This is an occasional series of readings from and brief notes and commentary upon Eusebius of Caesarea’s The Ecclesiastical History: Book 10, chapter 4 (part two).
Notes and Commentary:
This section continues the lengthy chapter 4 which records the Panegyric of Eusebius dedicated to Paulinus of Tyre at the end of persecution under the tyrants and the rise of Emperors sympathetic to the Christians.
In this section Eusebius recalls the pagan attacks on the Christians, and especially how the “books [no doubt, including Bibles] they destroyed and set on fire the sanctuary of God” adding “they profaned the dwelling place of His name to the ground.”
He also notes that this trial served as divine chastisement for the church, as discipline from “a careful father.” The end result was that the church emerged even stronger.
Paulinus is also highly praised as “our new and goodly Zerubbabel.” Taking Christ as his “Ally and Fellow-worker”, who alone can quicken the dead, Eusebius says that Paulinus “raised up her who had fallen.”
Eusebius next gives a detailed description of the church building that had been restored by Paulinus. It was built on the foundations of the previous building and expanded. Oulton calls this “the earliest account that we possess of the structure and furniture of a Christian church” (421, n. 2).
He begins by describing an outer porch, “great and raised aloft,” so that “even strangers to the faith” could gaze inside. The building thus served as an “evangelistic” tool to encourage pagans to enter. Between the entrance and the temple were “four traverse colonnades, fending the place into a kind of quadrangular figure.” An open space let in the sun and fresh air and fountains supplied “copious streams of flowing water.”
Within the temple were the “innermost porches,” adorned with “rich materials” including “costly cedars.” One entered through three gates, the central one of which was larger and ornately decorated.
The building was ordered with “perfect wisdom and art” leaving those who saw it in awe of “the surpassing beauty of every part.”
The temple was also fitted with thrones, “very lofty, to do honour unto the presidents”, and with benches.
In the midst was the “holy of holies,” an altar, protected “with a fence of wooden lattice-work.”
The pavement was of “fair marble.” Various chambers and buildings were also erected outside the temple.
After the description of the church building, Eusebius says its beauty is fitting since Christ had taken the church (both people and building) and changed its “foul body” into “His splendid and glorious body.” This also anticipated what will happen at the resurrection, when believers receive their glorious resurrection bodies.
This panegyric is essentially a building dedication speech or sermon. As Oulton points out it serves as the earliest written description of an early Christian church building. Whereas, according to the book of Acts and the letters of Paul, the church of the first century met in the homes of believers or in rented school buildings (cf., e.g., Acts 18:7-8; 19:9; Rom 16:5) the Christian movement of the early fourth century meets in spacious and prominent public buildings. The church building is described in terms taken from the OT temple. There is a strong emphasis on the pleasing aesthetics of the architecture of the building. The early Christians are concerned that their churches be places of beauty and order. They are taking a new place in the Roman public square.