the Christian composer of a prosaic poem against the Pagan divinities.
Whatever knowledge we possess with regard to this author is derived exclusively from his work.
The general style and the peculiar words occasionally employed lead us to infer that he was of African extraction.
It is expressly and repeatedly declared, that for a long period he was heathen, but was converted by perusing the Scriptures (e. g. Praef. 5, Instruct.
26.24, 61.1); while the epithet Gazaeus,
which he applies to himself, may either indicate that he was connected with the city of Gaza in Palestine, or, more probably, that he was indebted for support to the treasury of the church.
His work is divided into eighty sections, and entitled Instructiones adversus Gentium Deos pro Christiana Disciplina.
Of these the first thirty-six are addressed to the Gentiles with the object of gaining them over to the true faith; in the nine which follow an attempt is made to bring home conviction to the obstinate ignorance of the Jews; the remainder are devoted to the instruction of catechumens and penitents.
Doubts have been entertained with regard to the period when he flourished. Rigaltius concluded, from a conjectural emendation of his own upon the text of an obscure passage (Instruct.
33.5), that it contained an allusion to pope Sylvester (A. D. 314-335), the contemporary of Constantine the Great; but the careful and accurate researches of Cave and Dodwell have clearly proved that Commodianus belongs to the third century (comp. Instruct.
6.6), and may with tolerable certainty be placed about A. D. 270.
The Instructiones display much devotion and a fervent zeal for the propagation of the Gospel, but from their harshness, dryness, and total want of all poetic fire, they present few attractions as literary productions.
The versification is curious, since it exhibits an early specimen of the Versus Politici, in which, while an attempt is made to imitate the general rhythm of some ancient measure, the rules of quantity are to a great extent neglected. Thus the following lines from the Praefatio are intended for dactylic hexameters:
Praefatio nostra viam erranti demonstrat
Respectumque bonum, cum venerit saeculi meta
Aeternum fieri: quod discredunt inscia corda.
The taste for acrostics also is largely developed: the initials of the twenty-six concluding verses, when read backwards, form the words Commodianus Mendicus Christi,
and in like manner the general subject and contents of each chapter are expressed by the first letters of the opening lines.
The Instructiones of Commodianus were first published by Rigaltius at Toul (Tullum Leucorum), 4to. 1650. They were subsequently printed at the end of the edition of Cyprian by Priorius, Paris, 1666, fol.
; in the Bibliotheca Patrum Lugdun. vol. xxvii.
; in the Bibliotheca Patrum of Galland, vol. iii. p. 621
; and in an independent form, by Schurzfleisch, Vitemberg. Saxon. 4to. 1704.