EUSEBIUS: The Church History. Translated by Paul L. Maier.
EUSEBIUS: The Church History. Translated by Paul L. Maier. Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2007. 365 pages. Paper. $15.99.
Reviewed by Timothy Maschke, Concordia University Wisconsin, Mequon, WI.
Eusebius’s Ecclesiastical History is now available in a most accessible format with Paul Maier’s updated translation of this classic work. Yet, this is more than merely a retranslation of earlier more cumbersome English versions. As Maier notes, he has tried to make Eusebius “readable and usable today.” In doing so, Maier broke up longer sentences or removed excessive verbiage which added nothing to Eusebius’s theological point or chronological narrative.
Kregel is to be commended for this paperback edition. With almost 40 black-and-white photographs and almost a dozen maps, readers are introduced to key elements associated with the first three centuries of the Christian era. A hard back edition of Maier’s book was published—also by Kregel—almost a decade ago. That edition included over 150 color pictures and was formatted in a slightly larger font with heavier paper. However, the nominal price of this new paperback edition should make it an item for every pastor and pastoral student to own and read.
Historically, Eusebius covers the earliest three centuries of Christianity with insights he deemed important for the future of the Christ’s church. In ten chronologically-ordered “books,” appropriately subtitled by Maier, Eusebius addresses issues and concerns which formed the Christian community as he was experiencing it during the vital years of the early fourth century. He begins with the life and times of Christ written from an apologetic perspective in order to provide theological clarity and historical integrity to the nascent Christian movement.
Christianity spread quickly during the time of the apostles, as Eusebius correctly delineates through frequent quotations drawn from the writings of Philo and Josephus. The persecutions of early Christian martyrs are handled in several books, including the conflict created by various heresies in the Christian communities around the Mediterranean Sea. Since Eusebius grew up in the last era of great persecutions, this topic holds a prominent place in at least three books. The world changing conversion of Emperor Constantine to Christianity is extolled in Eusebius’s final book as the various imperial decrees are recorded and divine guidance is affirmed.
Sometimes identified as the “Father of Church History,” Eusebius was not only a prolific writer, but a theologian and church leader through the decades just before Constantine dropped the imperial ban on Christianity. No other early Christian document has been more frequently searched and researched than this early exploration into the first three centuries of Christianity. During the last century, however, his work was brought into some disrepute because of his obvious biases against heretical views as well as his close theological affinity to Origen. Some historical or chronological inadequacies are indicated and corrected by Maier in footnotes in the text itself. While his sources and conclusions may not always be reliable (he was after all the official biographer of Emperor Constantine), his perspective on the early Christian movement cannot be ignored or dismissed.
At the end of each of Eusebius’s books (chapters), Maier adds a brief commentary which elucidates a particular theme or reviews the years covered in that book. Appended to this edition are indexes of persons, places, subjects, along with a listing of city and regional maps, a genealogical chart of Christ, and the documentary photographs mentioned above. A very helpful five-page appendix consists of a list of Roman emperors along with their contemporary Christian leaders in the four chief centers of Christianity—Jerusalem, Antioch, Alexandria, and Rome. In addition, Maier provides a helpful bibliography of works about Eusebius from the last century.
Maier is to be commended for this special and economical edition of his book. As a historian and theologian himself, Maier’s careful translation and helpful guidance is worthy of rereading and regular consultation. Conversations which draw parallels to contemporary situations—the relationship between church and state, how Christians are to deal with persecution, and seeing the hand of God in difficult times—can be readily conducted as Bible study groups and interested students wrestle with faith and life in present day situations.