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A New Eusebius
History of the Church to AD 337
What were the beliefs and practices of the Christian Church in the first three centuries of its existence? A New Eusebius helps to answer this question. It is a collection of extended excerpts from the writings of early Church fathers, pagans, and heretics from 62-337 AD.
The book opens with a quotation from Josephus on the martyrdom of James the Just. Then are several writings concerning the persecutions of Nero and Domitian in the first century. The attitude of pagans towards the early Christians was not very amicable.
Next is an excerpt from The Didache (or "The Teaching of the Twelve"). The document prescribes baptism by triple immersion or pouring according to the baptismal formula of Matthew 28:19.
Ignatius' epistles then are presented. In these, Ignatius' belief in the deity of Jesus is demonstrated. Also, he is the first to use the word "catholic" in reference to the Church, meaning "universal."
More documents now illustrate the conflicts of Christians with the Jewish and Greco-Roman worlds. The pagans of the second century clearly saw that the Christians were worshipping Jesus as a god. Also, the documents demonstrate that it was the early Church's belief in eternal punishment in Hell that enabled them to hold to their faith in their Savior, Jesus, in the face of persecutions.
Next is a section on "Theology, Ethics, and Eschatology to AD 150." Here, the God of the Christian is believed to be the God of the universe and is said to be invisible. The writers consider Christians to be the elect or chosen of God. The soul and body are seen as two different entities and the Christians considered themselves to be citizens of heaven more than earth.
The next section is on early Christian apologetics. The purity of the Christian's lifestyle is presented as one defense against pagan accusations. The charge of atheism is refuted by asserting that Christians worship the Father and the Son.
The doctrines of Gnosticism are presented by quotes from their own literature. Hippolytus, Irenaeus, Tertullian, and Origen engage in refuting their beliefs.
Next, the heresy of Marcion is presented. His beliefs of two gods (one good and one evil) and no fire in hell and his denial of the incarnation are refuted by orthodox writers. Montanism caused a stir in the second century. The excesses and abuses of this movement are demonstrated.
The next section is on the emergence of orthodoxy. The "Rule of Faith" - i.e. the tradition handed down from the apostles, is considered the standard from which to judge the orthodoxy of proposed doctrines.
The Scriptures acknowledged by the Roman church are listed in the Muratori fragment. The beginning of the document is lost. What we have begins by mentioning the Gospel of Luke. Then listed are: John's Gospel, the Acts, Romans, Colossians, Ephesians, Philippians, 1,2 Corinthians, 1,2 Thessalonians, the Apocalypse, Philemon, Titus, 1,2 Timothy, Jude, 1,2,3 John and 1Peter.
More pagan objections to Christianity are then presented. These objections include disbelief in God becoming flesh, the virgin birth, the resurrection of Jesus and His miracles.
Next covered are Christian controversies in Rome. The first concerned the date for Easter. Should It be celebrated after the time of the Jewish Passover or always on a Sunday? Triple immersion is again defended as being apostolic practice. The Christians are now being accused of being Di-theist because of their worshipping the Father and the Son.
Tertullian's ideas are presented from his writings. He appealed to the Christian boldness in the face of persecution as proof of the truthfulness of Christianity. Tertullian believed Jesus to be God in flesh and God to be spirit. He demonstrates Christian loyalty to the state by appealing to the non-violent nature of the Christian movement and to the fact that Christians offered prayers to God on behalf of the emperor.
Tertullian believed in triple immersion and opposed the baptism of children. He appeals to apostolic tradition in defense of his views and rejects the mixing of Grecian philosophy with Christian doctrine. Clement of Alexandria, on the other hand, considered philosophy as preparing the Greeks for the Gospel.
Origen also wrote approvingly of the relationship of Grecian philosophy and Christianity. Origen considered the doctrines specifically handed down by the apostles to be authoritative but felt free to speculate where the tradition was not clear. Hence, he believed in pre-existent spirits, the subordination of the Holy Spirit to the Son, the eternal generation of the Son, and ultimate universalism. For these beliefs he was opposed by many in the Church.
The Decian persecution in 250-251 is seen by Cyprian as God's judgment on the Church for its worldliness. What to do with the lapsed after the persecution again was a matter of great debate The final decision reached allowed readmission to the Church after varying years of penance based on the degree of force used to elicit the recantation.
Another issue hotly debated at this time was whether those baptized by heretics need to be re-baptized when joining the catholic Church. The decision reached was that heretical baptism was no baptism; hence, baptism by the catholic Church was actually a person's first baptism.
Donyius of Rome wrote his treatise "Against the Sabellians" in 259 AD. In it he states that Christians worship a Divine Triad in one Monad. He also uses the Greek term homoousios to describe the relationship of the Son to the Father. The word means consubstantial" and refers to the Son as having the same nature as the Father. The context of the statement shows that the word had been used previous to him in the same capacity by others.
Next, the views of Paul of Samosata are refuted by Christian writers. He believed the Word took the place of the human soul in Jesus. He disputed the use of the term homoousios. Because of these beliefs, he was deposed as bishop of Antioch.
The great persecution of 303-312 is now covered. This persecution ended with the triumph of Constantine. His "Edict of Milan" established religious freedom for Christians and pagans in the empire. It also decreed that properties confiscated from Christians and the Church should be returned without charge.
The outbreak of the Arian controversy rocked the empire. Arius promoted his Ideas with slogans such as, "There was a time when He was not" and "The Son is a creature and a work." His views led to the calling of the Nicene Council by the emperor, Constantine. At the council, the Deity of Jesus was upheld in the creed produced. The creed states that Jesus is, "God from God, Light from Light, Very God from Very God, Begotten not made, Consubstantial (homoousios) with the Father.
Athanasius emerges as one of the main defenders of the Nicene Creed. He would spend the rest of his life defending the deity of Jesus. He continued despite persecutions and forced exiles brought about by charges of violence by his opponents.
The book closes with the baptism of Constantine. He continued to wear his white, baptismal robes until his death shortly thereafter.
A New Eusebius is a very helpful book. It enables the reader to learn the history of the early Church from those who lived at the time. It can also be seen from the above information presented from A New Eusebius that the major doctrines of evangelical churches today, for the most part, parallel the beliefs of the early Church.
A New Eusebius: Book Review. Copyright © 1999 by Gary F. Zeolla of Darkness to Light ministry (www.dtl.org).
Books and eBooks by Gary F. Zeolla, the Director of Darkness to Light
The above review was originally written as a
class assignment at Denver Seminary in 1990.
It was revised and posted on this Web site February 27, 1998.
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