An extract from Eusebius, “Ecclesiastical Theology” III, 4-6

A portion of Eusebius of Caesarea’s Ecclesiastical Theology, written against Marcellus of Ancyra, was edited and translated in John Mackett, Eusebius of Caesarea’s Theology of the Holy Spirit. Milwaukee, WI : Marquette University,  1990.  As it is not too long, I think it might be interesting to give the passage translated here.

Mackett goes on to discuss the meaning of the discussion – a very necessary thing! – but I have no access to that portion of his dissertation.

Marcellus of Ancyra had written a text against Asterius, a former sophist and one of the early Arians.  Eusebius responds to this work.

What strikes us, forcibly, is that this text is only meaningful to people with an interest in Trinitarian theology.  This explains why a translation has been so long in coming.  I am told that the usage of the terms in Eusebius differs from that of later writers, just to complicate things.

The term “hypostasis” means “being” or “substantive reality”, I think.  Later it comes to mean “person”, and the formula that God is three hypostases / persons in one ousia / being appears.  But that’s about as far as I can go.

Let us now hear from Eusebius.

*    *    *    *   *    *

How Marcellus, not under­standing the Scriptures, determined for himself that the hypostasis of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is one.

And thus once again the statement that the three (the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit) are one is also Sabellian. Marcellus also expressed this same opinion and somewhere wrote: “For it is impossible for three existing hypostases to be united in a monad unless earlier the Triad should have its beginning from a monad. For St. Paul said that those things which in no way belong to the unity in God will be brought together in a monad; for only the Word and the Spirit belong to the unity in God.”

Next, as he tries to construct a log­ical argument for this, he goes on and says: “If, therefore, the Word clearly came forth out of the Father himself and has come to us, and the Holy Spirit (as even Asterius confessed) ‘proceeds from the Father,’ and if the Savior says concerning the Spirit: He will not speak on his own, but he will speak whatever he hears, and will an­nounce to you the things to come. He will glorify me, for he will receive from me and will announce it to you,’ is it not clearly evident that here the Monad appears in an ineffable word, expanding into a Triad but also not enduring in any way a dividing of itself?

‘For if the Word proceeds out of the Father, and the Spirit himself also is confessed to proceed out of the Father, and again, if the Savior says concerning the Spirit, He will receive from me and will announce it to you,’ is it not clear that some mystery which had been hidden is being revealed? For how, unless the undivided Monad should expand into a Triad, can he say at one time that the Spirit proceeds out of the Father and at another time: “He will receive from me and will announce it to you,’ and also, when he had breathed upon the disciples to have said, deceive the Holy Spirit?

‘For how, if he proceeds out of the Father, can it be proclaimed that he receives this ministry from the Son?

For if, as Asterius said, there are two distinct prosopa, it is necessary either that the Spirit, because he proceeds out of the Father, does not require the ministry of the Son (for everything which proceeds out of the Father is necessarily perfect and requires no assistance from another) or, if he should receive from the Son and by his power minister grace, he no longer proceeds out of the Father.”

After some other things he adds: “But if the Gospel says that, after he breathed upon his disciples he said: deceive the Holy Spirit,’ it is quite clear that the Spirit went forth out of the Word. How then, if the Spirit came out of the Word, is it again said that the same Spirit proceeds out of the Father?” And after some other things he adds: “Therefore he said (not once, but twice!) neither correctly nor fit­tingly, There are three hy­postases.'” Now through these ar­guments (and ones like them) the smart aleck tries to build his case that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are one and the same, because three names are given to one hypostasis.

For in these words it is not clear how both the Son is said to proceed out of the Father, and likewise the Holy Spirit.

Nor has it been possible to conceive how the Savior said about the Holy Spirit: “He will receive from me and will announce it to you.” Nor how, after he breathed upon the disciples, he said “Receive the Holy Spirit.” And this will have an easy solution for those who think orthodoxly if one should consider that the Son, since he always exists and is present with the Father, is in some place, as though he were in the innermost sanctuary and inaccessible part of the paternal kingdom, and then, because he was sent from the Fa­ther for the sake of the salvation of the race of men, said that he him­self came forth from the Father.

And surely he made this clear else­where when, speaking about himself through a parable, he said: “The sower came forth to sow.”For from where did he come forth other than out of the innermost kingdoms of the paternal Godhead?

And according to the same reason­ing the Holy Spirit is also always present at the throne of God since, according to Daniel, even “myriads upon myriads”stand before him. And this one himself was sent, at one time in the form of a dove upon the Son of Man, at another time upon each of the prophets and apostles. For this reason he also has been said to proceed from the Father.

And why are you amazed? For even of the Devil it has also been said: “And the Devil came forth from the Lord” and again, a sec­ond time it was said: “But the Devil came forth from the Lord.”You would even find the same concerning Ahab where the Scrip­ture adds: “And an evil spirit came forth and stood in front of the Lord and said: 1 will outwit him.'”But these are opposing spirits; now is not the time to be busy with try­ing to figure out how or in what sense this is said about them.

And the only-begotten Son of God teaches that he himself has come forth from the Father because he always co-exists with him; and likewise, the Holy Spirit exists as distinct from the Son.

Certainly the Savior himself clearly proves this by saying: “He will re­ceive from me and will announce it to you.” For this would clearly be indicative of the Son’s and the Holy Spirit7s not being one and the same. For what receives some­thing from another is recognized as distinct from that which gives.

And that the Holy Spirit is indeed distinct from the Son, our Lord and Savior himself explicitly and excel­lently taught in the clearest terms in which he said to his disciples: “If you love me you will keep my commands. And I will ask the Fa­ther and he will give to you an­other Paraclete so that he might be with you forever: the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot re­ceive.” You see how he says that the Spirit, who is the Paraclete, is distinct from and other than him­self. And if, after breathing he said to the disciples: “Receive the Holy Spirit,” one need not be ignorant that this breathing was somehow purgative of the souls of the apos­tles in order to make them fit for the reception of the Holy Spirit.

For he is not said to have breathed upon their face or that he breathed either the breath of life or the Holy Spirit as it was recorded about Adam: “God breathed upon his face the breath of life.” Rather, he is said first to breathe and then to say, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”But the giving of the Spirit himself showed again that he is distinct from what is given.

For he himself would not have been the giver and the gift, but the Savior was the one who gave, the one who was given was the Holy Spirit, and the apostles were the recipients; the breathing out was, as I said, purgative of the apostles or even productive of the imparting of the Holy Spirit (for it is possible to understand it both ways).

From these passages the Holy Spirit is shown to subsist distinctly from him, as even from the following, in which again it has been recorded that he said: “If someone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him.”194

To these words he adds: “These things I have told you while I was with you. But the Paraclete, the Holy Spirit, whom my Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and remind you of everything that I told you.” You hear how he has used a plural form (“We will come to him and make our dwelling with him”) while speaking about the Father and himself. And when speaking about the Holy Spirit, he spoke as though he were speaking about another (“He will teach you everything”).

And the passage: “I will ask the Father and he will give to you an­other Paraclete so that he might be with you forever: the Spirit of truth” was also of this sort. Therefore, the Paraclete, con­cerning whom he was teaching such things, was distinct from himself. Naturally then he again added: “These things I have told you while I was with you.

But the Paraclete, the Holy Spirit, whom my Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and remind you of everything that I told you.”

He is saying: “For I have spoken these things to you up until this time. But the Spirit of truth, the very one whom my Father will send, will teach you everything, inasmuch as of now you have not learned because you have not made room.

“But, I say, when he, the Paraclete, comes, he will complete the teach­ing by also producing in you the remembrance of the words I am now speaking.” And again he says: “But when the Paraclete comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will testify concerning myself.”Through all of this he clearly shows that the one who is sent by him and is going to bear witness on his behalf is distinct from himself.

And he strengthens the argument even more by what he adds: “But I tell you the truth: it is better for you that I depart. For if I do not depart, the Paraclete will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you.” By saying that he him­self was going he was indicating in these words his own passion and the ascension to the Father after this.

Who then, after so many words, is so stupid as to say that the one who says these things and the one about whom he was speaking are one and the same—after he hears him clearly determining to speak the truth? And what is the truth about the one who shows that, unless he departs, the Holy Spirit would never come?

But if at one time he determines that the Father sends the Holy Spirit and at another he himself, of course he is not teaching contradic­tions; for everything, whatever “he sees the Father doing … the Son does likewise” and “he judges just as he hears.”

Wherefore, by the judgment of the Father, when the Father also wills it, at that time the Son andthrough him, the Savior sends the Spirit of truth, that is, the Paraclete, to his disciples in order to comfort and encourage them in the things they suffered from those who persecuted them as they preached the Gospel.

But he said this not only to comfort them, but also to teach them the whole truth of the New Testament which they could not be taught by the Savior at the time he was in their company and teaching these things, because they were en­slaved to Jewish training.

He fulfilled these things by what he did after his resurrection from the dead; after when he said to Mary, “Do not touch me for I have not yet ascended to my Father.” After saying these things, since he indeed had gone up to the Father, he appeared to the disciples.

When he also commands them to touch him, the Holy Spirit had been sent and was with him-being ready and present for the ministry to which he had been appointed.

For at that time “he breathed on them” and then he gave them a part of a certain gift of the Holy Spirit, which was to effect the for­giveness of sins. For “there are different gifts” which he partially gave them then, when he was with them and present to them. But after this he filled them with a greater and more perfect power. Concerning this he said to them, as recorded in the Acts of the Apos­tles: “But you will receive power from on high when the Holy Spirit comes down on you.” He also announced that they would be bap­tized with the Holy Spirit, which itself was fulfilled after his ascen­sion, on the day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit was sent to them, in accordance with his words.

But now is not the time to go over in detail, with the exactness of a close examination, what here needs greater discussion and distinctness, since this is not what was set before us. But it was necessary to prove that the Son and the Paraclete Spirit are distinct. This was even pointed out in various ways through what the Savior himself taught and said to the others in these words: “I still have many things to tell you, but you are not yet able to bear them. But when he, the Spirit of truth comes, he will explain the whole truth to you for he will not speak on his own, but whatever he hears; and he will announce to you the things to come. He will glorify me because he will receive from me and will announce it to you.” Again in these words it is proclaimed that what he did not teach, this his dis­ciples will learn by the Holy Spirit, of whom it is said, as though speaking of someone else: “When he comes” and “he will not speak on his own” and “he will glorify me” and “because he will receive from me.. .”.

To assume that the Savior himself spoke all these things about himself is quite simple-minded and hard to cure.

But through these words the Sav­ior himself clearly taught that the Holy Spirit is distinct from himself in honor, glory, and privileges; being more excellent, stronger, and higher than all intelligent and rational being (wherefore he is also included in the holy and thrice- blessed Triad) but indeed lower than himself.

And this he clearly shows when he says: “He will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears.” And that he will hear from someone else he makes quite clear when he says: “He will re­ceive from me and will announce it to you”—which clearly means “from out of my treasure,” for in him “are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.”

Therefore, he himself, since he is only-begotten Son, receives from the Father and hears from the Father; but the Holy Spirit is provided from him. Hence he says: “He will receive it from me and will announce it to you.”

Now it is said that even the God over all is spirit, as the Savior himself taught when he said: “God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth”; and truly himself will be the holy one of the saints and “resting in the saints.” But the Son of God also is spirit and him­self is even the holy spirit of the saints, if indeed he is the image of the invisible.

Therefore it was also said concern­ing him: “The Lord is the Spirit”and “the Lord Christ is spirit before our face.”

Certainly the Holy Spirit is distinct from the Father and the Son. The Savior pointed out his uniqueness and called him “the Paraclete,” distinguishing the common element of the equivocal word by the appellation “Paraclete,” since even the angelic powers are spirits. For it is said, “He makes his angels spirits.”  But it is impossible to equate any of these with the Paraclete Spirit.

Wherefore only this spirit has been included in the holy and thrice- blessed Triad. This is not different from the Savior’s explaining to his apostles his sacrament of rebirth for all those from the nations who believe in him. He commanded them to baptize “them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” Of the Father because he has full authority and gives the grace. Of the Son because he ministers to this grace (for “grace and truth came through Jesus Christ”). Of the Holy Spirit, that is, the Paraclete, who is him­self provided according to the di­versity of graces in himself: ‘Tor to one is given a word of wisdom through the Spirit, but to another a word of knowledge according to the same spirit. To another is given faith by the same Spirit” and likewise the things considered with these.

So then the Holy Spirit, who was provided through the Son to whomever the Father might choose, was fond of dwelling in the saints alone. And such would be his work: to sanctify all, to whom he might give some one or even many of the gifts in himself, so that prophets, apostles, and every God- loving soul, and likewise the stronger and divine powers, would participate in the holiness from him. But only the Son has been honored by the paternal Godhead, that he might be the maker and creator of all the geneta, both visi­ble and invisible, and even of the existence of the Paraclete Spirit.

For, “through him all things came into being, and apart from him not one thing came to be” and “in him everything in heaven and on earth was created, things visible and invisible.” But the God over all and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, since he is something ineffable, is good and more excellent than all reasoning ability and thought, and every expression and consideration, whatever their commonalities or distinctions are, also takes the lead over and above the Holy Spirit himself and even the only-begotten Son.

He alone is rightly called “the God over all and through all and in all” by the apostle who says: “There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God the Father of all, who is over all, through all, and is in all.”

And he alone might be called “one God and Father” “of our Lord Je­sus Christ.” The Son is “only- begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father.” But the Paraclete Spirit is neither God nor Son, since he does not get his origin from the Father like the Son, but is one of the things which came into being through the Son because: “Through him all things came into being, and apart from him not one thing came to be.”

Therefore these mysteries are handed over to the holy and catholic Church through the divine titles. But Marcellus confuses everything: sometimes he takes into himself the whole depth of Sabellius, another time he tries to revive the heresy of Paul of Samosata, and other times he is openly refuted as a Jew for he introduces one three-faced and, as it were, three-named hypostasis by saying God, the Word in him, and the Holy Spirit are the same.

2 Responses to “An extract from Eusebius, “Ecclesiastical Theology” III, 4-6”


  1. stephan huller

    I never understand these later ‘controversies.’ It just sounds like a bunch of people trying to flatter the authorities and get other people in trouble for trivial things. But I am delighted you made this translation. Thanks so much Roger.

  2. Roger Pearse

    Not me; it’s from the thesis quoted.

    None of us understand the context of all these disputes, I think. I fear the problem is the inrush of nominal believers into the church in the time of Constantine.



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