Eusebius of Caesarea on ancient images

Book 6: CHAPTER 18.
SINCE I have mentioned this city I do not think it proper to omit an account which is worthy of record for posterity. For they say that the woman with an issue of blood, who, as we learn from the sacred Gospel, received from our Savior deliverance from her affliction, came from this place, and that her house is shown in the city, and that remarkable memorials of the kindness of the Saviour to her remain there. For there stands upon an elevated stone, by the gates of her house, a brazen image of a woman kneeling, with her hands stretched out, as if she were praying. Opposite this is another upright image of a man, made of the same material, clothed decently in a double cloak, and extending his hand toward the woman. At his feet, beside the statue itself, is a certain strange plant, which climbs up to the hem of the brazen cloak, and is a remedy for all kinds of diseases. They say that this statue is an image of Jesus. It has remained to our day, so that we ourselves also saw it when we were staying in the city. Nor is it strange that those of the Gentiles who, of old, were benefited by our Saviour, should have done such things, since we have learned also that the likenesses of his apostles Paul and Peter, and of Christ himself, are preserved in paintings, the ancients being accustomed, as it is likely, according to a habit of the Gentiles, to pay this kind of honour indiscriminately to those regarded by them as deliverers.
THE chair of James, who first received the episcopate of the church at Jerusalem from the Saviour himself and the apostles, and who, as the divine records show, was called a brother of Christ, has been preserved until now, the brethren who have followed him in succession there exhibiting clearly to all the reverence which both those of old times and those of our own day maintained and do maintain for holy men on account of their piety. So much as to this matter.”

These chapters demonstrate that the historical evidence available to Eusebius (c. 260-339 AD) supports that images (icons) as paintings and also as statutes were set up of Christ, the Apostles and events from the Gospels from the time of the Apostles, indeed by the woman whom Christ healed. Eusebius notes that this practice originates from the Gentile converts and so by implication wasn’t established by the Jewish Christians. Nevertheless, he does not condemn it nor is he surprised by it and he even says that a plant growing on one of the statutes (or images) is a source of miracles. The next Chapter he testifies to the reverence given to the pious men of old and this through the physical keeping of a chair (presumably the episcopal throne, which also supports traditional church furnishing and associated interior architecture as being rooted in Apostolic practice.) Notice also that the setting up of the images is in itself considered as means of honouring or revering the persons.

This evidence fits extremely well with the Orthodox tradition of icons, the honouring of Saints, including the keeping of various relics, and supports that this tradition goes back to the time of the Apostles and was accepted by Christians as a legitimate practice. Miracles are also associated with the images, even as they are today.


  1. JLB,

    Are you sure it wasn’t Epiphanius of Salamis?
    (I’m not 100% sure, I was just suggesting it b/c the names are so similar.)

  2. Interesting.

    Eusebius is usually portrayed as a sort of proto-iconoclast, isn’t he? I think Jaroslav Pelikan (or perhaps J. N. D. Kelly) once quoted him to that effect, though I may be remembering wrongly.

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