An early book reviewer

Photius wrote his book of reviews in the early ninth century. One was on Eusebius’ “Life of Constantine”. 

He’s good. In just one sentence, he covers the subject matter. Constantine and the Church and the form is eulogy.

Read the Life of Constantine the Great Emperor by Eusebius Pamphili, a eulogy in four books. It contains the whole manner of life of the man, and describes all those acts of his that have to do with ecclesiastical history, from his earliest years till the day when he departed this life, at the age of sixty-four.

Then the style is criticized … 

Even here the author preserves his characteristic style, except that his language is obliged to be somewhat more brilliant, and words are inserted here and there that are more flowery than usual; he does not, however, exhibit much charm and grace in explanation, which is also a defect of his other works.

And he spots the reuse …

A large number of passages from all the ten books of his Ecclesiastical History are scattered over this work in four books.

The rest of review discusses content but he proves uninterested in most of it. He never mentions the vivid accounts of great new temples or the actual letters from bishops and emperor. Instead he attacks the first Church historian for not properly characterizing the Arian “dispute” that was tearing up the Church at the time. Photius is orthodox, “straight” and wants his Church history served up that way …

He says that the great Constantine was also himself baptized in Nicomedia, having put off his baptism till that time since he desired to receive it in the waters of Jordan. He does not state definitely who baptized him. As to the Arian heresy, he does not make it clear whether he still adhered to that doctrine or whether he had changed, nor does he state whether Arius’s views were right or wrong, although he ought to have mentioned this, seeing that a great part of the deeds of Constantine has to do with the synod, which again claims a detailed account of them. But he mentions that a “dispute” (as he calls the heresy, to conceal its real nature) arose between Arius and Alexander, and that the pious emperor was very grieved at the “dispute,” and strove, by letters and through Hosius, bishop of Cordova, to induce the disputants to abandon mutual strife and such questions, and to restore friendship and harmony amongst them; that, being unable to persuade them, he called together a synod from all parts, and so put an end to the strife that had broken out, and made peace. His account, however, is neither accurate nor clear. Wherefore, as if ashamed and unwilling to make public the facts concerning Arius and the decree of the synod against him or the just punishment of his companions in impiety who were cast out with him, he says nothing about this. He does not even mention the just punishment of Arius inflicted by heaven and seen by every eye. He brings none of these things to the light, and says little about the synod and its proceedings. For this reason, when about to speak of the divine Eustathius, he does not even mention his name, nor the audacious and successful intrigues against him. Attributing these also to sedition and tumult, he again refers to the calmness of the bishops who had assembled at Antioch as the result of the emperor’s zeal and co-operation and changed sedition and tumult into peace. Similarly, where he speaks of the intrigues against the much-tried Athanasius, in his desire to include these things in his history, he says that Alexandria was again filled, with sedition and disturbance, which were calmed by the presence of the bishops, supported by the emperor. But he does not make it clear who started the sedition, nor its nature, nor how it was put down. He preserves almost the same method of concealment in his narrative of the quarrels of the bishops about dogma or their disagreements in other matters.

In other words, Eusebius didn’t castigate those Photius held in contempt and he failed to praise those he held dear. After all that time (five hundred years later), this “heresy” and “dispute” was still a concern. Why? Because Photius’ time had others and so had the intervening years. Heresy was the Church’s nemesis.

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