In doing some of the research for a forthcoming book by American Vision on early Christianity and the historical Jesus, I have had to stir up the spiders in the dark corners of the web. The internet has no shortage of atheists and buzz-saw skeptics with a bad tilt. They all feed off of each other and circulate the same tired arguments, rhetoric and outdated sources. In the midst of the chaotic mess of disinformation there consistently appear a couple of disturbing claims which on the surface might throw the Christian reader. Since I do not plan to include these in the book, it seems well to settle the nonsense here.
Dozens of places on the net claim that Eusebius, the early church scholar and “Father of Church History” taught that lying is acceptable if the falsehood will promote the cause of the Church. The critics play off of this to “prove” that early Christians suppressed all their negative acts against rival Christian groups and distorted the picture of church history. The alleged quote is this, “It is an act of virtue to deceive and lie, when by such means the interests of the church might be promoted.”
Wow! Was the Father of Church History a liar? Did he promote the old “noble lie” doctrine of Plato, that deception is sanctified if we can produce a good result?
Well, let’s set the record straight. I first came across the quote while reading the occultist and supporter of the mystery-religion origin for Christian doctrine, Madame Blavatsky. In her 1877 Isis Unveiled, Vol. II, p. 303, she gives the same quote with the exact wording. She attributes it to a work called “Ecclesiastical History.” At first glance the careless reader — because of the careless author — will recognize the title as belonging to Eusebius. But there are dozens of other works by that title, and this is one of them. The Ecclesiastical History in question is actually that of John Lawrence von Mosheim, originally published in 1755. The English translation I have access to is Murdock’s from 1847. So what was the actual quote about?
Far from giving a quote from Eusebius, Mosheim was actually referring to the corrupt atmosphere of the church in general in the fourth century. After describing the entrance of “a long train of superstitious observances,” he wrote,
To these defects in the moral system of the age, must be added two principal errors now well-nigh pubicly adopted, and from which afterwards immense evils resulted. The first was, that to deceive and lie, is a virtue, when religion can be promoted by it. The other was, that errors in religion, when maintained and adhered to after proper admonition, ought to be visited with penalties and punishments.
The quote in question nowhere shows up in Eusebius, or any other early Church father for that matter. How the tale got twisted is easy to see. Blavatsky did not cite the author, but in the following sentences says that this doctrine of lying was “applied” by Eusebius (Of course she furnishes no proof of this). Some careless reader probably read the text, assumed it was Eusebius, and then ran to the web to publish his new proof of why not accept Christ. Then all the anti-Christian cohorts copied the error and now webville is littered with more slander.
Well, this pretty much puts Eusebius in the clear, although some have pointed out that he himself said on a couple of occasions that he did not write about certain divisions or ugliness in the church because he wanted to present the good side. But if a guy states his purpose up front can he really be credited with falsehoods? The chief critic of Eusebius on this point was the anti-Christian classicist Edward Gibbon; and no less a giant than J. B. Lightfoot took up Eusebius’ cause on this one, and I see no reason to try to improve on him.
A similar claim is made against Pope Leo X, who is purported to have said, “How well we know what a profitable superstition this fable of Christ has been for us!” The idea is obviously that the Church has known all along that Christ is a myth and that the whole religion is a fraud. As it turns out, however, the quote actually comes from a work of fiction written by the dramatist John Bale in the sixteenth century. In a satire called The Pageant of the Popes, Bale presents Leo X as a character who says the quote in question. The account is purely fictional, although somebody pulled it out and presented it as fact. Now it’s all over the web.
Well, I would like to see the scores be settled. The atheists who make these false claims should edit their web-sites, or else have their embarrassing scholarship exposed for what it is. And while they’re at it, they may want to double-check the rest of their claims against Christ and the early Church. They might be surprised what they’ll find there as well.
 Mosheim, John Lawrence von. The Institutes of Ecclesiastical History, Ancient and Modern. Volume I. tr. James Murdock. (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1847), Book II, Century IV, Part 2, Chapter III, Sec. 2 (p. 259).
 Ibid., Book II, Century IV, Part 2, Chapter III, Sec. 16 (p. 267). For clarity, I have changed the original italics that emphasized portions of the text.
Dictionary of Christian Biography can be found on-line at www.tertullian.org/rpearse/eusebius/lightfoot.htm.
 This quote, and many others, have been well documented at www.thedevineevidence.com/skeptic_quotes.html