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Paulus Orosius (fl. 415), historian and theologian, was born in Spain (possibly at Braga in Galicia) towards the close of the 4th century.

Having entered the Christian priesthood, he naturally took an interest in the Priscillianist controversy, then going on in his native country, and it may have been in connection with this that he went to consult Augustine at Hippo in 413 or 414. After staying for some time in Africa as the disciple of Augustine, he was sent by him in 415 to Palestine with a letter of introduction to Jerome, then at Bethlehem.

The ostensible purpose of his mission (apart, of course, from those of pilgrimage and perhaps relic-hunting) was that he might gain further instruction from Jerome on the points raised by the Priscillianists and Origenists; but in reality, it would seem, his business was to stir up and assist Jerome and others against Pelagius, who, since the synod of Carthage in 411, had been living in Palestine, and finding some acceptance there.

The result of his arrival was that John, bishop of Jerusalem, was induced to summon at his capital in June 415 a synod at which Orosius communicated the decisions of Carthage and read such of Augustine's writings against Pelagius as had at that time appeared. Success, however, was scarcely to be hoped for amongst Orientals who did not understand Latin, and whose sense of reverence was unshocked by the question of Pelagius, et quis est mihi Augustinus?

All that Orosius succeeded in obtaining was John's consent to send letters and deputies to Innocent of Rome; and, after having waited long enough to learn the unfavourable decision of the synod of Diospolis or Lydda in December of the same year, he returned to north Africa, where he is believed to have died. According to Gennadius he carried with him recently discovered relics of the protomartyr Stephen from Palestine to Minorca, where they were useful in converting the Jews.

The earliest work of Orosius, Consultatio sive commonitorium ad Augustinum de errore Priscillianistarum et Origenistarum, explains its object by its title; it was written soon after his arrival in Africa, and is usually printed in the works of Augustine along with the reply of the latter, Conira Priscillianistas et Origenistas liber ad Orosium.

His next treatise, Liber apologeticus de arbitril libertate, was written during his stay in Palestine, and in connection with the controversy which engaged him there. It is a keen but not always fair criticism of the Pelagian position from that of Augustine. The Historiae adversum Paganos was undertaken at the suggestion of Augustine, to whom it is dedicated. When Augustine proposed this task he had already planned and made some progress with his own De civitate Dei; it is the same argument that is elaborated by his disciple, namely, the evidence from history that the circumstances of the world had not really become worse since the introduction of Christianity. The work, which is thus a pragmatical chronicle of the calamities that have happened to mankind from the fall down to about 417, has little accuracy or learning, and even less of literary charm to commend it; but it was the first attempt to write the history of the world as a history of God guiding humanity. Its purpose gave it value in the eyes of the orthodox, and the Hormesta, Ormesta, or Ormista as it was called, no one knows why, speedily attained a wide popularity. Nearly two hundred manuscripts of it have survived. A free abridged translation by King Alfred is still extant (Old English text, with original in Latin, edited by H. Sweet, 1883). The "sources" made use of by Orosius have been investigated by T. de Morner; besides the Old and New Testaments, he appears to have consulted Caesar, Livy, Justin, Tacitus, Suetonius, Florus and a cosmography, attaching also great value to Jerome's translation of the Chronicles of Eusebius.

This entry was originally from the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.