Almost everyone who has read church history is familiar with the name of Eusebius of Caesaria, the man who gave us a priceless pastiche of the first three centuries of Christianity. But Eusebius could not have put together his valuable work if it had not been for his mentor, Pamphilius. Pamphilius collected the library that Eusebius later mined for ecclesiastical detail.
Pamphilius was born in the third century in Berytus (now known as Beirut). He studied in Alexandria under a Christian teacher named Pierius and became an ardent fan of the writings of the theologian Origen. Later, as a priest in Caesarea, Palestine, Pamphilius trained numbers of students and amassed a great number of documents in his school library. Many of these he copied with his own hand. He did not merely lecture on Christianity, but practiced its teachings of brotherly love, treating slaves and servants as sons and brothers. He devoted himself to producing accurate copies of the scriptures and gave them to students and pious women.
Among his pupils was the young man who would become famed as the first notable church historian--Eusebius. Eusebius was so fond of Pamphilius that he wrote his life (now lost). When Pamphilius died a martyr, Eusebius renamed himself "Eusebius of Pamphilius."
In 306 one of Pamphilius' pupils challenged the idol worship of the local governor, Urbanus. This aggravated local persecution against Christians; not only was the youth tortured and executed but so were other Christians. In November 307, the governer arrested Pamphilius. When he refused to sacrifice to idols, Urbanus tortured the godly scholar and threw him into prison. Despite the risks involved, Eusebius visited him often. The two co-authored a defense of Origen, showing that the Alexandrian scholar's views on the Trinity and incarnation were sound, even if other teachings were not (the church would later condemn Origen's works as heretical). Only volume one of this defense of Origen has survived and only in a bad Latin translation.
When he came to write his church history, Eusebius consulted the works Pamphilius had collected. These included early editions of the scriptures and an original Hebrew version of Matthew's gospel. Sad to say, this irreplaceable resource was destroyed by invading Muslims in the seventh century.
Firminius replaced Urbanus as governor. He ordered Pamphilius killed. After languishing in prison for more than two years, Pamphilius was beheaded on this day, February 16, 309.
- Bacchus, F. J. "St. Pamphilus of Caesaria." The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton, 1914.
- Barnes, Timothy David. Constantine and Eusebius. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1981.
- "Pamphilius, St. The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church. Edited by F. L. Cross and E. A. Livingstone. Oxford, 1997.
- Various internet articles.