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A Dictionary of Early Christian Biography
Sedulius, 5th-Cent. Poet
Sedulius (1), a 5th-cent. poet, of whose life very few details are known. The only trustworthy information is given by his two letters to Macedonius, from which we learn that he devoted his early life, perhaps as a teacher of rhetoric, to heathen literature. Late in life he became converted to Christianity, or, if a Christian before, began to take a serious view of his duties. Thenceforward he devoted his talents to the service of Christ, living as a priest (cf. i. 7â€“9), in close intercourse with a small body of religious friends (pref.). He gives us a charming account of this group: Macedonius, the father and life of the whole; Ursinus, the reverent priest spending his life in the service of the King of Heaven; Laurence, the wise and gentle, who has spent all his money on the poor; Gallicanus, another priest, not learned, but a model of goodness and loyalty to church rule; Ursicinus, combining the wisdom of age with the brightness of youth; the deaconess Syncletica, of noble birth and nobler life, a worthy temple of God, purified by fasting, prayer, and charity, learned and liberal; and lastly Perpetua, the young pure matron, perpetual in fame and purity as in name. Sedulius, too, longed to devote his talent to God and to strengthen his own spiritual life by exhorting others. He yearned to tell the heathen of the wonders of the Gospel, and wrote the Carmen Paschale to invite then to share the Gospel feast. This was dedicated to Macedonius, and afterwards, at his request, was translated into prose ( Opus Paschale ). The works shew a character of much humility (cf. i. ad fin. ), of tenderness of heart (v. 96), of warm gratitude (Carm. Pasch. pref.), and of keen susceptibility to criticism ( Opus Pasch. pref.).
These are the only certain facts. Even his date is uncertain. He refers to St. Jerome as a well-known student, and his work is praised by a decree of pope Gelasius in 495 or 496. Syncletica may have been a sister of Eustathius, who lived early in 5th cent. Hence the date of Sedulius must be c. 450. A mass of information about him is in later writers, but much of it arises from a confusion with Sedulius the Scotchman. The best authenticated account makes him a native of Rome who studied philosophy in Italy, became an antistes ( i.e. probably a presbyter) and wrote his book in Achaia. The internal evidence as to these details is very slight: his friends bear Latin names almost entirely; he is in the presence of educated idolaters and takes special pains to argue against sun-worship; but these indications are very vague. His works became popular very soon. They were edited by an editor of Vergil, T. Rufius Asterius (consul a.d. 494)â€”perhaps in consequence of the importance attached to them by the pope's decree. They are mentioned with praise by Venantius Fortunatus (viii. 1) and Theodulf of Arles; were commented on, perhaps by Remi of Auxerre (9th cent.), and frequently quoted and imitated by the writers of the middle ages. Areval quotes 16 MSS. dating from cents. vii. to xvi.; since then more than 40 editions have been printed, and special prominence was given to him by German writers last century.
(1) Carmen Paschale, "a poem in honour of Christ our Passover," consists of five books. Bk. i. is an introductory appeal to the heathen to give up idolatry and listen to the deeds of the true God. Bks. ii.â€“v. describe in full detail the miracles of the Gospel and the Lord's Prayer. In the earlier part the narratives of SS. Matthew and Luke are pieced together in chronological order. Throughout the ministry to the final entry into Jerusalem Sedulius follows St. Matthew, with a few insertions from SS. John and Luke; then adds a succession of miracles from SS. Mark and Luke, without regard to chronology, (iv. 59â€“221), and the chief incidents of St. John's Gospel; from the entry into Jerusalem to the end he mainly follows St. John. As a rule the details of the scenes are given slightly and followed by frequent comment, sometimes dogmatical ( e.g. on the Nature of the Trinity, i. 16â€“20, 281 sqq., ii. 171, the Fatherhood of God, ii. 234, the Priesthood of Christ, iv. 207, etc.), at other times pointing out the typical meaning of Scripture, both of O.T. (i. 102â€“109, 127, 142, 152, iii. 202, iv. 170) and N.T.; e.g. the number of the evangelists and of the apostles (Prol. to lib. ii.; iii. 172), the number and nature of the gifts of the Magi (ii. 95), the dove (ii. 170), and all the details of the passion (v. 101, 169, 190, 243, 257, 275, 402). More often still they consist of moral warnings or of explanations of our Lord's teaching (cf. ii. 106, iii. 321, iv. 16, 163, etc.).
The style is rhetorical but pleasant, with considerable terseness and power of antithesis; and fairly correct in prosody, shewing considerable acquaintance with classical authors. The reference to Origen (Opus Pasch. pref.) and the play on Elias and ἥλιος (i. 170) imply some knowledge of Greek; of Latin authors he knew Terence, Juvenal, and specially Vergil, from whom be frequently borrows; possibly, too, the poem of Juvencus. There is a growing frequency in the use of leonine rhymes. For an analysis with a discussion of its sources and theology see Leimbach, Ueber den Christlichen Dichter Sedulius (Goslar, 1879).
(2) Opus Paschale .â€”This prose translation mainly follows the Carmen faithfully, but adds illustrations and fills up gaps. It is preceded by another interesting letter to Macedonius.
(3) Elegia .â€”An elegiac poem of 110 lines, corresponding in subject to the Carm. Pasch. It describes the effect of the Incarnation in contrast to the work of Adam, and Christ as the antitype of the types of O.T.
(4) Hymn .â€”"A solis ortus cardine." This may be called a lyrical expression of the Carmen. It is a call to praise Christ with a description of the chief facts of His birth, life, and death. It is an alphabetical, hymn in iambic dimeters with four-lined strophes. It shews a growing tendency to rhyme and a careful attempt to avoid any conflict between accent and quantity. Two extracts have been widely used in church services, viz. Aâ€“G in Lauds for Christmas week; and H, I, L, N, which celebrate the adoration of the Magi, the baptism, and the miracle at Cana, on the feast of Epiphany. These sections are in Daniel Thes. i. p. 143, and with a full German commentary in Kayser, pp. 347â€“383.
(5) Cento Virgilianus "de Verbi Incarnatione" is sometimes ascribed to Sedulius ( e.g. by BÃ¤hr), but is only found in one Corbey MS., and there only follows the other poems without being ascribed to Sedulius. It is in Martene, Vett. Scr. Coll. ix. p. 125.
The most available edd. are Migne, Patr. Lat. xix.; a text of the poetical works by J. Looshorn (Munich, 1879); of the Carm. Pasch. in Hurter's Op. Selecta, xxxiii.; and Huemer's ed. of the whole (Vienna, 1885).
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Wace, Henry. Entry for 'Sedulius, 5th-Cent. Poet'. A Dictionary of Early Christian Biography. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/hwd/s/sedulius-5th-cent-poet.html. 1911.
the Second Week after Epiphany