Dictionary of Christian Biography and Literature to the End of the Sixth Century/Orosius, Paulus
Orosius, Paulus, was a native of Tarragona in Spain, as he himself says (Hist. vii. 22), though an expression in a letter of Avitus may be thought to connect him with Braga (Ep. Aviti, Aug. Opp. vol. vii. p. 806; Baronius, vol. v. p. 435, A.D. 415). When the Alani and Vandals were introduced into Spain, A.D. 409, Orosius, though his language is somewhat rhetorical, appears narrowly to have escaped their violence (Hist. iii. 20; v.2; vii. 40). But a danger, more serious in his opinion, soon threatened to disturb the church in Spain, viz. the heresies of the Priscillianists and of the book by Origen, περὶ ἀρχῶν, lately translated by St. Jerome and brought from Jerusalem by Avitus, presbyter of Braga in Portugal, at the same time as a book by Victorinus was brought by another Avitus from Rome. Both books condemned the doctrines of Priscillian, but contained errors of their own. That by Victorinus attracted little notice, but Origen's was widely read, both in Spain and elsewhere; and Orosius, in his zeal against error proceeded, not commissioned by the church of Spain but on his own account, to Africa, to consult St. Augustine as to how best to refute these heretical doctrines, A.D. 415. Augustine speaks of him as young in years, but a presbyter in rank, zealous, alert in intellect, ready of speech, and fitted to be useful in the work of the Lord. He gave a partial reply to this appeal in his treatise contra Priscillianistas et Origenistas, saying but little on the subject which forms its title. He referred Orosius to his books against Manicheism, and recommended him to go to Palestine, the seat of the errors in question, to consult St. Jerome. [PELAGIUS.] Orosius was kindly received by St. Jerome at Bethlehem; but being summoned by the clergy, he attended a synod at Jerusalem on July 28, in which he took his seat under the direction of John the bishop, and informed the assembly that Coelestius had been condemned by a council
in Africa, a.d. 412 (Aug. Epp. 175, 176), and had abruptly departed from the country; that Augustine had written against Pelagius and had sent a letter to the clergy in Sicily, treating of this and other heretical questions, which letter Orosius read at the request of the members. He also quoted the judgment of St. Jerome on the Pelagian question, expressed in his letter to Ctesiphon and his Dialogue against the Pelagians (Hieron. vol. i. Ep. 133; vol. ii. p. 495). On Sept. 13, the feast of the dedication of the church of the Holy Sepulchre, Orosius, on offering to assist bp. John at the altar, was attacked by him as a blasphemer, a charge which Orosius refuted, saying that as he spoke only in Latin, John, who only spoke Greek, could not have understood him. At the council of 14 bishops at Diospolis (Lydda), Dec. 415, Orosius was not present (Aug. de Gest. Pelag. c. 16), but returned to Africa early in 416, bearing the supposed relics of St. Stephen, discovered the previous December, which at the request of Avitus he was to convey to the church of Braga in Portugal (Tillem. vol. xiii. 262.) About this time, on the request of Augustine, Orosius undertook his history, chiefly in order to confirm by historical facts the doctrine maintained by St. Augustine in his great work de Civitate Dei, on the 11th book of which he was then employed. These facts we gather from c. i., and from a passage in bk. v., where Orosius says that he wrote his history chiefly if not entirely in Africa. It could not have been begun earlier than 416, and must have been finished in 417, for it concludes with an account of the treaty made in 416 between Wallia, the Gothic king, and the emperor Honorius (Oros. Hist. v. 2, vii. 43; Clinton, F. R.). Orosius then proceeded towards Spain with the relics of St. Stephen. Being detained at Port Mahon in Minorca by accounts of the disturbed state of Spain through the Vandal occupation, he left his precious treasure there and returned to Africa, and nothing more is known of his history (Ep. Severi, Aug. Opp. vol. vii. App. Baronius, 418. 4). The work of Orosius is a historical treatise rather than a formal history, which indeed it does not pretend to be, though as it includes a portion of the subject belonging to Scripture and to Jewish affairs, its area covers wider space than any other ancient epitome. Besides the O. and N. T., he quotes Josephus, the church historians and writers, as Tertullian, Hegesippus, and Eusebius, besides the classic writers Tacitus, Suetonius, Sallust, Caesar, Cicero, and he was no doubt largely indebted to Livy. For Greek and Oriental history he made use of the works of Justin, or rather Trogus Pompeius, and Quintus Curtius; for Roman affairs, Eutropius, Florus, and Valerius Paterculus, together with others of inferior value, as Valerius Antias, Valerius Maximus, and Aurelius Victor. Written under the express sanction of St. Augustine, in a pleasing style and at convenient length, and recommended by church authorities as an orthodox Christian work, it became during the middle ages the standard text-book on the subject, and is quoted largely by Bede and other medieval writers. Orosius is for the last few years of his history a contemporary and so an original authority, and supplies some points on which existing writers are deficient (e.g. v. 18, p. 339, the death of Cato; vi. 3, 376, the acquittal of Catiline), but his work is disfigured by many mistakes, both as to facts and numbers, and by a faulty system of chronology. The general popularity it enjoyed as the one Christian history led to its translation into Anglo-Saxon by Alfred the Great, of which a portion was published by Elstob in 1690, and the whole, with an English version, in 1773, under the superintendence of D. Barrington and J. R. Foster. This was reprinted in 1853 in Bohn's Antiquarian Library, under Mr. B. Thorpe. The latest ed. of the Hist. and the Lib. Apol. is by Zangemeister in Corp. Scr. Eccl. Lat. v. (Vienna, 1882), and a smaller ed. by the same editor in the Biblioth. Teubner. (Leipz. 1889).