03 April 2011
Eusebius: Church History
The History of the Church from Christ to Constantine
translated by G.A. Williamson
Baltimore, 1965 429 pp.
In Western Christendom the history of the Church has become, in recent centuries, very largely the province of rationalist critics. To read the earliest Church history, that of Eusebius, an Orthodox bishop and friend of the Emperor Constantine, is to return to the refreshing stream of genuine Church history -- the history of God's communion with men.
Here we have not the preposterous inventions and elaborate rationalist philosophy devised by sophisticated critics anxious to prove that God does not speak to men, that there are no miracles and no saints; but rather something of infinitely higher value: the careful compilation of a trustworthy recorder and witness who knows the meaning of the acts he records because he possesses the true faith in the very God Who performs these acts. The history of the Church can only be written and can only be understood by those whose history it is: Orthodox Christians.
The History of the Church is a book that was written and is intended to be read with piety and reverence. The Orthodox Christian reading this history cannot but be impressed with the awareness that it is his own history, the history of the Orthodox Christian people. He can suffer with them, weep with them, rejoice with them,praise God together with His saints and righteous ones. It is a book for the faithful, for those who are not ashamed to weep [and yet rejoice] with the martyrs, to make the sign of the Cross with reverence when reading of one of God's miracles or outpourings of grace.
After the New Testament itself, there is no better place to begin the study of the early Church than this book. The chief events of early Christian history are described in detail, often in the words of the actors themselves or eyewitnesses, whose testimony is where possible reproduced at length. The chief bishops and writers of the age are carefully listed and their books enumerated. The principal heresies are described and condemned. Of everything interpretation is made in accordance with the God-inspired judgement of the Church; everywhere are clearly discerned the primary elements of Christian history invariably overlooked by secular historians: the action of the Holy Spirit and the working of Divine Providence.
One can only welcome the appearance in an inexpensive edition of this classic of Church history. The translation, by and English scholar, is eminently readable, and his unobtrusive notes are generally helpful.
The Orthodox Word, May 1965