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Updated:  Aug 12, 2013
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Sulpicius Severus

An ecclesiastical writer, b. about 360; d. about 420-25

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* Published by Encyclopedia Press, 1913.


Sulpicius Severus, an ecclesiastical writer, b. of noble parents in Aquitaine c. 360; d. about 420-25. The scanty information which we possess concerning his life is derived mainly from the writings of his friend Paulinus of Nola and Gennadius. He enjoyed excellent educational advantages, studied jurisprudence, and was renowned as an eloquent lawyer. His marriage with the daughter of a wealthy consular family seemed to seal his earthly happiness. His wife, however, was snatched away by a premature death and shortly after 390 Severus renounced his brilliant career and followed his friend Paulinus into monastic retirement. Through this sudden change of life he incurred his father's displeasure, but was encouraged in his determination by his mother-in-law. He became a personal friend and enthusiastic disciple of St. Martin and lived near Eauze, at Toulouse and Luz in Southern France. His ordination to the priesthood is vouched for by Gennadius, but no details of his priestly activity have reached us. According to the same Gennadius he was caught in the toils of Pelagianism towards the close of his life and, upon discovering his error, subjected himself to lifelong silence in expiation of his imprudence in speech.

The following works are undoubtedly genuine: (I) "The Chronicle"; (2) "Life of St. Martin"; (3) two dialogues, formerly divided into three; (4) three letters. "The Chronicle" ("Chronicorum Libri duo" or "Historia sacra") extends from the creation of the world to A.D. 400, but omits the historical events recorded in the New-Testament writings. It was published in or after 403 and has been preserved in a single eleventh-century manuscript. It is a source of primary importance for the history of Priscillianism and contains considerable information respecting the Arian controversy. More popular during the Middle Ages was his "Life of St. Martin", as were also the dialogues and letters which relate to the same subject. The biography was written during the lifetime of the saint, but was published only after his death. Like the dialogues, it abounds in miraculous events. Beside the above-mentioned three letters, seven others have been attributed to Severus.

These are rejected as spurious by some critics, whilst the genuineness of the first two is admitted, rightly it would seem, by others. The "World Chronicle" of the so-called Sulpicius Severus has nothing to do with the subject of this biography; it was written in Spain in the sixth century. Sulpicius Severus has been rightly styled the Christian Sallust; his diction, notably in the "Chronicle", is elegant and reminds the reader of the classical age.

N. A. WEBER


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