Skip to main content Accessibility help

The ‘Eusebian Constantine’

  • Rudolph H. Storch (a1)


Historians generally have concerned themselves with the reliability of the Vita Constantini of Eusebius, while ignoring an important contribution of the panegyricist, namely, the image of Constantine he projects to his readers. This image, or the “Eusebian Constantine,” involves four major elements: (1) all success and benefit derive from the favor of the divinity; (2) only the pious receive divine favor; (3) the most important indication of divine favor for a pious ruler is military victory; and (4) with the victory secured, divine favor will produce peace and unity for the realm. Constantine, being close to Eusebius, helped to mold his own image which is more than a representation of the first Christian emperor—it is a key to understanding the nature of Eusebius' panegyric as well as his notion of Constantine's relationship with the Christian God.



Hide All

1. The problem of Eusebius' authorship of the Vita will be a continuing one. H. Grégoire argues for a Eusebian kernel with later additions: “Eusèbe n'est pas l'auteur de la ‘Vita Constantini’ dans sa forme actuelle et Constantin n'est pas ‘converti’ en 312,” Byzantion, 13 (1938), 561–83. J. Vogt discounts Grégoire's suggestion that the faulty account of the war between Constantine and Licinius points to later interpolation:“Die Vita Constantini des Eusebius über den Konflikt Zwischen Constantin und Licinius,” Historia, 2 (1953-1954), 463–71. Downey, G. in “The Builder of the Original Church of the Apostles at Constantinople: a Contribution to the Criticism of the Vita Constantini attributed to Eusebius,” Dumbarton Oaks Papers, 6 (1951), 5380, accepts the addition of later material as does Moreau, J.: “Zum Problem der Vita Constantini,” Historia, 4 (1955), 234–45. Vittinghoff's, F.Eusebius als Verfasser der 'Vita Constantini,” Rh. Mus., 96 (1953), 330–73 stresses Eusebian authorship as do Winklemann's, F. W.Zur Geschichte des Authentizitatsproblem der Vita Constantini,” Klio, 40 (1962), 187243, and Die Vita Constantini des Eusebius: Ihre Authentizität, Diss. Halle (1959), at chap. 2. Most scholars accept a Eusebian kernel but also accept later redaction, the exact extent of which awaits a definitive study: Baynes, N. H., “Constantine the Great and the Christian Church,” Proc. Brit. Acad., 15 (1929), note 18 (i) and the earlier literature cited; Morean, , “Eusebius von CaesaresReal. f. Ant. u. christ., 6, 1073–74. Schwartz, accepting Eusebian authorship, does not treat the problem: “Eusebius von Caesarea,” RE 61, 1422–27.

For the purpose of this essay, note that the image of Constantine attributed to Eusebius is derived from “non-controversial” passages in the V.C.: that is, passages which a later interpolator would have had no reason to add. For example, there is no reason to doubt that it was Eusebius, not a redactor, who made references to Constantine's closeness to the divine or to the emperor's piety, or to the benefits of his reign. There are, however, two problems, both of which relate to Eusebius' image of Constantinus victor: (1) There is discrepancy between Eusebius' professed purpose in the V.C. (I, 11) to relate only those events pertaining to Constantine's religious character and the content of the Vita which includes such things as military successes (I, 25, 26–40, 46; IV, 5–6: Downey, , Dum. Oaks Pap., 6 [1951], 6263. These passages may have been added later, but this is not certain and two other interpretations are equally valid: perhaps Eusebius felt that Constantine's military success did pertain to his religious character in the sense that victory was an outstanding example of the close ties between God and Constantine or, Eusebius, being carried away by his panegyric, simply did not adhere to his professed purpose. (2) It has been suggested that the connection of the labarum with the victory of 312 is the work of a later redactor (on this see note 26 below). There is no conclusive evidence of this.

2. Although there has been much discussion about the purpose of the Vita the complete image of Constantine has not been noticed: Foakes-Jackson, F. J., Eusebius Pamphili (Cambridge: W. Heffer and Sons, 1933), pp. 102–14; Downey, , Dum. Oaks Pap., 6 (1951), 6165; Telfer, W., “The Author's Purpose in the Vita Constantini,” Texte und Untersuchungen, 68 (1957), 157–67; Vogt, , “Constantinus der Grosse,” Real. f. Ant. u. Christ., 3, 371–72; Moreau, Vérité historique et propagande politique chez Lactance et dans Vita Constantini,” Annales Universitatis Saraviensis (Philos. Lett.), 4 (1955), 8997; Schwartz, , RE 61, 1422–23 and 1426–27; but not Wallace-Hadrill, D. S., Eusebius of Caesarea (Westminster, Maryland, Canterbury Press, 1961). Schwartz, Both (RE 61, 1423) and Moreau, (Real. f. Ant. u. Christ., 6, 1073), however, do refer to the famous passage in the V.C. (I, 3, 4) relating to the emperor's image where Eusebius remarks that, above all emperors, Constantine was a friend of God and model of Christian life to men.

3. Eusebius' political philosophy, perhaps deriving from Hellenistic theories of kingship, involved the view that the empire was an earthly copy of the rule of God in heaven, with the emperor being a representative of the godhead: Baynes, , Byzantine Studies and Other Essays (London: Athlone Press, 1955), pp. 168–72.

4. V.C. II, 12; III, 1.

5. H.E. X, 9. The general view of the character of books IX and X of the H.E. is expressed by Schwartz, (RE 61, 1423): “Die letzten Bücher der Kirchengeschichte sindeben nicht Zeitgeschichte in strengen Sinn, sondern ein kirchliches und politisches Pamphlet…” Eusebius' image of Constantine appears most vivid in the Vita but is supported by the last two books of the Church History, both of which were written after Constantine's conversion.

6. V.C. I, 5, 6, 46.

7. Ibid., II, 15.

8. Lact. de mort. pers. 44; Zos. II, 16; Eus. H.E. IX, 9 and V.C. I, 36.

9. Lact. de mort. pers. 46.

10. V.C. II, 4.

11. H.E. X, 2.

12. de mort. pers. 48.

13. H.E. X, 5.

14. Licinius' impiety: H.E. X, 8, 9; V.C. II, 2, 12.

15. H.E. IX, 9, 11; X, 2, 8.

16. V.C. I, 59.

17. H.E. X, 9.

18. V.C. I, 11.

19. Ibid., IV, 53.

20. Ibid., 8.

21. Ibid., I, 6.

22. Ibid., II, 19. This title is mentioned in the same breath with the piety of Constantine and the acknowledgement that the victories behind the title are God-given.

23. H.E.. IX, 9; V.C. I, 39.

24. V.C. IV, 20.

25. Ibid., II, 5.

26. Although the Vita, in its present form, connects the labarum with Constantine's victory at the Milvian Bridge there is a question of exactly when it was adopted as the standard of the army—A.D. 312, 324, or at some time in between: Baynes, “Const. and the Christ. Ch.,” note 33; Vogt, , Real. f. Ant. u. Christ., 3, 323–25; Grosse, , “Labarum,” RE 121, 241. Grégoire argues that the whole account of the vision can be attributed to later interpolation but includes no specific remarks about the labarum: “La vision de Constantin 'liquidee,” Byzantion, 14 (1939), 341–51. The labarum, as described in the Vita (I, 31), cannot be accurate for 312 A.D. but Eusebius may have been describing it as he knew it later or the detailed description could have been added by a later redactor. It cannot be conclusively stated that the labarum, in some form, was not adopted by Constantine's army at the battle in 312. The Vita presents the labarum as the constant safeguard of the army from 312 (the labarum in the V.C.: I, 2831, 37, 40 — here the “salutary symbol” is the safeguard of the government and the whole empire; II, 3–9, 16, 55; III, 2, 3; IV, 5, 21).

27. Eg. V.C. II, 3, 8, 9.

28. Ibid., II, 7.

29. Ibid., I, 31.

30. Ibid., II, 3.

31. Ibid., I, 32. H.E. IX, 9. See also Tert. Adv. Marcion., IV. 20.

32. On the trophy: Picard, G. C., Les Trophées Romaines (Paris: E. de Boccard, 1957); Janssen, A. J., Het Antieke Tropaion (Lederberg-Gent: Drukkeij Erasmus, 1957), is especially valuable as a catalogue of literary and artistic references, although the study substantially ends with the close of the second century A.D.; Lammert, , “Tropaion,” RE 7 A 1663–73; Reinach, , “Tropaeum,” Daremberg-Saglio, 5, 497518 is most helpful for artistic references; Woelcke's, K. fundamental Beiträge zur Geschichte des Tropaions (Bonn: Georgi, 1911) is not useful for the imperial period.

Eusebius applied the word “trophy” to more than the labarum. For example, he referred to the remains of Peter, and Paul, as “trophies” (H.E. II, 25), On this passage see Careopino, J., Etudes d'histoire chretienne (Paris: A. Michel, 1953), pp. 251–58 and Bernardi, E., “Let Mot ‘tropaion’ applique aux martyrs,” Vigil. Christ., 8 (1954), 174–75.

33. V.C. I, 4.

34. Ibid., I, 19, 20; IV, 1.

35. Ibid., IV, 2.

36. Ibid., II, 22.

37. Ibid., II, 20.

38. Ibid., I, 9.

39. Ibid., II, 13.

40. Eusebius, here, makes Constantine very little different from earlier emperors. Charlesworth, M. P., “Pietas and Victoria: The Emperor and the Citizen,” JRS, 33 (1943), 1: “… the consecutive (and almost casual) connection of these adjectives: because the emperor is pius the gods will render him felix (for felicitas is their gift to their favorites) and his felicitas is best demonstrated in his being invictus.”

41. V.C. IV, 33.

42. Ibid., XV, 35.

43. Ibid., IV, 36. Also Soc. H.E. I, 9 and Theod. H.E. I, 15.

44. V.C. III, 61. Constantine considered Eusebius as being worthy to be bishop of the whole world—Soz. H.E. II, 19.

45. V.C. I, 10, 28.

46. Ibid., IV, 7.

47. Ibid., II, 8, 9.

48. Ibid., I, 32.

49. Ibid., II, 63.

50. Ibid., II, 4.

51. Ibid., IV, 24.

52. Ibid., I, 42.

53. Ibid.

54. Ibid., II, 4; IV, 56.

55. Ibid., I, 42.

56. Ibid., IV, 18, 52.

57. The authenticity of the Constantinian documents preserved in the V.C. and by Optatus and Athanasius is no longer seriously questioned: Baynes, , “Const. and the Christ. Ch.,” notes 18 (i), 46, 59, 64; Moreau, , Real. f. Ant. u. Christ., 6, 1074; Schwartz, , RE, 61, 1423; Vogt, , Real. f. Ant. u. Christ., 3, 362. The strongest evidence for the genuineness of the documents in the Vita came with the discovery of a papyrus that guaranteed the authenticity of Constantine's letter to the provincials following his defeat of Licinius (V.C. II, 2728 with the end of 26 and the beginning of 29). On this: Jones, A. H. M., “Notes on the Genuineness of the Constantinian Documents in Eusebius' Life of Constantine,” Jour. Ecc. Hist., 5 (1954), 196200.

58. V.C. II, 46.

59. Opt. App. IX.

60. V.C. IV, 11.

61. Ibid., II, 24.

62. Eus. H.E. X, 7.

63. V.C. II, 29.

64. Opt. App. III.

65. Ibid., App. V; VI.

66. Eus. H.E. X, 7.

67. Opt. App. III.

68. V.C. II, 28, 42.

69. Ibid., II, 71.

70. Ibid., II, 49; III, 52.

71. Ibid., IV, 13.

72. Opt. App. V.

73. V.C. II, 28.

74. Ibid., II, 27; IV, 12.

75. Ibid., II, 54; IV, 10.

76. Ibid., II, 55; III, 52.

77. Opt. App. X.

78. V.C. II, 65; 67.

79. Ibid., II, 28.

80. Ibid., II, 55.

81. Ibid., II, 42; III, 17.

82. Ibid., II, 28, 29, 31; Opt. App. VIII; Athan. Apol. c. Ar. 86.

83. V.C. II, 46; IV, 9.

84. Ibid., II, 59.

85. Ibid., II, 56.

86. Ibid., III, 60.

87. Opt. App. III.

88. V.C. III, 17; IV, 42.

89. Ibid., II, 65.

90. Except for one brief reference (V.C. II, 66) where he makes a vague statement suggesting that Constantine settled the dispute, Eusebius ignores the Donatist problem presumably because Constantine's lack of success in solving it would blemish his image of felicitas.

91. Benjamin, (“Constantinus der Grosse,” RE, 41, 1024) correctly refers to Constantine's concern with “bad luck” as a result of disunity. It was apparently of no significance to Eusebius that Constantine, although lacking training in theological matters, single-handedly directed the solution of the Arian problem, again, because the perseverance of disunity would tarnish his felicitas.

92. Ziegler, (“Panegyrikos,” RE, 183, 571581) makes no attempt to discuss the content of the XII Panegyrici Latini, confining his remarks to problems of dating, authorship, and text. Born, L. K. (“The Perfect Prince according to the Latin Panegyricists,” Amer. Jour. Phil.,” 15 [1934], 2035 especially at 21–23) discusses only the qualities of a good ruler. Pietas is not mentioned, there is only one reference to the emperor victor (23: “The prince should be a good soldier;”), and the interest of panegyricists before Eusebius in divine forces is neglected. J. Mesk analyzes the panegyries only in terms of rhetorical types: “Zur technik der lateinischen Panegyriker,” Rh. Mus., 67 (1912), 569–90.

93. Pan. IX, 26; X, 7. All references to the panegyrics are to Galletier, E., Panegyriques latines, 3 vols. (Paris: Societe d'Edition “Les Belles Lettres,” 1949-1955).

94. Ibid., II, 1; VII, 3, 9.

95. Ibid., VI, 16; X, 9.

96. Ibid., III, 6; Pliny, Pan. 5.

97. Pan. II, 10.

98. Ibid., II, 6, 7, 11; VI, 8, 13; VII, 20; IX, 2; X, 13, 16.

99. Ibid., IX, 4.

100. Pliny, Pan. 1.

101. Pan. I, 2, 14; III, 2.

102. . Pliny, Pan. 14 (the divinity of Trajan's father).

103. Pan. X, 14; VI, 3, 14.

104. Ibid., VII, 2.

105. Hercules: Pan. II, 1, 2; VI, 2, 8, 11. Jupiter: VI, 12. Apollo: VII, 21, 22.

106. Pan. VI, 1; VII, 20; X, 26.

107. Ibid., IX, 4; X, 7, 12.

108. Ibid., II, 1; VI, 2; VII, 7, 8.

109. Ibid., VIII, 7.

110. Ibid., VII, 1.

111. Ibid., III, 18. Pietas and felicitas are closely related: Pan. III, 6, 13, 19.

112. Ibid., VII, 20.

113. Ibid., VII, 14.

114. Ibid., VI, 2.

115. Ibid., IV, 12.

116. Ibid., IX, 10.

117. Ibid., IV, 2; X, 16.

118. Ibid., IX, 2; X, 7 (circumstances were varios at volubiles), 17, 19. Pliny, Pan. 13: Trajan shared the inconveniences of the campaign with his soldiers.

119. Pan. VIII, 11.

120. Ibid., IX, 9.

121. Eg., justice, generosity, prudence, moderation, courage, diligence, clemency, liberality, indulgence, leniency.


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed