Eusebius the Liar?

Some very odd statements are in circulation about Eusebius Pampilus the Historian.  Recently someone quoted one of them at me, as a put-down.  I had the opportunity to check the statements fairly easily, and the results are interesting, if discouraging for those looking for data on the internet.  Since then I have come across other variants, and added these also.  

1.  "I have repeated whatever may rebound to the glory, and suppressed all that could tend to the disgrace of our religion"

2.  "It will sometimes be necessary to use falsehood for the benefit of those who need such a mode of treatment."

3.  "... then can't he lie?" - a new version

4.  Postscript - the source of them all?

5.  A real quotation from Eusebius

6.  A possible source in Origen?

7.  Another possible source via Blavatsky from Mosheim.

[NOTE: There are a couple of pages with relevant data to this, which I highlight here: Lightfoot's comment on this issue; and various translations of Eusebius Praeparatio Evangelica]

1.  'Rebounding to the glory of religion'

The original allegation

Here's the relevant extract from a recent post:

> Perhaps, but let me quote Eusebius, the Bishop who 'uncovered' the 
> Flavianum Testamonium: 
> : "I have repeated whatever may rebound to the glory, and suppressed 
> : all that could tend to the disgrace of our religion" (Chp. 31, Book 
> : 12 of Prae Paratio Evangelica).
This seems a very strange thing for a historian of any sort to say.  My first thought was to look for anything about it in the HE, because I didn't have the post in front of me and hadn't recalled that it was not a quote from that work.  But it wasn't labour lost.

The introduction to Eusebius' Historia Ecclesiastica

From the introduction to the 1965 Williamson edition of HE in Penguin Classics, p.27:

"He indirectly confesses that he has related whatever might redound to the glory, and has suppressed all that could tend to the disgrace, of religion"
Williamson goes on to say:
"Gibbon's notorious sneer ... was effectively disposed of by Lightfoot, who fully vindicated Eusebius'  honour as a narrator 'against this unjust charge'."
Eusebius also lays down his method in Book I, chapter 1, where he modestly confesses that he knows of no-one who has written anything like this work before, so he would appreciate the reader's indulgence while he evolves his methodology.  The 'quote' is not in the section in which he describes how he intends to proceed.
This is all very suspicious.  The wording of the 'quote' is identical (apart from some carelessness) to what Williamson calls a sneer of Gibbon's.  But the obvious thing to do is to look at the work 'quoted' and see if it contains the alleged quote.  This I did.
The passage from De praeparatione evangelica

According to Quasten's Patrology, there is only the one English translation, done as part of a Greek edition.  (I hope people will forgive me if I don't try to display the Greek on this page - I'm not sure how to do Greek characters reliably!)  So here is the chapter from that edition.  I've tried to reproduce the layout and line breaks:

Gifford, E.H., Eusebii Pamphili : Evangelicae Praeparationis, Vol III, Oxford, 1903, p. 657, sections p.607d-608a.  The text is Book XII, chapter XXXI:
'But even if the case were not such as our argument has
now proved it to be, if a lawgiver, who is to be of ever so little
use, could have ventured to tell any falsehood at all to the young
for their good, is there any falsehood that he could have told
more beneficial than this, and better able to make them all do
everything that is just, not by compulsion but willingly?
   'Truth, O Stranger, is a noble and an enduring thing; it seems,
however, not easy to persuade men of it.'
   Now you may find in the Hebrew Scriptures also
thousands of such passages concerning God as though
He were jealous, or sleeping, or angry, or subject to any
other human passions, which passages are adopted for the
benefit of those who need this mode of instruction.
p. 608

As you can see, the  'quotation' appears nowhere in the work, which is cast in the form of a discussion quoting passages from the philosophers and discussing their relationship with the Hebrew scriptures (The quote from Plato is from the Laws II, 663 d 6 - e 4).  History, as such, is not under discussion in the work at all.  In this passage, a piece of Plato is discussed, and the way in which the Hebrew scriptures acknowledge the inability of most men to reason (and how, unlike the philosophers, they don't exclude that class of men) and embody it as part of their message is outlined.

Clearly the reference we started with is quite wrong.

So where does that leave us?  Well, it leaves us with Gibbon.  What did he actually say, and did he reference it?

I looked at a reprint of Gibbon, and I've copied out enough to make sense.

Gibbon, Edward, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Encyclopedia Britannica reprint, 1990, ISBN 0-85229-531-6.  Volume I, chapter 16, p.232.

In this general view of the persecution which was first authorised by the edicts of Diocletian, I have purposely refrained from describing the particular sufferings and deaths of the Christian martyrs.  It would have been an easy task. from the history of Eusebius, from the declamations of Lactantius, to collect a long series of horrid and disgusting pictures ...[snip]  But I cannot determine what I ought to transcribe, till I am satisfied how much I ought to believe.  The gravest of the ecclesiastical historians, Eusebius himself, indirectly confesses that he has related whatever might redound to the glory, and that he has suppressed all that could tend to the disgrace, of religion.178  Such an acknowledgement will naturally excite a suspicion that a writer who has so openly violated one of the fundamental laws of history has not paid a very strict regard to the observance of the other; and the suspicion will derive additional credit from the character of Eusebius, which was less tinctured with credulity, and more practised in the arts of courts, than that of almost any of his contemporaries. [etc].
Note 178 on p.736:
178.  Such is the fair deduction from two remarkable passages in Eusebius, l. viii. c. 2, and de Martyr. Palestin. c. 12.  The prudence of the historian has exposed his own character to censure and suspicion.  It was well known that he himself had been thrown into prison; and it was suggested that he had purchased his deliverance by some dishonorable compliance.  The reproach was urged in his lifetime, and even in his presence, at the council of Tyre.  See Tillemont, Memoires Ecclesiastiques, tom. viii. part i. p. 67
Well, that gives us the statement from Gibbon and two references for it.  So let's look at those two references.  The Ante-Nicene Fathers should supply our needs adequately.
Eusebius HE Book VIII, chapter 2.

Here is the Ante-Nicene Fathers text, from

Chapter II. The Destruction of the Churches.
1 All these things were fulfilled in us, when we saw with our own eyes the houses of prayer thrown down to the very foundations, and the Divine and Sacred Scriptures committed to the flames in the midst of the market-places, and the shepherds of the churches basely hidden here and there, and some of them captured ignominiously, and mocked by their enemies. When also, according to another prophetic word, "Contempt was poured out upon rulers, and he caused them to wander in an untrodden and pathless way."

2 But it is not our place to describe the sad misfortunes which finally came upon them, as we do not think it proper, moreover, to record their divisions and unnatural conduct to each other before the persecution. Wherefore we have decided to relate nothing concerning them except the things in which we can vindicate the Divine judgment.

3 Hence we shall not mention those who were shaken by the persecution, nor those who in everything pertaining to salvation were shipwrecked, and by their own will were sunk in the depths of the flood. But we shall introduce into this history in general only those events which may be usefull first to ourselves and afterwards to posterity. Let us therefore proceed to describe briefly the sacred conflicts of the witnesses of the Divine Word.

4 It was in the nineteenth year of the reign of Diocletian, in the month Dystrus, called March by the Romans, when the feast of the Saviour's passion was near at hand, that royal edicts were published everywhere, commanding that the churches be leveled to the ground and the Scriptures be destroyed by fire, and ordering that those who held places of honor be degraded, and that the household servants, if they persisted in the profession of Christianity, be deprived of freedom.

5 Such was the first edict against us. But not long after, other decrees were issued, commanding that all the rulers of the churches in every place be first thrown into prison, and afterwards by every artifice be compelled to sacrifices.

1 Then truly a great many rulers of the churches eagerly endured terrible sufferings, and furnished examples of noble conflicts. But a multitude of others, benumbed in spirit by fear, were easily weakened at the first onset. Of the rest each one endured different forms of torture.  [etc]
I think we can see that v.2 is the bit that Gibbon has used.  But does it mean what Gibbon says?  Or is Eusebius, faced with a huge amount of material for contemporary events, simply honestly stating that from here on he won't cover everything, but only those which are in some way useful to know about, whether positive, or negative but with a useful moral, and for the rest stick to general statements?  It seems as if that the latter is more consistent with the context, although one could make out some sort of case that Gibbon is misrepresenting something that is really there in Eusebius.  But is the idea that Gibbon is making in Eusebius' mind at all?  Surely he's thinking about writing something useful to his public?
Our 'quote' isn't here.  It would be useful to see which words in Eusebius were represented by which words in Gibbon, but there does not seem to be a 1:1 relation.  The closest statement to 'suppressing material to the disgrace of religion' is when he says is that it isn't his place to pillory some people (who of course, are living at the time he writes).  The closest statement to 'he is relating only what redounds to the glory of religion' is when he says he will relate nothing about the corrupt except that which shows they deserved it ('vindicates the divine judgement').
The Martyrs of Palestine

This is an appendix to Book VIII of the HE, and is not a history but a martyrology - a book intended for devotional use.  Here's the ANF text:

1.  I Think it best to pass by all the other events which occurred in the meantime: such as those which happened to the bishops of the churches, when instead of shepherds of the rational flocks of Christ, over which they presided in an unlawful manner, the divine judgment, considering them worthy of such a charge, made them keepers of camels, an irrational beast and very crooked in the structure of its body, or condemned them to have the care of the imperial horses;-and I pass by also the insults and disgraces and tortures they endured from the imperial overseers and rulers on account of the sacred vessels and treasures of the Church; and besides these the lust of power on the part of many, the disorderly and unlawful ordinations, and the schisms among the confessors themselves; also the novelties which were zealously devised against the remnants of the Church by the new and factious members, who added innovation after innovation and forced them in unsparingly among the calamities of the persecution, heaping misfortune upon misfortune. I judge it more suitable to shun and avoid the account of these things, as I said at the beginning. But such things as are sober and praiseworthy, according to the sacred word,-"and if there be any virtue and praise," - I consider it most proper to tell and to record, and to present to believing hearers in the history of the admirable martyrs. And after this I think it best to crown the entire work with an account of the peace which has appeared unto us from heaven.
There is a statement of omission here (rather than suppression).  But Eusebius does not conceal that some of those persecuted behaved badly.  The book is not a history of the persecution, but the deeds of the martyrs, as the title of the book indicates.  So other than indicating the way that some fell short, he concentrates on his subject.
This too does not contain our 'quote'.   There does not seem to be a correlation here either with Gibbon's statement.


The 'quotation' seems to be a fraud, although it is not necessary to suppose deliberate dishonesty at any stage - merely a willingness to take a statement in the worst way or to believe the worst.

How did the statement get manufactured?  We cannot know all the steps, but we can guess easily enough.

As we have seen, Gibbon's statements do not tie up much with what Eusebius wrote.  It is fair to say that Gibbon gave the facts the worst interpretation they could bear.  The master of English prose also phrased his remarks in such a way that many people would take them as meaning more than he said - and he placed no barrier to that interpretation.  And so it duly occurred.

Some person unknowing excerpted Gibbon into some sort of anthology of anti-Christian 'evidence'.  Someone else (who probably honestly didn't notice Gibbon's little qualification) then altered the indirect statement to direct statement, producing our 'quote'.  How the reference to the Praeparatio became attached to it is hard to say, except that most people have access to the text of the HE and MP, and no-one to the Praeparatio.  Perhaps some quote or other from the Praeparatio also appeared in our anthology and crossed over? (But see below...)

Written 26th April, 2000, Updated 9th June, 2000.

2.  'Necessary to use Falsehood'

Some six months after I wrote the above, a fresh quotation reached  me.

The Allegation

In article <
>, emaxelx@aol.compost (R.A. Beschizza) wrote:
> "It will sometimes be necessary to use falsehood for the benefit of
> those who need such a mode of treatment."
> -- Eusebius of Nicomedia , Constantine's overseer of church doctrine
> and history

[The poster did not, of course, mean Eusebius of Nicomedia; Eusebius of Caesarea is intended, as is clear from other posters].  

The allegation seems to be that this is a quotation from Eusebius' works, and that he is justifying forgery and falsehood 'for the benefit of others'.  

It seemed obvious to look in Gibbon again, as a first resort and this showed where the allegation came from. Here are Gibbon's remarks, this time from his Vindication, copied from an edition on the net:

Gibbon's version of the allegation

1. Dr. Chelsum is at a loss how to reconcile, - I beg pardon for weakening the force of his dogmatic style; he declares that, "It is plainly impossible to reconcile the express words of the charge exhibited, with any part of either of the passages appealed to in support of it." (105) If he means, as I think he must, that the express words of my text cannot be found in that of Eusebius, I congratulate the importance of the discovery. But was it possible? Could it be my design to quote the words of Eusebius, when I reduced into one sentence the spirit and substance of two diffuse arid distinct passages? If I have given the true sense and meaning of the Ecclesiastical Historian, I have discharged the duties of a fair Interpreter; nor shall I refuse to rest the proof of my fidelity on the translation of those two passages of Eusebius, which Dr. Chelsum produces in his favour. (106) 

"But it is not our part to describe the sad calamities which at last befel them (the Christians), since it does not agree with our plan to relate their dissentions and wickedness before the persecution; on which account we have determined to relate nothing more concerning them than may serve to justify the Divine Judgment. We therefore have not been induced to make mention either of those who were tempted in the persecution, or of those who made utter shipwreck of their salvation, and who were sunk of their own accord in the depths of the storm; but shall only add those things to our General History, which may in the first place be profitable to ourselves, and afterwards to posterity" 

In the other passage, Eusebius, after mentioning the dissentions of the Confessors among themselves, again declares that it is his intention to pass over all these things. 

"Whatsoever things, (continues the Historian, in the words of the Apostle, who was recommending the practice of virtue) whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are of good report, if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise; these things Eusebius thinks most suitable to a History of Martyrs;" 

of wonderful Martyrs, as the splendid epithet which Dr. Chelsum had not thought proper to translate. I should betray a very mean opinion of the judgment and candour of my readers, if I added a single reflection on the clear and obvious tendency of the two passages of the Ecclesiastical Historian. I shall only observe, that the Bishop of Caesarea seems to have claimed a privilege of a still more dangerous and extensive nature. In one of the most learned and elaborate works that antiquity has left us, the Thirty-second Chapter of the Twelfth Book of his Evangelical Preparation bears for its title this scandalous Proposition, 

"How it may be lawful and fitting to use falsehood as a medicine, and for the benefit of those who want to be deceived." "**Ancient Greek**" (P 356, Edit. Graec. Rob. Stephani, Paris 1544.) In this chapter he alleges a passage of Plato, which approves the occasional practice of pious and salutary frauds; nor is Eusebius ashamed to justify the sentiments of the Athenian philosopher by the example of the sacred writers of the Old Testament. 

(Paragraphing is mine, to make it easier to read).  

[Since we have seen in the first section that Gibbon's words have been misunderstood, it's interesting to see this comment by Gibbon himself.  It would seem that the tendency of Gibbon's remarks discussed earlier to mislead was raised at the time, by this Dr. Chelsum.  We have already seen that the remarks he made in Decline and Fall are indeed commonly taken as a direct quotation from Eusebius, which they are not.  Gibbon's response is to patronisingly deride 'the importance of this discovery'.]

These remarks by Gibbon would appear to be a source for the allegation we are discussing, even if Gibbon's words are rather more negative even than we started with.  Neverthless it gives us a source reference, with which to look up the text; and we have already looked at the Praeparatio Evangelica.

The chapter headings

The words quoted come from the chapter heading, rather than the text.  In order to discuss these, we will need to look at a critical edition of the Greek text, since the relevant information is not present in English translation.

The standard modern critical text is Karl MRAS, Eusebius Werke. Achter Band. Die Praeparatio Evangelica, Griechischen Christlichen Schriftsteller 43 (1954, 1956), in two volumes.  This text is the basis of the new text with French translation in J. SIRINELLI and Édouard des PLACES, Eusèbé de Césarée: La préparation évangélique, livres XII-XIII: Introduction, Texte Grec, Traduction et Annotation. Sources Chrétiennes 307 (1983).  pp.136-7 contain Book 12 chapter 31; pp.138-9 chapter 32.  

Here is the Greek for chapter 31 from SIRINELLI (using unicode): 


In French: 

31. "Qu'il faudra, à l'occasion, faire du mensonge un remède au service de ceux qui ont besoin d'un tel procédé" 
- - "That it is necessary, sometimes, to make a lie/fiction a remedy for the service of those who need such a process".  

Gifford's version:

XXXI.     That it will be necessary sometimes to use falsehood as a remedy for the benefit of those who require such a mode of treatment

For each book, there is a table at the front of the edition listing the chapters and their titles.  In all but one manuscript, these titles also appear at the head of a chapter.  

[The subject of chapter divisions and chapter titles in ancient texts is one I am trying to obtain definite information on.  However, these cannot be ancient chapter divisions, since chapter divisions seem to come in at the end of antiquity - older literary texts had book divisions, but not chapter divisions.  Word divisions were uncommon, as were paragraphing and punctuation!  Rather the material at the front is a summary of contents, and a late-antique or medieval copyist has divided the text and used portions of the summary as chapter headings.  If we look at the summary for book 1, it does not seem to line up with the chapter divisions.  - the 6th item in the list is NOT the chapter heading for chapter 6, which has none; and lines 9 and 10 are not the titles for chapters 9 (=line 8) and 10 (=line 11).  From this we can see that the summary and the chapter divisions were not made at the same time.  I add this summary from an article on the subject:

"Dunque, possiamo concludere che la divisione in capitoli non fu completamente ignota agli antichi, ma fu adoperata solo per opere con un chiaro fine pratico o per scritti miscellanei, di argomento quanto mai vario, per cataloghi e repertori, mentre non è mai adottata dagli scrittori che avessero un'alta coscienza artistica in tutte quelle opere in cui il proposito letterario o l'interesse storico o l'urgenza della fantasia o anche l'indagine psicologica posero in secondo piano le esigenze pratiche e che perciò solo più tardi furono divise in capitoli dai dotti del Medioevo o addirittura da esperti editori-tipografi nel periodo del pieno fervore degli studi e delle ricerche appassionate dei testi classici, l'Umanesimo."

"Therefore, we can conclude that the division in chapters was not completely unknown to the ancients, but was only used for works with a practical purpose or for written miscellanea, for catalogues and repertoria, while it is never adopted by literary writers in all those works in which the literary purpose or the historical interest or the urgency of the fantasy or psychological surveying, to which the practical requirements are placed second, and that therefore only later they were organised in chapters by the scholars of the Middle Ages or even by expert editor-printers in the period of the full flood of the studies and passionate searches for the classical texts, Humanism."  (Diana ALBINO, La divisione in capitoli nelle opere degli Antichi, Annali della facoltà di lettere e filosofia, Napoli, vol. 10 (1962-3) pp. 219-234).]

[NB: I have now added a collection of various translations of the whole passage in classical texts and the context of the book.]

The heading of chapter 31 is the basis of our quotation, more or less exactly.  

[Gibbon's version is interesting for both its similarities and its differences.  However we need not consider Gibbon further here, except as probably the first to circulate this text as a proof-text against Eusebius.  Incidentally it would seem that if Gibbon's reference is accurate, that the 16th century Stephanus edition was perhaps arranged differently to modern editions -- I need to check this.  I have seen modern references which refer to XII, 32, rather than XII, 31, which makes it interesting to consider what sort of checking of references was done in that case].

But did Eusebius write these words?  And did he mean, as some have considered, to justify fraud when he wrote them?

The Manuscripts

The text in question is certainly present in the manuscripts, as is clear from MRAS and, in abbreviated form, from SIRINELLI:

Here are the MSS of book 12 of the PE (from SIRINELLI, t.206 p.57-8).

I: Marcianus Graecus 341 (15th century, paper) - Library of San Marco, Venice.
O: Bononiensis University 3643 (13th century, bombazin paper) - University Library, Bologna
N: Neapolitanus graecus II A 16 (15th century, paper) - Bibliotheca Nazionale, Naples
D: Parisinus graecus 467 (16th century, paper) - Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris

MRAS' apparatus is slightly more detailed on chapter titles.  All four MSS contain our text in the table of titles at the front of each book (MRAS, vol.2 pp.83-84).  The titles also appear at the head  of each chapter in I, O and N.  In D they appear only at the front of the book (MRAS 2, p.125).

Are the chapter titles by Eusebius, or a later editor?

Firstly, as far as I can tell the chapter divisions themselves are later, and the titles placed there were extracted from the summaries at the front of each book (this can be seen from book 1, where the numbering in the summaries at the front does not correspond to the divisions in the text).  As such, the assignment of wording to a given chapter is the work of a late-antique or medieval scribe.   This leaves us with the summaries at the start of the book. However, the wording in the summary, if the summary follows the order of the contents, would seem to refer to this section of the body of the text anyway. 

There seems to be some doubt whether the summaries can be considered certainly by Eusebius, rather than 'helps for the reader' added at a later period.  Chapter titles in medieval manuscripts of the classics are not generally considered authorial.  However there is some evidence of authorial summaries for some works of Eusebius:-

I learn from SIRINELLI that scholars in general consider the summaries of Eusebius' Historia Ecclesiastica to be authorial. After looking at them in the Loeb text, I can see that there are notes at the foot of some of these tables written as if by the author.  On the other hand, I also have before me the introduction to CAMERON & HALL's translation of Eusebius' Life of Constantine, Oxford 1999. Apparently the summaries (and extracts used as chapter titles, doubtless again later) for this work cannot be authorial (C & H, p.52).

From SIRINELLI, I learn that the authenticity of the summaries in the PE has been fiercely debated since the 16th century, with one 19th century scholar (Gaisford) going so far as to reject the chapter divisions also. MRAS is strongly in favour of authenticity; SIRINELLI also. I have been unable to locate any study of the subject as a whole.  See my notes on capituli generally here.

UPDATE (17/11/2010). I have translated the interesting remarks by Mras here.  He says that the chapter titles (not just the tables of contents) are also authentic, original, and intended for the position they hold in the manuscripts.  This is the case because they alone indicate that certain extracts are from a particular author. That information must be authorial.  But the chapter titles differ from the supposedly same entries in the tables of contents, and it is the chapter titles hold the information.  But he also says that the editions do not reproduce accurately what is in the manuscripts, and in particular give a mish-mash combining the tables of contents and the chapter titles.  This view I have heard nowhere else.

It would be unfair to expect Gibbon to be conversant with such issues, of course - he took the edition of Stephanus as he found it; and this used the MSS. 

The issue is interesting, but inconclusive.  However, if we cannot be sure he wrote the words in question, is it altogether reasonable to pillory him for it?

[My thanks to Richard CARRIER for a list of works containing tables of contents which are probably authorial]

Lie, Falsehood or Fiction - the ΨΕΥΔΟΣ problem

If we do presume that the chapter title is authorial, then there is a question over how it should be translated.  One interesting issue surrounds the word ('pseudos') translated as 'falsehood' by GIFFORD and GIBBON.  The word usually means 'lie' in Greek, certainly enough.  However it can also be more value neutral than 'lie' or 'falsehood' is in English.  

In this passage Eusebius is quoting, in the body of the text, a passage from Plato's Laws, Book II, and the same word is used there; while elsewhere in the PE Book 12 he quotes Plato's Republic, again using this word.  In both cases the rendering 'lie' makes perfect sense, in the context of what Plato wanted to say.

Some translators have gone ahead and rendered it 'lie' in their translations of Plato.  But R.G. BURY in the Loeb edition of the Laws (PLATO, THE LAWS, BOOK II, 663C,D,E. Loeb edition p.125, tr. R.G.Bury, 1926 - online) renders it as 'fiction'.  And Sir Desmond LEE, in the Penguin edition of the Republic (PLATO, THE REPUBLIC, Book II, 376D-377D, Penguin edition, pp.129-131. Tr. Desmond Lee, 1955. - Online) does likewise, and adds the following note on the word:

"2. The Greek word pseudos and its corresponding verb meant not only 'fiction' — stories, tales — but also 'what is not true' and so, in suitable contexts, 'lies': and this ambiguity should be borne in mind."

Consequently, unless the context forbids -- and the context is precisely the one where BURY says it does not -- the chapter heading might equally be rendered:

XXXI.     That it will be necessary sometimes to use fiction as a remedy for the benefit of those who require such a mode of treatment

And this, of course, places a different slant on the text, and links neatly with Eusebius' reference to the Old Testament here.  If on the other hand we presume the chapter title is by Eusebius, and we presume that the word 'lie' is intended by him, with all its connotation of inflicting injury, then we can reasonably say that the quote doesn't make Eusebius look very good.

But is this -- Gibbon's interpretation -- fair comment?  Is Eusebius advocating the use of lies, and meaning the Old Testament is a lie? or is this a discussion of the use of parables, and the value of fiction in education?  Clearly there is room for more than one opinion here, and I would rather not suggest certainty where a judgement has to be made of a number of ideas.  This is something the reader must do for himself; but I think Eusebius is not advocating dishonesty, so much as suggesting that fiction has a role to play in education.  

But it is difficult to see Gibbon's remarks as fair comment, particularly when one notices the mistranslation of the final part of the chapter heading.

However, the issue has recently been reopened making use of the chapter text body.  The next section will discuss this, as it is really a new allegation.

Written 22nd December 2000, updated with French/Greek 8th April 2001.  Updated with link to translations 28th September 2001.  Rewording in one or two places to had apparently been misunderstood. 23rd April 2002.  Rewritten to add the point about 'pseudos' and details of the MSS, 24th April 2002, after discussion in the forum.  The old version is still online here.  Revised with extra details from MRAS, 10th July 2002.  Additional note about summaries - not tables of contents - added after discussion with a medievalist, 10th August 2002.  More notes from Albino and some condensing and revision, 17th October 2003.  Added note that some translators of Plato use 'lie' for pseudos. Updated 23rd October 2010 for unicode instead of SPIonic.

3. 'Can't he lie?'

A new variant of this idea has come onto the internet in the last year.  The author is Richard CARRIER, editor-in-chief of  His idea is that the chapter heading and the text itself of PE 12, 31 (quoted above) support the idea that Eusebius is dishonest.  As far as I know this is original; at least, Gibbon does not quote the text itself in support of his idea.  This idea does not really seem very possible to me, because it seems to presume that Eusebius is calling the Old Testament a lie.  But here are some brief notes on it.

The Infidels.Org idea

This is from his article at

That it is necessary sometimes to use falsehood as a medicine for those who need such an approach. [As said in Plato's Laws 663e by the Athenian:] 'And even the lawmaker who is of little use, if even this is not as he considered it, and as just now the application of logic held it, if he dared lie to young men for a good reason, then can't he lie? For falsehood is something even more useful than the above, and sometimes even more able to bring it about that everyone willingly keeps to all justice.' [then by Clinias:] 'Truth is beautiful, stranger, and steadfast. But to persuade people of it is not easy.' You would find many things of this sort being used even in the Hebrew scriptures, such as concerning God being jealous or falling asleep or getting angry or being subject to some other human passions, for the benefit of those who need such an approach.

On the basis of this, he says:

So in a book where Eusebius is proving that the pagans got all their good ideas from the Jews, he lists as one of those good ideas Plato's argument that lying, indeed telling completely false tales, for the benefit of the state is good and even necessary. Eusebius then notes quite casually how the Hebrews did this, telling lies about their God, and he even compares such lies with medicine, a healthy and even necessary thing. Someone who can accept this as a "good idea" worth both taking credit for and following is not the sort of person to be trusted.

And in support of this interpretation he quotes the portion of the Laws that follows this, not in fact quoted by Eusebius, in which Plato contradicts Clinias, and outlines that it would be easy to spin a tale.

[I understand from Mr. Carrier that he translated from the Thesaurus Lingua Graeca text, as the relevant portion of his copy of Gifford was lacking; that the chapter header also was his own, but the translation of the portion of Plato is said to be from John BURNET, 1903, although I haven't a proper bibliographic reference for this.]

The differences are interesting.  The portions of Eusebius seem fair enough, allowing for the 'pseudos' issue.  The version of Plato given isn't quite like that of BURY or GIFFORD, and the reader may wish to view those versions.  

A number of points come to mind.

  1. Eusebius does not say that falsehood and lying are acceptable, for whatever reason.  This is an inference from his text, and not a very charitable one either.  Few of us would wish to be subjected to such an inference, just because we don't denounce someone else while reviewing them.
  2. Plato asks whether, if any lie/fiction/fable is permissible, the one he is discussing might not be one.  Plato has been discussing whether or not the self-interest of the individual is the same as the interest of the community.  He has just concluded that it is.  The comment in question follows.  Plato asks us for a moment to imagine that self-interest and public interest are opposed.  He asks whether it would not then be justifiable, if any lie were (and he leaves that open), to tell people that in fact they were the same.  The purpose is the good of the community, i.e. acting 'justly', rather than selfishly.
  3. The idea presumes that Eusebius has the idea of 'lie' in mind, rather than that of educational fiction.  Pseudos usually has this meaning, it is true.  However we have seen that the word 'pseudos' has been rendered otherwise even to translate Plato.  Plato seems to have an idea of deception in mind, but is it necessary to presume that Eusebius has?
  4. So is Eusebius really saying that the Bible is full of lies, and that this is one of the things the Greeks copied from the Jews?  I find it hard to believe that Eusebius thought the bible was full of lies.  But if so, surely such a curious proposition would certainly require more evidence than one footnote in the PE, anyway?  That the bible contains stories, such as parables, intended to educate is surely a better interpretation?  To resolve this, we need to see what Eusebius says elsewhere.
  5. The idea presumes not just that Eusebius believes the bible is full of lies, but that if the bible is full of lies, it must be OK to lie; and that Eusebius has applied this in his writings.  The purpose of the allegation seems to be to permit some of his testimony to be discarded.  The first idea seems very strange, and the others are simply inferences from it.  But no evidence is given for any of these.
  6. Finally, if the idea of the 'white lie' is a cultural convention of the age, is it entirely reasonable to single out Eusebius?

In fact, if we look at PE 12, 4, we see how Eusebius really thinks about the scriptures - an external literal meaning, which is in fact a parable, and an inner meaning for those who have passed beyond the first stages of instruction.  This relates so strongly to what Eusebius says here - 'for those who need this form of instruction' - that it seems pointless to look further.

But what about the issue that Eusebius is showing that the Greeks got all their good ideas from the Jews?  This is correct - that is what the PE is about.  It's hard to see how the portion of Plato says anything useful, then.  But the comment of Clinias is perhaps the idea on which Eusebius is commenting. 

'Truth is beautiful, stranger, and steadfast. But to persuade people of it is not easy.'  Plato disagrees; but Eusebius omitted his disagreement.  Eusebius' comments follow this connecting phrase in the Laws.  

[Note: Plato does go on to say that in fact people will easily believe quite ridiculous stories - but Eusebius skips that bit.  Since Eusebius' point is that some people have difficulty understanding some things (a theme already raised in chapter IV, in which Eusebius explains his view of scripture), and so scripture resorts to narrative fiction to help them visualise the abstract, it is not surprising that he ignores this part of the Laws.  Since he does ignore it, it has to be asked whether it is relevant in understanding the point of this part of the PE.]

Pulling it together

I think we're asking too much of the text, and trying to build a philosophical statement on an inference.  Eusebius was concerned to show that Greek ideas had their origin in the bible.  For this purpose he ransacked his library for material that would illustrate this.  Of course this material was often written with quite other values in mind, and we need not suppose that every word he quotes supports his thesis, or is even relevant.  In chapter 32 of the PE he returns to the Laws, a bit further on, and in his comment he ignores all of what he quotes apart from the conclusion.  In chapter 31, he is responding to the observation of Clinias, picking up on the idea of fiction as a way to convince more easily than reason, and making a general point about the bible.  That Plato's purpose is to the advantage of the community, and the disadvantage of the individual is irrelevant to Eusebius, and he ignores it.  All he picks up on is the method of teaching a useful idea, by means of words not strictly true.

Eusebius is following a different idea to Plato, which explains why he is using both The Republic and The Laws as it suits him.  He has been looking at education, not of the infants of a community, but of the spiritual infant.  In chapter 4 he has already discussed the right use of scripture, and how it contains fables.  Here we have the idea that people should be told things not strictly true.  (Plato's reason he ignores - the benefit of the community instead of the individual is the reverse of what he is interested in).  And he returns to the theme of fables in the bible, and  how these benefit the individual.

The heading must be read 'fiction', because the subject is the Old Testament: portions of which cannot be understood literally, in Origenist exegesis.(Cf. De Principiis)  Instead an allegorical meaning should be sought.  This educational role of material for which the literal meaning is irrelevant -- fiction -- is reiterated by Eusebius at various points from Plato in book 12.  

The alternative -- that Eusebius advocates lying -- is not in the text and can only be put there by the translating with "a judicious laxity" of Gibbon (T.R.Glover, Loeb Tertullian, p.xi).  The words of Eusebius have to be played down, and words not quoted by him from the passage by Plato emphasised.  In short, the allegation is itself a malicious falsehood.

Is this right?  Or I am reading too much into this?  The reader must decide for himself.  However, if we are to say that someone is advocating dishonesty, I think we want more than this.  It seems reasonable to ask just where does Eusebius say 'it is OK to lie'?

A couple of points on related issues.

Origenistic exegesis?

When I read the comment of Eusebius, I was reminded of the statement in Origen's De Principiis 4, 3, 5, that in Scripture:

'all has a spiritual meaning, but not everything has a literal meaning.'

Eusebius' mentor Pamphilus wrote a defence of Origen, to which Eusebius added a final book (all now lost except for an unreliable Latin version of the first book by Rufinus).  It seemed to me that Eusebius has the allegorical approach of this school in mind.

R.M. GRANT on Eusebius' sincerity

Note: Mr. CARRIER also refers to Robert M. GRANT, Eusebius as Church Historian, Oxford (1980).  This I have read myself, looking for more on this idea.  Here are the notes I made at the time:

"Grant certainly gave me the impression that he was making assertions of dishonest handling of material, although he never actually says so or does a demonstration of this from the material, so presumably brought it with him to the book. I suppose that since he was engaged in a speculative reconstruction of the process whereby Eusebius wrote books 1-7 (preface, p.10) it can only be an opinion. However I definitely got the impression that Grant thought him guilty of editing without regard for honesty.

He gets closest in pp.65-66, discussing Tertullian in the Greek version, although curiously failing to mention that the technical point is lifted from Harnack's Griechische Uebersetzung. But his complaint - that in his editorial he combined the impression from this and Justin - seems a little unfair. Combining the story told by the disparate accounts and making what sense he could was what Eusebius set out to do. Nor is it unreasonable for someone juggling conflicting witnesses, one of which must be mistaken, to hesitate between them, and do the best he can. But again Grant allows the reader to draw the negative conclusion without making it himself.

As far as I could see, he only squarely faced the issue of sincerity once, in the conclusion (p.164), where he then surprisingly says, "And whether or not one agrees with every detail of the portrait of Eusebius that begins to emerge, it is at least a picture of a huamn being, neither a saint nor intentionally a scoundrel."; which was not the impression I got from the rest of the book, I have to say. As so often in this book, no reference was given, or basis for the statement. However since he refers many times to Lightfoot's article in the Dictionary of Christian Biography, I think we may presume he is thinking of this.

One comment he did make about the Praeparatio I thought interesting, although I can't say I've noticed either in the small extracts I've read. "The Praeparatio, more than any other work, shows that he [Eusebius] knew how to plan a treatise and stick to his plan." (p.29).

Written 25th April 2002.  Minor changes 14th July 2007.

4. Postscript - the source of all of them?

I have since come across a likely source for all these errors.  It seems there is an electronic publication called 'Biblical Errancy', written by a C. Dennis McKinsey, which contains lists of what used to be quaintly called 'bible difficulties' and assertions of a pseudo-scholarly nature, which most people probably take as made in good faith.  This seems to circulate widely and is often reposted to usenet.  An extract, discussing the Testimonium Flavianum:

"(3) The passage is not found in the early copies of Josephus. Not until the Ecclesiastical History of Eusebius (320 A.D.) do we come across it. This is the same Eusebius who said that it is lawful to lie and cheat for the cause of Christ: "I have repeated whatever may rebound to the glory, and suppressed all that could tend to the disgrace of our religion" (Chp. 31, Book 12 of Prae Paratio Evangelica). (4) The early Christian fathers such as Justin Martyr, Tertullian, Clement of Alexandria, and Origen were acquainted with what Josephus wrote and it seems reasonable to conclude that they would have quoted this passage had it existed. Apparently Eusebius was the first to use it because it didn't exist during the 2nd and 3rd centuries. Chrysostom often referred to Josephus and it's highly unlikely he would have omitted the paragraph had it been extant. Photius did not quote the text though he had three articles concerning Josephus and even expressly stated that Josephus, being a Jew, had not taken the least notice of Christ. (5) Neither Justin in his dialogue with Trypho, the Jew, nor Origen against Celsus ever mentioned this passage. Neither Tertullian nor Cyprian ever quoted Josephus as a witness in their controversies with Jews and pagans and Origen expressly stated that Josephus, who had mentioned John the Baptist, did not recognize Jesus as the messiah (Contra Celsum, I, 47). (6) The famous historian Gibbon claims the passage is a forgery as do many theologians." 

There are no references given for any of this.  Note the key mis-spelling of praeparatio as 'Prae Paratio'.  In true text critical fashion, I think we may deduce community of origin from the community of error.

It would be unkind to note every error of fact, judgement or grammar that is contained in even this short extract, as the author of it clearly intended to impress by accumulation and repetition rather than by any appeal to fact or reason.  A couple of notes on some factual details might be useful as a pointer to the interested.

[Note:  My thanks to Jim Java for telling me that McKinsey in turn appears to have copied verbatim, and with spelling errors, from a volume he has seen: T.W.DOANE, Bible myths and their parallels in other religions, Somerby (1882).  This is still in print, I learn.  However I can't check it myself as I don't have access to a copy]

Written 1st June 2001.  Updated with DOANE reference 10th July 2002.


"I prize truth above all else"  (Chronicon, 1-4.  Barnes, T.D. Eusebius and Constantine, Harvard 1981, p.114.)

Dr. Barnes adds the interesting view that the HE originally ended with book 7.  Book 8 of the HE  is a revised and shortened version of the original Martyrs of Palestine, extant in a much longer version than that in the Ante-Nicene Fathers.  The history as such does not resume until book 9.  The text of the preface of this longer version is as follows:

"It is meet, then, that the conflicts which were illustrious in various districts should be committed to writing by those who dwelt with the combatants in their districts.  But for me, I pray that I may be able to speak of those with whom I was personally conversant, and that they may associate me with them - those in whom the whole people of Palestine glories, because even in the midst of our land, the Saviour of all men arose like a thirst-quenching spring.  The contests, then, of those illustrious champions I shall relate for the general instruction and profit". (Barnes p.154-4, from Lawlor H.J and Oulton, J.E.L, Eusebius, 1.33.1, SPCK, 1927).

 which makes it clear that the Martyrs of Palestine is about those Eusebius knew personally (he was Bishop of the city where the executions occurred), and that this information has suffered somewhat in the process of abbreviation.

6.  A possible source in Origen?

[My thanks for Gerald Rosenberg for drawing my attention to the following possible source, and pointing out the existence of the Greek of Origen online]

We know from Eusebius Contra Hieroclem that Eusebius had read Origen Contra Celsum. There is a very interesting passage in this work which may bear on all this subject, in Book IV, chapter 19 (p.196 of Chadwick's translation, Cambridge University Press, 1980):

19. Others may agree with Celsus that He does not change, but makes those who see Him think that he has changed.  But we, who are persuaded that the advent of Jesus to men was not a mere appearance, but a reality and an indisputable fact, are unaffected by Celsus' criticism. Nevertheless we will reply thus: "Do you not say, Celsus, that sometimes it is allowable to use deceit and lying as a medicine?  Why, then, is it unthinkable that something of this sort occurred with the purpose of bringing salvation? For some characters are reformed by certain doctrines which are more false than true, just as physicians sometimes use similar words to their patients.  This however has been our defence on other points.  But further, there is nothing wrong if the person who heals sick friends healed the human race which was dear to him with such means as one would not use for choice, but to which he was confined by force of circumstances." [etc].

The quote of Celsus is in ch. 18, where Celsus denies that God could have changed into a mortal body, and says that it must have been only an appearance. This, he continues, is a lie, and lying is only allowable 'when one uses them as a medicine for friends who are sick and mad in order to heal them, or with enemies when the intention is to escape danger'.  (Chadwick notes, p.195 n.4, that Celsus is quoting Plato, Rep. 382C; 389B; 459 C, D.)  Origen responds that the incarnation is not a simulation.  But then he goes on to suppose if it were otherwise, and then make the above quote.

The Greek for Contra Celsum was online, as a demo at the Thesaurus Lingua Graeca site.(Text is M. BORRET, Origène. Contre Celse, 4 vols. [Sources chrétiennes 132, 136, 147, 150. Paris: Cerf, 1:1967; 2:1968; 3-4:1969])  Here is the start of book 4, chapter 19:

(19.)    Ἄλλοι μὲν οὖν διδότωσαν τῷ Κέλσῳ ὅτι οὐ μεταβάλλει
μέν, ποιεῖ δὲ τοὺς ὁρῶντας δοκεῖν αὐτὸν μεταβεβληκέναι·
ἡμεῖς δὲ πειθόμενοι οὐ δόκησιν ἀλλ̕ ἀλήθειαν εἶναι καὶ
ἐνάργειαν κατὰ τὴν Ἰησοῦ εἰς ἀνθρώπους ἐπιδημίαν, οὐχ
ὑποκείμεθα τῇ Κέλσου κατηγορίᾳ.  Ὅμως δ̕ ἀπολογησόμεθα(5)
ὅτι οὐ φῄς, ὦ Κέλσε, ὡς ἐν φαρμάκου μοίρᾳ ποτὲ δίδοται
χρῆσθαι τῷ πλανᾶν καὶ τῷ ψεύδεσθαι;
Τί οὖν ἄτοπον, εἰ
τοιοῦτόν τι ἔμελλε σῴζειν, τοιοῦτόν τι γεγονέναι? Καὶ γάρ
τινες τῶν λόγων τὰ τοιαδὶ ἤθη κατὰ τὸ ψεῦδος μᾶλλον
λεγόμενοι ἐπιστρέφουσιν, ὥσπερ καὶ τῶν ἰατρῶν ποτε λόγοι  (10)
τοιοίδε πρὸς τοὺς κάμνοντας, ἤπερ κατὰ τὸ ἀληθές. Ἀλλὰ
ταῦτα μὲν περὶ ἑτέρων ἀπολελογήσθω ἡμῖν. Καὶ γὰρ οὐκ
ἄτοπόν ἐστι τὸν ἰώμενον φίλους νοσοῦντας ἰάσασθαι τὸ φίλον
τῶν ἀνθρώπων γένος τοῖς τοιοῖσδε, οἷς οὐκ ἄν τις χρήσαιτο
προηγουμένως ἀλλ̕ ἐκ περιστάσεως. Καὶ μεμηνὸς δὲ τὸ (15)
γένος τῶν ἀνθρώπων ἔδει θεραπευθῆναι διὰ μεθόδων, ὧν
ἑώρα ὁ λόγος χρησίμων τοῖς μεμηνόσιν, ἵνα σωφρονήσωσι.
Φησὶ δ̕ ὅτι καὶ τὰ τοιάδε τις ποιεῖ πρὸς ἐχθρούς, κίνδυνον
ἐκφυγεῖν προμηθούμενος. Οὐ φοβεῖται δέ τινας ὁ θεός, ἵνα
πλανήσας τοὺς ἐπιβουλεύοντας κίνδυνον διαφύγῃ. Πάντῃ

From which we can see that the chapter title in Eusebius has not just been lifted verbatim from Origen. However, did Eusebius have this in mind, and so perhaps write the chapter heading thus?  Or was it perhaps simply a commonplace from Plato, which anyone might have written?  It is certainly an interesting parallel!  

7.  Another possible source via Blavatsky from Mosheim

Joel McDermon, who wrote an interesting article for American Vision (used to be available at "") on this same subject uncovered another piece of the jigsaw:

I first came across the quote while reading the occultist and supporter of the mystery-religion origin for Christian doctrine, Madame Blavatsky. In her 1877 Isis Unveiled, Vol. II, p. 303, she gives the same quote with the exact wording. She attributes it to a work called "Ecclesiastical History." At first glance the careless reader ---- because of the careless author ---- will recognize the title as belonging to Eusebius. But there are dozens of other works by that title, and this is one of them. The Ecclesiastical History in question is actually that of John Lawrence von Mosheim, originally published in 1755. The English translation I have access to is Murdock's from 1847. So what was the actual quote about?

Far from giving a quote from Eusebius, Mosheim was actually referring to the corrupt atmosphere of the church in general in the fourth century. After describing the entrance of "a long train of superstitious observances," 1 he wrote,

To these defects in the moral system of the age, must be added two principal errors now wellnigh pubicly adopted, and from which afterwards immense evils resulted. The first was, that to deceive and lie, is a virtue, when religion can be promoted by it. The other was, that errors in religion, when maintained and adhered to after proper admonition, ought to be visited with penalties and punishments.2

The quote in question nowhere shows up in Eusebius, or any other early Church father for that matter. How the tale got twisted is easy to see. Blavatsky did not cite the author, but in the following sentences says that this doctrine of lying was "applied" by Eusebius (Of course she furnishes no proof of this). Some careless reader probably read the text, assumed it was Eusebius, and then ran to the web to publish his new proof of why not accept Christ. Then all the anti-Christian cohorts copied the error and now webville is littered with more slander.

1. Mosheim, John Lawrence von. The Institutes of Ecclesiastical History, Ancient and Modern. Volume I. tr. James Murdock. (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1847), Book II, Century IV, Part II, Chapter III, Sec. 2 (p. 259).

2. Ibid., Book II, Century IV, Part II, Chapter III, Sec. 16 (p. 267). For clarity, I have changed the original italics that emphasized portions of the text.

That some of our quotations do indeed have this source seems most likely.

Constructive feedback is welcomed to Roger Pearse.

Last updated 12nd January, 2001.
PE portion updated 23rd April 2002.
Origen portion added 7th June 2002.
Small revisions from MRAS, 10th July 2002.
Rewording of some chapter title stuff and passage from Albino added, 17th October 2003.
Blavatsky/Mosheim stuff added, 7th July 2006.
Mras stuff added 17th December 2010.

This page has been online since 26th April 2000.

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