Paulus Orosius - Encyclopedia

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PAULUS OROSIUS (fl. 415), historian and theologian, was born in Spain (possibly at Braga in Galicia) towards the close of the 4th century. Having entered the Christian priesthood, he naturally took an interest in the Priscillianist controversy then going on in his native country, and it may have been in connexion with this that he went to consult Augustine at Hippo in 413 or 414. After staying for some time in Africa as the disciple of Augustine, he was sent by him in 415 to Palestine with a letter of introduction to Jerome, then at Bethlehem. The ostensible purpose of his mission (apart, of course, from those of pilgrimage and perhaps relic-hunting) was that he might gain further instruction from Jerome on the points raised by the Priscillianists and Origenists; but in reality, it would seem, his business was to stir up and assist Jerome and others against Pelagius, who, since the synod of Carthage in 411, had been living in Palestine, and finding some acceptance there. The result of his arrival was that John, bishop of Jerusalem, was. induced to summon at his capital in June 415 a synod at which Orosius communicated the decisions of Carthage and read such of Augustine's writings against Pelagius as had at that time appeared. Success, however, was scarcely to be hoped for amongst Orientals who did not understand Latin, and whose sense of reverence was unshocked by the question of Pelagius, et quis est mihi Augustinus? All that Orosius succeeded in obtaining was John's consent to send letters and deputies to Innocent of Rome; and, after having waited long enough to learn the unfavourable decision of the synod of Diospolis or Lydda in December of the same year, he returned to north Africa, where he is believed to have died. According to Gennadius he carried with him recently discovered relics of the protomartyr Stephen from Palestine to Minorca, where they were efficacious in converting the Jews.

The earliest work of Orosius, Consultatio sive commonitorium ad Augustinum de errore Priscillianistarum et Origenistarum, explains its object by its title; it was written soon after his arrival in Africa, and is usually printed in the works of Augustine along with the reply of the latter, Contra Priscillianistas et Origenistas liber [ad Orosium. His next treatise, Liber apologeticus de arbitrii libertate, was written during his stay in Palestine, and in connexion with the controversy which engaged him there. It is a keen but not always fair criticism of the Pelagian position from that of Augustine. The Historiae adversum Paganos was undertaken at the suggestion of Augustine, to whom it is dedicated. When Augustine proposed this task he had already planned and made some progress with his own De civitate Dei; it is the same argument that is elaborated by his disciple, namely, the evidence from history that the circumstances of the world had not really become worse since the introduction of Christianity. The work, which is thus a pragmatical chronicle of the calamities that have happened to mankind from the fall down to the Gothic period, has little accuracy or learning, and even less of literary charm to commend it; but it was the first attempt to write the history of the world as a history of God guiding humanity. Its purpose gave it value in the eyes of the orthodox, and the Hormesta, Ormesta, or Ormista as it was called, no one knows why (from Or[osii] M[undi] Hist[oria] or from de miseria mundi? see Morner, p. 180, for list of guesses), speedily attained a wide popularity. Nearly two hundred MSS. of it have survived. A free abridged translation by King Alfred is still extant (Old English text, with original in Latin, edited by H. Sweet, 1883). The editio princeps of the original appeared at Augsburg (1471); that of Haverkamp (Leiden, 1738 and 1767) has now been superseded by C. Zangemeister, who has edited the Hist. and also the Lib. apol. in vol. v. of the Corp. scr. eccl. Lat. (Vienna, 1882), as well as an edit. min. (Leipzig, Teubner, 1889). The "sources" made use of by Orosius have been investigated by T. de Morner (De Orosii vita ejusque hist. libr. vii. adversus Paganos, 1844); besides the Old and New Testaments, he appears to have consulted Caesar, Livy, Justin, Tacitus, Suetonius, Florus and a cosmography, attaching also great value to Jerome's translation of the Chronicles of Eusebius.

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