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URELIUS Clemens Prudentius was born, as there is
good reason to suppose, in Spain. But the evidence from certain expressions which he uses, in favour of Saragossa as his birth-place, is equally good in favour of Tarragona, and of Calahorra ; and therefore, since he could not have been born in more places than one, is worthless in regard of them all. All that we know with any certainty about him, is drawn from a short autobiography in verse, which he has prefixed to his poems, and which contains a catalogue of them. From this we gather that he was born A. D. 348 ; that, having enjoyed a liberal education, and for a while practised as a pleader, he had filled important judicial posts in two cities which he does not name, and had subsequently received a high military appointment at the Court; but that now, in his fifty-seventh year, in which this sketch of his life was given, he looked back with sorrow and shame to the sins and follies of his youth, to the worldliness of his middle age, and desired to dedicate what remained of his life to an earnest and devoted service of God. The year of his death is not known.
Barth, who in his Adversaria is always prodigal in his commendations of the Christian poets, is most prodigal of all in regard of Prudentius. Poëta eximius-eruditissimus et sanctissimus scriptor-nemo divinius de rebus Christianis unquam scripsit-such is the ordinary language which he uses about him: and even Bentley, who for the most is not at all so lavish of admiration, calls him “the Horace
and Virgil of the Christians.” Extravagant praises, compensated on the other side by as undue depreciation. For giving, as it must be owned he does, many and distinct tokens of belonging to an age of deeply sunken taste, yet was his gift of sacred poetry a most true one; and when it is charged against him in the Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography, that “his Latinity is not formed, like that of Juvencus and Victorinus, upon the best ancient models, but is confessedly impure," this is really his praise--namely, that, whether consciously or unconsciously, he did act on the principle, that the new life claimed new forms in which to manifest itself,—that he did not shrink from helping forward that great transformation of the Latin language, which it had need to undergo, now that it was to be the vehicle of truths which were altogether novel to it, having not yet risen up above the horizon of men's minds, at the time when it was in its first growth and formation. Let any one compare his poems with those of Juvencus or Sedulius, and his vast superiority will be at once manifest—that superiority mainly consisting in this, that he does not attempt, as they did, to pour the new wine into old bottles; but has felt and understood that the new thoughts and feelings which Christianity has brought into the world, must of necessity weave new garments for themselves. The
poems on which the reputation of Prudentius as a poet mainly rests, are his Cathemerinon=Diurnorum. The tenth, Deus, ignee Fons animarum, is confessedly the grandest of them all. The first also, on Cockcrow, and the twelfth, an Hymn for Epiphany, though they attain not to the grandeur of this, may well share with it in our admiration.
XIII. Prudentii Carmina, ed. Obbarius, Tubingæ, 1845, p. 48; Daniel, Thes. Hymnol., v. 1, p. 124.- This hymn, as given in the text above, is not exactly as Prudentius wrote it; rather is it a piece of
osaic, constructed for his twelfth Cathemerinon. It has, however, been so long current in the form in which it here appears, and is so skilfully put together, that I have neither excluded it, nor attempted to restore it to the form in which it appears in the text of the poet. As a whole, the hymn, as he wrote it, would have been far too long for insertion, and is not without some serious offences against taste; while no extract would have the completeness which this both in itself possesses, and of which it has besides acquired the sense, by long use and currency in its present form.
1. flores martyrum] Augustine, or rather one in the name of Augustine : Jure dicuntur martyrum flores, quos in medio frigore infidelitatis exortos, velut primas erumpentis ecclesiæ gemmas, quædam persecutionis pruina decoxit.
XIV. Bibl. Max. Patrum, Lugduni, 1677, v, 27, p. 517.This little poem, sometimes ascribed to Hartmann, one of the monks of St Gall, brings together well the three events of the Lord's life, the three manifestations of his glory, which the Western Church brought into connexion with the feast of Epiphaný, and commemorated upon that day. Thus Maximus Taurinensis, at the beginning of the fifth century (Hom. 23): In hâc celebritate multiplici nobis est festivitate lætandum. Ferunt enim hodie Christum Dominum nostrum vel stellà duce à gentibus adoratum: invitatum ad nuptias aquas in vinum vertisse: vel suscepto à Johanne baptismate consecrâsse fluenta Jordanis. Oportet itaque nos ad honorem Salvatoris nostri, cujus nativitatem debitâ nuper cum exultatione transegimus, etiam hunc virtutum ejus celebrare natalem. Cf. Durandus, Rational., 1.6, c. 16.