The History of the Church, by Eusebius, The Folio Society (2011)

Eusebius (c. AD 263 – 339) was a Roman historian, the first and foremost of the ancient Christian world. As such, he is sometimes referred to as the ‘Christian Herodotus’. While little is known of Eusebius and much of his writings have been lost to history, what we do have from him is the only surviving record of the Church during its first three centuries, up to the conversion of Emperor Constantine.  Some do not consider Eusebius a historian in the critical sense as defined today. Critics complain that his work is not systematic, complete, nor significantly free from bias and that the work can be interpreted mostly as a defense of the Christian religion. However, there is no denying his importance, nor the influence of his work The History of the Church (Historia Ecclesiastica).

The History of the Church (Historia Ecclesiastica) covers the evolution of Early Christianity from the first century to the fourth century. It is chronologically ordered with much of Eusebius’s own theological beliefs co-mingled with factual information. While the veracity of his accounts are sometimes questionable, his work is extremely important as he recorded and passed on many contemporary accounts that might otherwise have been lost (as stated here, “Eusebius had access to the Theological Library of Caesarea and made use of many ecclesiastical monuments and documents, acts of the martyrs, letters, extracts from earlier Christian writings, lists of bishops, and similar sources, often quoting the originals at great length so that his work contains materials not elsewhere preserved.”).

Here is the description of the work, provided by The Folio Society.

Eusebius sought to demonstrate continuity between the apostles and the Christian authorities of his own times, showing how successive bishops had preserved the authentic religion. He chronicled the Church’s struggle against heresy, and the sects whose members ‘crawled like poisonous reptiles over Asia and Phrygia’. The history of the Church was, at this time, bound up with that of the Roman Empire, and Eusebius recorded the deeds of the successive emperors, merciful and cruel alike. He vividly depicted the hideous tortures inflicted on the early Christian martyrs during the Great Persecution at the beginning of the 4th century, some of which he witnessed with his own eyes: ‘the most shameful, brutal and inhuman of all spectacles’.

The ordeals of the Christians came to an end with the conversion of Constantine in 312, described by Eusebius in a tone of near ecstasy: ‘Men had now lost all fear of their former oppressors; day after day they kept dazzling festival; light was everywhere, and men who once dared not look up greeted each other with smiling faces and shining eyes.’ Eusebius portrayed Constantine as a divinely ordained leader and head of the Church, an idea that would, in the future, prove influential and controversial, for example during the English Reformation. This edition is introduced by Dr Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, who describes Eusebius as a major contributor to the ongoing debate within Christianity about the relation of the Church to political authority.

This is a standard issue book from The Folio Society, not one of their Limited Editions. It runs about $75 when not on sale.  It is well worth highlighting as an example of why The Folio Society remains popular and an outstanding source of important books for those interested in literature, history, philosophy and theology.  The quality, while not fine press, is excellent, both in terms of design (nice look, good type and illustrations, comfortable to hold and read) and materials (paper, binding, etc.), as well as in supporting content (including an informative introduction, a preface, a wide range of illustrative plates, a “who’s who” section, helpful appendices and a comprehensive index). In short, this is an edition worth owning by anyone with interest in the topic or those collecting important works of history.

About the Edition

  • Preface by Dr Rowan Williams
  • Translated by G. A. Williamson, following the 1998 Penguin Books edition, published with the arrangement with the Estate of G. A. Williamson
  • Bound in cloth
  • Blocked with an illustration by Joe McLaren
  • Set in Baskerville at The Folio Society
  • Printed on Abbey Wove paper at Martins the Printers Ltd, Berwick-upon-Tweed
  • Bound by Hunter & Foulis, Edinburgh, in blocked cloth with a design by Joe McLaren based on a carving from the catacombs in Sousse, Tunisia
  • Frontispiece and 24 pages of colour plates
  • 10″ × 6¼”; 448 pages

Pictures of the Edition

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The History of the Church, The Folio Society, Book in Slipcase
The History of the Church, The Folio Society, Macro of Spine
The History of the Church, The Folio Society, Cover
The History of the Church, The Folio Society, Macro of Cover
The History of the Church, The Folio Society, Map on Endpages
The History of the Church, The Folio Society, Frontispiece and Title Page
The History of the Church, The Folio Society, Macro of Frontispiece
The History of the Church, The Folio Society, Macro of Title Page
The History of the Church, The Folio Society, Copyright and Colophon
The History of the Church, The Folio Society, First Page of Content List
The History of the Church, The Folio Society, List of Plates #1
The History of the Church, The Folio Society, List of Plates #2
The History of the Church, The Folio Society, List of Plates #3
The History of the Church, The Folio Society, Sample Text #1 (Preface)
The History of the Church, The Folio Society, Macro of Sample Text #1 (Preface)
The History of the Church, The Folio Society, Sample Text #2 (Introduction)
The History of the Church, The Folio Society, Macro of Sample Text #2 (Introduction)
The History of the Church, The Folio Society, Sample Text #3 (Chapter 1)
The History of the Church, The Folio Society, Macro of Sample Text #3 (Chapter 1)
The History of the Church, The Folio Society, Sample Text #4 (Chapter 2)
The History of the Church, The Folio Society, Sample Plates #1
The History of the Church, The Folio Society, Sample Plates #2
The History of the Church, The Folio Society, Sample Plates #3
The History of the Church, The Folio Society, Sample Text #5 (who’s who)
The History of the Church, The Folio Society, Sample Text #6 (appendices)
The History of the Church, The Folio Society, Sample Text #7 (index)

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