Eusebius on Images in the Early Church

Eusebius of Caesarea ca. 263-339

Since I have mentioned this city I do not think it proper to omit an account which is worthy of record for posterity. For they say that the woman with an issue of blood, who, as we learn from the sacred Gospel, received from our Saviour deliverance from her affliction, came from this place, and that her house is shown in the city, and that remarkable memorials of the kindness of the Saviour to her remain there. For there stands upon an elevated stone, by the gates of her house, a brazen image of a woman kneeling, with her hands stretched out, as if she were praying. Opposite this is another upright image of a man, made of the same material, clothed decently in a double cloak, and extending his hand toward the woman. At his feet, beside the statue itself, is a certain strange plant, which climbs up to the hem of the brazen cloak, and is a remedy for all kinds of diseases. They say that this statue is an image of Jesus. It has remained to our day, so that we ourselves also saw it when we were staying in the city. Nor is it strange that those of the Gentiles who, of old, were benefited by our Saviour, should have done such things, since we have learned also that the likenesses of his apostles Paul and Peter, and of Christ himself, are preserved in paintings, the ancients being accustomed, as it is likely, according to a habit of the Gentiles, to pay this kind of honor indiscriminately to those regarded by them as deliverers. (Ecclesiastical History Bk. 7.18)

Proof of the Gospel

And so it remains for us to own that it is the Word of God who in the preceding passage is regarded as divine: whence the place is even today honored by those who live in the neighborhood as a  sacred place in Honor of those who appeared to Abraham, and the terebinth can still be seen there. For they who were entertained by Abraham, as represented in the picture, sit one on each side, and He in the midst surpasses them in honor. This would be our Lord and Savior, Who though men knew Him not the worshipped, confirming the Holy Scriptures. (Bk. 5.9)

Life of Constantine

And besides this, he caused to be painted on a lofty tablet, and set up in the front of the portico of his palace, so as to be visible to all, a representation of the salutary sign placed above his head, and below it that hateful and savage adversary of mankind, who by means of the tyranny of the ungodly had wasted the Church of God, falling headlong, under the form of a dragon, to the abyss of destruction. For the sacred oracles in the books of God’s prophets have described him as a dragon and a crooked serpent; and for this reason the emperor thus publicly displayed a painted resemblance of the dragon beneath his own and his children’s feet, stricken through with a dart, and cast headlong into the depths of the sea.

In this manner he intended to represent the secret adversary of the human race, and to indicate that he was consigned to the gulf of perdition by virtue of the salutary trophy placed above his head. This allegory, then, was thus conveyed by means of the colors of a picture: and I am filled with wonder at the intellectual greatness of the emperor, who as if by divine inspiration thus expressed what the prophets had foretold concerning this monster, saying that “God would bring his great and strong and terrible sword against the dragon, the flying serpent; and would destroy the dragon that was in the sea.” This it was of which the emperor gave a true and faithful representation in the picture above described. (Bk. III.3)

And being fully resolved to distinguish the city which bore his name with especial honor, he embellished it with numerous sacred edifices, both memorials of martyrs on the largest scale, and other buildings of the most splendid kind, not only within the city itself, but in its vicinity: and thus at the same time he rendered honor to the memory of the martyrs, and consecrated his city to the martyrs’ God. Being filled, too, with Divine wisdom, he determined to purge the city which was to be distinguished by his own name from idolatry of every kind, that henceforth no statues might be worshiped there in the temples of those falsely reputed to be gods, nor any altars defiled by the pollution of blood: that there might be no sacrifices consumed by fire, no demon festivals, nor any of the other ceremonies usually observed by the superstitious.

On the other hand one might see the fountains in the midst of the market place graced with figures representing the good Shepherd, well known to those who study the sacred oracles, and that of Daniel also with the lions, forged in brass, and resplendent with plates of gold. Indeed, so large a measure of Divine love possessed the emperor’s soul, that in the principal apartment of the imperial palace itself, on a vast tablet displayed in the center of its gold-covered paneled ceiling, he caused the symbol of our Saviour’s Passion to be fixed, composed of a variety of precious stones richly inwrought with gold. This symbol he seemed to have intended to be as it were the safeguard of the empire itself. (Bk. III.48-49)

 

 

Comments

  1. Eusebius’ “Letter to Constantia”, beloved and quoted by all contemporary iconophobes, where it is stated that images were “banished and excluded from all churches” was first quoted by the iconoclasts at Hieria in 754. This letter first surfaces upon the scene 400 years after it was supposedly written and in the polemics against the iconodules. Eusebius’ supposed comments there contradicts his own testimony elsewhere and the archeological record. This also demonstrates the danger in relying on lists of quotes without being in the Church and without reading the entire work by any given author. For more on this topic purchase Fr. Steven Bigham’s “Early Christian Attitudes Toward Images”.

    http://www.orthodoxresearchinstitute.org/store/books/bigham_early_christian_attitudes.html

  2. This is good stuff! I shall buy that book.

  3. Here’s another interesting tidbit about Eusebius as well:

    St. Athanasius of Alexandria

    Was not Eusebius of Cæsarea in Palestine accused by our confessors of sacrificing to idols ? Was not George proved to have been deposed by the blessed Alexander ? Were not they charged with various offenses, some with this, some with that? (Apologia Contra Arianos 8)

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