Eusebius’ Life of Constantine

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Eusebius (AD 260-339) was a Greek Christian writer, and often referred to as the ‘Father of Ecclesiastical History’. He was born in Palestine, educated in Caesarea, and later became bishop of that same city. His literature is grouped into four main categories: history, apology, Biblical, and dogmatic. Some of his works remain extent for our study. The Ecclesiastical History is made up of ten books and covers the period from the foundation of the Church to the defeat of Licinius in AD 324. A Preparation for the Gospel consists of fifteen books and explains how the Christians prefer Judaism to paganism. He composed a follow up to this work called the Proof of the Gospel, and it shows how the Christian tradition is a fulfillment of the Old Testament. Other works include the Onomasticon, Commentary on the Psalms, and Against Marcellus. Eusebius is rightfully known as the preeminent author of Christian antiquity.

This week you are reading the first book of the Vita Constantini (Life of Constantine), a panegyric written in honor of Constantine. Composed in four books, the work was never completed due to Eusebius’ death in AD 339. As you read this short excerpt from the larger work, consider the following:

  • What characteristics and attributes of this document make it a hagiography (or Saint’s life) of Constantine? According to Eusebius, what inspires and drives Constantine? Why? How?
  • In passages 7-9, how does Eusebius compare and contrast Constantine to Alexander the Great? Why does he do this?
  • Eusebius indicates that his goal is to outline the ‘virtues’ of Constantine? What does this mean? What are the virtues he attributes to the Emperor?
    • In doing so, what elements or key components of Constantine’s life and reign does Eusebius state he will ignore or ‘pass over’?
  • What makes this a unique biography? What sets it apart from other primary texts we’ve examined this semester?
  • According to Eusebius, how is Constantine comparable to the Hebrew, Moses? What point is the author trying to make?
  • Eusebius briefly discusses Constantius, Constantine’s father. How does he explain the tolerance towards paganism during this era of the Roman Empire? (Reference passages 21 and 22 to being your analysis.)
  • How does Eusebius approach, explain, or discuss the actions of previous ‘good’ emperors (who he refers to as ‘princes’) towards the ‘churches of God’ throughout his narrative? Why does he do this?
  • According to Eusebius, why did Constantine seek to destroy the tetrarchy and march on Rome? Besides his military, what did Constantine have to rely on in order to be victorious?
  • Passages 28-42 are the most famous sections of the Vita Constantini, as they recount the famous Battle of the Milvian Bridge between Constantine and Maxentius’ forces. Be familiar with the course of these events.
    • What picture does Eusebius paint of Maxentius? What vocabulary does the author repeatedly use to describe him?
    • How does Constantine come to fight under the name and symbols of Christ and Christianity?
    • How does this one event end pagan Rome and start the Roman Christian revolution?

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