Eusebius of Caesarea: Tradition and Innovations

  Johnson, Aaron, and Jeremy Schott, eds. 2013. Eusebius of Caesarea: Tradition and Innovations. Hellenic Studies Series 60. Washington, DC: Center for Hellenic Studies.

4. The History of the Caesarean Present: Eusebius and Narratives of Origen

Elizabeth C. Penland

The search for Origen defines the character and practices of the late-third- and early-fourth-century school at Caesarea. According to the Ecclesiastical History, Eusebius’ master Pamphilus comes to Caesarea from Berytus to collect the works of Origen, which become the foundation of his own library and biblical copying efforts. There had been a disruption of Origen’s teaching activity, such that it was necessary for Pamphilus to recollect the texts and also to search for texts written in Origen’s own hand. As witnessed in the Ecclesiastical History, Pamphilus—and by extension, his student and biographer, Eusebius—is a restorer of the tradition of Origen at Caesarea, even though the closest physical teaching connection is through Pierius, the “younger Origen,” at Alexandria, according to Photius Library 117. In collecting texts and writing both a biography and an Apology for Origen, Pamphilus and Eusebius participate actively in the definition and preservation of Origen’s tradition of scholarship and teaching at Caesarea. The scholastic connection between Origen’s theological work and the later circle around Pamphilus at Caesarea is frequently overlooked, although the continuity of biblical editions and textual scholarship is well known. [3] Textual preservation, annotation, and criticism of the sort pursued by the circle around Pamphilus at Caesarea are highly literate school activities which were also accompanied by theological training in the tradition of Origen, if not in direct succession from him.

This likeness of the activities of the two teachers combined with the physical transmission of Origen’s teaching to Caesarea and the subtext of Pamphilus’ training at the Alexandrian school suggests a mimetic relationship between the two figures in Eusebius. As exemplary lives transmit the values of the material taught, Pamphilus’ life and teaching activity is shown in consonance with both the teachings and the lived practice of Origen. Although he had not been a direct student of Origen, he is made an “as-if” student, in every way, for the sake of the narrative of the Ecclesiastical History and the coherence of teaching between Alexandria and Caesarea. In turn, the example of Pamphilus is transmitted to his own students, including Eusebius.

Eusebius connects Pamphilus to Origen in his narrative through parallelism, direct homage, and juxtaposition when the evidence does not suffice. Eusebius’ depiction of the Alexandrian school reflects a desire to establish a lineage of teaching at Caesarea. [7] Although he is not the direct heir of the Alexandrians—for one thing, the school continued at Alexandria after Origen’s departure for Caesarea—Eusebius portrays himself as a member of a Caesarean offshoot of the Alexandrian tradition. This involves some fancy narrative footwork. He ties Origen to Caesarea through historical accounts and his teacher Pamphilus to Origen through repetitive language, and, ultimately, books. Through his strategic deployment of information interposed with significant silences, Eusebius suggests that the school of Pamphilus and the school of Origen are united in common tradition, a tradition that ties Eusebius’ teaching lineage to the antiquity and everything else he claims for the Alexandrian school tradition. The physical link between the two traditions is Origen. Eusebius portrays the gradual shift of Origen’s teaching authority to Caesarea. The fact that he casts this move in terms of teaching is significant for his project of establishing teaching lineage. In Ecclesiastical History 6, Eusebius shows how Origen brings Alexandrian Christian philosophical erudition to Caesarea. This process begins with a visit by Origen to Caesarea during a period of civil unrest in Alexandria. In describing Origen’s activities at Caesarea at this time, Eusebius writes that he came to the city to pursue his studies: ἐν Καισαρείᾳ δὲ τὰς διατριβὰς ἐποιεῖτο (HE 6.19).

After Heraclas succeeds Origen and Origen moves to Caesarea, Origen is in demand as a teacher. Αccording to Eusebius, Firmilianus, the Bishop of Caesarea in Cappadocia, would summon Origen to visit “for the benefit of the churches” and also travel himself to Origen to “spend time (sundiatribein) with him for the sake of his own improvement in divine subjects” (HE 6.27). In Eusebius’ account and in the witnesses he marshals, Origen instructs bishops and others in small groups or individually and also preaches sermons and scriptural exegeses to larger audiences in the churches. The smaller group is composed of the pupils of his diatribê and the larger group comprises the congregations he speaks in.

Although Eusebius is explicit in his descriptions of the distinction and the authority with which Origen taught, he is remarkably quiet on the explicit relationship of his own teacher, Pamphilus, to Origen and his teaching. When Eusebius lists the students of Origen in Ecclesiastical History 6.30, he does not mention Pamphilus or one of Pamphilus’ teachers among them. The lack of concrete information about the teaching relationship, and the chronological gap, shows that Pamphilus was not an immediate student of Origen. However, Eusebius never comes out and says this. He does nothing to exclude the possibility of direct succession and includes many things to associate Pamphilus with the tradition of Origen.

In addition to his evocative silences, Eusebius uses a rhetorical strategy to connect the teaching lineages of Origen and Pamphilus: he associates them both with the technical vocabulary of the diatribê and the material and intellectual objects of Origen’s books and letters. In the Ecclesiastical History and the Martyrs of Palestine, the term diatribê is strongly associated with Origen and with the catechetical school. Uses of diatribê cognates (sun/diatribein) and of the plural, diatribai, appear in the discussion of Origen’s teaching activity in Book 6. The term diatribê refers to philosophical/theological teaching activity. In the Ecclesiastical History, there is one usage of the term diatribê to refer to non-Christian philosophical teaching: Eusebius’ description of the Antiochene churchman and teacher, Malchion, who played a central role in the deposing of Bishop Paul of Samosata. Malchion is described as both a presbyter and the head of a diatribê for Greek studies at Antioch. Except for this instance, diatribê in the Ecclesiastical History refers to Christian teaching activity, and the only two cities to have a Christian diatribê in the Ecclesiastical History and Martyrs of Palestine are Alexandria and Caesarea. The term first appears in the introduction of the catechetical “school” in Ecclesiastical History 5.10, in which it is called a diatribê for the faithful. The term next appears in the course of Origen’s young adulthood, when he teaches in a diatribê because there is no one in charge of catechetical instruction at Alexandria (HE 6.3). The διατριβὴ τοῦ κατηχεῖν is what Origen leads when Bishop Demetrius puts him in charge of teaching catechumens at Alexandria. After a large chronological and narrative gap, the term reappears in the context of succession, when Heraclas succeeds Demetrius as Bishop of Alexandria and Dionysius succeeds Heraclas as the head of the catechetical school (HE 6.4).

In Ecclesiastical History 7.14, Bishop Theoktistos of Caesarea is listed as belonging to Origen’s teaching (τῆς δ’ Ὠριγένους διατριβῆς). In mentioning Theoktistos, Eusebius creates a continuity between the diatribê of Origen and his own time. Theoktistos is an important witness for Origen’s school before Eusebius: although Theoktistos represents an actual student of Origen’s who was still alive in Eusebius’ time and a contemporary of Pamphilus, Eusebius does not mention anything about his intellectual activities, separate from the establishment of Origen’s teaching authority at Caesarea. It is almost as though Theoktistos is a masked counterpart to the emphasized Pamphilus; Eusebius uses Theoktistos to establish Origen in Caesarea and then drops him off of the intellectual map. Eusebius describes Pamphilus’ erudition and zeal for divine topics directly after Theoktistos, but Theoktistos is distinguished among his contemporaries only for the “zealous” exercise of his office (HE 7.32).

In the Ecclesiastical History, Pamphilus is the only person other than Origen to have a diatribê at Caesarea, and the diatribê at Caesarea is the only counterpart to the Alexandrian school in the works of Eusebius. Eusebius writes that the lost biographical work about Pamphilus contained details about the diatribê that Pamphilus established (συνεστήσατο) at Caesarea (HE 7.32.25). Here it is explicit that Pamphilus is the founder of a school, so the teaching lineage of Origen at Caesarea is not continuous, or at least, not continuous with Eusebius’ own teaching lineage. Still, the use of diatribê belies the fact that Pamphilus did not succeed Origen. Rhetorically, Pamphilus’ teaching endeavors are continuous with Origen’s. Pamphilus is Origen’s “as-if” intellectual heir at Caesarea, the only one to share the mastery of a diatribê.

The transmission of Origen’s teachings to Pamphilus is effected through the physical intermediaries of books. The library substitutes for the school until Pamphilus can restore the legacy of Origen. It functions in the place of a person to connect Origen and Pamphilus without actual personal contact. [9] Eusebius has to perform rhetorical work to construct and enhance this lineage. The appeal to lineage is always an imaginary map, a narrative explanation, the creation of connections between points to form a line. Lineage is the struggle to relate elements to one another and to present the illusion that they have always been integrally related. The idea of the “restoration,” that is, the creation of Origen’s inheritance, is present not only in the repetition of the diatribê but also in the intermediary organ of the library. In Eusebius’ account, Pamphilus makes a great effort to gather the works of Origen. Eusebius mentions his effort on the topic of Origen’s writing activity at Caesarea, shortly after the mention of the international fame of his school and the students who came to it. Eusebius tells that his work about the life of Pamphilus collected a full catalogue of the works of Origen and other Christian writers (HE 6.32). What he gathers are library lists (πίνακες) that act as a testimony to his “zeal for divine subjects (τὰ θεῖα)” (HE 6.32.3). This use of τὰ θεῖα resembles Bishop Firmilianus of Cappadocia’s visits to Origen to better himself in τὰ θεῖα (HE 6.27). The lists themselves are book lineages, linking together individual works to reveal more than the individual titles. The catalog reveals the character of Pamphilus and his gathering of τὰ θεῖα relating to Origen. Moreover, Eusebius states that these lists confirmed the status of Pamphilus as the best representative of Origen: “from these [lists], anyone who wishes can gather the most complete knowledge of the works of Origen that have reached us (τὰ εἰς ἡμᾶς ἐλθόντα)” (HE 6.32). In this statement, through identification with the works of Origen, Pamphilus becomes the living repository of the most complete knowledge of Origen. The lists are the proof, the chronicle of this status, and the books are the physical tokens of exchange of knowledge. Pamphilus is an authoritative teacher who inherits Origen’s teaching mantle at Caesarea and is also in possession of the fullest knowledge of Origen’s knowledge, which passes in turn to Eusebius.

When Eusebius writes the stories of the martyrs who died in the persecutions of Diocletian and Galerius in the Martyrs of Palestine, he presents a collection of texts focused on individual figures and their suffering and deaths. Many of these figures are singled out as exemplary in life before their exemplary deaths, but a few accounts stand out by length. The two longest accounts in the collection are of the martyrs with whom Eusebius had the closest association, his teacher Pamphilus and Apphianus. Apphianus was a pupil of Pamphilus who had come from Asia Minor and who was martyred before his eighteenth birthday.

The connection of the Caesarean school of Pamphilus to Origen also appears within the text of the Martyrs of Palestine in the form of allusions to the Thanksgiving Address of Gregory Thaumaturgus in the descriptions of school members. The oration eulogizes the school of Origen, praising its course of instruction and the discipline it fosters. Eusebius parallels significant features in his eulogizing of the martyrs of his school. He does this through internal and external parallels, internal allusions to the text and external analogy to the biographical details of Gregory Thaumaturgus. Using the Thanksgiving Address as a model of Origen’s school, Eusebius connects it in the Martyrs to his own school at Caesarea.

When treating the members of the school of Pamphilus, Eusebius presents several parallels to the material found in the Thanksgiving Address of Gregory and also to his own account of Gregory’s time at Caesarea in Ecclesiastical History 6.30. One of the most obvious places of scholastic parallelism is found in the narrative of Apphianus in the Martyrs. Apphianus’ journey to join the school of Pamphilus at Caesarea in the Martyrs has significant overlap with Gregory’s journey to Caesarea to join the school of Origen in the Address. Both trajectories begin in the ancestral home, with parents who are not Christians and with ancestral customs of error.

Gregory begins the story of his journey with an account of where he came from before his time in the school of Origen. This account does not begin with a pedigree and heritage, but with a disavowal of his pagan upbringing and former beliefs: “From birth our parents gave us our first upbringing including the erroneous customs of our native land” (Address 5 (§48), trans. Slusser). In beginning the Address, Gregory separates himself from his parental home and from the practices he learned there. He views his early experience from the post-conversion perspective of his time in the house of Origen.

Both Gregory and Apphianus engage on a long journey to their teacher in Caesarea, aided by divine providence. In Gregory’s case, he is called to accompany his sister on an official trip to Palestine. He thinks he will be able stop in Berytus, but he is pressed forward and comes to Caesarea. For one who wanted to study in the famous legal schools of Berytus, Caesarea may have at first seemed an empty backwater. However, in recalling the events, Gregory speaks of the “marvelous providence (ἡ θαυμαστὴ οἰκονομία)” that kept him from stopping in Berytus and led him to Origen: “But I do not know how my discourse got stuck at this point since I wish to narrate methodically the remarkable dispensation by which I came to this man” (Address 5 (§55), trans. Slusser). This marvelous providence takes many forms in Gregory’s account of the journey. He describes the soldier who escorted his family as an angelic figure, guiding them to Caesarea to meet Origen. In fact, Gregory depicts his entire life as a journey to meet Origen. He suggests that, although the beginning of his life was under pagan education, he had been predestined to come to Origen’s school.

Apphianus’ journey in the Martyrs is no less providential, particularly its practical details. When Apphianus realizes he cannot remain at home with his erring parents, according to Eusebius, the young man leaves with no preparation for the journey, not even provisions for one day (MP(L) 14). According to Eusebius, the power of God leads Apphianus to Caesarea, “the city in which the crown of martyrdom was prepared for him” (MP(L) 14).

One of the strongest parallels between Gregory and the Martyrs of Palestine is the biographical parallel between Apphianus and Aedesius. According to Eusebius’ biographical account, Gregory had his brother with him as he joined this new web of philosophical kinship ties. Much like the fraternal situation among the martyrs of Eusebius’ school, where Apphianus and Aedesius both study with Pamphilus, Gregory appears in Ecclesiastical History 6.30 at the school of Origen with his own brother, Athenodorus. Both fraternal relationships are mysterious. In the Martyrs of Palestine, the Aedesius narrative is a rhetorical doubling of Apphianus’—Eusebius even stresses how much like his brother Aedesius is, so the brother is included by analogy and with some deeds of his own, but the details are a bit hazy and vary significantly between versions of the Martyrs. It is also unclear when and how Aedesius comes to join Apphianius and whether he is an older or a younger brother, although, much like a contemporary census, Eusebius does tell us that they are brothers on both their mother’s and their father’s sides (MP(L)18).

Aedesius is portrayed going to Alexandria and challenging the governor there to defend virgins and using both Roman law and Christian dialectic. Aedesius also studies with Pamphilus: “Aedesius, too, spent many years in the diatribê of Pamphilus” (MP(L)18). The use of “too” suggests that one brother is better known than the other, but the narrative of the brother is used to strengthen the narrative of the better-known figure. In the case of Gregory, we know about his brother Athenodorus only from Eusebius’ account in the Ecclesiastical History. His very presence in the biography of Gregory is unclear and Eusebius is the primary witness for Gregory having a natal brother in the school of Origen. So, in the Martyrs, Apphianus and his brother Aedesius act as a sort of contemporary Caesarean version of Gregory and his brother Athenodorus.

Admittedly, many questions will remain open to interpretation. It is beyond the interpreter’s grasp to reconstruct fully the Caesarean present of Eusebius, nor can the evidence of Eusebius be easily triangulated with other texts in historical perspective to create a fact-checked and definitive biography of Origen. The fact remains that Eusebius’ works preserve the most biographical information about Origen. Jerome included material in his short chapter in On Illustrious Men, but this was mostly taken from his stay at Caesarea. Photius’ material in the Library is brief and much, much later. There is a possible silver lining in Gregory Thaumaturgus’ Thanksgiving Address, and the companion Letter to Gregory, which reflect school activity and the relationship of the student to the founder and the school during Origen’s time at Caesarea, a source which appears in redacted form in Eusebius, both explicitly in the biography of Origen and also compositionally in the narratives Eusebius writes about the martyrs of Palestine, particularly those associated with Pamphilus at Caesarea.

So the search for Origen ends where it starts, in the compositional present of Eusebius and the origin narratives of the school at Caesarea. The written biography of Origen can be read profitably within the writing project of the Ecclesiastical History and its many forms of appealing to the memory and the authority of Origen. The parallel material from the Martyrs supports a reading of Eusebius as a figure living in a school context with explicit interest in establishing, maintaining, cultivating, and, in part, creating the legacy of Origen at Caesarea.

Works Cited

Adler, William. 1992. “Eusebius’ Chronicle and Its Legacy.” In Eusebius, Christianity, and Judaism, ed. Harold W. Attridge and Gohei Hata, 467–491. Leiden.

Bardy, Gustav. 1937. “Aux origines de l’ecole d’Alexandrie.” Revue des Sciences Religieuses 27:65–90.

Barnes, Timothy D. 1981. Constantine and Eusebius. Cambridge, MA.

Buell, Denise Kimber. 1999. Making Christians: Clement of Alexandria and the Rhetoric of Legitimacy. Princeton.

Burgess, Richard W. 1997. “The Dates and Editions of Eusebius’ Chronici Canones and Historia Ecclesiastica.” Journal of Theological Studies 48:471–504.

Burgess, Richard W., with Witold Witakowski. 1999. Studies in Eusebian and Post-Eusebian Chronography. Stuttgart.

Cox, Patricia. 1983. Biography in Late Antiquity: A Quest for the Holy Man. Berkeley.

Cox Miller, Patricia. 2009. The Corporeal Imagination: Signifying the Holy in Late Ancient Christianity. Philadelphia.

Crouzel, Henri. 1989. Origen. Trans. A. S. Worall. Edinburgh.

Daniélou, Jean. 1948. Origène. Paris.

Grant, Robert M. 1971. “Early Alexandrian Christianity.” Church History 40:133–144.

Greer, Rowan A. 1979. Origen. Mahwah.

Heine, Ronald E. 2010. Origen: Scholarship in Service of the Church. Oxford.

Hoek, Annewies van den. 1997. “The ‘Catechetical School’ of Early Christian Alexandria and Its Philonic Heritage.” Harvard Theological Review 90:59–97.

Jakab, Attila. 2001. Ecclesia alexandrina : Evolution sociale et institutionnelle du christianisme alexandrin, IIe et IIIe siècles. Bern.

Lapin, Hayim. 1996. “Jewish and Christian Academies in Roman Palestine.” In Caesarea Maritima: A Retrospective after Two Millennia, ed. Kenneth G. Holum and Avner Raban, 496–512. Leiden.

Lieberman, Saul. 1939–1944. “The Martyrs of Caesarea.” Annuaire de l’institut de philologie et d’histoire orientale et slaves 7:395–446.

Louth, Andrew. 1990. “The Date of Eusebius’ Historia Ecclesiastica.” Journal of Theological Studies 41:111–123.

Mansfeld, Jaap. 1999. “Sources.” In The Cambridge History of Hellenistic Philosophy, ed. Algra Keimpe, et al., 3–30. Cambridge.

Momigliano, Arnaldo D. 1987. On Pagans, Jews, and Christians. Hanover, NH.

Monaci, Adele Castagno, ed. 2004. La biografia di Origene fra storia e agiografia: Atti del VI Convegno di studi del Gruppo italiano di ricerca su Origene e la tradizione alessandrina. Rimini.

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[ back ] 1. Although assessments of Eusebius’s merits as a historian vary, the importance of the Ecclesiastical History to scholarship on the life of Origen—and indeed Christianity at Alexandria—remains constant. For the biographical material on Origen in the context of the History, see Grant 1971; Nautin 1977: Chapters 1 and 2; Barnes 1981: Section Two, “Eusebius”; the papers collected in La biografia di Origene fra storia e agiografia, 2004, especially Junod, “L’apologie pour Origène de Pamphile et Eusèbe et les développments sur Origène dans le livre VI de l’Histoire écclesiastique” and Mazzucco, “Il modello martirial nella ‘Vita di Origene’ di Eusebio.” Discussions of the material on Origen in Book 6 appear also in modern surveys of Origen’s life and works, e.g. Daniélou 1948; Greer 1979; Crouzel 1989; Trigg 1998; and Heine 2010.

[ back ] 2. On the Chronographical Tables and their relationship to the structure of the Martyrs and the Ecclesiastical History, see Burgess 1997 and Burgess with Witakowski 1999, as well as Louth 1990. For the contextualization of the Chronographical Tables within the history of the genre, see Mosshammer 1979; Adler 1992.

[ back ] 3. For recent discussions, see Grafton and Williams 2006; Heine 2010.

[ back ] 4. Hohmeyer 1962. [Editors’ note: See DeVore’s contribution on pp. 41–44 of this volume, “Genre and Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History: Toward a Focused Debate.”]

[ back ] 5. Jaap Mansfeld adduces Cicero’s On Invention 2.117 in a discussion of the importance of biography to the sectarian study of philosophical doctrine. As he writes: “The study of the life, activities and sayings of a philosopher was regarded as an indispensable preliminary to that of his writings” (Mansfeld 1999:20).

[ back ] 6. Origen’s martyrdom during the Decian persecution is not at all certain; see Crouzel 1989:33–36. Eusebius, HE 7.1 reports that Origen lived until the time of Gallus and Volusian. Photius credits Pamphilus’ Apology for Origen with the report of his martyrdom at Caesarea under Decius, Library 119.

[ back ] 7. For a historical overview of the Alexandrian school, see Vacherot 1851; Bardy 1937; Jakab 2001. Van den Hoek 1997 provides a nice overview of modern work on the school and ancient terminology. On Jewish and Christian schools at Caesarea, see Lieberman 1944; Lapin 1996.

[ back ] 8. Buell 1999:85.

[ back ] 9. For the internalization of the divine library in Origen and the embodiment of Scripture, see Cox Miller 2009:29–30.

[ back ] 10. Much of the early biographical data about Gregory’s life before and during his time in Caesarea comes from the Address and Eusebius, HE 6.30.

[ back ] 11. The shorter recension of the Martyrs has a fuller account of Apphianus’s conversion to Christian philosophy and the conflicts with his parents’ way of life, which occur because they did not live according to Christian practices. It says that Gregory’s father offered him the benefits of being the first son (τὰ πρωτεῖα τῆς πατρίδος), but that he rejected common life with his family (τὴν ἅμα τῷ πατρὶ καὶ τοῖς τῷ γένει προσήκουσιν συνουσίαν). The reason for this rejection, in the expanded narrative, is that their manner of life was contrary to the rules of his newly adopted Christian life (κατὰ τοὺς τῆς θεοσεβείας θεσμούς), MP(S) 4.

[ back ] 12. Momigliano 1987:77.

[ back ] 13. Cox 1983:135–136.