This is an occasional series of readings from and brief notes and commentary upon Eusebius of Caesarea’s The Ecclesiastical History. Here is Book 4, chapters 8-9. Listen here.
Notes and Commentary:
In these chapters Eusebius continues the sentiment begun at the end of the previous chapter by describing the “champions” who defended the faith, especially in writing.
Chapter 8 begins with mention of Hegesippus who composed five books “giving in the simplest style of writing the unerring tradition of the apostolic preaching.”
He notes, in particular, Hegesippus’s criticism of Roman idolatry, citing a shrine set up for worship of Antinous a favorite slave of Hadrian.
Next, he recalls how Justin Martyr also criticized this idolatry in his Apology to Antoninus.
He also notes Justin’s record of the Bar-Cochba revolt and the persecution of Christians at this time. Eusebius also Justin’s conversion to the faith from Platonic philosophy, noting that this change came about by his reasoned judgment.
Furthermore, he notes Justin’s record of persecution during the time of Hadrian and how a governor Serrenius Granianus wrote to the emperor urging that Christians not be treated unjustly.
Eusebius also includes Justin’s account of Hadrian writing to Minucius Fundanus, proconsul of Asia, urging fair treatment of Christians.
In chapter 9 Eusebius cites Hadrian’s letter (from Justin), which, Eusebius says, he translated from Latin to Greek. The letter ends with the emperor telling the proconsul that if anyone brings charges against Christians “for the purpose of blackmail” to “investigate strenuously and be careful to inflict penalties adequate to the crime.”
These chapters describe the ministries of the apologists Hegesippus and Justin and the ways in which Christians responded to persecution during Hadrian’s reign. According to Eusebius the Christians were beginning to gain sympathy from the Romans at the highest levels of government. This shows how the Christian movement was growing and appearing of the radar in Roman society.
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