"Let unity, the greatest good of all goods, be your preoccupation." - St. Ignatius of Antioch (Letter to St. Polycarp)

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The Episcopal Seat in the first century Church in Jerusalem

St. James the Righteous

The historian and bishop Eusebius (249 - 340 AD) quotes St. Clement of Alexandria (d. 215) concerning St. James the Righteous, one of the Twelve Apostles. Eusebius quotes St. Clement as having written the following:

"Peter, James and John, after the Ascension of the Savior, did not strive after honor, because the Savior had specially honored them, but chose James the Righteous as Bishop of Jerusalem." (E.H. 2.1)

This is the James about whom St. Paul writes in Galatians 1:19. He is the author of the book of James in the New Testament. And his position as bishop of Jerusalem explains his prominence in Luke's account of the Jerusalem Council (c. 49-50 AD) in Acts 15. St. Clement of Alexandria relates that this James was "thrown down from a parapet and beaten to death with a fuller's club". (E.H. 2.1) Eusebius provides a fuller account (E.H. 2.23) of the martyrdom of this James by drawing from Hegesippus (c. 110-180 AD), whom Eusebius tells us "belonged to the first generation after the apostles". This is where we learn that St. James's "knees grew hard like a camel's from his continually bending them in worship of God and beseeching forgiveness for the people."

According to Eusebius, St. James the Righteous had been "the first after our Saviour's Ascension to be raised to the bishop's throne there [in Jerusalem]". (E.H. 3.5)

Eusebius then tells us the following:

[BOQ] After the martyrdom of James and the conquest of Jerusalem which immediately followed, there is a firm tradition that those of the apostles and disciples of the Lord that were still living came together from all directions with those who, humanly speaking, were kinsmen of the Lord (for the majority of them also were still alive) to take counsel as to who was worthy to succeed James. They all with one consent pronounced Symeon, the son of Clopas, of whom the Gospel also makes mention; to be worthy of the episcopal throne of that see. He was a cousin, as they say, of the Saviour. For Hegesippus records that Clopas was a brother of Joseph.[EOQ] (E.H. 3.11)

Eusebius again draws from Hegesippus to recount the martyrdom of Symeon under the emperor Trajan in the year 106 or 107 AD. (cf. E.H. 3.32) Apparently Symeon, as an old man, was tortured for days and then crucified. According to Eusebius, "When Symeon had found fulfilment in the manner described, his successor on the throne of the Jerusalem bishopric was a Jew named Justus, one of the vast number of the circumcision who by then believed in Christ." (E.H. 3.35)


jmw said...

Central to the concerns of the Reformation, Eusebius also famously talks about the practice of pagans who in their homes had previously used paintings and statues of their savior-gods as a means of worship. He records an interchange with Empress Constantia, sister of Constantine, who had requested of Eusebius an “image of Christ.” He asked her whether the image she desired was of the divine or the human Christ, he pointed out that to represent the divine was to follow the pagans, whereas to represent the human was against the biblical injunction. He ended his letter by stating that to fulfill the empress’s request would mean that “we appear like idol worshipers, to carry our God around in an image.”

If we are to accept Eusebius on bishops, are we to accept him on images?

Bryan Cross said...


Do you have a reference for where you are getting this in the works of Eusebius?

In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan

jmw said...

It is in his letter to the Empress Constantia. I cannot find an online copy. You can see it referred to in several places, such as this:


I would also add the words of St. Epiphanius. Epiphanius the Bishop of Salamis was a church father who firmly combated heresy in his writings and participated in the great ecumenical councils. In a letter to John, the Bishop of Jerusalem written in 394 A.D., he condemns images of men or Christ being set up in churches as against the Scriptures:

Moreover, I have heard that certain persons have this grievance against me: When I accompanied you to the holy place called Bethel, there to join you in celebrating the Collect, after the use of the Church, I came to a villa called Anablatha and, as I was passing, saw a lamp burning there. Asking what place it was, and learning it to be a church, I went in to pray, and found there a curtain hanging on the doors of the said church, dyed and embroidered. It bore an image either of Christ or of one of the saints; I do not rightly remember whose the image was. Seeing this, and being loth that an image of a man should be hung up in Christ’s church contrary to the teaching of the Scriptures, I tore it asunder and advised the custodians of the place to use it as a winding sheet for some poor person. They, however, murmured, and said that if I made up my mind to tear it, it was only fair that I should give them another curtain in its place. As soon as I heard this, I promised that I would give one, and said that I would send it at once. Since then there has been some little delay, due to the fact that I have been seeking a curtain of the best quality to give to them instead of the former one, and thought it right to send to Cyprus for one. I have now sent the best that I could find, and I beg that you will order the presbyter of the place to take the curtain which I have sent from the hands of the Reader, and that you will afterwards give directions that curtains of the other sort—opposed as they are to our religion—shall not be hung up in any church of Christ. A man of your uprightness should be careful to remove an occasion of offence unworthy alike of the Church of Christ and of those Christians who are committed to your charge. (Cited in the works of St. Jerome).

Anonymous said...

That was also central to the concern of the Iconclasts. I'm not familiar with the quotation you brought up but there are at least four strong points against your conclusions JMW.

1. Eusebius expressly, and with obvious approval, states elsewhere (Church History 7.18 for example) that the Gentile Christians had erected a statue of Jesus:

" 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 honor indiscriminately to those regarded by them as deliverers."

Eusebius here follows the developing Church understanding on the issue: grace does not abolish nature, it builds on it.

2. There were active idol worshipers in the time of the Early Church and in the days of Eusebius. If nothing else than for practical reasons, Christians had to be very careful not to mislead the pagans as to what was happening with the veneration of images. With the eventual collapse of classicalism (which Eusebius didn't live to see), Christians didn't have to be as careful with how they venerated images or used images in a liturgical context because the pagans weren't there to misunderstand them.

3. If your issue is with "images of Jesus" then you're in trouble since Protestants also have images of Christ (even 3D ones at least around the Holidays).

4. Even if we were to reject Eusebius here, he is hardly alone in his take on bishops and apostolic succession. The early Christians unanimously confirm the same hierarchical structure and understanding of apostolic authority as does Eusebius.

Bryan Cross said...


Thanks for the reference. It seems to me that when responding to Empress Constantia on the question of images, Eusebius is speaking as a bishop answering a theological question. But when speaking about the first century events, he seems to be speaking as an historian. In other words, it does not seem to me that we must choose between believing everything he says, and rejecting everything he says. We can recognize that the question of images is a more delicate question, about which there was some controversy. But it seems to me that there was no controversy regarding bishops in the first and second centuries, although the *semantics* concerning bishops and [mere] presbyters was not finally universalized until the latter part of the second century, Egypt being one of the last (in the empire) to adopt the standard terminological usage.

In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan

Canadian said...

Even in the Old Testament where the command against idolatrous images was given, God commanded the Jews to pray toward and bow toward the temple. Why? Because they were not worshipping IT, they were permitted an image to represent the one being worshipped. God icon-ed himself in the temple for His people.
1 Kings 8:29-30, Psalm 5:7 etc.