Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Eusebius, EH.7.32: The Calm in the Churches Before the Storm of Persecution

This is an occasional series of readings from and brief notes and commentary upon Eusebius of Caesarea’s The Ecclesiastical History: Book 7, chapter 32.

Notes and Commentary:

This final chapter in book 7 begins with a summary of the succession of bishops in various cities.

In Rome Felix was followed by the short-lived rule of Eutychianus. Next came Gaius, and then Marcellanius.

In Antioch, Domnus was followed by Timaeus, and then Cyril. It is noted that during Cyril’s time, the eunuch Dorotheus came to prominence, who was skilled in reading the OT in the original Hebrew. After Cyril came Tyrannus, who was bishop when the attack upon the churches “was at its height.”

Next, Eusebius turns to the community at Laodicea. Here he notes that Socrates was followed by Eusebius of Alexandria as bishop. He was apparently drafted for this office when he came from Alexandria for the synod regarding Paul of Samosata. After him came another bishop from Alexandria named Anatolius, a learned man who, Eusebius states, had been deemed worthy by those of Alexandria to establish a philosophic school there in the tradition of Aristotle.

Eusebius then relays a rather lengthy anecdote to illustrate the worthiness of both Eusebius and Anatolius, from a time when they were both in Alexandria and the city came under siege, and they were able to arrange for the protection of and provision for innocent civilians, suffering under the siege.

To illustrate Anatolius’s gifts, Eusebius offers an extended citation from “The Canons of Anatolius on the Pascha.” This work was dedicated to determining the proper calendar for the celebration of the Pascha.  Translator and editor J.E.L. Oulton offers an extended note on this work, which begins, “The Paschal Table of Anatolius is based on the supposition that after the lapse of every cycle of nineteen years the full moons recur on the same days of the month, and at the same hours” (see pp. 244-245). Though noting that his method of calculation was not “strictly accurate”, he adds that Anatolius rightly insisted that “the pascal full moon must fall after the equinox, as opposed to those … who regarded the full moon (“the fourteenth day”), if it fell on the day before the equinox, as the pascal moon” (p. 245).

Eusebius further notes that Anatolius had written an Introduction to Arithmetic in ten treatises. He had originally been sought out by Theotecnus of Caesarea in Palestine to succeed him as bishop, but he was pressed into serve at Laodicea after the death of Eusebius while traveling to Antioch for deliberations on Paul. After Anatolius, Stephen was made bishop in Laodicea, “the last bishop before the persecution.” Though much admired before the persecution, Eusebius relays that Stephen did not prove to be a “true philosopher” but a dissembler and a coward. Things were, however, in the providence of God, set right when the worthy Theodotus became bishop after Stephen. Theodotus, it seems, had been a prominent physician who had reached “the first rank in the science of healing bodies” but was second to none in “the curing of souls.”

In Caesarea of Palestine, Theotecnus was succeeded by the worthy Agapius, distinguished in his care for the poor. Eusebius notes that in Agapius’s day he had come to know the presbyter Pamphilius, who became his mentor, whom he describes as “as most eloquent man and a true philosopher in his mode of life.” For more on Pamphilius Eusebius refers readers to his work on his life.

He adds notes on other godly men including the presbyter Pierius of Alexandria and Meletius, bishop of Pontus. Pierius, he says, was noted for his “life of extreme poverty and for his learning in philosophy.” Meletius was an accomplished scholar, called “the honey (Greek: melu) of Attica,” a gifted orator, who spent seven years fleeing from persecution in Palestine.

In Jerusalem, Hymenaeus was followed by Zabdas and then Hermo, the last bishop before the persecution. It is noted that the “throne” of the bishop of Jerusalem (see 7.19) was preserved up to that day.

In Alexandria, Maximus was followed by Theonas. At this time the presbyter Achillas was entrusted with “the school of sacred faith.” After Theonas came Peter who ruled three years before the persecution and nine years afterwards and was eventually crowned with martyrdom, by beheading, after twelve years as bishop.

At the close of this book, Eusebius notes a transition in this narrative. Heretofore the narrative has covered roughly the first 305 years of Christianity from the birth of Christ up to the Diocletian persecution and “the destruction of the places of prayer.”


This chapter continues Eusebius’s pattern of tracing the succession of bishops in the key city centers of early Christianity and the prominent bishops, writers, and theologians of the era. With the end of book 7, Eusebius sees this as a turning point as the movement is on the verge of experiencing its greatest period of persecution. There is a sense, however, that it will be able to endure due to the stability, giftedness, and faithfulness of its leaders. The churches were enjoyed a calm before the storm of persecution.


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