BMCR 2012.12.30

Eusèbe de Césarée. Histoire ecclésiastique. Commentaire, Tome 1: Études d’introduction. Anagôgê.

, , Eusèbe de Césarée. Histoire ecclésiastique. Commentaire, Tome 1: Études d'introduction. Anagôgê.. Paris: Les Belles Lettres; Les Éditions du Cerf, 2012. 460. ISBN 9782251181134. €25.00 (pb).

[The Table of Contents is listed below.]

Among Eusebius’s many literarily innovative books and textual projects, the Historia Ecclesiastica is certainly the most widely read and has stood for centuries as one of the single most important sources for the study of early Christianity. The work raises a number of problems – tendencies of variation between the principal manuscript witnesses, the penchant of Eusebius for including numerous verbatim quotations from his sources, the resounding autobiographical silence when it reaches the period contemporary with its author, the historiographical vision(s) expressed in its ten books, the historical reliability of the work and the credibility of its author, the relationship between the author and the emperors that dominate the final books. All of these have exercised the industry and ingenuity of scholars within the fields of classics, religious studies, and history. In spite of the range of historical, literary, and textual problems and in spite of the overwhelming significance of this work for our appreciation of so many elements central to the picture of late antiquity in the years of tetrarchic and Constantinian experimentation, never before has there been an international collaborative study on the HE such as that offered in the book under review here. Morlet and Perrone’s edited volume stands as the first, introductory installment of a commentary series on each of the books of the HE. Even alone, apart from the forthcoming commentaries, as an introduction to Eusebius’s seminal historical work this volume represents a significant achievement in the ongoing scholarly conversation on the HE.

The volume’s contributions, offered by a team of French, Swiss, and Italian scholars (some of whom had already presented preliminary studies on the HE in two of the most recent issues of Adamantius,1 fall into roughly two categories (see the chapter outline provided at the end of this review). The first deals with issues of a historical and literary nature. Morlet contextualizes the work within Eusebius’s biography. Useful as an introductory survey of what we can know of the author’s life and works, this discussion brings together components of Eusebius’s thought that otherwise might seem at odds with each other. He was at once a polemicist, scholar, compiler, commentator, and innovator, exhibiting both a doctrinal and a literary originality (23- 31). Andrei contextualizes the HE within his earlier endeavors in organizing knowledge about the past, in particular locating the Chronicon within the traditions of chronography as well as identifying its precise relationship to the HE. Significantly, Andrei suggests a date for the first edition as late as 313AD, thus rendering Burgess’s theory of a second edition at this time superfluous (57-58). Also suggested (though with less persuasiveness to my mind) is the possibility that Eusebius himself mentioned the Council of Nicaea, which would have just occurred before he completed the final edition (in 325), though it was probably “compressed” with the entry on Alexander’s elevation to the bishopric (312/313) so that the Arian conflict would seem to the reader to be part of the evil times of Licinius (46-48, with n.51). In a discussion of the genre of the HE, Prinzivalli concludes that it was “a work in progress” (83). This fact, however, as well as fine observations on the distinctiveness of Books Eight through Ten as a unit distinct from One through Seven, should not detract from a general ideological unity to the whole work, which becomes noticeable through a comparison of the preparatory discussion ( prokataskeuē) in the first book with the Oration at Tyre in the tenth book (91-92). In addition, Prinzivalli offers a striking claim that deserves further consideration: Eusebius’s antimillenarianism needs to be accounted for in light of his generally dualist, Origenian, anthropology; it is thus due not so much to his exaltation of Constantine as to his pessimism toward earthly life (102-103). Junod provides a sweeping overview of the organization of the contents of the whole work. Literary features become evident from such an overview. S everal books lack introductory or concluding formulae; Books Three through Seven lack prefaces (118 n.9); Books Six and Seven distinctively draw upon almost exclusively Egyptian sources (132); and so on.

Two rather different studies address the tangled issue of the unity of the work as a whole, especially with respect to the last three books, including the troubled issue of the possibility of multiple editions of the HE coming from Eusebius’s own hand. Stated rather simplistically, Neri’s complex discussion of Books Eight and Nine argues for multiple editions of each book, while the study of Book Ten by Cassin, Debié, and Perrin, with Traina, more cautiously argues for multiple “states” of ongoing composition (198) and arrives at the startling insight that the entire ten books of the HE can be accounted for by positing a single edition dating to late 324/early 325 (203-204). Neri’s piece exhibits a mastery of the convoluted details both of the texts of the HE and the Martyrs of Palestine as well as the principal scholarly attempts to explain the evidence, and it will probably find a largely favorable reception by readers. Yet, I wonder if he has not gone far enough in cleaning out the Augean stables of modern conjecture. Neri rightly dismantles notions of a first edition containing only Books One through Seven and the widely held assumption that the Martyrs of Palestine (short recension) once filled the bulk of Book Eight (153-164), but he maintains the widespread propensity to find multiple editions discernible through allegedly contradictory viewpoints or attitudes supposed to be expressed by Eusebius at different times. Neri’s erudition is formidable and any future work on the issue of the purported multiple editions of the HE cannot take his study lightly, but the present reviewer finds the economical approach exemplified in the collective study of Cassin and the others to mark a more fitting manner of explaining the textual phenomena.2 The latter piece highlights the limits of basing hypotheses on the so-called damnatio memoriae of Licinius’s name in one group of manuscripts by offering an exhaustive list and exposition of every mention of Licinius in any manuscript. Furthermore, through their elucidation of what was something of a collaborative effort of compilation and composition with a team of readers and copyists, they exhibit the ways in which the composition of the HE aligns well with the compositional techniques of his other works (200-203). This was, then, a matter of the continuation and reworking of a text in process, rather than of new editions.

The second class of contributions provides important discussions on the textual traditions of the HE in Greek (Cassin, who significantly corrects and updates Schwartz’s standard discussion), in Latin (Ciccolini, who updates Mommsen’s standard discussion, and Morlet, who directly addresses the complex issue of Rufinus’s relationship to the Greek text), in Coptic (Boud’hors and Morlet, who attempt to discern the translation techniques behind the HE ’s adoption in the Coptic History of the Church as well as the Arabic History of the Patriarchs of Alexandria that relied upon it), in Syriac (Debié, who surveys the evidence we possess on the two primary Syriac manuscripts and notes the incompleteness of Schwartz’s use of the Syriac3), and in Armenian (Mahé, who offers a fascinating account of the evidence for the context of the HE ’s first translation into Armenian from a Syriac translation in the first half of the fifth century). The two final contributions, which are highly useful, provide a complete index of the sources alluded to or directly quoted in the pages of the HE (Munnich) and an extensive bibliography thematically divided so as to cover general works on Eusebius as well as particular areas of his thought and particular sections of the HE (Morlet and Perrone).

Each individual study in this volume not only provides an introduction to its subject but makes advances in our understanding of the key features of the text and quandaries surrounding the HE and its manuscript witnesses. This volume sets a high standard for all future inquiry into the HE and marks a promising harbinger of things to come in the remainder of this series. It provides a necessary foundation for any future study of a work that stands as one of the most significant to survive from late antiquity.

Chapter Outline

“Eusèbe de Césarée : biographie, chronologie, profil intellectual” (Sébastien Morlet)
“Canons chronologiques et Histoire ecclésiastique” (Osvalda Andrei)
“Le genre historiographique de l’ Histoire ecclésiastique ” (Emanuela Prinzivalli)
“Description sommaire de l’ Histoire ecclésiastique ” (Éric Junod)
“Les éditions de l’ Histoire ecclésiastique (livres VIII-IX) : bilan critique et perspectives de la recherché” (Valerio Neri)
“La question des éditions de l’ Histoire ecclésiastique et le livre X” (Matthieu Cassin, Muriel Debié, Michel-Yves Perrin, with Giusto Traina)
“Tradition manuscrite grecque de l’ Histoire ecclésiastique ” (Matthieu Cassin)
“La version latine de l’ Histoire ecclésiastique ” (Laetitia Ciccolini, Sébastien Morlet)
“La version copte de l’ Histoire ecclésiastique ” (Anne Boud’hors, Sébastien Morlet)
“La version syriaque de l’ Histoire ecclésiastique d’Eusèbe” (Muriel Debié)
“La version arménienne de l’ Histoire ecclésiastique d’Eusèbe” (Jean-Pierre Mahé)
“Index des citations et allusions dans l’ Histoire ecclésiastique ” (Olivier Munnich)
Bibliographie (Sébastien Morlet, Lorenzo Perrone)


1. Adamantius 14 (2008) and 16 (2010).

2. For further considerations in favor of a single edition comprising the entire ten books, dating to 324/325, see A. P. Johnson, Eusebius, Understanding the Classics series (London: I. B. Tauris, 2013, forthcoming).

3. See also, S. Toda, “The Syriac Version of Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History Revisited,” StPatr 46 (2010): 333-338.