Lately, law-and-religion scholars have been turning their attention to the Patristic period, during which Christians first began to think in earnest about the relation between church and state. To give just two examples, there’s Steve Smith’s new book on pagans and Christians in the Roman Empire, and Robert Louis Wilken’s forthcoming book on early Christian concepts of religious liberty, which he presented at our Center’s colloquium this past fall. And so it might be a good time for us to reconsider Eusebius, that chronicler of Christianity in its formative centuries. A forthcoming book from Cambridge, Eusebius and Empire: Constructing Church and Rome in the Ecclesiastical History, does just that. The author is historian James Corke-Webster (King’s College London). Cambridge presents the book as a “radical” new treatment, which makes a traditionalist like me a little skeptical, but readers will be able to judge for themselves. Here’s the description from Cambridge’s website:
Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History, written in the early fourth century, continues to serve as our primary gateway to a crucial three hundred year period: the rise of early Christianity under the Roman Empire. In this volume, James Corke-Webster undertakes the first systematic study considering the History in the light of its fourth-century circumstances as well as its author’s personal history, intellectual commitments, and literary abilities. He argues that the Ecclesiastical History is not simply an attempt to record the past history of Christianity, but a sophisticated mission statement that uses events and individuals from that past to mould a new vision of Christianity tailored to Eusebius’ fourth-century context. He presents elite Graeco-Roman Christians with a picture of their faith that smooths off its rough edges and misrepresents its size, extent, nature, and relationship to Rome. Ultimately, Eusebius suggests that Christianity was – and always had been – the Empire’s natural heir.