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Nicene and Ante-Nicene Fathers, Ser. II, Vol I:
The Life of Constantine with Orations of Constantine and Eusebius.: Section 1

Early Church Fathers  Index     

p. 466 II.—Special Prolegomena.


§1. The Life of Constantine.

1. Editions

The Life is found in the editions of Eusebius (compare list in Dr. McGiffert’s Prolegomena) of 1544 (p. 117a–), 1612 (p. 301–), 1659, 1672, 1678, 1720 (p. 583–) and 1822 at least. The edition of Heinichen first published in 1830 (p. 1–332, 333–406, 407–500) and republished in 1869: Eusebius Pamphili Vita Constantini et Panegyricus atque Constantini ad sanctorum Coetum oratio. Recensuit cum annotatione critica atque indicibus denuo edidit…Lipsiæ, Hermann Mendelssohn, 1869. 8o is the latest and best.

2. Translations

The editions of Latin translations are very numerous. Basil. 1549, Portesius (V.C. 650–698, O.C. 698–715, no L.C.); Basil, 1557, Musculus (V.C. 158–215, O.C. 217–231, no L.C.); Basil, 1559 (V.C. 650–698, O.C. 698–715); Par. 1562, Musculus (V.C. 160–218, O.C. 218–234); Antv. 1568 (?), Christophorson (V.C. 224–306a, O.C. 306b–326a, L.C. 326b–361); Basil, 1570, Portesius (V.C. 862–914, O.C. 915–932) and Christophorson (L.C. 932–971); Paris, 1571, Christophorson (258–341, 341–362, 362–397); Basil, 1579, Portesius (V.C. 862–914, O.C. 915–932), and Christophorson (L.C. 923–971); Paris, 1581 (V.C. p. 214–297, O.C. 297–317, L.C. 317–355); Colon. 1581, Christophorson (V.C. 195–268, O.C. 269–286, L.C. 287–317); “1591 (Grynæus)”; Basil, 1611 (Grynæus), Christophorson (V.C. 118–170, O.C. 171–184, no L.C.); Paris, 1677, Valesius (V.C. 164–232, O.C. 233–248; L.C. 249–275); Frf. ad M. 1695, Valesius (328–465, 466–497, 498–549); Cambr. 1720 (Reading) Valesius; Cambr. 1746 (Reading) Valesius; 1822 (Zimmermann), Valesius (772–1046, 1047–1117, 1118–1232); Par. 1842 (Cailleau). The editions of 1612, 1659, and 1672 at least also have Latin translations. There is a French translation by J. Morin, Histoire de la délivrance de l’Église, &c., Par. 1630, fol., and another by Cousin, Par. 1675, 4º, and 1686, 4º. There is a German translation by Stroth, Quedlinb. 1799, v. 2, p. 141–468, and one by Molzberger. Kempten, 1880. For English translations, see the following paragraph.

3. English translations

The first English translation of Eusebius was by Merideth Hanmer (compare Prolegomena of Dr. McGiffert). The first editions of Hanmer did not contain the Life of Constantine. It is a little hard to distinguish the early editions, but there were at least three, and perhaps four, editions (1577 (76), 1585 (84), 1607, 1619?), before there was added in 1637 to the 1636 edition (“fourth edition” not “fifth edition 1650,” as Wood, Athenæ Oxon.), a translation by Wye Saltonstall as follows:

Eusebius | His life of Constantine, | in foure | bookes. | With Constantine’s Oration to the Clergie | … | London. | Printed by Thomas Cotes, for Michael Sparke, and are to be | sold at the blue Bible in greene Arbour | 1637; fol. pp. (2) 1–106 (E), 107–132 (C), 133–163 (4) (L.C.). The dedication by the “translator” is signed Wye Saltonstall. This was reprinted: London. p. 467 Printed by Abraham Miller, dwelling in Black Friers, 1649. fol., and is probably the same as that quoted often (e.g. Hoffmann) as 1650. The Life occupies p. 1–74. It was again reprinted, London, 1656, fol., it is said, revised and enlarged. The former editions having become exhausted, it was proposed to re-edit and republish Hanmer’s (Saltonstall’s) version, but the editor found it “a work of far greater labor to bring Dr. Hanmer’s Translation to an agreement with the Greek Text of Valesius’ Edition, than to make a New One,” which latter thing he accordingly did and did well. It was published in 1682, with the following title:

The | Life | of | Constantine | in four books, | Written in Greek, by Eusebius Pamphilus, Bishop of Cæsarea in | Palestine; done into English from that edition set forth by | Valesius, and Printed at Paris in the Year 1659. | Together with | Valesius’s Annotations on the said Life, which are made | English, and set at their proper places in the margin. | Hereto is also annext the Emperour Constantine’s Oration to the | Convention of the Saints, and Eusebius Pamphilus’s Speech concerning the praises of Constantine, | spoken at his tricennalia. | Cambridge, | Printed by John Hayes, Printer to the University, 1682, fol. This was published with the 1683 edition of the History, and so is properly 1683 in spite of title-page. In 1692 this was reprinted with a general title-page, but otherwise identically the same edition with same sub-titles and same paging. In 1709 a new edition was published, also with the History, having substantially the same matter on the title-page but The second edition. London. Printed for N. and J. Churchill, in the Year 1709. In this paging is the same (527–633), but there is preliminary matter added before the History. This version is said by Crusé (compare also Dr. McGiffert’s Prolegomena) to be by T. Shorting. Whoever it was by, it was well done and most interesting. In the course of time, however, it became antiquated in form, and there was added in 1845 to the Bagster edition of the ecclesiastical historians an anonymous translation:

The | Life | of | the Blessed Emperor | Constantine, | in four books. | From 306–337 a.d | By | Eusebius Pamphilus | ... | London: | Samuel Bagster and Sons; | ... | MDCCCXLV. 8º p. xx, 380. This translation is in somewhat inflated style, which perhaps represents Eusebius and Constantine better than a simpler one, but which sometimes out-Herods Herod, as, e.g. in the oration of Constantine, p. 279, where it takes fourteen English words to express seven Greek ones, “Far otherwise has it been during the corrupt and lawless period of human life” for “It was not thus in lawless times.” A quotation from Matthew (Matt. 26.52) on p. 267 takes eight words in the original, twelve in the 1881 Revised Version, sixteen in the phrase of Constantine, and twenty-two in this translation. The translation is made from the edition of Valesius, not the first of Heinichen, as appears from the division of Bk. I, chap. 10, and similar peculiarities. The present edition (1890) is a revision of the translation of 1845 founded on the edition of Heinichen.

4. Author and date

Almost no fact of history is unquestioned; therefore the unquestionable authorship of Eusebius has been questioned. Some have made the author Macarius (compare Vog. Hist. lit. p. 12), evidently on the ground of the letter (3. 52) which the author says was addressed to himself, but which is to Macarius and others, but there is no real doubt of the Eusebian authorship. It was written after the death of Constantine (337), and therefore between 337 and 340, when Eusebius died. The interesting hypothesis of Meyer (p. 28) that it was perhaps written mainly in Constantine’s lifetime, at the suggestion and under the direction of Constantine, to defend him against charges brought, or which might be brought, against him, is worth mentioning, although it is more ingenious than probable. The headings of the chapters are by another, though probably not much later, and a competent hand (cf. Lightfoot).

5. Trustworthiness of Eusebius

The value of a writer is determined by (1) His sources of knowledge, (2) His own intellectual and moral ability. Again, the criticism of a given work seeks whether the aim prop. 468 posed for that work has been truly fulfilled. A man who attempts a treatise on Geometry is not to be criticised because he omits mention of sulphuric acid, or if he proposes a description of Wagner’s music, because he does not produce a Helmholtz on Sound. The application of these principles to Eusebius’ Life of Constantine requires brief examination of 1. The proposed scope of the work. 2. The character of the sources. 3. The intellectual and moral competency of Eusebius on the premises.

(1) The Scope of the Work. This is quite definitely outlined (i. 11). In contrast with those who have recorded the evil deeds of other emperors and have thus “become to those who by some favor had been kept apart from evil, teachers not of good, but of what should be silenced in oblivion and darkness,” he proposes to record the noble actions of this emperor. He proposes, however, to pass over many things,—his wars, personal bravery, victories, and successes, his legislative acts, and many other things, and confine himself to such things as have reference to his religious character. His aim, therefore, is distinctly limited to his religious acts, and it is not stretching his meaning too far to say, expressly limited to his virtuous actions.

(2) Character of the Sources. Respecting this there is endless controversy. The fullness of material is unquestionable, the intellectual competency of Eusebius is almost equally so, and the questionings regard mainly whether the author has made a proper use of material. Opinions are various, but this does not mean that they are equally well grounded and valuable. Some of the latest judgments are the most severe. Crivellucci (Livorno, 1888) calls it an historical novel, and Görres, in a review of Crivellucci, agrees that it is worth less than the Panegyrics of Eumenius and Nazarius, which is certainly milder than Manso’s (p. 222) “more shameless and lying” than these. Right or wrong, this is a frequently repeated view. Some (Hely, p. 141) cannot speak too strongly of the “contempt” which he “deserves,” and accuse of “pious fraud” or the next thing to it (Kestner, 1816, p. 67). For farther criticisms consult the works cited by Dr. McGiffert under Literature, and the special works on Eusebius cited in the Literature to Constantine above, passim. The criticisms group generally around 1. The suppression of the facts respecting the deaths of Crispus, &c., and various others derogatory to Constantine. 2. The eulogistic tone and coloring of the work, especially the very pietistic saintly sort of flavor given to Constantine.

As to the suppression of facts, note (1) That he gives entire warning of his plan. It would have been artistically and ethically improper, in a work which distinctly sets out with such purpose, to admit that class of facts. It takes more or less from the value of the work, but it does not reflect on the general trustworthiness of what is said. (2) No similar judgment is passed on Eutropius, the Victors, Anonymous Valesianus or Zosimus, for not mentioning his pious acts. (3) A comparison of most biographies of living and dead presidents, kings, and emperors will be greatly to the advantage, even, of this fourth century eulogist over those of our boasted critical age.

As to the eulogistic and exaggerated tone, observe (1) That it was more or less justified. That is, the premises of the criticism which are substantially that Constantine was not saintly or pietistic and was non-committal toward Christianity, are false. His extreme testimony is backed by very general testimony in the election of Constantine to technical saintship. (2) That is compares well with modern eulogists and extremely well with the contemporary Panegyrists of Constantine. (3) That Eusebius takes care frequently to guard his statements by quoting his source, as in the matter of the vision of the cross, or by ascribing to hearsay.

In general, the work stands much on the same level as the biographies of generals in the late civil war, or of presidents, written by admiring members of their staffs or cabinets, incorporatp. 469 ing authentic documents, intending to be truthful, and generally succeeding, but yet full of the enthusiasm of admiring friendship and inclined not to see, or to extenuate or even suppress, faults and mistakes. Nevertheless, they are valuable on the positive side as the real testimony to genuinely believed excellency by those in the position to know intimately. Eusebius is, substantially, genuine. Such supreme hypocrisy as would produce this work, without admiring respect and after its subject was dead, is inconceivable in him. All the unconscious turns of phrase show at least a consistent attitude of mind. The work is, in brief, by a competent author, from ample sources and without intentional falsification or misrepresentation. It probably represents the current Christian view of the man as accurately and honestly as any biography of Lincoln or the Emperor William written within a year or two of their deaths has done. As we now think of these two men whom doubtless inquisitive criticism might find to have faults, so the Christians in general and his friend Eusebius in particular thought of the Great Emperor. Compare discussion and literature of the trustworthiness of Eusebius as a historical writer in the Prolegomena of Dr. McGiffert in this volume.

6. Value of the Work

That the work on any basis but the untenable one of out-and-out forgery should be characterized as “worthless” or “a mere romance” or “of less value than the heathen panegyrists” is a curious bit of psychological performance, for it does precisely what it grounds its contempt for Eusebius on,—suppresses and exaggerates. Taking the minimum residuum of the most penetrating criticism, and the work is yet a source of primary value for understanding the man Constantine. This residuum includes (1) The documents which the work contains. These amount at the very least estimate to more than one-fourth of the whole matter, and the appended oration of Constantine is nearly as much more. (2) Many facts and details where there could be no possibility of motive for falsifying. (3) Much which critical care can draw out of the over-statements of eulogy.

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