Eusebius The Life of Constantine

Eusebius (ca. 260-ca. 339), bishop of Caesarea in Palestine, is best known as the "father of Christian history" because of his highly influential Church History (see an excerpt in Text 50). He portrayed himself as an ecclesiastical spokesperson for Constantine's house, although it is unclear how well he knew the first Christian emperor personally. He wrote the laudatory Life of Constantine shortly after Constantine's death. The work contains elements of a typical imperial biography: the relation between Constantine's upright character and the economic, military, and political revitalization ofthe empire (cf. Text 3, "The Origin of Con-stantine"). It is also a religious history; the triumph of Christianity is part of Constantine's own religious awakening (cf. Text 2, Lactantius's "The Deaths of the Persecutors"). This text also hints at a Christian genre that had not yet taken shape in Eusebius's day: hagiography (see Chapter 11). Constantine the holy man is, like Moses, the prophets, and the apostles, a divinely guided figure.

The following selections from the Life of Constantine show how Eusebius blends imperial biography with sacred history. Constantine's imperial election in the West is confirmed and enabled by God's direct assistance (including the famous vision of the cross-shaped labarum, or "Chi-Rho," with the words: "By this conquer"). As sole emperor, Constantine actively constructs a Christian empire, building the holy land through magnificent churches. Eusebius portrays Constantine as a legislator Christianizing the empire, as well as uniting the church under imperial control. This image of Constantine as paradigmatic Christian emperor would remain influential in both the eastern and western empires, emerging in models of "sacred kingship" in the West and in the tight link between Byzantine emperors and Orthodox bishops in the East.

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