EUSEBIUS' HISTORY AND THE MILLENNIUM
Eusebius was the friend of Constantine, and he wrote, in part, to affirm the new Church-State relationship that Constantine had established. That new Church-State relationship was antagonistic to the expected kingdom of God that had been proclaimed by the apostles. In the new relationship, the Church would establish the kingdom of God through the State. Once this new relationship was accepted, it became necessary to change the expectation of what the kingdom of God would be. "The overwhelming usage of 'kingdom' in the second-century Christian literature is eschatological," 1 that is, the second-century Christians expected the establishment of the kingdom of God to come with the return of Jesus at the end of the age. They understood that there was a sense and a reality in which the kingdom of God was already present, but its fulfillment would only come with the destruction of the kingdoms of this world.
"With Origen in the early third century there arose a thinker who was able to incorporate the 'Gnostic' dimension of the kingdom, the inward rule of God in the soul, into orthodox thought...Origen thus marks the turning point." 2 In this Gnostic view, the fulness of the kingdom of God was to come with the individual believer's spiritual growth, and with the spiritual growth of the Church as a whole. The return of Jesus to judge the nations and to redeem Israel became unnecessary for the establishment of the kingdom throughout the earth.
With the introduction of Origen's allegorical method of interpretation in the third century, the faith of the Church concerning the kingdom began to change. As the anti-Judaic posture spread in the Church, what was once considered heresy was put forward as the new orthodoxy. The Millennial restoration of Israel began to be considered a carnal, Jewish doctrine which no orthodox Christian could believe.
On different issues in his Ecclesiastical History, Eusebius often quotes from earlier writers in the Church who embraced views similar to his own. That is natural and acceptable for any writer who seeks to support and establish his own views. On the issue of a literal, Millennial restoration of the kingdom to Israel - THE theological issue on which the new Church-State relationship would stand or fall - Eusebius does not quote from any in the early Church who embraced his own view. He does not because he cannot. There were none who supported his view.
Eusebius shows that he had early Church writings on this issue. But these writings expressed a faith in a literal, Millennial restoration of the kingdom to Israel. Since Eusebius rejected that view, and because he wanted to brand it as heresy, he chose not to quote from any of the early Church writers at all. So it is understandable that those who accept the writings of Eusebius as an accurate representation of the theology of the early Church tend to believe as he did. Unfortunately, Eusebius is not faithful in this regard. He claimed that Papias, who was closely associated with John the Apostle, "imagined" that the millenium was taught by the Apostles.
Eusebius' opposition to this apostolic teaching was so great, that he certainly would have, if he could have, presented the teaching of anyone contemporary with the apostles or their disciples who believed in the "mystical," spiritual interpretation which he himself adopted. However, he is not able to present the writings of anyone - not one - from that earlier age who believed as he did. He had the documents. He had the full support of the Emperor Constantine. But he still could not produce any evidence in support of his position. That being the case, Eusebius chose not to present the millennial teaching of "most of the ecclesiastical writers," because it contradicted his own beliefs. In fact, he does not quote from any of them on this matter. Their writings were known and still in circulation in the early fourth century when Eusebius wrote his Ecclesiastical History.
Jerome, who wrote at about the end of the fourth century, said, "This
(Papias) is said to have promulgated the Jewish tradition of a Millennium,
and he is followed by Irenaeus, Apollinarius and the others who say that
after the resurrection the Lord will reign in the flesh with the saints." 3
Irenaeus and Apollinarius are also described by Eusebius as learned,
virtuous, faithful witnesses of the apostolic faith.
Eusebius says, "About this time also, the beloved disciple of Jesus, John the apostle and evangelist, still surviving, governed the churches in Asia, after
his return from exile on the island, and the death of Domitian. But that he
was still living until this time, it may suffice to prove, by the testimony of two witnesses. These, as maintaining sound doctrine in the church, may surely be regarded as worthy of all credit: and such were Irenaeus and Clement of Alexandria. Of these, the former, in the second book against heresies..." 4
According to Eusebius, Irenaeus maintained sound doctrine in the church.
He wrote against heresies. He was a faithful and true witness. Irenaeus
believed that the Lord would reign in the flesh on earth with the saints.
Jerome, also rejected "the Jewish tradition of a Millennium". He rejected the writings of the "most," or all, of the early Church that believed in it. Their writings were still available when he wrote. As with Eusebius, Jerome was also unable to offer evidence to the contrary from other early Church writers.
Eusebius, Jerome, and others had these writings available to them, but they did not want to make them known. These writings of "most of the ecclesiastical writers" who promulgated "the Jewish tradition of a Millennium" are not available to us today. That is not, however, evidence that the Church never believed as they did. It is only evidence that some later in the Church did not care to preserve these writings.
Part of one of those early writings that has survived, "The Revelation of
Peter," clearly speaks of a restoration of Israel. Though today we do not
consider it canonical, it still is firm documentary evidence of what the
early Church believed.
Justin's Dialogue with Trypho the Jew, dated about 160 A.D., also offers
evidence of what the early Church believed. Eusebius knew Justin's Dialogue with Trypho. He quotes from it, praising Justin as "a true lover of sound philosophy." He characterizes Justin as courageous, a man "of cool deliberation and judgment." 5 But when it comes to Justin's declaration that those who do not acknowledge the future coming and reign of the Lord on the earth from Jerusalem are "godless and impious heretics," Eusebius ignores Justin. He neither quotes, nor mentions, nor comments. He cannot pretend that Justin was lead astray by Papias, so he simply pretends that Justin never said what he said. For Eusebius, it is not part of the history of the Church, because it is not what
he wants the Church to believe.
1. E. Ferguson, "The Terminology of Kingdom in the Second Century," in Studia
Patristica, Vol.XVII, P.670, edited by Elizabeth A. Livingstone, Pergamon
Press, Oxford, 1982
2. ibid., P.673
3. J.B. Lightfoot and J.R. Harmer, editors, The Apostolic Fathers, Baker Book
House, Grand Rapids, MI, 1988, P.532 (de vir. illust. 18)
4. The Ecclesiastical History of Eusebius Pamphilus, Bk.3, Ch.23, P.104-105
5. The Ecclesiastical History of Eusebius Pamphilus, Bk.4, Ch.8, Pp.135-136
Next: The Passover Controversy
Anti-Semitism up to the Holocaust Home Page