From Eusebius Pamphilus : His Ten Books of Ecclesiastical History, Faithfully Translated and Abridg’d from the Original, by Samuel Parker, Gent.; London : Printed for George Sawbridge at the Three Flower de-Luces in Little Britain, 1703; pp. a-l.
Robert Nelson, Esq.;
S I R,
GIVE me leave to recommend the following Narrative, to your Perusal and Patronage. The Original is a Work you are well-acquainted with, and justly value for the Account it gives of the first Ages of the Christian Church, and particularly for the undeniable Evidence it presents us with, of the Divine Apostolical Right of Episcopacy, and [b] of its being universally received, wheresoever Christianity prevailed. And I am sure, whatever Judgment, either Equity shall oblige you, or Candour incline you to pass upon the Performance, you will approve my Intention in publishing this Authentick, though Compendious Account of what Was Taught and Transacted in the Church for the first Three hundred years. Arguments from Example are of late grown Popular and Modish; and What has been done, nay, What is done, is now become the Rule and Measure of What ought to be done. Since it must be so, ’tis time for all Parties to look back into the Manners and Practices of preceding Ages; and absolutely necessary, that the Ignorant should have the Means in [c] their own hands of knowing, at least, what was receiv’d and observ’d in the more Primitive Times : Which is indeed a very plain and safe Direction, and such a Model as, it were to be wish’d, those People especially, that have insisted so much upon the Argument of Fact, would propose to themselves and others.
But upon this Head, Sir, you will meet with something much more to your Satisfaction, than I am able to offer, in that admirable Dissertation, by the Great and Excellent Author of the Snake in the Grass, which stands as an Introduction to my Abridgment.
Upon the Perusal of which Discourse you will find how seasonably an Essay of this Nature may be presum’d to come abroad, when [d] (to forbear enumerating all the reigning Errors and Irregularities, against which we can never provide too many Antidotes and Applications) Things are come to such a pass, that though the Laity are grown so ready and expert at justifying themselves upon all Occasions, by resolving the Merits of the Cause into the Carriage and Authority of their Spiritual Guides, they are as forward, at the same time, to expose the Failings, and depreciate the Character of the Clergy, whose Male-Administration (where-ever it may be charg’d) all good and understanding Men will then confess to be a Forfeiture of that Reverence which belongs to them, as the Embassors of the King of Heaven, when the Sons of Korah shall make [e] it appear, that to despise those whom Christ has sent, is not to despise him, and to despise him, is not to despise his Father.
In this regard ’tis a Blessing for which we cannot be sufficiently thankful, that the Church has still among her Laity, those Pious and Affectionate Sons that make it their Ambition strenuously to vindicate the Honour of the Clergy, and support the Dignity of the Priesthood. In which Service no body has more zealously labour’d, or more eminently signaliz’d himself than Mr. Nelson; and that not only in the Course of your Conversation and your private Endeavours, but by the Credit and Advantage the Sacred Order has reap’d from the Just and Lively Representation we owe to your Pen, [f] of the Piety, Modesty, and all those other Graces, good Qualities, and Accomplishments, that adorn’d a Presbyter of the Church of England, in your Account of the Life of Mr.. Kettlewell, publish’d before his Five Discourses.
May God, in his Infinite Goodness, give as sure and propitious a Blessing, as he will a liberal Reward, to the generous Efforts of all Worthy Persons in the behalf of Piety and Religion, particularly to yours, the good Effects of which we have so much Reason to depend upon, as well from the Success that has attended them hitherto, as from those Abilities and Endowments that qualify you for a happy Prosecution of the most Useful and Commendable Purposes : And that the Divine [g] Providence may Protect and Prosper you in all your Interests, whether Present or Future, is, and shall ever be the Prayer of,
Your most Faithful
AS if what some Philosophers tell us of Qualities, That this or that cannot Exist but the contrary must be in the World at the same time, were at least equally True of Men’s Opinions (as, in general, about the Value of Books, and the Measures of Learning, so particularly) with Relation to the Worth and Use of Abridgments : There have been always Two Parties differently perswaded upon the Point; the Learned and the Lazy. The latter encourage Attempts of this kind for their own Ease, and therefore no body ought to thank them, though every body has cause to reprove them. The Learned, on the other Hand, seldom speak well of an Epitome; and that for two very substantial Reasons : First, Because either the Original is Read as well as the Abridgment, or not : If it is, then the latter is Useless, and if it is not, Insufficient. Secondly, Because there are very few good Authors that are capable of being well Abridg’d[j]
The first of these undoubtedly holds, unless where the latter cannot take place; For there must be no trusting to an Abridgment of any Author which we have reason to believe will not bear it; but else, when done with Sincerity, Judgment, and Care, it may be serviceable, if the Original has been Read, to renew the remembrance; or, if it has not, to give us a View of all that’s material in it.
No Historian, that I know of, will admit of Epitomizing better than Eusebius. The Narrations in him are frequently long and circumstantial : The same Particulars are sometimes told again : Then he has thrown in an infinite number of Epiphonema‘s, and Doctrinal Applications, many of which, tho’ very excellent and venerable in themselves, are far from being essential to the Historical Part, and because of the length of his Expression take up a great deal of room; which gave occasion for that Censure of St. Jerom, (Comment. in Esai. Lib. 5.) Eusebius Cæsariensis historicam interpretationem titulo repromittens, diversis sensibus evagatur : cujus cum libros legerem, aliud multò reperi quàm indice promittebat, &c. Besides, the greater Part of Eusebius’s History consists of Passages taken entire from [k] other Authors, so that their occasional Forms of Transition, Introduction, or Address, are inserted, though they do not enter into the Narration it self; and therefore, though these Citations, especially the Fragments he has preserv’d of Writers now lost, are most valuable Monuments, as well of my Author’s Ingenuity, as of Ecclesiastical Antiquity, yet the Course of the History is little concern’d with them, consider’d only as Citations.
’Tis true, the Authorities he brings are so very Primitive and Weighty, that with regard to Questions and Controversies recourse must be had to the Original History, and the Words exactly scann’d. But the Matter and Importance of them, as they come into the Series of the History, may be set forth as fully and significantly without keeping to the Form, as any other part of the Original.
In Reply to the Dilemma before offer’d, let me observe that it will by no means affect an English Abridgment of a Greek Ecclesiastical History, which is not suppos’d to be intended so much for the Use of those that understand the Original, as of those that do not. For as it were an inexcusable Neglect in any Man, (whether Divine or Laick) if tolerably acquainted with the Greek Language, [l] not to read so faithful and edifying an Account, as Eusebius has given of the earliest Ages of the Church, in the Original; so it has been hitherto a great Infelicity to the less Learned among us, that they have been held too much in ignorance of what was transacted in the Primitive Church, for want of such a Compendious Representation of it, as is best extracted from that Original, and will neither try the Patience of some, nor the Purses of others.
While I make this Observation, let me not seem to insinuate any thing in Derogation of the Labours of many Learned Men among us, that have Publish’d any Parts, or Body of Ecclesiastical Antiquity in English. I am satisfy’d no Country (Reform’d or Popish) has produc’d such Diligent Polite and Critical Authors of this kind as our own, The Learned Dr. Cave’s Lives of the Apostles and Primitive Fathers, is a Performance not to be rivall’d by any modern one in the same way; and very lately Mr. Echard has obliged us with a most Elegant and methodical History of the Three first Centuries. So that my Undertaking could scare have been justify’d if the Design of my Abridgment had been the same with the Design of those Two Historians, [m] which is to give a diffuse Account of Church Affairs collected from Variety of Authors, whereas my Abridgment is a Summary taken from one, (after the Evangelists the most Ancient Ecclesiastical Historian of any remaining) intended as a Manual for the Information of the less Learned, and an Assistance to the Memory of others.
’Tis much to be wish’d we might also see a Manual of Divinity, Collected out of the Fathers of the Three first Ages, digested and common-plac’d according to the Three several Titles of Faith, Discipline, and Practice, plainly and honestly Translated for the Benefit of the meaner Sort; a Task which, though it may seem easy, requires perhaps more than Two or Three Judicious Heads and Honest Hearts to bring it to Perfection. In the mean time, till such a System appears, is so Weak and Unworthy an Instrument as my self can contribute at all to the Informing or Disabusing of any unhappy Souls, that, in these our Days, have either forgot, or never learnt the true Principles and Practice of Primitive Christianity, by setting before their Eyes an Image of what was taught and done during the Three first Centuries, I heartily recommend to my Reader, not only, the Perusing of the Story, [n] but the Digesting and Applying of it, assuring him I have made it my Endeavour to represent things as I found them, and nothing of Moment in the Original should be omitted in the Abridgment.
As for the Chronology, I thought my self oblig’d, as an Abridger, to follow that of the History before me, especially since it every way Answers those Ends I propos’d to my self, (and have already acquainted the Reader with) in Publishing this Performance, as effectually as another could have done, more Elaborate and Correct.
The Life of Eusebius,
with a Catalogue of His Works.