History of the Jewish Nation; Mention of those who began such a Work; how and from what Sources he collected his History; how he was intent upon the Truth, and what other Details the History will contain.
My mind has been often exercised in inquiring how it is that other men are very ready to believe in God the Word, while the Jews are so incredulous, although it was to them that instruction concerning the things of God was, from the beginning, imparted by the prophets, who likewise made them acquainted with the events attendant upon the coming of Christ, before they came to pass. Besides, Abraham, the founder of their nation and of the circumcision, was accounted worthy to be an eye-witness, and the host of the Son of God. And Isaac, his son, was honored as the type of the sacrifice on the cross, for he was led bound to the altar by his father and, as accurate students of the sacred Scriptures affirm, the sufferings of Christ came to pass in like manner. Jacob predicted that the expectation of the nations would be for Christ, as it now is; and he likewise foretold the time in which he came, when he said |the rulers of the Hebrews of the tribe of Judah, the tribal leader, shall fail.|
This clearly referred to the reign of Herod, who was an Idumean, on his father's side, and on his mother's, an Arabian, and the Jewish nation was delivered to him by the Roman senate and Augustus Cæsar. And of the rest of the prophets some declared beforehand the birth of Christ, His ineffable conception, the mother remaining a virgin after His birth, His people, and country. Some predicted His divine and marvelous deeds, while others foretold His sufferings, His resurrection from the dead, His ascension into the heavens, and the event accompanying each. But if any be ignorant of these facts it is not difficult to know them by reading the sacred books. Josephus, the son of Matthias, also who was a priest, and was most distinguished among Jews and Romans, may be regarded as a noteworthy witness to the truth concerning Christ ; for he hesitates to call Him a man since He wrought marvelous works, and was a teacher of truthful doctrines, but openly calls him Christ; that He was condemned to the death of the cross, and appeared alive again the third day. Nor was Josephus ignorant of numberless other wonderful predictions uttered beforehand by the holy prophets concerning Christ. He further testifies that Christ brought over many to Himself both Greeks and Jews, who continued to love Him, and that the people named after Him had not become extinct. It appears to me that in narrating these things, he all but proclaims that Christ, by comparison of works, is God. As if struck by the miracle, he ran, somehow, a middle course, assailing in no way those who believed in Jesus, but rather agreeing with them.
When I consider this matter it seems reasonably remarkable to me, that the Hebrews did not anticipate, and, before the rest of men, immediately turn to Christianity; for though the Sibyl and some oracles announced beforehand the future of events concerning Christ we are not on this account to attribute unbelief to all the Greeks. For they were few, who, appearing superior in education, could understand such prophecies, which were, for the most part, in verse, and were declared with more recondite words to the people. Therefore in my judgment, it was the result of the heavenly preknowledge, for the sake of the agreement in future events, that the coming facts were to be made known, not only by his own prophets, but in part also by strangers. Just as a musician, under pressure of a strange melody, may treat the superfluous tones of the chords lightly with his plectrum, or add others to those already existing.
Having now shown that the Hebrews, although in the possession of numerous and more distinct prophecies concerning the coming of Christ, were less willing than the Greeks to embrace the faith that is in Him, let what has been said on the subject suffice. Yet let it by no means be hence accounted contrary to reason that the church should have been mainly built up by the conversion of other nations; for in the first place, it is evident that, in divine and great affairs, God delights to bring to pass changes in a marvelous manner; and then, be it remembered, it was by the exercise of no common virtues that those who, at the very beginning, were at the head of religious affairs, maintained their influence. If they did not, indeed, possess a language sharpened for expression or for beauty of diction, nor the power of convincing their hearers by means of phrases or mathematical demonstrations, yet they did not the less accomplish the work they had undertaken. They gave up their property, neglected their kindred, were stretched upon a cross, and as if endowed with bodies not their own, suffered many and excruciating tortures; neither seduced by the adulation of the people and rulers of any city, nor terrified by their menaces, they clearly evidenced by their conduct, that they were supported in the struggle by the hope of a high reward. So that they, in fact needed not to resort to verbal arguments; for without any effort on their part, their very deeds constrained the inhabitants of every house and of every city to give credit to their testimony, even before they knew wherein it consisted.
Since then so divine and marvelous a change has taken place in the circumstances of men, that ancient cults and national laws have fallen into contempt; since many of the most celebrated writers among the Greeks have tasked their powers of eloquence in describing the Calydonian boar, the bull of Marathon and other similar prodigies, which have really occurred in countries or cities, or have a mystic origin, why should not I rise above myself, and write a history of the Church? For I am persuaded that, as the topic is not the achievements of men, it may appear almost incredible that such a history should be written by me; but, with God, nothing is impossible.
I at first felt strongly inclined to trace the course of events from the very commencement; but on reflecting that similar records of the past up to their own time had been compiled by those wisest of men, Clemens and Hegesippus, successors of the apostles, by Africanus the historian, and by Eusebius, surnamed Pamphilus, a man intimately acquainted with the sacred Scriptures and the writings of the Greek poets and historians, I merely draw up an epitome in two books of all that is recorded to have happened to the churches, from the ascension of Christ to the deposition of Licinius. Now, however, by the help of God, I will endeavor to relate the subsequent events as well.
I shall record the transactions with which I have been connected, and also those concerning which I have heard from persons who knew or saw the affairs in our own day or before our own generation. But I have sought for records of events of earlier date, amongst the established laws appertaining to religion, amongst the proceedings of the synods of the period, amongst the innovations that arose, and in the epistles of kings and priests. Some of these documents are preserved in palaces and churches, and others are dispersed and in the possession of the learned. I thought frequently of transcribing the whole, but on further reflection I deemed it better, on account of the mass of the documents, to give merely a brief synopsis of their contents; yet whenever controverted topics are introduced, I will readily transcribe freely from any work that may tend to the elucidation of truth. If any one who is ignorant of past events should conclude my history to be false, because he meets with conflicting statements in other writings, let him know that since the dogmas of Arius and other more recent hypotheses have been broached, the rulers of the churches, differing in opinion among themselves, have transmitted in writing their own peculiar views, for the benefit of their respective followers; and further, be it remembered, these rulers convened councils and issued what decrees they pleased, often condemning unheard those whose creed was dissimilar to their own, and striving to their utmost to induce the reigning prince and nobles of the time to side with them. Intent upon maintaining the orthodoxy of their own dogmas, the partisans of each sect respectively formed a collection of such epistles as favored their own heresy, omitting all documents of a contrary tendency. Such are the obstacles by which we are beset in our endeavors to arrive at a conclusion on this subject! Still, as it is requisite, in order to maintain historical accuracy, to pay the strictest attention to the means of eliciting truth, I felt myself bound to examine all writings of this class according to my ability.
Let not an impertinent or malignant spirit be imputed to me, for having dwelt upon the disputes of ecclesiastics among themselves, concerning the primacy and the pre-eminence of their own heresy. In the first place, as I have already said, an historian ought to regard everything as secondary in importance to truth; moreover, the doctrine of the Catholic Church is shown to be especially the most genuine, since it has been tested frequently by the plots of opposing thinkers; yet, the disposal of the lot being of God, the Catholic Church has maintained its own ascendancy, has reassumed its own power, and has led all the churches and the people to the reception of its own truth.
I have had to deliberate whether I ought to confine myself to the recital of events connected with the Church under the Roman government; but it seemed more advisable to include, as far as possible, the record of transactions relative to religion among the Persians and barbarians. Nor is it foreign to ecclesiastical history to introduce in this work an account of those who were the fathers and originators of what is denominated monachism, and of their immediate successors, whose celebrity is well known to us either by observation or report. For I would neither be considered ungracious towards them, nor willing to consign their virtue to oblivion, nor yet be thought ignorant of their history; but I would wish to leave behind me such a record of their manner of life that others, led by their example, might attain to a blessed and happy end. As the work proceeds, these subjects shall be noted as far as possible.
Invoking the help and propitiousness of God, I now proceed to the narration of events; the present history shall have its beginning from this point.