I was reading another blog yesterday, and someone over there made a reference to Eusebius saying this:
We shall introduce into this history in general only those events which may be useful first to ourselves and afterwards to posterity.
This person, who is Brian Flemming btw (no reason to talk about him as if it were a secret), makes that citation in this context:
Even on the off chance that back then evidence arose to question the veracity of the gospels, we can have relative confidence that church leaders would suppress or destroy it.

Historical accuracy was most certainly not the first priority for the early church. Church father Eusebius probably puts it best in his own words: "We shall introduce into this history in general only those events which may be useful first to ourselves and afterwards to posterity."

If the legend was false, how was it maintained as dogma? Just ask Eusebius. It was useful. It didn't matter whether it was true or false. That's pretty obvious.
We can be grateful, btw, that Brian has the circumspection to include his source for that quote, which is Wikipedia. You have to admire a guy who is honest about where he gets his information.

The problem, however, for Brian's point is at least three-fold.

FOLD #1: What was Wikipedia's purpose in expressing Eusebius' words here?

The passage in Wikipedia goes like this:
The limitations of Eusebius could be said to flow from his position as the first court appointed Christian theologian in the service of the Constantine Roman Empire. Notwithstanding the great influence of his works on others, Eusebius was not himself a great historian. His treatment of heresy, for example, is inadequate, and he knew very little about the Western church. His historical works are really apologetics. In his Ecclesiastical History, Vol. 8, chapter 2, he points out, "We shall introduce into this history in general only those events which may be useful first to ourselves and afterwards to posterity."

In his Praeparatio evangelica (xii, 31), Eusebius has a section on the use of fictions (pseudos) as a "medicine", which may be "lawful and fitting" to use [3]. With that in mind, it is still difficult to assess Eusebius' conclusions and veracity by confronting him with his predecessors and contemporaries, for texts of previous chroniclers, notably Papias, whom he denigrated, and Hegesippus, on whom he relied, have disappeared; they survive largely in the form of the quotes of their work that Eusebius selected and thus they are to be seen only through the lens of Eusebius.

These and other issues have invited controversy. For example, Jacob Burckhardt has dismissed Eusebius as "the first thoroughly dishonest historian of antiquity". Burckhardt is not alone in holding such a view. However, Professor Michael J. Hollerich thinks such criticisms go too far. Writing in "Church History" (Vol. 59, 1990), he says that ever since Burckhardt, "Eusebius has been an inviting target for students of the Constantinian era. At one time or another they have characterized him as a political propagandist, a good courtier, the shrewd and worldly adviser of the Emperor Constantine, the great publicist of the first Christian emperor, the first in a long succession of ecclesiastical politicians, the herald of Byzantinism, a political theologian, a political metaphysician, and a caesaropapist. It is obvious that these are not, in the main, neutral descriptions. Much traditional scholarship, sometimes with barely suppressed disdain, has regarded Eusebius as one who risked his orthodoxy and perhaps his character because of his zeal for the Constantinian establishment." He concludes that "the standard assessment has exaggerated the importance of political themes and political motives in Eusebius's life and writings and has failed to do justice to him as a churchman and a scholar".

While many have shared Burckhartdt's assessment, others, while not pretending to extol his merits, have acknowledged the irreplaceable value of his works. {Emph added}
Let's be clear that this entry doesn't paint an overly-rosy picture of Eusebius, but in demonstrating Eusebius' shortcomings, it says something else about ancient historians in general. Particularly, the Eusebius does not represent a class of dishonest church historians but that he stands alone as a kind of ancient historian, and that very few (if any) other historians did what he confessed to doing.

Wikipedia's citation here is meant to inform us of the uniqueness of Eusebius' position, not to denigrate a class of historians or to denigrate church history as a practice.

FOLD #2: When was Eusebius writing?

In the discussion at DBlog on the topic of Jesus, Brian has made a very big deal about the lack of contemporaniousness of the Gospels to the period in which Jesus was supposed to have lived. You can read for yourself what kind of big deal it is in his view. My point here is that the Gospels were written -- even in Brian's view -- only about 30-40 years after the events they claim to be describing, and that brings them into suspicion of being fiction.

Eusebius was born in the late third century. In the best case, that means that Eusebius was writing about 250 years after the composition of the first Gospel.

Well, so what? If the Gospels, because of their dating, cannot be trusted to report the events they describe -- or rather, to stay inside the bounds of Brian's arguments, ought to be viewed with adequate suspicion -- after only 30 years of disconnection, in what way can Eusebius be employed to speak in any way reliably about the intentions of writers nearly 3 centuries prior to himself? Even if Eusebius is openly hostile to truth, and is confessedly a manipulator of facts, the grounds for rejecting the Gospels as an account of the life of Jesus must be applied equally to Eusebius as an account of hat the writers before him did.

FOLD #3: What was Eusebius' purpose and function in writing the statement Brian cited?

Let's let Eusebius speak for himself:

[The Events which preceded the Persecution in our Times, cf. VIII, 1] 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.”

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.

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 useful first to ourselves and afterwards to posterity. Let us therefore proceed to describe briefly the sacred conflicts of the witnesses of the Divine Word.
{Emph added}
Now, think on this: what Eusebius is here confessing is not that he is a liar or a fabricator. This passage is Eusebius' confession that he's not writing an encyclopedic or exhaustive history of these times, but instead is writing a history which is about the faithful people only and not about those who, after being persecuted, departed from the church.

That's hardly a crime, and it's hardly dishonesty in the sense that Brian would like to promulgate. Thus, even if Wikipedia had intended to use Eusebius to indict all Christian history in the first 3 centuries of its existence, and even if Eusebius could be used to gage the intentions or opinions of the writers of the Gospels and the rest of the NT, there is still the fact that Eusebius is here not confessing to historical revisionism but is simply stating his intention not to write a history of the whole of Roman civilization but only that of the faithful who survived persecution.

See: that's why this work is called Church History.

Sorry to be so unreliable in terms of daily blogging, btw. As you can imagine, I have been busy.

more secret technorati tags: