Constantine and Eusebus Influence on the Enculturation of Christianity in the Roman Empire Term Paper

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Constantine and Eusebius

There are many great rulers in history, among them men and women of great fortitude, power, allegiance, wealth and intrigue. Yet, there are few who ring more interesting to a modern reader than Constantine I, who is widely held as the first Roman emperor to convert to Christianity and spread its favor across the then known world. This work will briefly discuss Constantine I (27 February 272 -- 22 May 337 AD) and his only remaining biographer Eusebius (263-339 AD) who was really writing the history of the church rather than on the greatness of a single human leader. The work will first briefly explore who these men were, according to history then it will discuss their relationship to one another, the impact that relationship had on each and finally how that relationship influenced the enculturation of Christianity in the Roman Empire.

Constantine the great (Flavius Valerius Aurelius Constantius Augustus) or Constantine I or sometimes known as Saint Constantine was the Roman emperor from 306-337 serving as the 57th emperor of the Roman Empire was a consummate military ruler who reinvigorated the empire, rebuilding through military might the size and strength of the empire. He is best known for being the first Roman Emperor to personally convert to Christianity, likely because of the limited sources remaining from his reign. Much of what is known about Constantine comes to us from the writings of a single Christian writer, Eusebius, the bishop of Caesarea in Palestine who recorded Constantine's life through a vision of Christian conversion and therefore left a foundational legacy for history which squarely seats Christianity in the Roman empire as it begins to win favor as a dominant religion. In many ways the controversy of Constantine and his reign, which was militarily bloody and historically similar to other rulers is enlightened by Eusebius' many claims of the greatness of Constantine through the window of Christianity, rather than through his military might and dominating history.[footnoteRef:1] [1: Thomas C. Ferguson. Past Is Prologue: The Revolution of Nicene Historiography. Leiden, NLD: Brill Academic Publishers, 2005. p 15-16.]

There is limited evidence of the personal relationship between Eusebius and Constantine, beginning mainly with a brief meeting of the two in Palestine, prior to Constantine's role as emperor began but likely culminating with Constantine's trip to Jerusalem for the dedication of the newly built Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Eusebius was the bishop of the principle city in the area and therefore played an important role in the celebrations, likely to have several audiences with Constantine supported in part bay years of distant correspondence and a few other personal meetings. Eusebius recognized in Constantine a leader willing and desirous of bringing peace to the church and Constantine recognized in Eusebius an admired and therefore powerful individual and also supported him. The relationship then according to Gonzalez, a foremost scholar on the early church was neither that of close friend nor courtier as each had distant and important roles but each also seemed to recognize the role of the other and cultivate mutual respect based upon it.[footnoteRef:2] This is not to say that the men were opportunists just that each recognized mutual goals and utilized the relationship, as brief and intermittent as it was to support these goals, in Eusebius' eye the mutual goal was to strengthen and unify the Christian Church during and after a serious rift, the Arian controversy which Eusebius wavered on with the primacy of thought being on unity rather than disunity, a thought openly favored by Constantine as well, throughout his years as emperor.[footnoteRef:3] Also according to Gonzalez while Constantine was alive Eusebius found occasion to praise him in dedication but did not do so fully until his passing, in the form of the doctrine that has become one of two official biographical informatics for Constantine's rule, though fully entrenched as church history and cannon, the Vita Constantini is as much a history of Constantine as it is a faith filled retelling of the role that Constantine played in church unity. The only other surviving biographical work is the anonymous Origo Constantini Imperatoris which details his military and civil history, rather than his role in the church.[footnoteRef:4] For most scholars of Constantine the two works together forma relatively comprehensive biography of the man and his role in the empire but for the purpose of this work, detailing Constantine and Eusebius there is only need of a mention here. The reality of the relationship between these two men, which was relatively scarce on a personal level has to do more with the nature of what they accomplished for the still fledgling Christian church, decided unity after the Arian controversy as well as through the legacy of Eusebius' theological praise of Constantine, not so much the man but the unifier and spreader of Christianity. It is largely because of Eusebius as a consummate writer and theological historian that Constantine's legacy is so largely focused on his role in the Christian church, regardless of the controversy associated with his conversion in 312, he is and will forever be known as the first Christina Emperor as well as the first to advocate for religious tolerance, regardless of the scope and scale of this truth in comparison to his ruthless military might.[footnoteRef:5] [2: Justo L. Gonzalez. 1984. The Story of Christianity, Volume 1. San Francisco CA, Harper Collins p. 132.] [3: Ibid. p. 131.] [4: Hans A Pohlsander. 2004. The Emperor Constantine. New York, NY: Routledge, p. 89.] [5: Randall J. Morris. 2012 Constantine: The Emperor of Tolerance. Amazon Digital Services p. 1.]

With regard to Constantine and Eusebius' role as the purveyors of Christian unity and acculturation there is still significant evidence. This evidence begins with the role that Eusebius plays in the recording of the history of the church, drawing from a historically vast library of sources, from Jewish text to military histories. The man was both a scholar and a diligent historian, working in what must have been a feverish pitch to bring his knowledge to his subjects and still manage to run the daily and likely demanding tasks of the role of a bishop in a prominent Roman town. It is often said that behind each great man is also a great historian as the dominating force behind his legacy and the relationship between Constantine and Eusebius is a grand historical example of just such a relationship. Each saw within the other the role and cultivated it to develop a legacy it is likely neither would have expected as Eusebius, before and after Constantine's death understood fully the role Constantine might play in the growth and strength of the image of a unified church, that had been fractured by many major controversies and dominated in its history by personal and civic persecution. The period of Constantine's rule demonstrated the first period in history where to be a Christian was to be an accepted and even normal part of civic life in the Roman empire and though Constantine is known through his legacy as excessively tolerant of other religions all the official civic religious identity of Rome shifts from multi-deity worship to worship of one god, the divine. All other civic and popular religions were assimilated into Christianity, at will by the early writers of Christianity and this once persecuted cult became the dominant force of world religion.[footnoteRef:6] All this was made possible by the scholarship of Eusebius and his learned skill at organizing and developing works that could and did proliferate Christianity to the scholarly and eventually the masses. "[Eusebius] produced a series of innovative scholarly and polemical works in which he mobilized the Bible, pagan writers, and documentary evidence to prove that a providential plan had guided mankind through world history."[footnoteRef:7] Eusebius was a direct predecessor to Origen, a scholarly church father who wrote tirelessly during earlier periods of the church. It is really the legacy of Eusebius' well developed skill as both an orator and a prolific writer that dominates the legacy of Constantine and the period for the Christian church; [6: Carpenter, Edward. 1998. Pagan & Christian Creeds: Their Origin and Meaning. University of Virginia Library, 1998.] [7: Anthony Grafton & Megan Williams. 2006. Christianity and the Transformation of the Book: Origen, Eusebius, and the Library of Caesarea. Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press, 2006 p. 134.]

Eusebius of Caesarea was Origen's best-known and most self-conscious successor. He has often been imagined as the direct inheritor of Origen's scholarly tradition, indeed as a kind of epigone. In fact, Eusebius went beyond his idolized predecessor on the conceptual level, by applying his formal innovations in book design and production to a range of problems of which Origen probably could not even have conceived. He also built an infrastructure for the production of learning, and of learned books, that far surpassed anything Origen could ever have imagined. This infrastructure was supported by forms of patronage that had never before been available to Christian scholars, and yielded an institutional…

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