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Paulus Orosius

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Historian and Christian apologist; b. probably at Bracara, now Braga, in Portugal, between 380 and 390, the dates of his birth and death not being precisely known. His first name has been known only since the eighth century. Having early consecrated himself to the service of God, he was ordained, and went to Africa in 413 or 414. The reason for his leaving his native country is not known; he tells us only that he left his fatherland "sine voluntate, sine necessitate, sine consensu" (Commonitorium, i). He repaired to St. Augustine, at Hippo, to question him as to certain points of doctrine, concerning the soul and its origin, attacked by the Priscillianists. In 414 he prepared for St. Augustine a "Commonitorium de errore Priscillianistarum et Origenistarum" (P.L. XXXI, 1211-16; also, ed. Schepss, in "Priscilliani quae supersunt", in "Corpus script. eccl. lat.", Vienna, 1889, XVIII, 149 sqq.) to which St. Augustine replied with his "Ad Orosium contra Priscillianistas et Origenistas". In order to become better acquainted with these questions concerning the soul and its origin, Orosius, with a hearty recommendation from St. Augustine (Epist. clxvi), went to Palestine, to St. Jerome. Pelagius was then trying to spread his false doctrines in Palestine, and Orosius aided St. Jerome and others in their struggle against this heresy. In 415 Bishop John of Jerusalem, who was inclined to the teaching of Origen and influenced by Pelagius, summoned the presbyters of his church to a council at Jerusalem. At this council Orosius sharply attacked the teachings of Pelagius. But, as Pelagius declared that he believed it impossible for man to become perfect and avoid sin without God's assistance, John did not condemn him, but decided that his opponents should state their arguments before Pope Innocent. In consequence of his opposition to Pelagius, Orosius was drawn into dissensions with Bishop John, who accused him of having maintained that it is not possible for man to avoid sin, even with God's grace. In answer to this charge, Orosius wrote his "Liber apologeticus contra Pelagium de Arbitrii libertate" (P.L. XXXI, 1173-1212, and ed. Zangemeister, "Orosii opera" in "Corpus script. eccl. lat.", V, Vienna, 1882), in which he gives a detailed account of the Council of 415 at Jerusalem, and a clear, correct treatment of the two principal questions against Pelagius: the capability of man's free will, and Christian perfection in doing God's will here on earth.

In the spring of 416 Orosius left Palestine, to return to Augustine in Africa, and thence home. He brought a letter from St. Jerome (Epist. cxxxiv) to St. Augustine, as well as writings of the two Gallic bishops, Hero and Lazarus, who were in Palestine struggling against Pelagianism (cf. St. Augustine, Epist. clxxv). He also brought from Jerusalem the then recently discovered relics of the Protomartyr Stephen and a Latin letter from Lucian, who had discovered them (Gennadius, "De Viris Illustr.", xxxi, xlvi, xlvii, ed. Czapla, Münster, 1898, 87-89, 104). After a short stay with Augustine at Hippo, Orosius began his journey home, but, on reaching Minorca, and hearing of the wars and devastations of the Vandals in Spain, he returned to Africa The relics of St. Stephen, which he left in Minorca, became the object of a great veneration, which spread into Gaul and Spain. On the conversion of Jews through these relics, cf. Severus, "De virtutibus ad conversionem Judaeorum in Minoricensi Insula factis", P.L. XLI, 821-32. Orosius went back to Africa and at St. Augustine's suggestion wrote the first Christian Universal History: "Historiarum adversus paganos libri septem" (P.L. XXXI, 663-1174; ed. Zangemeister, in "Corpus script. eccl. lat.", V, Vienna, 1882), thought to be a supplement to the "Civitas Dei", especially the third book, in which St. Augustine proves that the Roman Empire suffered as many calamities before as after Christianity was received, combating the pagan argument, that the abandonment of their deities had led to calamity. St. Augustine wished to have this proof developed in a special work through the whole period of human history of all the known peoples of antiquity, with the fundamental idea that God determines the destinies of nations. According to his view, two chief empires had governed the world: Babylon in the East, and Rome in the West. Rome received the heritage of Babylon through the intermediate Macedonian and Carthaginian Empires. Thus he holds that there were four great empires in history — a view widely accepted in the Middle Ages. The first book briefly describes the globe, and traces its history from the Deluge to the founding of Rome; the second gives the history of Rome to the sack of the city by the Gauls, that of Persia to Cyrus, and of Greece to the Battle of Cunaxa; the third deals chiefly with the Macedonian Empire under Alexander and his successors, as well as the contemporary Roman history; the fourth brings the history of Rome to the destruction of Carthage; the last three books treat Roman history alone, from the destruction of Carthage to the author's own time. The work, completed in 418, shows signs of some haste. Besides Holy Scripture and the chronicle of Eusebius revised by St. Jerome, Livy, Eutropius, Caesar, Suetonius, Florus, and Justin are used as sources. In pursuance of the apologetic aim, all the calamities suffered by the various peoples are described. Thought superficial and fragmentary, the work is valuable; it contains contemporary information on the period after A.D. 378. It was used largely during the Middle Ages as a compendium, and nearly 200 manuscript copies are still extant. Alfred the Great translated it into Anglo-Saxon (ed. H. Sweet, London, 1843).


DE MOERNER, De Orosii vita eiusque historiarum libris 7 adv. paganos (Berlin, 1844); MÉJEAN, Paul Orose et son apologétique contre les païens (Strasbourg, 1882); EBERT, Allg. Geschichte der Literatur des Mittelalters im Abendland I (Leipzig, 1889), 337-44; BARDENHEWER, Patrology, tr. SHAHAN (St. Louis, 1908); POTTHAST, Bibl. historica medii aevi, II (Berlin, 1896), 882-3.

About this page

APA citation. Kirsch, J.P. (1911). Paulus Orosius. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.

MLA citation. Kirsch, Johann Peter. "Paulus Orosius." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 11. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911. <>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Jess Paehlke.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. February 1, 1911. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.

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