Philo of Alexandria

Theology according to historian Daniel Boorstein was "a Western creation nurtured in Hellenist Alexandria" and was "both a producer and a by-product of Christianity." Whereas the myth of the Gods and philosophy were separated under the Greeks. They were united in theology as Moses was made into a philosopher as well religious leader.

Michael J. McClymond wrote in the“Worldmark Encyclopedia of Religious Practices”: Ignatius of Antioch (c. 35–c. 107) was a bishop who wrote letters that reveal much regarding the early church. After being condemned to die, he welcomed his impending martyrdom in the Roman arena and underscored the authority of the bishop with the words ubi episcopus, ibi ecclesia (where the bishop is, there is the church). Beginning in the mid-second century, Christian apologists presented a defense of their faith, often in terms drawn from Greek philosophy, to a pagan Greco-Roman society. Among the best known were Justin Martyr (c. 100–c. 165), Athenagoras (second century), and Origen (c. 185–c. 254). Irenaeus (c. 130–c. 200) sought to refute the heresies of his day. Tertullian (c. 160–c. 225), who was the first major Christian author in Latin, contributed to the establishment of the doctrine of the Trinity. He wrote brilliant and often stinging prose and held rigorous and uncompromising standards for the Christian life. [Source: Michael J. McClymond, “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Religious Practices”, 2000s, Encyclopedia.com]

The School of Alexandria (Clement c. A.D. 200 and Origen d. 254) was characterized as being highly sympathetic to Greek philosophy, speculation re: the Christian faith, cosmopolitan., open to external stimuli,, use of the allegorical method, mysticism, and a strong emphasis on the deity of Christ. It was founded sometime late in the 2nd C., the oldest centre of Biblical studies in Christianity.The so-called "North African church" is represented chiefly by Tertullian Cyprian, and Augustine, and was centered in and around Carthage (modern Tunis). Carthage was destroyed in the Punic Wars but was rebuilt by Julius Caesar. By the 3rd century AD it was second only to Rome in wealth and population in the West. The people were predominantly from a non-Semitic race, an amalgam of Romans, Phoenicians, and Jews. Latin was the official language, with Punic the vernacular. The origins of Christianity are uncertain - but it was probably from Rome. The first recorded event in the life of the N. African church was a martyrdom, about 180 AD 12 Christians known as the martyrs of Scilli. Then came the martyrs Perpetua and Felicity in 203 AD. [Source: Carl A. Volz, late professor of church history at Luther Seminary, web.archive.org, martin.luthersem.edu /~]

Anthony (c. 251–356) initiated and promoted the monastic tradition in Egypt. Athanasius (c. 296–373), the patriarch of Alexandria, was repeatedly deposed and reinstated during a decades-long struggle with the Arians, who denied the full divinity of Jesus. While Anthony promoted a solitary (anchoritic, or eremitic) life, Pachomius (c. 290–346) encouraged a communal (cenobitic) approach to monasticism. In Europe, Benedict (c. 480–c. 545) carried on this communal tradition with his Rule. Constantine (died in 337), who first made Christianity legal in the Roman Empire, presided over the Nicene Council and may have played a role in its theological outcome. [Source: Michael J. McClymond, “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Religious Practices”, 2000s, Encyclopedia.com]

Websites and Resources: Early Christianity: PBS Frontline, From Jesus to Christ, The First Christians pbs.org ; Elaine Pagels website elaine-pagels.com ; Sacred Texts website sacred-texts.com ; Gnostic Society Library gnosis.org ; Guide to Early Church Documents iclnet.org; Early Christian Writing earlychristianwritings.com ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Christian Origins sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; BBC on Christianity bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/christianity ; Candida Moss at the Daily Beast Daily Beast Christian Classics Ethereal Library www.ccel.org

Philo of Alexandria

Philo of Alexandria (late first century B.C. to first century A.D.) is considered the father of theology. A rich Jewish nobleman, who was regarded as a quite a fun-loving guy, he was one of the first to scrutinize Jewish-Christian doctrine using Platonic philosophical reasoning.

Philo did much to promote this fusion of Greek philosophy and Judeo-Christian thought. He was a contemporary of Roman and Greek philosophers like Seneca and Epictetus who went beyond philosophical speculation and dealt with moral and religious questions. The trend in philosophy towards morality and religion was strengthened by Jewish and Christian teachings. The trend in Judaic and Christian morality and thought was strengthened by the development of the Neo-Platonists and their movement toward mysticism, and the intermingling of western and near-eastern thought.

Harold W. Attridge of Yale Divinity School said: “Philo was an example of the intense Hellenization of Judaism. He was a philosopher and scriptural interpreter who lived in Alexandria from around 30 B.C. to around 40 of the Common Era. He tried to effect a synthesis between scripture and Platonic philosophy. For instance, in saying that the word of God that we encounter in scripture is the logos or the divine reason, by which he meant a combination of the ideas, Plato's ideas, which by that time were conceived by philosophers as being in the mind of God. And also at the same time the immanent rationality of the world, taking over a Stoic idea that reason constitutes the inner working of the world. Things like Platonic philosophy and Stoic philosophy at the level it was appropriated by a person like Philo, probably would not have had a direct impact on Jesus. Both of those strands of Hellenistic tradition as appropriated by Jewish philosophers like Philo, did, however, have an impact on Christians of a later generation who tried to make sense of Jesus and his teaching within the broader framework of Greek and Roman culture. [Source: Harold W. Attridge, The Lillian Claus Professor of New Testament Yale Divinity School, Frontline, PBS, April 1998 ]

"On the Decalogue" (33, 46-47), Philo wrote: "I should suppose that God wrought on this occasion a miracle of a truly holy kind by bidding an invisible sound to be created in the air more marvelous than all instruments and fitted with perfect harmonies, not soulless, nor yet composed of body and soul like a living creature, but a rational soul full of clearness and distinctness, which giving shape and tension to the air and changing it to flaming fire, sounded forth like the breath through a trumpet an articulate voice so loud that it appeared to be equally audible to the farthest as well as the nearest. . . . Then from the midst of the fire that streamed from heaven there sounded forth to their utter amazement a voice, for the flame became articulate speech in the language familiar to the audience, and so clearly and distinctly were the words formed by it that they seemed to see rather than hear them. What I say is vouched for by the law in which it is written, 'All the people saw the voice . . .' "[Exod. 20:18]. (LCL)

Christian Apologists

Christian Apologist Arnobius of Sicca

Christian apologists defended their faith, often in terms taken from Greek philosophy, to a pagan Greco-Roman society. They tried to reconcile the perceived conflict between loyalty to Christ and loyalty to Caesar. Among the best known were Justin Martyr (c. 100–c. 165), Athenagoras (second century), and Origen (c. 185–c. 254).

Professor L. Michael White told PBS: “The tension felt by Christians over this issue of loyalty to the state — Is the state a part of God's plan? Can Christians participate in public affairs and public social life? — seems to be a growing concern as we move through the second and early part of the third century. This especially becomes the subject matter for a growing Christian literary activity. The group of writers that we tend to call the apologists. Now the apologists are known by that name because they wrote apologies. The Greek word "apologia" comes from the term for a defense speech in court. We have Plato's apology of Socrates which is Socrates' defense before the Athenian council. Before he's eventually executed. [Source: L. Michael White, Professor of Classics and Director of the Religious Studies Program University of Texas at Austin, Frontline, PBS, April 1998]

“So when Christians start to write apologies, what they're doing is a kind of legal defense before the public arena of debate of what it means to be a Christian. Is it legal? Is it not? Are they good? Are they bad? And so these Christian apologists really start to talk about Christianity from that perspective. It's a kind of defense, and there's always a kind of dilemma knowing how to read some of these documents. Some of them are actually addressed to the emperor himself, and if not the emperor, governors and other important officials but it's very unlikely that an emperor would actually have read one of these Christian documents.

Irenaeus — The Father of Heresy

Irenaeus (A.D. c. 130 – c. 202) was a Greek bishop active in southern France and considered by some as the father of heresy. The use of the word heresy by Christians was given wide currency by Irenaeus in his A.D. 2nd-century tract “Against Heresies”, which was used to describe and discredit his opponents during the early centuries of the Christianity.

Heresy is any belief or theory that is strongly at odds with established beliefs or customs, particularly in regards to religion. A heretic is a proponent of heresy. In Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, heresy has at times been met dealt with by excommunication or death. The most infamous death penalty for Christian heretics was being burnt at the stake.

In the early days of Christianity those who departed from the essential beliefs and moral standards of the Christian communities were known as "heretics". Their members, pastors, and bishops were not recognized by the majority of Christians, known as "Catholics."

Irenaeus is credited with guiding and expanding Christian communities in present-day southern France and, developed the concept of heresy to combat Gnostic interpretations of Scripture and defining proto-orthodoxy. Originating from Smyrna, he had seen and heard the preaching of Polycarp, who in turn was said to have heard John the Evangelist, and thus was the last-known living connection with the Apostles.



Tertullian (c. A.D. 155 – c. 240) was a prolific early Christian author from Carthage in the Roman province of Africa. He was the first major Christian author to write in Latin. Others before him wrote mainly in Greek. He wrote in brilliant and often stinging prose and contributed to the establishment of the doctrine of the Trinity and held rigorous and uncompromising standards for the Christian life. [Source: Michael J. McClymond, “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Religious Practices”, 2000s, Encyclopedia.com]

Of Berber origin, Tertullian produced an extensive corpus of Latin Christian literature and was an early Christian apologist and a polemicist against heresy, including contemporary Christian Gnosticism.Tertullian has been called "the father of Latin Christianity" and "the founder of Western theology." Though conservative in his worldview, Tertullian originated new theological concepts and advanced the development of early Church doctrine. He is perhaps most famous for being the first writer in Latin known to use the term trinity (Latin: trinitas). According to The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, "Tertullian's trinity [is] not a triune God, but rather a triad or group of three, with God as the founding member". [Source: Wikipedia]

Tertullian was born to pagan parents. Her worked as a lawyer in Rome, converted c. 193 AD and settled in Carthage. According to Jerome he was ordained a priest (DeViriIllus 53). He flourished about 195-220 AD, and c. 207 joined the Montanists. Excepting Augustine, Tertullian is the most distinguished and original writer in Latin before the 4th C. He combined a profound knowledge of law, philosophy, Greek and Latin letters with burning rhetoric and biting satire. He has an uncompromising attitude. All of his writings seem to be polemics!! Truth was the object of his defense of Christianity. In "Ad Scapulum" the word "veritas" occurs 162 times! Veritas is what the demons, hate, pagans reject, and what Christians suffer and die for. Impatient. Instead of convincing his opponents he tries to annihilate them. [Source: Carl A. Volz, late professor of church history at Luther Seminary, web.archive.org, martin.luthersem.edu /~]

“Apologetic Works: 1) "To The Heathen" AD NATIONES (197 AD). The juridical procedures against the Christians contradict all principles of justice. The pagans are simply ignorant and do not know what they condemn. He ridicules the immoralities and absurdities of pagan religion. 2) "Apology" APOLOGETICUM (197 AD). One of the most important of all his works. Some themes: Ignorance is the reason Rome persecutes the Christians. He defends Christians against alleged offenses. Legislation should encourage morality, not stamp it out. Pagan gods are nothing but dead humans. It is unjust to accuse Christians of atheism, since pagan gods are non-existent. He demands freedom of religion. "Coerced belief is no belief at all." Despite persecution, Christians still pray for emperors. He describes Christian worship - refutes the charge of novelty. "The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church." 3) "The Testimony of the Soul" DE TESTIMONIO ANIMAE. The soul itself serves as a witness to the existence and attributes of God, life after death, rewards and punishments in the life beyond. Pure and simple nature is a better witness to truth than all learning. 4) "To Scapula" AD SCAPULAM. It is a fundamental human right that every man should worship according to his own convictions. One man's religion neither harms nor helps another man. It is certainly stupid for one religion to compel another religion, because the latter will resent the former and work against it. 5) "Against the Jews" ADVERSUS JUDAEOS /~\

“Works in Controversy: 1) "The Prescription of Heretics" DE PRAESCRIPIONE HAERETICORUM - exhibits more than all his other works his knowledge of Roman law. The bone of contention between the Church and heretics is the Scripture. Heretics may not use the Scriptures because they do not belong to them. Strong apostolic succession ideas against the heretics, i.e. gnostics. Principle of the priority of truth and lateness of heresy. 2) "De Praescriptione" is by far the most finished, characteristic, and valuable of Tert writings. "Arguments about Scripture achieve nothing but a stomach-ache and a headache. You get nothing from arguing with heretics but gas." DePr Mohammed. 3) "Against Marcion" ADVERSUS MARCIONEM - longest of his works and main source of our knowledge about Marcion. In book IV he refutes Marcion's N.T. version and offers us significant information about the history of the Biblical text. 4) "Against the Valentinians" ADVERSUS VALENTINIANOS - source of information (together with Irenaeus) about Valentinian Gnosticism. /~\

“5) "On Baptism" DE BAPTISMO - Earliest work on the subject - against those who ridiculed baptism. "Happy sacrament of our water, in which the sins of our former blindness are washed away and we are set free for everlasting life . . . We little fish, like our Fish (IXTHUS) Jesus Christ, are born in water and it is only by abiding in water that we are safe." Consecration of baptismal water. Martyrdom is the "second baptism" or baptism with blood (water and blood from Christ's side.) Even laymen may baptize if with bishop's permission. But Tertullian is opposed to infant baptism. Easter and Pentecost preferred times. Both against the docetism of gnostics: "On the Flesh of Christ" DE CARNE CHRISTI "On the Resurrection of the Flesh" DE RESURRECTIONE CARNIS 6) "Against Praxeas" ADVERSUS PRAXEAN A most important contribution to the doctrine of the Trinity, and to Christology, before 4th C. Establishes the terminology henceforth normative in the West - substance, persons, nature. "On the Soul" DE ANIMA Supports idea of traducianism, leading to concept of Original Sin. /~\

“3. Miscellaneous Writings"To the Martyrs" / "The Shows" / "On The Dress of Women" / "Concerning Prayer" "Concerning Patience" / "Concerning Repentance" / "To His Wife" / "Monagamy" / "The Chaplet" / "Concerning Flight in Persecution" / "Concerning Idolatry" /~\

“Aspects of Tertullian's Theology: 1) PHILOSOPHY - Influenced by Stoicism, but he is generally opposed to philosophy. "What has Jerusalem to do with Athens?" Phil = mother of heresies. 2) RULE OF FAITH - is authoritative for Christians, a summary of belief. Contained in DeVirgVel 1, DePraescr 13, AdvPrax 2. 3) TRINITY - greatest contribution to theology. First to use term, "trinitas". "Trinitas unius divinitatis, Pater et Filius et Spiritus Sanctus (DePud 21)" "Tres unius substantiae et unius status et unius potestatis (AdvPrax)" The Son is "de substantia Patris", and the Spirit is "from the Father through the Son - per Filium" I always affirm that there is one substance in three united together." lst to use term persona, HS is 3rd person. 4) CHRISTOLOGY - Christ has two natures in one person 5) MATERIALISM - Tertullian sees all of reality, including God Himself, as having some kind of "substance." From this he derives the idea that the substance of the soul comes from one's parents (traducianism) and is therefore sinful (original sin). 6) ECCLESIOLOGY - lst to use "mother" as title for Church. Repository of faith and guardian of revelation. Church alone may interpret Scr. Apostolic succ. 7) ESCHATOLOGY - strong on heaven and damnation of wicked. Anticipates with some satisfaction the sufferings of the damned. Influence on Western thought. /~\

Tertullian: On Pagan Learning, c. 220 CE

Tertullian writing in the Codex Balliolensis

On the distinction between "Athens" and "Jerusalem",Tertullian wrote in “On Pagan Learning,” (c. A.D. 220): For philosophy it is which is the material of the world's wisdom, the rash interpreter of the nature and the dispensation of God. Indeed heresies are themselves instigated by philosophy. From this source came the Aeons, and I known not what infinite forms, and the Trinity of Man in the system of Valentinus, who was of Plato's school. From the same source came Marcion's better god, with all his tranquillity; he came of the Stoics. Then, again, the opinion that the soul dies is held by the Epicureans; while the denial of the restoration of the body is taken from the aggregate school of all the philosophers; also, when matter is made equal to God, then you have the teaching of Zeno; and when any doctrine is alleged touching a god of fire, then Heraclitus comes in. The same matter is discussed over and over again by the heretics and the philosophers; the same arguments are involved. Whence comes evil? Why is it permitted? What is the origin of Man? And in what way does he come? Besides the question which Valentinus has very lately proposed — Whence comes God? Which he settles with the answer: From enthymesis and ectroma. [Source: Tertullian, On the Proscription of Heretics, trans. T. Herbert Bindley, (London: SPCK, 1914), [Source: sourcebooks.fordham.edu]

“Unhappy Aristotle! who invented for these men dialectics, the art of building up and pulling down; an art so evasive in its propositions, so far-fetched in its conjectures, so harsh, in its arguments, so productive of contentions, embarrassing even to itself, retracting everything, and really treating of nothing! Whence spring those "fables and endless genealogies," and "unprofitable questions," and "words which spread like a cancer?" From all these, when the apostle would restrain us, he expressly names philosophy as that which he would have us be on our guard against. Writing to The Colossians, he says, "See that no one beguile you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, and contrary to the wisdom of the Holy Ghost." He had been at Athens, and had in his interviews (with its philosophers) become acquainted with that human wisdom which pretends to know the truth, while it only corrupts it, and is itself divided into its own manifold heresies, by the variety of its mutually repugnant sects.

What indeed has Athens to do with Jerusalem? What concord is there between the Academy and the Church? What between heretics and Christians? Our instruction comes from "the porch of Solomon," who had himself taught that "the Lord should be sought in simplicity of heart." Away with all attempts to produce a mottled Christianity of Stoic, Platonic, and dialectic composition! We want no curious disputation after possessing Christ Jesus, no inquisition after enjoying the gospel! With our faith, we desire no further belief. For this is our primary faith, that there is nothing which we ought to believe besides!

Cyprian (died A.D. 258)


“Different personality from Tertullian more charitable and gentle. But he was dependent upon Tertullian for theology. Jerome says, "he was accustomed never to pass a day without reading Tertullian and he frequently said to his secretary, Da magistrum, meaning by this, Tertullian." Born into a rich and aristocratic pagan family in Carthaoe, he became an expert rhetorician and master of eloquence. He was converted to Christianity by the priest, Caecilias and ordained a priest. About 250 AD he became bishop of Carthage, "by the voice of the people," but against the wishes of some presbyters, especially Novatus. During, the Decian persecution (251 AD) he fled. The Presbyters back in Carthage were naturally critical of Cyprian's flight, but he defended himself by pointing out that Decius was primarily interested in capturing bishops. In Cyprian's absence some confessors (those who had underdone torture) assumed a leadership role, and took it upon themselves to reconcile to the church those who had lapsed under persecution. When Cyprian refused this, they, led by Felicissimus, organized an opposition party. This group included five priests who had voted against Cyprian's election, including Novatus. Cyprian banned them, wrote "On The Unity of the Church," and convened a Synod of 251 AD which confirmed his position. The Synod agreed that each case should be tried on its own merits. [Source: Carl A. Volz, late professor of church history at Luther Seminary, web.archive.org, martin.luthersem.edu /~]

“Meanwhile a violent controversy broke out between Cyprian and bishop Stephen of Rome. Cyprian denied the validity of "heretical" (i.e. Novatust) baptisms. Stephen said they were valid even thouah performed outside the orthodox communion. When the Roman bishop attempted to impose his conclusions on the N. African church, the latter responded with a statement on episcopal authority in which it was stated that no bishop possessed authority over another, but all shared in a collegial authority. The controversy is significant both for the theology of baptism, of the church, and of the role of the Roman bishop in churchly authority. /~\

“"The Unity of the Church" (DE UNITATE ECCLESIAE) has the most lasting influence of all of Cyprian's works. Schisms and heresies arE of the devil. There is only one church, that built upon Peter. There is no salvation outside this church. "He cannot have God for his Father who has not the Church for his mother." Utilizes Noah's ark imagery. Even martyrs who are not in communion with the bishop are damned. Epistles of Cyprian: These are an important source for the history of the period. Contain 81 letters - 65 are from Cyprian and 16 are addressed to him. 38 are from his place of hiding during the Decian persecution. /~\

“Miscellaneous works: "The Dress of Virgins"/ "To Donatus" / "Concerning the Lapsed" / Concerning Works and Almsgiving - divine mercy has provided a second means of forgiveness after baptism, i.e. alms and good deeds, clearly teaches efficacy of works / "On Jealousy and Envy" / "The Advantage of Patience" / To Demetrianus - refutes charge that Christians are responsible for calamities / "The Lord's Prayer - interpretation of / "Exhortation to Martyrdom (To Fortunatus)" /~\

Clement of Alexandria

Clement of Alexandria

“From Athens, after his conversion he settled in Alexandria, succeeding PANTAENUS as head of the catechetical school about 200 AD. The "pioneer of Christian scholarship" (Quasten), possessing an immense knowledge of Scripture and the classics. He quotes 1,500 passages from the O.T. and 2,000 from the N.T., 360 from the Greek classics. Faith and philosophy, Gospel and secular learning, are not enemies but belong together. Everything "secular" should serve theology. [Source: Carl A. Volz, late professor of church history at Luther Seminary, web.archive.org, martin.luthersem.edu /~]

“1) Exhortation to the Greeks - an apology aimed at the conversion of pagans. He argues from the unity of truth. God inspired the ancient philosophers and poets just as He inspired the OT prophets. Greek phil leads to Christ! 2) The Tutor A continuation of the "Exhortation." The Logos is the tutor who instructs new converts in Christian living. "His aim is to improve the soul, not to teach, and to train it up to a virtuous, not intellectual, life." In book 2 he deals with daily problems - eating, drinking, homes, furniture, music, dancing, recreation, bathing, marital life. The decisive factor in all these areas is attitude and motivation. As long as the Christian keeps his heart from attachment to this world, he need not withdraw from culture. The Christian should be the yeast that enables civilization rather than withdrawing from it. /~\

“3) Stromata (Carpet-pieces) in 8 books, discusses the relation of Christianity to secular learning, especially to Greek philosophy. Philosophy is to the Greeks what the Law is to the Jews, a "paidagogus" leading to Christ. 4) Which Rich Man Can Be Saved? or Quis dives salvetur? Homily on Mk. 10:17-31. Wealth does not exclude from the kingdom of God. One's attitude is the decisive thing. Sin, not wealth, excludes. /~\

“His theology is dominated by the Logos, who is the creator of the universe, manifested Jahwe in the O.T., in Greek philosophy, and finally in the Incarnation. He is the teacher of the world and its lawgiver. There is only one true Church as there is only one God, "the virgin mother who feeds her children with the milk of the divine Word." "The Mother draws her children to herself and we seek our mother, the Church." Bishop, priest, and deacon reflect the hierarchy of angels. Baptism is a seal, an illumination, bath, perfection, and mystery. We receive a cleansing from sin, a remission of penalties, and illumination. In the Eucharist, Clement opposes the Practice of bread and water as a sign of heresy - rather insists on wine. He distinguished between the human blood of Christ and the Eucharistic blood, but he cannot be used to support a "symbolic" approach. It is "the new food by which we receive Christ and enshrine Him in our souls." To drink the blood of Jesus is to become a partaker of the Lord's immortality, the Spirit being the energetic principle of the Word as the blood is of the flesh. Adam's sin consisted in his refusal to be educated by God. This hostility has been inherited by all men, not through generation but by bad example. Only a personal act can stain the soul. He distinguishes between "voluntary" and "involuntary" sins - former forgiven once, latter more often. Clement is unique among the Fathers in his defense of marriage - he even recommends it as a duty for the welfare of the nation, succession of children, and an act of cooperation with the Creator. "Who are the 2 or 3 gathered together in the Name of Christ in whose midst is the Lord? Are they not man, wife, and child, because man and wife are joined by God?" Virginity is permissible if done for the service of the Lord - He Himself was so - but the married man is superior to the single because he discharges greater responsibilities. - As to Scriptural interpretation, the allegorical method is preferred, but he admits that Scripture also has a literal sense. Each text must be interpreted in the light of the rest of Scripture. Adam is a symbol for what happens to each person individually. /~\


Eusebius of Caesarea (A.D. c.260-340) was the first Christian historian and was so thorough in his recording of early Christian figures that much of what we know about Christianity after Jesus comes from him. Eusebius was born in Caesarea Maritima, in present-day Israel. He became first a priest and then became bishop of Caesarea about 313 and lived there until his death in 339. He was at least acquainted, if not good friends, with the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great and wrote extensively about him in his “Panegyric of Constantine”.. [Source: J. Vanderspoel, Department of Greek, Latin and Ancient History, University of Calgary]

Eusebius also wrote quite a number of other works, ranging from the theological treatises and works on Christian Scripture to the Ecclesiastical History. Indeed, one of the problems with any study of Eusebius is the number and the dating of the editions of his works.. Eusebius seems to have taken quite an interest in martyrs; his history offers many examples treated at length, and his Martyrs of Palestine was written in several editions over a period of years.

Candida Moss wrote in the Daily Beast: Eusebius of Caesarea is not a very well-known name outside of scholarly circles. He would later become a biographer of the emperor Constantine and possibly even a wheeler-dealer in the ecclesiastical politics of the imperial court. Under the influence of the third-century theologian Origen, who spent a long period of his life in Caesarea, Eusebius became an accomplished textual scholar. [Source: Candida Moss, Daily Beast,, October 16, 2022]

One of the central themes of the history of Christianity is the persecution of early Christians at the hands of the Romans. In his Church History, Eusebius tells the story of the rise of Christianity from a regional Jewish splinter group to the dominant religion of the Roman empire. A main focus of Eusebius’s history was the persecution of Christians. [Source: Candida Moss, Daily Beast, November 24, 2018]

While Eusebius was never formally denounced as a heretic, some of his opinions — including some of the judgments that inform his apparatus — were pretty unorthodox. Like Origen he was sympathetic to views about the nature of Christ that would later be condemned as heresy. It’s probably because of the ambiguities surrounding his theological views that Eusebius, one of the most influential figures in Christian history, never became a saint. But his story proves that it is sometimes invisible actors who are the most powerful of all. A 2018 book, “Eusebius the Evangelist: Rewriting the Fourfold Gospel in Late Antiquity” by Dr. Jeremiah Coogan, an assistant professor of New Testament at the Jesuit School of Theology at Santa Clara University, sheds light on Eusebius the person and his contributions to the understanding of Christian history, especially in terms of organizing the Gospels.

Eusebius’s History

6th century Syriac portrait of St. Eusebius of Caesarea from the Rabbula Gospels

Candida Moss wrote in the Daily Beast: If you’ve heard Eusebius’s name before it’s probably because of his Church History, an account of Christianity’s origins from the Apostles to his own day. As influential as the Church History is — and it became the template for how people have written the history of Christianity ever since — it doesn’t compare to the impact of his less visible and least-known literary production, the canon tables (also known as the Eusebian Apparatus). [Source: Candida Moss, Daily Beast,, October 16, 2022]

Professor Harold W. Attridge told PBS: “Eusebius played a very active role in church politics. He was at the Council of Nicea, which was the first major ecumenical council. So he was a very prominent figure. He's most important to us, however, as the first church historian. He wrote several things during his long and active lifetime including a history of the martyrs of Palestine, a collection of prophetic texts. But the most important work is his ecclesiastical history, which describes the development of the church down through his own period, and then the persecutions which took place in the first decade of the fourth century. And finally the vindication of the church with the accession of Constantine and his rise to supreme power. ... [Source: Harold W. Attridge, Lillian Claus Professor of New Testament Yale Divinity School, Frontline, PBS, April 1998 ]

“Eusebius is, first of all, valuable as an historian because he preserves a large number of sources that are not available in other forms. He clearly has an axe to grind and that axe has to do with the the status of Christians and their relationship with the imperial authorities. Constantine, whom Eusebius describes later in "A Life of Constantine" and also in an oration on an important occasion later in his career, is a magnificent ruler endowed by God with wisdom, insight and a divine mission to vindicate the church and to bring the church and the state into unity. And so Constantine is viewed by Eusebius as a figure of God's will in human history.

“And how does Eusebius portray Constantine? Constantine would have been conceived by Eusebius and portrayed by Eusebius in magnificent terms. And you have to understand that Constantine, when Eusebius portrays him, is someone who had just achieved total domination over the whole of the Roman Empire. And he was a figure of commanding stature, of commanding power and authority, a figure who by the year 324 had no rivals within the Roman world. And so clothed in imperial garments and radiating the splendor of the sun, he appears in the portraits of Eusebius in some ways as a quasi-divine figure.”

Eusebius — the Fifth Evangelist

Candida Moss wrote in the Daily Beast: If you were traveling through the verdant Ethiopian highlands, you might make a stop at the Abba Gärima monastery about three miles east of Adwa in the northernmost part of the country. If you were a man — and you’d have to be to gain entry into the Orthodox monastery — then you might be permitted to look at the Abba Gärima Gospel books. These exquisitely illuminated manuscripts are the earliest evidence of the art of the Christian Aksumite kingdom. Legend holds that God stopped the sun in the sky so the copyist could finish them. Leafing through a Gospel book you would come upon portraits of the four evangelists — Matthew, Mark, Luke and John — the authors of the book’s contents. You might be surprised to find, however, that there is a fifth evangelist included there. [Source: Candida Moss, Daily Beast,, October 16, 2022]

“A fifth evangelist?!” you say, and rightly so. This fifth portrait is that of Eusebius of Caesarea, the man who taught us how to read the Gospels. In Eusebius’ time the contents of the New Testament were not universally established. Though many agreed that there should be four Gospels, and even grounded this assumption in the natural order of the universe, they did not read the Gospels in parallel. At least part of the reason for this was that, practically speaking, this was hard to do. Even if you had a Gospel book that contained copies of the four canonical Gospels, identifying how the various stories related to one another involved familiarity with the text, deductive skills, and a real facility navigating the physical object itself. Gospel books were big and heavy; the text was usually written in a series of unbroken Greek letters; and there were no chapter, verse, or page numbers to help you find your way.

Enter Eusebius, the man whose invention made reading the Gospels in parallel possible. It is basically a carefully organized reference tool that allows you to navigate books. In a period before chapter and verse divisions, Eusebius and his team of literary assistants divided the canonical Gospels into numbered sections and produced a set of coordinating reference tables that allow readers to cross-reference versions of the same story in other Gospels. This was an important innovation in book technology in general. As Coogan put it “the Eusebian apparatus is the first system of cross-references ever invented — not just for the Gospels, but for any text.” Reference tables might not seem sexy, but by producing them Eusebius inaugurated a trend that would dominate how Christians ever since have read the Bible.

This kind of schematization might seem to be the ancient equivalent of administrative or clerical work. Indeed, it drew upon technologies and practices from ancient administration, mathematics, astrology, medicine, magic, and culinary arts. The truth is however that any kind of supplementary material (scholars call them paratexts) like an index or a table of contents creates new ways to read a text. Matthew or Mark may have wanted you to read their stories linearly from start to finish, but Eusebius and his team gave you a new way to read. You could hunt and peck between the bindings. Reading out of order can be powerful work, as Wil Gafney’s A Women’s Lectionary for the Whole Church is, because it creates new pathways through the text that disrupt the ways that the authors meant the texts to be read. Most authors don’t write narratives with the expectation that people will just use Google to search inside it.

Eusebius’s Impact on How We Read the Gospels

Eusebius in an Ethiopian icon

Candida Moss wrote in the Daily Beast:The enormity of his innovation is hard to see precisely because it has become ubiquitous. We thread the different sayings of Jesus from the Cross together into one story. We merge the infancy stories of Matthew and Luke together to produce a single shepherd and wise men-filled Nativity story. These decisions are relatively uncomplicated, but we should consider the amount of decision-making that went into the production of this reading scheme. First, the team had to decide on unit divisions: what is a unit, where does it begin, and where does it end? While today church services have designated readings, early Christians often read for as “long as time permitted.” In segmenting the Gospel, the Eusebian team was cementing preexisting yet informal distinctions about what constituted a particular story, episode, or section of the life of Jesus. [Source: Candida Moss, Daily Beast,, October 16, 2022]

Once this was accomplished, each unit had to be correlated to the corresponding units in the other Gospels. Some decisions seem easy: Jesus feeds 5,000 people in all four Gospels, for example. But there is an additional story — relayed by Mark and Luke — in which he feeds 4,000 people. What should we do with them? What about chronological discrepancies? The incident in the Jerusalem Temple where Jesus gets into a physical dispute with moneychangers appears in the final week of his life in the Synoptics but kicks off his ministry in the Gospel of John. Are they the same story? Did Jesus cleanse the Temple twice? These were and indeed are live questions for Christian readers, but by drawing up his tables, Eusebius and his team provided answers by means of a simple chart. A great deal of interpretation and theological work happens in the construction of the chart, but the tables seem to be factual accounting. Instead of argumentation that makes itself open to disagreement, we see only beguilingly agent-less lines and numbering.

The portraits from the Ethiopian Gärima Gospel, however, capture an often-hidden truth: Schematization is theological work. Segmenting the Bible and mapping its contents created theologically motivated juxtapositions and connections. For example, by connecting the story of divine creation from the prologue of the Gospel of John (“In the beginning was the word…”) to the genealogies of Matthew and Luke (the so-and-so begat so-and-so parts), the Eusebian team could underscore the divine and human origins of Jesus. Equally important, they instructed the reader to read the Gospels in a new way: a way that reoriented the original organization. If this shift seems unimportant or intuitive to us, it is only because we have so thoroughly absorbed it.

Take, say, the interweaving of Jesus’s finals words at the crucifixion. Mark’s version ends with Jesus in psychic and physical distress crying that God has abandoned him. It’s an uncomfortable scene and it is meant to be. Luke and John have more self-controlled conclusions: Jesus commends his spirit into the hands of his father (Luke) and authoritatively proclaims his life “finished” (John). Though Eusebius doesn’t reconcile these portraits himself, his apparatus allowed future generations to combine them in a way that neutralizes the discomfort we have when we read Mark.

While others had thought about reading the Gospels alongside one another, it was Eusebius and his team who came up with the tool to do it in a systematic way. From Eusebius onwards, Coogan told The Daily Beast, “most manuscripts of the Gospels included the Eusebian apparatus. When a reader encountered the Gospels on the page, they generally did so in a form shaped by Eusebius’ innovative project. While Eusebius prepared his Gospel edition in Greek, the apparatus had an impact in almost every language the Gospels were translated into. We find it in manuscripts in Latin, Coptic, Syriac, Armenian, Ethiopic, Gothic, Georgian, Arabic, Caucasian Albanian, Nubian, Slavonic, Old English, Middle German, and Dutch. Thousands of Gospel manuscripts, from the fourth century to the twentieth, reflect Eusebius’ approach to reading the Gospels.” Even today when academics think about the relationships between the Gospels and print Gospels in parallel with one another, we are asking the same questions as Eusebius did. It might be said that Eusebius is still controlling how we think.

Image Sources: Wikimedia, Commons

Text Sources: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Christian Origins sourcebooks.fordham.edu “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File); “ Encyclopedia of the World’s Religions” edited by R.C. Zaehner (Barnes & Noble Books, 1959); King James Version of the Bible, gutenberg.org; New International Version (NIV) of The Bible, biblegateway.com; Christian Classics Ethereal Library (CCEL) ccel.org , Frontline, PBS, Wikipedia, BBC, National Geographic, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Live Science, Encyclopedia.com, Archaeology magazine, Reuters, Associated Press, Business Insider, AFP, Library of Congress, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated March 2024

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