’t articulate her, at all.

What went sideways?

Let me admit that I am still a novice at church history. I probably know a lot more than the average church-goer, but I’m not fluent in any ancient language, and my reading of translated works is fairly thin. So my main credentials as an interpreter of theological history or biblical interpretation is ‘laymen’s’. I don’t think that’s a problem or that I am then subject to anyone with a degree, but I acknowledge my weakness.

Yet, I’m going to present theory. If you are Messianic like me, then you believe the first century believers were very Hebraic. They kept Torah, they interpreted from a Hebraic/Jewish mindset, and they were not averse to Judaism. Obviously, the modern worldwide church does not keep this as a whole, so the question has to be asked, when did it go wrong, or are the Messianics wrong?

Or since they are messed up in so many ways, maybe I should ask, are they wrong about this?

HAHAHA!

But, lest you jump on the “this weird, fringe denomination is wrong” bandwagon, let me remind the protestants that you are a minority against the catholics. Your doctrine is only five hundred years old, and the more-evangelical/less-‘stuffy’ congregations hold to major doctrines in conflict with most catholic and non-catholic believers worldwide. So the Protestants would also have to believe that the first century believers believed one way, and then somewhere along the line devolved into error. So again, when did things go wrong? At what point did the church fall away? Where was the remnant? And most importantly, why did it happen?

If you’re catholic, then you’ll probably argue that your church is the remnant, and argue the line of apostolic succession for authority. To you, things went wrong when the Protestant’s fell away. You don’t need to reform back; others to reform/repent to the full expression of grace. However, as we go through the history, you’ll find they did not teach all of the things that catholics now teach, and in fact repudiate some of the things now taught as established doctrine. Further, if you believe the succession doctrine (and not saying it’s all wrong), then you have to ask why the reformers broke away?

Yochanon 17:23 says that a proof that Yeshua was sent by the Father is that his talmidim will be one. Catholics will point therefore to the continued unity of the catholic church as evidence that it is the true church, especially because of the claim to having unbroken succession back to the apostles. But if this is true, the break works both way. If the Protestants broke unity, then the Catholics failed to keep unity: either way the talmidim are not one. And before the Protestants, recall that the Orthodox broke away. Before that was the Eastern Schism.

So whichever of these camps you come from, you have to see that somewhere a glitch entered the church. So the question remains: when did it start and why?

To be continued . . .

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