Eusebius the Liar?

Some very odd statements are in circulation about Eusebius Pampilus the Historian.  Recently someone quoted one of them at me, as a put-down.  I had the opportunity to check the statements fairly easily, and the results are interesting, if discouraging for those looking for data on the internet.

[NOTE: There are a couple of pages with relevant data to this, which I highlight here: Lightfoot's comment on this issue; and various translations of Eusebius Praeparatio Evangelica]

The original allegation

Here's the relevant extract from a recent post:

> Perhaps, but let me quote Eusebius, the Bishop who 'uncovered' the 
> Flavianum Testamonium: 
> : "I have repeated whatever may rebound to the glory, and suppressed 
> : all that could tend to the disgrace of our religion" (Chp. 31, Book 
> : 12 of Prae Paratio Evangelica).

This seems a very strange thing for a historian of any sort to say.  My first thought was to look for anything about it in the HE, because I didn't have the post in front of me and hadn't recalled that it was not a quote from that work.  But it wasn't labour lost.

The introduction to Eusebius' Historia Ecclesiastica

From the introduction to the 1965 Williamson edition of HE in Penguin Classics, p.27:

"He indirectly confesses that he has related whatever might redound to the glory, and has suppressed all that could tend to the disgrace, of religion"

Williamson goes on to say:

"Gibbon's notorious sneer ... was effectively disposed of by Lightfoot, who fully vindicated Eusebius'  honour as a narrator 'against this unjust charge'."

Eusebius also lays down his method in Book I, chapter 1, where he modestly confesses that he knows of no-one who has written anything like this work before, so he would appreciate the reader's indulgence while he evolves his methodology.  The 'quote' is not in the section in which he describes how he intends to proceed.

This is all very suspicious.  The wording of the 'quote' is identical (apart from some carelessness) to what Williamson calls a sneer of Gibbon's.  But the obvious thing to do is to look at the work 'quoted' and see if it contains the alleged quote.  This I did.

The passage from De praeparatione evangelica

According to Quasten's Patrology, there is only the one English translation, done as part of a Greek edition.  (I hope people will forgive me if I don't try to display the Greek on this page - I'm not sure how to do Greek characters reliably!)  So here is the chapter from that edition.  I've tried to reproduce the layout and line breaks:

Gifford, E.H., Eusebii Pamphili : Evangelicae Praeparationis, Vol III, Oxford, 1903, p. 657, sections p.607d-608a.  The text is Book XII, chapter XXXI:

'But even if the case were not such as our argument has
now proved it to be, if a lawgiver, who is to be of ever so little
use, could have ventured to tell any falsehood at all to the young
for their good, is there any falsehood that he could have told
more beneficial than this, and better able to make them all do
everything that is just, not by compulsion but willingly?
   'Truth, O Stranger, is a noble and an enduring thing; it seems,
however, not easy to persuade men of it.'
   Now you may find in the Hebrew Scriptures also
thousands of such passages concerning God as though
He were jealous, or sleeping, or angry, or subject to any
other human passions, which passages are adopted for the
benefit of those who need this mode of instruction.
p. 608

As you can see, the  'quotation' appears nowhere in the work, which is cast in the form of a discussion quoting passages from the philosophers and discussing their relationship with the Hebrew scriptures (The quote from Plato is from the Laws II, 663 d 6 - e 4).  History, as such, is not under discussion in the work at all.  In this passage, a piece of Plato is discussed, and the way in which the Hebrew scriptures acknowledge the inability of most men to reason (and how, unlike the philosophers, they don't exclude that class of men) and embody it as part of their message is outlined.

Clearly the reference we started with is quite wrong.

So where does that leave us?  Well, it leaves us with Gibbon.  What did he actually say, and did he reference it?


I looked at a reprint of Gibbon, and I've copied out enough to make sense.

Gibbon, Edward, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Encyclopedia Britannica reprint, 1990, ISBN 0-85229-531-6.  Volume I, chapter 16, p.232.

   In this general view of the persecution which was first authorised by the edicts of Diocletian, I have purposely refrained from describing the particular sufferings and deaths of the Christian martyrs.  It would have been an easy task. from the history of Eusebius, from the declamations of Lactantius, to collect a long series of horrid and disgusting pictures ...[snip]  But I cannot determine what I ought to transcribe, till I am satisfied how much I ought to believe.  The gravest of the ecclesiastical historians, Eusebius himself, indirectly confesses that he has related whatever might redound to the glory, and that he has suppressed all that could tend to the disgrace, of religion. 178 Such an acknowledgement will naturally excite a suspicion that a writer who has so openly violated one of the fundamental laws of history has not paid a very strict regard to the observance of the other; and the suspicion will derive additional credit from the character of Eusebius, which was less tinctured with credulity, and more practised in the arts of courts, than that of almost any of his contemporaries. [etc].

Note 178 on p.736:

178.  Such is the fair deduction from two remarkable passages in Eusebius, l. viii. c. 2, and de Martyr. Palestin. c. 12.  The prudence of the historian has exposed his own character to censure and suspicion.  It was well known that he himself had been thrown into prison; and it was suggested that he had purchased his deliverance by some dishonorable compliance.  The reproach was urged in his lifetime, and even in his presence, at the council of Tyre.  See Tillemont, Memoires Ecclesiastiques, tom. viii. part i. p. 67

Well, that gives us the statement from Gibbon and two references for it.  So let's look at those two references.  The Ante-Nicene Fathers should supply our needs adequately.

Eusebius HE Book VIII, chapter 2.

Here is the Ante-Nicene Fathers text, from

Chapter II. The Destruction of the Churches.

1 All these things were fulfilled in us, when we saw with our own eyes the houses of prayer thrown down to the very foundations, and the Divine and Sacred Scriptures committed to the flames in the midst of the market-places, and the shepherds of the churches basely hidden here and there, and some of them captured ignominiously, and mocked by their enemies. When also, according to another prophetic word, "Contempt was poured out upon rulers, and he caused them to wander in an untrodden and pathless way."

2 But it is not our place to describe the sad misfortunes which finally came upon them, as we do not think it proper, moreover, to record their divisions and unnatural conduct to each other before the persecution. Wherefore we have decided to relate nothing concerning them except the things in which we can vindicate the Divine judgment.

3 Hence we shall not mention those who were shaken by the persecution, nor those who in everything pertaining to salvation were shipwrecked, and by their own will were sunk in the depths of the flood. But we shall introduce into this history in general only those events which may be usefull first to ourselves and afterwards to posterity. Let us therefore proceed to describe briefly the sacred conflicts of the witnesses of the Divine Word.

4 It was in the nineteenth year of the reign of Diocletian, in the month Dystrus, called March by the Romans, when the feast of the Saviour's passion was near at hand, that royal edicts were published everywhere, commanding that the churches be leveled to the ground and the Scriptures be destroyed by fire, and ordering that those who held places of honor be degraded, and that the household servants, if they persisted in the profession of Christianity, be deprived of freedom.

5 Such was the first edict against us. But not long after, other decrees were issued, commanding that all the rulers of the churches in every place be first thrown into prison, and afterwards by every artifice be compelled to sacrifices.

1 Then truly a great many rulers of the churches eagerly endured terrible sufferings, and furnished examples of noble conflicts. But a multitude of others, benumbed in spirit by fear, were easily weakened at the first onset. Of the rest each one endured different forms of torture.  [etc]

I think we can see that v.2 is the bit that Gibbon has used.  But does it mean what Gibbon says?  Or is Eusebius, faced with a huge amount of material for contemporary events, simply honestly stating that from here on he won't cover everything, but only those which are in some way useful to know about, whether positive, or negative but with a useful moral, and for the rest stick to general statements?  It seems as if that the latter is more consistent with the context, although one could make out some sort of case that Gibbon is misrepresenting something that is really there in Eusebius.  But is the idea that Gibbon is making in Eusebius' mind at all?  Surely he's thinking about writing something useful to his public?

Our 'quote' isn't here.  It would be useful to see which words in Eusebius were represented by which words in Gibbon, but there does not seem to be a 1:1 relation.  The closest statement to 'suppressing material to the disgrace of religion' is when he says is that it isn't his place to pillory some people (who of course, are living at the time he writes).  The closest statement to 'he is relating only what redounds to the glory of religion' is when he says he will relate nothing about the corrupt except that which shows they deserved it ('vindicates the divine judgement').

The Martyrs of Palestine

This is an appendix to Book VIII of the HE, and is not a history but a martyrology - a book intended for devotional use.  Here's the ANF text:

1.  I Think it best to pass by all the other events which occurred in the meantime: such as those which happened to the bishops of the churches, when instead of shepherds of the rational flocks of Christ, over which they presided in an unlawful manner, the divine judgment, considering them worthy of such a charge, made them keepers of camels, an irrational beast and very crooked in the structure of its body, or condemned them to have the care of the imperial horses;-and I pass by also the insults and disgraces and tortures they endured from the imperial overseers and rulers on account of the sacred vessels and treasures of the Church; and besides these the lust of power on the part of many, the disorderly and unlawful ordinations, and the schisms among the confessors themselves; also the novelties which were zealously devised against the remnants of the Church by the new and factious members, who added innovation after innovation and forced them in unsparingly among the calamities of the persecution, heaping misfortune upon misfortune. I judge it more suitable to shun and avoid the account of these things, as I said at the beginning. But such things as are sober and praiseworthy, according to the sacred word,-"and if there be any virtue and praise," - I consider it most proper to tell and to record, and to present to believing hearers in the history of the admirable martyrs. And after this I think it best to crown the entire work with an account of the peace which has appeared unto us from heaven.

There is a statement of omission here (rather than suppression).  But Eusebius does not conceal that some of those persecuted behaved badly.  The book is not a history of the persecution, but the deeds of the martyrs, as the title of the book indicates.  So other than indicating the way that some fell short, he concentrates on his subject.

This too does not contain our 'quote'.   There does not seem to be a correlation here either with Gibbon's statement.


The 'quotation' seems to be a fraud, although it is not necessary to suppose deliberate dishonesty at any stage - merely a willingness to take a statement in the worst way or to believe the worst.

How did the statement get manufactured?  We cannot know all the steps, but we can guess easily enough.

As we have seen, Gibbon's statements do not tie up much with what Eusebius wrote.  It is fair to say that Gibbon gave the facts the worst interpretation they could bear.  The master of English prose also phrased his remarks in such a way that many people would take them as meaning more than he said - and he placed no barrier to that interpretation.  And so it duly occurred.

Some person unknowing excerpted Gibbon into some sort of anthology of anti-Christian 'evidence'.  Someone else (who probably honestly didn't notice Gibbon's little qualification) then altered the indirect statement to direct statement, producing our 'quote'.  How the reference to the Praeparatio became attached to it is hard to say, except that most people have access to the text of the HE and MP, and no-one to the Praeparatio.  Perhaps some quote or other from the Praeparatio also appeared in our anthology and crossed over.

Written 26th April, 2000, Updated 9th June, 2000.


A NEW ALLEGATION [This part under construction]

Some six months after I wrote the above, a fresh quotation reached  me.

In article <
>, emaxelx@aol.compost (R.A. Beschizza) wrote: 
> "It will sometimes be necessary to use falsehood for the benefit of 
> those who need such a mode of treatment." 
> -- Eusebius of Nicomedia , Constantine's overseer of church doctrine 
> and history

This is turn I found to derive from Gibbon, this time from his Vindication.  Here are Gibbon's remarks, copied from an edition on the net:

1. Dr. Chelsum is at a loss how to reconcile, - I beg pardon for weakening the force of his dogmatic style; he declares that, "It is plainly impossible to reconcile the express words of the charge exhibited, with any part of either of the passages appealed to in support of it." (105) If he means, as I think he must, that the express words of my text cannot be found in that of Eusebius, I congratulate the importance of the discovery. But was it possible? Could it be my design to quote the words of Eusebius, when I reduced into one sentence the spirit and substance of two diffuse arid distinct passages? If I have given the true sense and meaning of the Ecclesiastical Historian, I have discharged the duties of a fair Interpreter; nor shall I refuse to rest the proof of my fidelity on the translation of those two passages of Eusebius, which Dr. Chelsum produces in his favour. (106) 

"But it is not our part to describe the sad calamities which at last befel them (the Christians), since it does not agree with our plan to relate their dissentions and wickedness before the persecution; on which account we have determined to relate nothing more concerning them than may serve to justify the Divine Judgment. We therefore have not been induced to make mention either of those who were tempted in the persecution, or of those who made utter shipwreck of their salvation, and who were sunk of their own accord in the depths of the storm; but shall only add those things to our General History, which may in the first place be profitable to ourselves, and afterwards to posterity" 

In the other passage, Eusebius, after mentioning the dissentions of the Confessors among themselves, again declares that it is his intention to pass over all these things. 

"Whatsoever things, (continues the Historian, in the words of the Apostle, who was recommending the practice of virtue) whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are of good report, if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise; these things Eusebius thinks most suitable to a History of Martyrs;" 

of wonderful Martyrs, as the splendid epithet which Dr. Chelsum had not thought proper to translate. I should betray a very mean opinion of the judgment and candour of my readers, if I added a single reflection on the clear and obvious tendency of the two passages of the Ecclesiastical Historian. I shall only observe, that the Bishop of Caesarea seems to have claimed a privilege of a still more dangerous and extensive nature. In one of the most learned and elaborate works that antiquity has left us, the Thirty-second Chapter of the Twelfth Book of his Evangelical Preparation bears for its title this scandalous Proposition, 

"How it may be lawful and fitting to use falsehood as a medicine, and for the benefit of those who want to be deceived." "**Ancient Greek**" (P 356, Edit. Graec. Rob. Stephani, Paris 1544.) In this chapter he alleges a passage of Plato, which approves the occasional practice of pious and salutary frauds; nor is Eusebius ashamed to justify the sentiments of the Athenian philosopher by the example of the sacred writers of the Old Testament. 

(Paragraphing is mine, to make it easier to read).  

It would seem that the tendency of Gibbon's remarks to mislead was raised at the time, by this Dr. Chelsum.  We have already seen that these remarks are indeed commonly taken as a direct quotation from Eusebius, which they are not.  Gibbon's response is to patronisingly deride 'the importance of this discovery'.

Then he goes on to repeat the original text out of context, and then translate the chapter heading in a printed edition.  It would be unfair to expect Gibbon to know that such headings usually form no part of the author's text in a manuscript, with very few exceptions.  But it's worth looking up this reference also.

I originally found difficulty locating Gifford's chapter titles.  However I obtained a modern critical edition; des Places, É, Eusèbé de Césarée: La préparation évangélique, livres XII-XIII: Introduction, Texte Grec, Traduction et Annotation, Sources Chrétiennes 307 (1983).  pp.136-7 contain Book 12 chapter 31; pp.138-9 chapter 32.  

Here is the French of the title of chapter 32: "Qu'il faudrait gagner à l'éducation susdite non seulement les hommes, mais aussi les femmes et tout le genre humain" - "That it is necessary to win over with the aforesaid education not only men, but also women and all mankind".  Not quite the same idea, I think, although it does illustrate that Eusebius is discussing something other than historical method.

But here is the French of the title of chapter 31: "Qu'il faudra, à l'occasion, faire du mensonge un remède au service de ceux qui ont besoin d'un tel procédé" - "That it is necessary, sometimes, to make a lie/fiction a remedy for the service of those who need such a process".  And here is the Greek (using the SPIonic font): la&. OTI DEHSEI POTE TWI YEUDEI ANTI FARMAKOU XRHSQAI EP' OFELEIA <I> TON AEOMENWN TOU TOIOUTOU TROPOU.  

The heading of chapter 31 would seem to be the quotation Gibbon has in mind.  That Plato is also referred to, and Eusebius' gloss upon it from the OT, fits well with the text of chapter 31.  (It would seem that that the 16th century edition was arranged differently to modern editions, which makes it interesting to consider what sort of checking of references is done in any modern work that refers to XII, 32, rather than XII, 31). 

Is Gibbon's remark fair comment?  Is Eusebius advocating the use of lies? or is this a discussion of the use of parables, and the value of fiction in education?  This is something the reader must do for himself; but here are my thoughts.  I have now added a collection of translations of this passage in classical texts and the context of the book, here.

Reading the chapter, it seems that Eusebius is reviewing the philosopher, and adding comments of his  own calculated to lead someone who respects the philosophers to appreciate that God has written scripture in such a way as to implement their better ideas.  In particular, he has allowed it to contain parables and other fictional stories in order to educate those who could learn no other way, even if they tend to take those stories literally.  

It is difficult to see Gibbon's remarks as fair comment.

Written 22nd December 2000, updated with French/Greek 8th April 2001.  Updated with link to translations 28th September 2001.


I have since come across a likely source for these errors.  It seems there is an electronic publication called 'Biblical Errancy', written by a C. Dennis McKinsey, which contains lists of what used to be quaintly called 'bible difficulties' and assertions of a pseudo-scholarly nature, which most people probably take as made in good faith.  This seems to circulate widely and is often reposted to usenet.  An extract, discussing the Testimonium Flavianum:

"(3) The passage is not found in the early copies of Josephus. Not until the Ecclesiastical History of Eusebius (320 A.D.) do we come across it. This is the same Eusebius who said that it is lawful to lie and cheat for the cause of Christ: "I have repeated whatever may rebound to the glory, and suppressed all that could tend to the disgrace of our religion" (Chp. 31, Book 12 of Prae Paratio Evangelica). (4) The early Christian fathers such as Justin Martyr, Tertullian, Clement of Alexandria, and Origen were acquainted with what Josephus wrote and it seems reasonable to conclude that they would have quoted this passage had it existed. Apparently Eusebius was the first to use it because it didn't exist during the 2nd and 3rd centuries. Chrysostom often referred to Josephus and it's highly unlikely he would have omitted the paragraph had it been extant. Photius did not quote the text though he had three articles concerning Josephus and even expressly stated that Josephus, being a Jew, had not taken the least notice of Christ. (5) Neither Justin in his dialogue with Trypho, the Jew, nor Origen against Celsus ever mentioned this passage. Neither Tertullian nor Cyprian ever quoted Josephus as a witness in their controversies with Jews and pagans and Origen expressly stated that Josephus, who had mentioned John the Baptist, did not recognize Jesus as the messiah (Contra Celsum, I, 47). (6) The famous historian Gibbon claims the passage is a forgery as do many theologians." 

There are no references given for any of this.  Note the key mis-spelling of praeparatio as 'Prae Paratio'.  In true text critical fashion, I think we may deduce community of origin from the community of error.

It would be unkind to note every error of fact, judgement or grammar that is contained in even this short extract, as the author of it clearly intended to impress by accumulation and repetition rather than by any appeal to fact or reason.  A couple of notes on some factual details might be useful as a pointer to the interested.

Written 1st June 2001.



"I prize truth above all else"  (Chronicon, 1-4.  Barnes, T.D. Eusebius and Constantine, Harvard 1981, p.114.)

Dr. Barnes adds the interesting view that the HE originally ended with book 7.  Book 8 of the HE  is a revised and shortened version of the original Martyrs of Palestine, extant in a much longer version than that in the Ante-Nicene Fathers.  The history as such does not resume until book 9.  The text of the preface of this longer version is as follows:

"It is meet, then, that the conflicts which were illustrious in various districts should be committed to writing by those who dwelt with the combatants in their districts.  But for me, I pray that I may be able to speak of those with whom I was personally conversant, and that they may associate me with them - those in whom the whole people of Palestine glories, because even in the midst of our land, the Saviour of all men arose like a thirst-quenching spring.  The contests, then, of those illustrious champions I shall relate for the general instruction and profit". (Barnes p.154-4, from Lawlor H.J and Oulton, J.E.L, Eusebius, 1.33.1, SPCK, 1927).

 which makes it clear that the Martyrs of Palestine is about those Eusebius knew personally (he was Bishop of the city where the executions occurred), and that this information has suffered somewhat in the process of abbreviation.