PREPARATION FOR THE GOSPEL

With this we can finally turn to the Preparation and to the aspect of Eusebius’ motivation in writing it which I want to consider more closely. As I mentioned above, Eusebius, at least in part, is justifying the writing of the Preparation and theDemonstration by claiming that he here follows an approach of his own to apologetics. And this he explains in part by saying that he is not, like many of his predecessors, going to write a polemical treatise. One can, I think, readily see why he finds this inappropriate. Origen did write a polemical treatise against Celsus. This seemed unproblematic, because Origen at least started out thinking that Celsus was an Epicurean. One did not have to be a Christian to think that Epicureanism involved a blindness to reality which would make it impossible for an Epicurean to have access to the world of the intellect. Origen would not have written a treatise like this against Numenius or against Plotinus. Plotinus did attack the Gnostics, and he seems to have had reservations about Christians. But it would have been impossible to write a polemical treatise against him. There would have been place for disagreement, but it would have been difficult to reproach Plotinus for his views or his practice. For similar reasons, Eusebius now finds it inappropriate to write a polemical treatise against paganism or Hellenicity. We remember that, according to Eusebius, Porphyry accused Origen of apostasy. If we look at Eusebius’ wording, the contrast which Porphyry draws between Origen and Ammonius, who is supposed to have been originally a Christian, insinuates that Origen converted to Christianity, though this is not actually said (cf. Ecclesiastical History, 6. 19. 8). But Eusebius obviously, for a variety of reasons, finds the accusation of apostasy deeply disturbing, so he takes it literally and calls Porphyry a liar, pointing out that Origen had Christian parents and was raised Christian. But I take it that Porphyry may not have meant to deny this and that, in any case, he primarily had something else in mind. Porphyry raised the question of why a Greek, an educated Greek, a Greek who had more or less the same philosophical views about the sensible and intelligible world and, in particular, about God as the Platonists had, would abandon Hellenicity and embrace barbarian Jewish Scriptures. I want to distinguish two elements in this question, though I think that Porphyry would not have accepted this as a real distinction. There is, first, the problem of why a Greek, somebody steeped in Greek culture and tradition, would espouse Judaism. There is, second, the problem as to why somebody who in his theoretical pursuits has grasped the highest principles, the essence, as it were, of Hellenicity, could in practice follow and believe in the foreign stories of the Scriptures. This, roughly, is the accusation Porphyry makes against Origen according to Eusebius in the Ecclesiastical History, thus to go on to show that the Scriptures are not worthy to be espoused, and that the attempts of Origen and others to make the Scriptures come out right by learned and ingenious interpretation are entirely misplaced.

Now, almost at the outset of the Preparation (1. 2. 1-4), Eusebius introduces a pagan who, as Eusebius puts it, ‘quite reasonably’ (eikotos, 1. 2. 1; cf. 1. 2. 3) raises, among others, the question of why Christians give up their Greek heritage to espouse disreputable Jewish mythologies (1. 2. 3). This does seem to be the question of Porphyry that we have just been considering.

Having raised the question of why Christians apostatize from Hellenism to Jewish Scripture, the pagan, in i. 2. 4, goes on to ask why Christians do not then stay with Judaism, but, in a way, apostatize again, by refusing to follow Jewish law and custom. We can be fairly confident that his was a question, too, which had been raised by Porphyry. For it was a point which Celsus had already made, that Christianity in its origins involved a revolt against Judaism (cf. Origen, Against Celsus, 3. 5; 5. 33), and it must have been a well-known Jewish complaint that Christians claimed Scripture for themselves, but refused to follow the Law. Now, given these two questions, the pagan, as reported by Eusebius, can set out his question as a question concerning identity: what are Christians? Greeks or barbarians—that is, Jews? They seem to be neither one nor the other. For they give up Hellenicity to embrace Jewish Scripture, but then refuse to follow Jewish Law.

Eusebius seems fully to accept the question thus put by Porphyry. In fact, it will structure Eusebius’ discussion in the Preparation and the Demonstration. In the former he will argue that Christians espouse Jewish Scripture, because its wisdom is older and superior to Greek wisdom. And in the latter he will argue that Jewish Scripture itself announces the Incarnation, the Redemption, and the Resurrection, and that these prophecies have been fulfilled in Jesus, whom the Jews nevertheless did not accept. That Eusebius fully accepts the question—in fact, seems to assume that it is the question Christians face—makes a polemical response to it completely inappropriate. For a convincing answer to this question is, as Eusebius sees it, constitutive of the identity of Christianity. But it is by no means obvious why Eusebius should accept the question in the first place. It is only because he has a certain attitude towards Hellenicity that it can seem so crucial to Eusebius. It is instructive in this regard to compare Celsus and Porphyry and the respective responses of Origen and Eusebius. Both Celsus and Porphyry accuse Christians of accepting Jewish Scripture, but of revolting against Judaism, as not wanting to identify themselves as or with Jews. But Celsus, looking at earlier Christianity, presents Christians as being of Jewish origin (Origen, Against Celsus, 5. 33), whereas Porphyry, looking at Christianity in the third century and thinking of men like Origen, presents Christians as being of Greek origin. Origen responds to this very cautiously. In Against Celsus, 3. 7, he argues that if Christianity had been the result of a revolt (stasis)within Judaism, which countenances killing under certain circumstances, Jesus would not have forbidden killing under any circumstances. In 5. 33 he is more forthcoming. He admits that Jesus came forth from the Jews, but says that he formed a church to which all nations are called and thereby come under a law which is not the law of the Jews—for instance, in that Christians reject belligerence both in the literal and in the spiritual sense. Eusebius, like Origen, emphasizes that all nations are called (Preparation, 1. 2. 8), that Christianity puts an end to hostility among nations (1. 4. 3 ff.); but, unlike Origen, he turns this into the claim that the Christians are a new host, collected from many nations, Greeks by race or genos and Greeks in their way of thinking. He goes out of his way not to say, as Origen did, that the traditional laws and customs of the Jews have been replaced by a new law, but that it is the traditional laws and customs and theology of the Greeks which no longer hold for Christians (1. 5. 11—14). In a striking way, he is eager to accept the charge of Porphyry that Christians have deserted Hellenism.

One has to be extremely cautious in one’s interpretation of this striking fact. But I am inclined to think that it reflects, among other things, Eusebius’ in some ways extremely positive, though ambivalent, attitude towards Hellenism. He is perfectly clear and unambiguous in his view that Hellenism ultimately is inadequate, and has to be superseded by Christianity. But he certainly does not reject paganism and Greek culture as entirely alien in the way Tatian had done. It seems as if Eusebius, before rejecting Hellenism, had to go out of his way to first claim it as also his and, more generally, Christians’ patrimony, as if to insist that the Greek tradition and Greek culture were as much part of his heritage as they were that of his pagan opponents. And it is precisely for this reason that Porphyry’s question becomes the central question.

Now, at least for Porphyry, Greek philosophy, and in particular Greek theology, are definitive of Hellenicity and the Greek tradition. For this reason, it is particularly puzzling for him that Origen should have Greek philosophical views, but reject Hellenism for Christianity. It should be noted that Eusebius, in his characterization of Porphyry’s attack on Christianity in the Ecclesiastical History, makes a point of saying (6. 19. 5) that Porphyry attacked not Christian doctrines, but rather the Scriptures and their interpreters, like Origen. But he reports (6. 19. 7) Porphyry as complaining that Origen in his doctrines, as opposed to his life, was thoroughly Hellenic, and that he read these Hellenic doctrines into foreign myths. More specifically, Porphyry says that Origen’s views concerning things in general, but in particular concerning the divine, are Hellenic. Porphyry explains this (6. 19. 8), as we saw, by claiming that Origen spent all his time with Plato, and occupied himself with the writings of men like Numenius, Longinus, Moderatus, and other Pythagoreans. The suggestion clearly is that Origen’s theoretical views even in theology are perfectly acceptable, but that they have their source not in Scripture, but in Plato and Platonism. So this is what Porphyry thinks about Origen’s philosophy.

Eusebius’ view of Plato, Platonism, and, hence, Porphyry’s philosophy, roughly speaking, is precisely the reverse. Eusebius has little to complain of in Platonism, in particular Platonic theology and metaphysics. But he thinks that this theology and metaphysics is not rooted in Hellenism, that it cannot be arrived at, as Porphyry and other Platonists thought, by reconstructing the true account of things by allegorical interpretations of Homer, Hesiod, and ancient Greek myths, since these are not an appropriate object for allegorical interpretation. To the extent that the Greeks arrived at the truth, it was rather because, for instance, they in some way borrowed from Moses and Jewish Scripture, which in any case was much more ancient and hence venerable than Plato’s writings.

But this view of Eusebius is embedded in a larger view, which similarly, roughly speaking, is the inverse of a larger view we find in Platonists like Celsus or Porphyry. And so before Eusebius, in books 11-13 of the Preparation, turns to Plato and Platonism, his first ten books set out this larger view. Now Platonists like Numenius, Celsus, or Porphyry do not believe that the true account of things, the true philosophy or theology, is one which we owe to Plato, who discovered these deep truths. They assume, rather, that Plato’s importance lies in the fact that he still understood, and was able to articulate, an ancient account, and that he somehow encoded this account, and his understanding of it, in the dialogues. But the account goes much further back, to the beginnings of Hellenicity and beyond. It can be recovered to some extent by the appropriate interpretation of Homer, Hesiod, and ancient myths. But it has also left its traces in the traditional beliefs of the other ancient nations—not just the Greeks, but also the Egyptians, the Babylonians, and the Phoenicians, whose views can therefore be used to reconstruct the true account. There is a certain amount of disagreement about the relative age of these nations, and about who borrowed from whom to make up for lost parts of the true account. In particular, there is a radical disagreement as to whether the Jews are an ancient nation, and whether they dispose of authentic ancient wisdom, or whether Judaism is a corrupted form of, among other things, Egyptian wisdom. In the latter case, Jewish Scripture is clearly not an adequate object of allegorical interpretation.

Eusebius’ argument in Preparation, 1—10, must be understood as responding to this sort of view. It proceeds in two steps. In books 1—6 it tries to expound the traditional Greek belief system—in particular, traditional Greek theology. Eusebius argues that, far from being based on an original true account going back to times immemorial, it evolved historically, involved large-scale borrowings from barbarians, in particular the Egyptians, was devoid of rationality, in many regards crude, primitive, and abominable, not the kind of material one could reasonably assume to contain some deeper hidden truth. Throughout the argument Eusebius again and again argues that surely the Christians are justified to reject this tradition. Triumphantly, in a chapter entitled ‘How Plato Thought of the Theology of the Ancients’ (2. 7. 1—9), he quotes Plato as saying in the Republic (377e—378d) that if one wants to follow law and custom, one has to have these beliefs about the divine beings for which there is no proof and which are not even plausible. So Plato himself is supposed to acknowledge the irrationality of traditional Greek theology as being a matter of mere faith and custom. Moreover, he quotes Plato as going on to say that the stories about the gods—for instance, about Kronos and Zeus—are unspeakably awful.

In a second step, in books 7—10, Eusebius argues for the superiority of Jewish beliefs and customs and the Jewish way of life, in particular for the superiority of Jewish theology, and, crucially, for its being much more ancient. The detailed account of Mosaic theology drawn from Scripture in 6. 9—22, in particular 11—22, which is an essential part of the proof that Judaism is superior to traditional Greek or pagan belief, makes it look very much, though not perhaps entirely, like a form of Platonism; but this does not trouble Eusebius, given that his chronology puts Moses safely ahead of Plato. With the background having thus been filled in in great detail, we in books 11—15 can turn to Greek philosophy, and in particular, in books 11—13, to Plato and Platonism. But before we turn to what Eusebius has to say about Plato, we should take note of Eusebius’ strategy in structuring his discussion in this way.

Eusebius had set out to show that Christians just did what reason demanded when they, though Greeks in culture and thought, abandoned Hellenism for Jewish Scripture. Now we might have thought, given the views of Porphyry and other pagans at the time, that this involved showing that Christians had every reason to abandon Hellenism, including what Porphyry and similarly minded pagans regarded as definitive of Hellenism: namely, the true account—that is, Platonic philosophy. But Eusebius in his argument separates traditional Greek belief and Platonism. He denies that Platonism is just an articulation of the original true account, reflected by Homer, Hesiod, and traditional Greek belief. And he can argue that in this sense the Christians are quite right in abandoning traditional Greek belief and practice in favour of Jewish Scripture. This leaves it quite open what we are to think of Platonic philosophy, as if it were not, in the mind of his pagan opponents, a crucial—if notthe crucial—part of the Greek heritage.

For Eusebius’ view on Platonism we have to wait till book ii, when we have already rejected Hellenism, as it is understood by his pagan opponents, if we have followed Eusebius’ argument so far. Book 11 starts by reminding us that we argued in book 10, on the basis of what pagans themselves, like Numenius, say, that the Greeks had nothing to contribute to wisdom themselves except their enormous argumentative skill and their elegant language, and that they said what they said, borrowing from others, not least from the Jews. It now remains to be shown, Eusebius continues (10. 1. 3), how Greek philosophy, if not on every point, then at least on many points, agrees with the teachings of the Jews, which are chronologically earlier. And this doctrinal comparison is best made, Eusebius says, if we take Plato’s philosophy as the standard. For Plato is thought to be superior to all other Greek philosophers (II. 1. 3). Here we will have to note, Eusebius goes on (II. 1. 5), that though what Plato says for the most part is true, there are some points on which even Plato is not quite right, as will be indicated when the occasion arises. Tellingly enough, Eusebius immediately reassures us that he does not do this for polemical reasons (diabole)—but because it is his task in this apology to show that barbarian philosophy—that is, Jewish wisdom—is superior to Greek philosophy. So it is not just Greek traditional belief, but also Greek philosophy and even Platonism, which is to be rejected, though the latter only on those few points on which it deviates from the truth as revealed by Scripture.

Now this still leaves Eusebius, one might think, with a serious problem. If Platonism is substantially correct, we might still want to know why we have to reject Hellenism and turn to Jewish Scripture. Eusebius’ answer is already indicated by his second heading in Preparation, book ii: ‘That the philosophy in accordance with Plato in its most important details follows the philosophy of the Hebrews.’ So Platonism is substantially true, not because it encapsulates ancient Greek wisdom, but because it adopts Jewish wisdom, passing it off, though, as ancient Greek wisdom. This is precisely the reverse of Porphyry’s complaint against Origen: Christian doctrine is substantially true, not because it draws on Jewish Scripture, but because it adopts Platonism, passing it off, though, as ancient Jewish wisdom arrived at by an interpretation of Jewish Scripture. So, Eusebius implies, it is Platonism itself which is ultimately dependent on Jewish Scripture. This is more an insinuation than an actual claim, since Eusebius, in making his claim, carefully chooses an ambiguous term like epakolouthein, which might signify no more than that Plato came after Moses chronologically, but strongly suggests that somehow Plato followed Moses in his views.

This is not a new thought. It is to be found in Clement, in Origen, and elsewhere. But Eusebius is more enterprising. And this shows the great attraction which Plato and Platonism have for him, an attraction which makes it impossible for him to adopt a polemical stance against Plato, Platonism, or even Platonist paganism. For when Eusebius in II. 8. I turns to an explanation of how it comes about that Plato, in his doctrine of the intelligible realm, follows Moses and the prophets, rather than Greek mythology, Plato’s having learnt about Jewish doctrine orally (perhaps, for instance, in Egypt) is just one of three possibilities he considers. He is also willing to consider the possibility that Plato found out the truth for himself, or even the possibility that Plato was somehow divinely inspired. In any case, there is a crucial aspect of Hellenicity which Eusebius does not want to reject: namely, Platonic philosophy. Eusebius, like his predecessors, could have taken the position that even this was borrowed from the Jewish tradition. But he refuses to do so unequivocally. Again, his identification with a purified Greek culture seems to come through.

With this we can return to Eusebius’ claim at the beginning of the Preparation that in writing this and the Demonstration he is following an approach of his own to apologetics, which justifies his adding further to the already large apologetic literature. Under the influence of Porphyry, Eusebius comes to see the main question which Christians face as the question of why they should abandon Hellenism in favour of Jewish Scripture, and why, having espoused Jewish Scripture, they do not follow Jewish Law. This is a real question which Christians would have to face and would need to have a reasoned answer to, even if it were not raised by their opponents. Hence, in answering this question, polemics are quite inappropriate; and this all the more so if, as Eusebius sees it, Christians in a way are apostates from Hellenism, whose doctrine is quite close to Platonism, which perhaps is divinely inspired. To answer this question, it will also not do to write a treatise of the first of the three categories under which Eusebius subsumes earlier apologetic writings. It is not a matter of refuting one’s opponents, of showing that their accusations are ill-founded, or even fall upon themselves. For Porphyry’s basic questions are not ill-founded; they are perfectly appropriate. Nor is Platonism an appropriate object of refutation, even if not all of Plato’s views are beyond criticism. Nor can Plato, or Numenius, or Plotinus, or Porphyry be accused of idolatry, superstition, or other abominable beliefs and practices. Nor is the question posed by Porphyry to be answered just by scriptural exegesis, to mention the last of the three categories under which Eusebius categorizes earlier apologies. The answer to Porphyry’s question requires something else, something new.

The Preparation and the Demonstration jointly address what is perhaps the fundamental question concerning the identity of Christians to which a Christian ideally should have an answer. And this answer does not lie in an appeal to faith or authority, or in a polemical response. It had been a standard objection against Christians, reflected for instance by Marcus Aurelius, that Christians are supposed to believe blindly what they are told. In the Preparation Eusebius is concerned to respond to this objection right from the outset (cf. i. i. ii). He seems to think that the answer to Porphyry’s question is a matter of proof. If one knows all the historical evidence, if one knows how to evaluate it according to the highest standards of Greek historical and philological scholarship, if one has mastered Greek philosophy, then one can show that Scripture is philosophically superior to, but at least as good as, Plato, and in any case more ancient, and one can show that the prophecies of Scripture have been fulfilled in Jesus. A rational person of sufficient learning and philosophical insight, a truly critical mind, precisely somebody who has reached the heights of Greek education, should be able to see that the reasonable thing to do is to espouse Christianity.

Formally, in both the Preparation and the Demonstration, Eusebius is addressing Theodotus, bishop of Laodicea in Syria (Ecclesiastical History, 7. 32. 23 ff.). He is responding to both pagan and Jewish queries. But Jews and pagans do not seem to be the audience he mainly has in mind. Eusebius himself says (Preparation, I. I. 12) that the Preparation will be appropriate for recent converts from paganism, whereas the Demonstration will be fitting for Christians already confirmed in their faith, to provide them with a better, more perfect understanding of the divine mysteries. But the Christian audience which Eusebius is addressing must be a rather elevated one. It must be Christians who cherish their Greek culture. And it must be an audience which is inclined to believe in the fundamental correctness of Platonism, but is also ready to be persuaded that this Platonism is already to be found in the Bible long before Plato. Obviously not all Christians shared Eusebius’ view that the Bible, properly interpreted, yields a form of Platonism. Just as Origen had been criticized by pagans like Porphyry for reading Platonist theology with Scripture, so he had also been criticized, and was going to be criticized by Christians like Marcellus of Ancyra (cf. Eusebius, Against Marcellus, I. 4. 24) or Methodius for importing alien pagan doctrines into Christianity. So Eusebius’ apology is an apology from a rather specific and controversial Christian point of view. And this may account for the fact that the second part of the Demonstration, apart from fragments, has not come down to us.

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