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Seve'rus, Sulpi'cius

chiefly celebrated as an ecclesiastical historian,was a native of Aquitaine (Dialog. 1.20), and flourished towards the close of the fourth century under Arcadius and Honorius, being a few years younger than his friend Paulinus of Nola, to whose letters, of which fourteen are addressed to Severus, we are principally indebted for any information we possess regarding his career. Descended from a noble family he was carefully trained in all the learning of the age and country to which he belonged, distinguished himself as an orator at the bar, and married early in life a high-born and very wealthy bride. The untimely death of this lady produced so deep an impression on his mind that, while yet in the flower of his years, he resolved to abandon the pursuit of worldly pleasures and honours, and in company with a few pious friends, to seek tranquillity in seclusion and holy exercises. To this determination he steadfastly adhered notwithstanding the opposition of his father, by whom he was in consequence disinherited, a misfortune compensated, however, to a great extent by the liberality of his mother-in-law Bassula. He eventually became a presbyter of the church, and attached himself closely to St. Martin of Tours, whom he ever cultivated with peculiar reverence, imbibing from him many wild and fantastic notions respecting dreams, visions, miraculous manifestations, and the millennium, which in some measure sullied the brightness of his orthodoxy. Gennadius, in a passage, whose authenticity has been somewhat unreasonably disputed, positively asserts that Severus, towards the close of his life, was tainted with the Pelagian heresy, but that having become sensible of his error, and feeling convinced that he had been betrayed by a too great love of speaking, maintained silence ever afterwards as an appropriate atonement for his sin. The precise date of his birth and of his death are alike unknown. The former has been referred to A. D. 363, the latter variously to A. D. 410, 420, 422, 432, an argument in favour of the earliest of these epochs being derived from the fact that he is never mentioned by Paulinus subsequent to that year. His retirement from the world took place about A. D. 392. We must carefully avoid confounding this Sulpicius Severus with another ecclesiastical writer. Sulpicius Severus, surnamed Pius, who was the twenty-seventh bishop of Bourges, in the middle of the seventh century, and contemporary with Gregory of Tours, who dedicated to him his tract on the Seven Sleepers.


The extant works of Severus are,


Drawn up towards the end of A. D. 400, soon after the death of the holy man, whose virtues and miracles it commemorates.


The life of St. Martin, the three epistles connected with it, and the Dialogues, were first printed at Milan about 1480 by Boninus Mombritius in the second volume of his Vitae Sanetorum, from whence they were transferred into the collection of Christian poets published by Aldus Manutius. 4to. Venet. 1502, and reprinted at Paris in 1511. But so completely had these tracts been overlooked and forgotten, that when found by Wolfgang Lazius, in a MS. belonging to the Imperial Library at Vienna, he gave them to the world as a new discovery in his collection, Diversorum auctorum apocryphorum de vita Christi et Apostolorum (fol.. Basil. 1551), and his mistake was not discovered for two centuries.


These three letters are immediately connected with the preceding biography, being severally entitled,


The Epistolae were collected from various sources at different times. Two were first printed in the Lectiones Antiquae of Canisius, vol. v. p. 540, 4to. Ingolds. 1604; two, with others of doubtful authenticity in the Spicilegium Veterum Scriptorum of Dacherius, vol, v. p. 532, 4to. Paris, 1661, and the two to Claudia in the Miscellanea of Baluzius, fol. Paris. 1678.


An epitome of sacred history, extending from the creation of the world to the consulship of Stilicho and Aurelianus, A. D. 400. It was concluded about A. D. 403.


The Historia Sacra was first printed at Basle (8vo. 1556) by Matthaeus Flaccius. Among the numerous editions which have appeared from time to time the most notable are those with the commentary of Sigonius (8vo. Bonon. 1561, 1581), and with that of Drusius. (8vo. Arnhem. 1607.)


Generally divided into three, although that termed the second forms in reality a portion of the first. They contain a temperate review of the bitter discussions and dissensions which had arisen among ecclesiastics in the East regarding the tendency of the works of Origen. Composed about A. D. 405.


Lost Letters to Paulinus and others

Several letters to Paulinus and others have been lost, as we gather from the words of Gen nadius.

Letter to Paulinus

A letter addressed to Paulinus, and published along with those of Severus in the collection of Dacherius is by some other hand.


Sulpicius Severus was greatly admired by his contemporaries, and his fame stood high with all classes of readers in the middle ages. Their estimate of his merits was far too favourable, for none of his productions exhibit much strength of mind or critical sagacity, nor do they furnish matter possessing any particular interest. His history, moreover, abounds with chronological errors and blunders of all kinds, copied from the old chronicles, whose mistakes he adopted with unsuspecting confidence. But, notwithstanding these grave defects, the polished terseness of his style, and the general purity of his language, have served to maintain his reputation even in modern times. From the general characteristics of his phraseology he has been termed the Christian Sallust, and the resemblance is unquestionable. He has, however, judiciously avoided the obscurity and affectation which so often deform the pages of his model, while on the other hand he not unfrequently permits himself to employ the ordinary jargon of ecclesiastical Latinity, instead of seeking for more graceful and classical forms of expression.


The collected works were first printed at Basle (16mo. 1563), but the first impression with any pretensions to critical accuracy was that of Victor Giselinus, 8vo. Ant. 1574, accompanied by notes, and an elaborate life of Sulpicius. Considerable improvements were introduced by Hornius, 8vo. Lug. Bat. 1647; by Vorstius, 12mo. Berol. 1668 ; and Lips. 1703, by Mercierus, 8vo. Paris, 1675 ; by far the most complete and satisfactory edition is that of Hieronymus de Prato, 4to. 2 vols. Veron. 1741-1754, which has always, since its appearance, been regarded as the standard, although not absolutely complete, since the six epistles are omitted. It was reprinted, with the addition of the epistles, by Galland, in his Bibliotheca Patrum, vol. viii. fol. Venet. 1772.

Further Information

Gennad. de Viris. Illust. 19 ; Honorius Augustod. de Script. Eccles. 3.19; Trithemius, de Script. Eccles. 113 ; Gregor. Turon. de Mirac. S. Mart. i.; Histor. Franc. 10.31; Paulin. Nol. Ep. 5.1, 11.5, 23.3, &c.; Hieronym. Comment. in Ezech. 36 ; Augustin. Ep. 205.


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