The Atheistic Origins of Polytheism Part 1

Eusebius grew up in a world full of controversy and upheaval. During his life time, he faced the last and greatest of the Roman persecutions under Diocletian. Then he rejoiced at the sudden victory and Christianization of Constantine. And through all these things, throughout his life, he maintained a strong zeal for the Gospel.

He was born around AD 260, presumably in Caesarea Maritima. His education began under Pamphilus, who became his lifelong friend and mentor. In addition, he had access to one of the most significant libraries in Christian circles at that time in Caesarea. He was appointed as bishop of Caesarea until his death (about AD 339).

Although better known for his church history, Eusebius also completed two large apologetic works, Praeparatio Evangelica and Demonstratio Evangelica. These works were an attempt “to show the nature of Christianity to those who know not what it means.” In Praeparatio he argues for the supremacy of Christianity over Greek religion and philosophy; while in Demonstratio he argues for the supremacy of Christianity over Judaism. Combined, these two works comprise thirty-five volumes and are full of excellent primary source information concerning third-century philosophical thought.

As for his argumentation method in Praeparatio, he developed his arguments by quoting in extenuo authors and sources, and afterward drew his conclusions. His intention was to legitimize his critiques of his opponents. As he said,

From what source then shall we verify our proofs? Not, of course, from our own Scriptures, lest we should seem to show favour to our argument: but let Greeks themselves appear as our witnesses, both those of them who boast of their philosophy, and those who have investigated the history of other nations.

There are several interesting terms that Eusebius uses in Praeparatio. First, he uses terms for polytheism (πολυθέου) some twenty times in the book. His understanding of this term us much like the modern understanding: the belief in and worship of multiple gods. Second, he uses terms for atheism (ἀθεότης) in three different senses: A) for denying the ancestral gods; B) for worshiping created matter rather than the Creator; and C) for agnosticism about God or gods. In this paper, sense B is important for understanding his argument. Finally, he differentiates between the terms Hebrew and Jew. The Jews were the nation of Israel after Moses delivered the Law to them. The Hebrews were the forefathers of the Jews who followed after God alone and considered the elements of nature, not as gods, but as works of God (pp. 324, 326).

To be continued…

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