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The History of the Church by Eusebius

Posted by RB Kollannur on March 30, 2014

Publisher – Penguin; Year of Original Publication – 325; Pages – 435

The celebration of Easter was among the most heated debates for early Christians. It was by far the most important festival in the Christian calendar unlike today. But there was considerable strife in how western and eastern churches celebrated the festival. The strife over the dating of Easter and many other controversies, heresies and martyrdom are accounted in detail by Eusebius, the former Bishop of Caesarea (Israel) in his work on the history of the Church. He was a contemporary of Roman Emperor Constantine I, who adopted Christianity for his Empire.

One of the earliest Church historians, Eusebius, sheds considerable light to the ways of early Christians. Unlike today, early Christians were often hunted down for their faith. Going through the detailed martyrdoms in the book, it is not difficult to feel for the sacrifices made by these people. Christianity started its course through a thorny path, very different from its position today. The most enlightening are the heresies described. With no universal Church, Christianity was open to many interpretations Eusebius often sided with the officials in deeming what was heresy and what was not. The abundance of religious interpretations suggest the first three centuries after the death of Christ saw religious intellect peaking in that part of the world. Incidentally one of Eusebius’s mentors, Origen, would later be disavowed by the Church in part for his severity in monastic practices. Origen is said to have castrated himself to remain celibate.

Like any book on history, Eusebius also adds on his propaganda. In his earlier editions, Eusebius speaks highly of the reigning Emperor (and sponsor) and his elder son Crispus. But in later revisions, Crispus is largely ignored, because he was executed by his father for an unknown crime. Eulogizing Crispus would not have served him any purpose.

It was during the papacy of Victor I (incidentally the first African Pope) in late second century, that the first major debate on Easter occurred and led to the expulsion of quartrodecimans, Christians who worshipped the Jewish festival of Passover. However, the debate did not end there. Even in 325 when Emperor Constantine I called for the First Ecumenical Council, the debate continued to rage. Although the issue was thought to be settled then, even now Christians around the world are not unified in their celebration of Easter, with the Orthodox churches following the Julian calendar in their choice of the date.

On a side note Christmas bears no mention in the book. Even historically, the earliest mention of celebration of the birth of Christ is far more recent in comparison to the celebration of his death and resurrection.


One Response to “The History of the Church by Eusebius”

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