The School of Caesarea: Eusebius
Eusebius of Caesarea (aka Eusebius Pamphili) was bishop of Caesarea and as we have already discussed, is considered to be the father of church history. On the importance of Eusebius’ history of the early church (Ecclesiastical History), Francis Joseph Bacchus states that “it would be difficult to overestimate the obligation which posterity is under to Eusebius for this monumental work. Living during the period of transition, when the old order was changing and all connected with it was passing into oblivion, he came forward at the critical moment with his immense stores of learning and preserved priceless treasures of Christian antiquity” (Bacchus 1909). In short, much of what we know about early church history is due to Eusebius, without whom much would have surely been lost.
It is clear that Eusebius, though not immune to controversy, was held in high esteem during his lifetime by many in the church, including emperor Constantine. We are told that “at the opening of the Council of Nicæa Eusebius occupied the first seat on the right of the emperor, and delivered the inaugural address … He evidently enjoyed great prestige…” (Bacchus 1909). Certainly, one reason for this seat of honor was his reputation as “beyond question the most learned man and most famous living writer in the church at this time” ("Dictionary of Christian Biography and Literature…”).
It is quite clear that this most learned man believed in universal salvation and that he based his views on Scripture. In his work, On Ecclesiastical Theology, Eusebius explains 1 Corinthians 15:28, saying that “if the subjection of the Son to the father means union with him, then the subjection of all to the Son means union with him” (as cited by Beecher) and proceeds to clarify his meaning as follows:
As the apostle when he said all shall be subjected to the Son did not mean union of essence, but obedience flowing from free-will, together with the honor and glory which all give him as the Saviour, and King of all, in the same way his subjection to the Father means nothing else than the glory, and honor, and veneration, and exaltation, and voluntary subjection, which he is to give to God the Father, when he has made all worthy of his paternal Godhead. For, so long as they are not worthy of this, he, anticipating the future as a common Saviour of all, administers a kingdom restorative of the imperfect and curative of those who need healing. (Beecher 1878, citing Eusebius' work, On Ecclesiastical Theology, Migne vi., p. 1030)
Once again we see the clear understanding of subjection as being an act of willing obedience, not coercion. Subjection to Christ, the Saviour of all, is the ultimate destiny of every person. For Eusebius, the parallel nature of the subjection of all to Christ and the subjection of Christ to the Father are clear, as the very same word, in the very same sentence, is used to describe both: “When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all” (1 Corinthians 15:28).
Beecher cites page 1031 of the same source to quote Eusebius, who repeats this concept yet again:
Christ is to subject all things to himself. We ought to conceive of this as such a salutary subjection as that by which the Son will be subjected to him, who subjects all to him. We ought to believe that he will effect a subjection ineffable, indescribable, and befitting him alone, when he shall present to God, even the Father, those subjected to himself, collecting them like a heavenly choir ascribing to him glory and honor and salvation and majesty, who is the source and cause of all good things.
It is to be noted that the subjection is described as salutary (beneficial). This does not mean that people who live wickedly waltz into heaven without consequence. The unworthy must be restored and healed of the disease of sin. Punishment is a therapeutic and purifying tool used in this process of restoration. Describing the post-mortem punishment of a thoroughly wicked and idolatrous hypothetical person who rejects Christ, Eusebius says the following: "The judgment of God moreover, shall consign him (thus) impure and unclean, as filthy and abominable to the purification and punishment which is by fire: because he would not be instructed by THE WORD (or Reason), nor adhere to the Divine law, when it was in his power to do so" (Theophania, Book 1, Chapter 72). Again, the many biblical references to fire as purifying offer strong support for this assertion. Though the wicked soul will be "miserable" according to Eusebius, his punishment by fire will serve the purpose of purifying him.
As in Clement and Origen, punishment was considered by Eusebius to be analogous to the work of a physician.
On this account, just as Physicians prescribe their remedies to those who are sick and debilitated by pains and sufferings, not the healthy food proper for the robust, but things that give uneasiness and pain; and, should it be necessary, do not excuse themselves from applying cauteries and bitter draughts, to coerce the disease: not the aliments proper for the healthy, but those suitable to the sick: but, when they have become convalescent, they will henceforth allow them to partake of wholesome and strengthening food : So likewise the common Saviour of all, as the Shepherd and Physician of His rational flocks on earth, taught those who had previous to His last divine manifestation entered into the many follies of a plurality of Gods, and had been maddened by the evils and fierceness attending (this) corruption of mind, by bitter punishments, by pestilences, famines, and the continuance of wars against each other. (Theophania, Book 2, Chapter 94-95)
In this passage, Eusebius is making reference to historical events that he considers to be judgments against wickedness and idolatry. The purpose of these judgments is clear for Eusebius. They are tools used by the common Saviour of all to teach and heal those who have fallen into error and wickedness. Though painful, the Great Physician applies appropriate punishments in order get rid of the disease of evil. As the Good Shepherd who searches until He finds the very last lost sheep, the common Saviour of all pursues us and sharply corrects us as needed. The remedial aspect of punishment is clearly in view, as it was for very many of the early church fathers.
Now, some may object that the remedial punishments described by Eusebius above do not apply to those being punished but rather only benefitted future generations, since some of the punishments were fatal. For Eusebius, however, the power of Christ to save was in no way hindered by death.
Now the laws of love summoned Him even as far as Death and the dead themselves, so that He might summon the souls of those who were long time dead. And so because He cared for the salvation of all for ages past, and that "He might bring to naught him that hath the power of death," as Scripture teaches, here again he underwent the dispensation in His mingled Natures: as Man, he left His Body to the usual burial, while as God He departed from it. For He cried with a loud cry, and said to the Father: "I commend my spirit," and departed from the body free, in no wise waiting for death, who was lagging as it were in fear to come to Him; nay, rather, He pursued him from behind and drove him on, trodden under His feet and fleeing, and He burst the eternal gates of his dark realms, and made a road of return back again to life for the dead there bound with the bonds of death. Thus, too, His own body was raised up, and many bodies of the sleeping saints arose, and came together with Him into the holy and real City of Heaven, as rightly is said by the holy words: "Death has prevailed and swallowed men up"; and again: "The Lord God has taken away every tear from every face." And the Saviour of the Universe, our Lord, the Christ of God, called Victor, is represented in the prophetic predictions as reviling death, and releasing the souls that are bound there, by whom He raises the hymn of victory, and He says these words: "From the hand of Hades I will save them, and from death I will ransom their souls. O Death, where is thy victory? O Death, where is thy sting? The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law." Such was the dispensation that brought Him even unto death, of which one that wishes to seek for the cause, can find not one reason but many. For firstly, the Word teaches by His death that He is Lord both of dead and living; and secondly, that He will wash away our sins, being slain, and becoming a curse for us; thirdly, that a victim of God and a great sacrifice for the whole world might be offered to Almighty God; fourthly, that thus He might work out the destruction of the deceitful powers of the daemons by unspeakable words; and fifthly also, that shewing the hope of life with God after death to His friends and disciples not by words only by deeds as well, and affording ocular proof of His message, He might make them of good courage and more eager to preach both to Greeks and Barbarians the holy polity which He had established. (Demonstration of the Gospel, Book IV, Chapter 12)
It is quite clear that Eusebius believed in Jesus' complete indisputable victory over death. As the great sacrifice for the whole world and the Lord or both the dead and the living (1 John 2:2, Romans 14:9), he is fully able to take away every tear from every face. Death is not a barrier for the Saviour of the Universe. Instead he ransoms the souls of all people from death, which He, through his victorious death and resurrection, has rendered utterly powerless. He makes this position clear elsewhere as well:
THIS clearly gives the good news of the Descent of God the Word from heaven, Who is named, and of the result of His Coming. For it says, "He sent his Word and healed them." And we say distinctly that the Word of God was He that was sent as the Saviour of all men, Whom we are taught by the Holy Scriptures to reckon divine. And it darkly suggests that He came down even unto death for the sake of those who had died before Him, and in revealing the redemption of those to be saved by Him it shews the reason of His Coming. For He saved without aid from any one those that had gone before Him even to the gates of death, healed them and rescued them from their destruction. And this He did simply by breaking what are called the gates of death, and crushing the bars of iron. (Demonstration of the Gospel, Book VI, Chapter 7)
The above is Eusebius' explanation of Psalm 107:10-22 which reads as follows:
Some sat in darkness, in utter darkness, prisoners suffering in iron chains, because they rebelled against God’s commands and despised the plans of the Most High. So he subjected them to bitter labor; they stumbled, and there was no one to help. Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he saved them from their distress. He brought them out of darkness, the utter darkness, and broke away their chains. Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for mankind, for he breaks down gates of bronze and cuts through bars of iron. Some became fools through their rebellious ways and suffered affliction because of their iniquities. They loathed all food and drew near the gates of death. Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he saved them from their distress. He sent out his word and healed them; he rescued them from the grave. Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for mankind. Let them sacrifice thank offerings and tell of his works with songs of joy. (NIV)
This ability of God to break the iron bars of death and save people from the grave (even those who "became fools because of their rebellious ways" and who seem forever lost in "utter darkness") is also attested to in the New Testament, particularly in 1 Peter 3.
1 Peter 3:18-20 and 1 Peter 4:6 (NIV)
For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit. After being made alive, he went and made proclamation to the imprisoned spirits— to those who were disobedient long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built ... For this is the reason the gospel was preached even to those who are now dead, so that they might be judged according to human standards in regard to the body, but live according to God in regard to the spirit.
These scriptural passages explicitly indicate that Jesus preached the gospel to the wicked (even the evil people of Noah's day of whom it is said that "every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time"). Surely these are the sort of people referrred to as those who "became fools through their rebellious ways and suffered affliction because of their iniquities" and who dwelled in utter darkness as described in Psalm 107. But even such apparently hopeless cases are not hopeless for the "Saviour of all men," who is completely victorious over death and sin. Insead, Jesus confronts death head-on to win back the souls of all people:
He escaped not from death; for this would have been pusillanimous, and it would have been thought that He was inferior to death. But, by this contention with Death as with a contemporary, He established the immortality of that which was mortal; and, this last conflict which was for the salvation of all, secured (for all) the life which is immortal. (Theophania, Book 3, Chapter 55)
Yet again, Eusebius makes his position undeniable. The work of the cross was for "the salvation of all" and it secured true life and immortality for everyone. This universal salvation of all is a pervasive theme. In Theophania alone, He uses the specific title "common Saviour of all" for Christ (and more rarely the Father) 22 times. It is one of his favorite titles for Christ, second only to calling Him the "WORD OF GOD." For Eusebius, this is who Christ is. He is the common Saviour of all who cannot be hindered by anything in accomplishing his purpose of complete reconciliation and unity of all people in Him.
The inclusiveness of the gospel is an undeniable and ubiquitous theme in Eusebius' writings. Let's now look at a few more examples, providing clear proof that Eusebius believed in the ultimate salvation of all people through the work of Jesus.
He manifested Himself—and truly it was a divine and miraculous thing, such as never before or since is recorded to have happened—the Saviour and the Benefactor, too, of all. So, then, God the Word was called the Son of Man, and was named Jesus, because He made His approach to us to cure and to heal the souls of men. And therefore in Hebrew the name Jesus is interpreted Saviour. And He led the life which we lead, in no way forsaking the being that He had before, and ever in the Manhood retaining the Divinity. (Demonstration of the Gospel, Book IV, chapter 10)
As the Saviour and Benefactor of all, Jesus came to cure and heal the souls of all men. It is unthinkable that He would fail in this mission. In order to be the Saviour and Benefactor of all, He must, by definition, save and benefit all. Otherwise, these titles could not apply to Him.
And thus did these things shew, that the Providence (exerted) over mankind, was from all time great, (and) evincing the care for every man, which was both suitable and sufficient. Because then, great would be the change for the better in every one, upon human life's becoming tranquillized, and the common conduct (of all) being changed from its former wildness to something approaching to benignity; it is likely, that the common Saviour of all, the compassionate WORD OF GOD, would more particularly, and the more readily, make his Divine manifestation at a time that would be (most) suitable. He accordingly came in by the mission of himself, and shewed forth to men, who could by no other means arrive at the knowledge of the truth, by the instrumentality of a human vessel, the God of truth. The God of truth did then, through the divine operations and astonishing miracles which were evident to all, shew forth the doctrine of heavenly teaching which respected His Kingdom ; in order that by these, He might henceforth, even as He had formerly afforded aid by means of the things already mentioned, instruct the whole human race in the doctrine which is heavenly. (Theophania, Book II, Chapter 93-94)
Notice that Eusebius is describing the purpose of the Incarnation of the common Saviour of all is to "instruct the whole human race." This is because of His love and care for every person, for all mankind, from all time. Ultimately the work of Jesus will change everyone for the better, as He fulfills his mission as "the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!" (John 1:29).
This suitable and sufficient care for every person comes from a heart of love. As an "all-kind Father," God is not content to abandon His children to endless misery. Instead, His goal as well as ours is "the recurrence and restoration of our proper state. For the true end of man's nature is not here on earth sinking down into ruin and destruction, but in yonder place from which the first man fell away" (Preparation for the Gospel, Book VII, Chapter XVIII) . Restoration to a right state with God is the end of all of mankind. We will not be enslaved to sin and death forever for Jesus came to "to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind" (Luke 4:18). How could this not apply to those imprisoned by the chains of sin and death, or those blinded by their ignorance of God's love? All must be restored because of God's unfailing love for all.
This is the fundamental reason for Christ's death and resurrection. Describing Jesus' sacrifice as the Lamb of God and how it was foreshadowed in the celebration of Passover of the Exodus, Eusebius states that He "was going to suffer this for the sake of the common salvation of all mankind" (On the Celebration of Easter; De sollemnitate Paschali).
This salvation of all mankind is entirely dependent on God's grace and Jesus' death and resurrection, and is entirely not of ourselves. Eusebius (and the Bible) make it clear that we are powerless to save ourselves; it is Jesus who saves all of us.
Why, then, are you surprised to learn the like about God (Whose work is the sun, and the whole heaven, and the Cosmos)? That it is impossible for any that exist to have fellowship in His unspeakable and inexplicable Power and Essence save for One alone, Whom the Father Himself in His Foreknowledge of the Universe established before all things, so that the nature of begotten things might not altogether through their own lack of energy and strength fall away, being severed from the Father's unbegotten and incomprehensible Essence, but might endure and increase and be nourished, enjoying that mediated supply, which the Only-begotten Word of God ceases not to provide to all, and passing everywhere and through all provides for the salvation of all equally, whether they have reason or not, whether they be mortal or immortal, of heaven or of earth, both divine and invisible powers, and, in a word, of all things whatsoever that shared in being through His agency, and far more peculiarly still of those who possess reason and thought, for which things' sake He does not at all despise the human race, but rather honours and cares for it, for the sake of the kinship and connection of their reason with Himself, inasmuch as it was said in the holy oracles that they were formed after His likeness. (Demonstration of the Gospel, Book 4, Chapter 6)
Jesus never stops providing salvation, but rather continues to provide for the "salvation of all equally." He is working in everyone and everything. As stated in Acts 17:28, "in Him we live and move and have our being" for we "are his offspring." The universality of salvation and love is explicit in this passage, applying to "all things whatsoever that shared in being through His agency." In other words, anyone and anything created by God will be saved, but especially "those who possess reason and thought" (i.e. human beings). The reason for this is God's love for us. He does not despise the human race at all but "honours and cares for it." We are His children, his kin, made in His image. His unfailing love will not abandon His most valued creations to endless misery and wickedness, but rather save us from ourselves.
This salvation, for Eusebius clearly applies to all of humanity:
Now it was actually the case that the whole Humanity was absorbed by the Divinity, and moreover the Word of God was God as He had previously been man, and He deified humanity with Himself, being the firstfruits of our hope, since He thought actual manhood worthy of eternal life with Him, and of fellowship in the blessed Godhead, and afforded to us all equally this mighty proof of an immortality and kingdom with Him. (Demonstration of the Gospel, Book IV, Chapter 14)
This last passage undeniably confirms Eusebius' universal vision of salvation for all human beings, but requires a bit more commentary for it is easily misunderstood. Though strange-sounding to Western ears, the doctrine of theosis or deification described above is very well-known in Eastern Orthodox and Eastern Catholic churches. It is not pantheism or polytheism, but rather the idea of full sanctification and participation in God's kingdom. Consider this Orthodox description of theosis:
The human person does not merge with some sort of impersonal divine force, losing individual identity or consciousness. Intrinsic divinity is never ascribed to humankind or any part of the creation, and no created thing is confused with the being of God. Most certainly, humans are not accorded ontological equality with God, nor are they considered to merge or co-mingle with the being of God as He is in His essence.
In fact, to safeguard against any sort of misunderstanding of this kind, Orthodox theologians have been careful to distinguish between God’s essence and His energies. God is incomprehensible in His essence. But God, who is love, allows us to know Him through His divine energies, those actions whereby He reveals Himself to us in creation, providence, and redemption. It is through the divine energies, therefore, that we achieve union with God.
We become united with God by grace in the Person of Christ, who is God come in the flesh. The means of becoming “like God” is through perfection in holiness, the continuous process of acquiring the Holy Spirit by grace through ascetic devotion. Some Protestants might refer to this process as sanctification. Another term for it, perhaps more familiar to Western Christians, would be mortification—putting sin to death within ourselves. (Shuttleworth, "Theosis: Partaking of the Divine Nature")
Regardless of how we feel about the semantics of calling this process "deification," it is clear that such a goal of becoming more like God in holiness and participation in His work should be a goal of every Christian. Scripturally, this participation is the divine nature is well-described in 2 Peter 1:3-4:
His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.
It is indisputable that Eusebius saw this participation in the divine nature as the end of all of humanity, since he states that the "whole Humanity was absorbed by the Divinity" and that "He deified humanity with Himself." We will all be cleansed of our sin and freed from our slavery to evil desires, whether through participation in this process now or later. God's consuming fire will ultimately consume evil in all of us and make us like Him.
Eusebius' vision of a loving God who came to save all of humanity from darkness and death is pervasive in his writings. As we continue to examine the writings of the early church, will see that such a vision was shared by very many, contrary to the brash claims of opponents.
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Citations and Notes
Bacchus, Francis Joseph. "Eusebius of Cæsarea." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 5. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1909. 26 Jun. 2018. http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/05617b.htm
Beecher, Edward. History of Opinions on the Scriptural Doctrine of Retribution. Chapter 29. D. Appleton, 1878, http://www.tentmaker.org/books/Retribution/retribution29.htm
Eusebius of Caesarea. Demonstratio Evangelica (Demonstration of the Gospel). Centesimus Annus: Text - IntraText CT, www.intratext.com/IXT/ENG0882/_P19.HTM. Retrieved 9/10/2018
Eusebius of Caesarea. Demonstratio Evangelica (Demonstration of the Gospel). Translated by W.J. Ferrar, www.tertullian.org/fathers/eusebius_de_06_book4.htm.
Eusebius of Caesarea. EUSEBII PAMPHILI EVANGELICAE PRAEPARATIONIS (Preparation for the Gospel). Translated by E.H. Gifford, www.tertullian.org/fathers/eusebius_pe_00_intro.htm. Retrieved 9/10/2018
Eusebius of Caesarea, On the Celebration of Easter; De Sollemnitate Paschali (2010); Angelo Mai, Novae Patrum Bibliotheca 4 (1847), Pp.209-216.Translated by Andrew Eastbourne, www.tertullian.org/fathers/eusebius_on_easter.htm.
Eusebius of Caesarea. Theophania or Divine Manifestation of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Translated by Samuel Lee, published online by Roger Pearse, www.tertullian.org/fathers/eusebius_theophania_02book1.htm. Retrieved 9/10/2018
“Dictionary of Christian Biography and Literature to the End of the Sixth Century A.D., with an Account of the Principal Sects and Heresies.” Christian Classics Ethereal Library, https://www.ccel.org/ccel/wace/biodict.html?term=Eusebius%20of%20Caesarea .
Shuttleworth, Mark. “Theosis: Partaking of the Divine Nature.” Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America, ww1.antiochian.org/content/theosis-partaking-divine-nature. Retrieved 9/10/2018