Commonitorium (Orientius)

article - Commonitorium (Orientius)

The Commonitorium (Classical Latin: [kɔmmɔnɪˈtoːrɪ.ũː], Ecclesiastical Latin: [kommoniˈ])[nb 1] is the name of a c. AD 430 poem by the Latin poet and Christian bishop Orientius. Written in elegiac couplets, the Commonitorium is made up of 1036 verses and has traditionally been divided into two books (although there is reason to believe that the division is arbitrary). The poem is hortatory and didactic in nature, describing the way for the reader to attain salvation, with warnings about the evils of sin.

Work by bishop Orientius

The first page of Orientius’s Commonitorium, from Corpus Scriptorum Ecclesiasticorum Latinorum Vol. 16 (1888).

The Commonitorium was rediscovered near the turn of the seventeenth century at Anchin Abbey, and the editio princeps of the poem was published in 1600 by Martin Delrio. This version, however, lacked the second book, which was only discovered in 1791; the first complete edition of the poem was then published in 1700 by Edmond Martène. The poem has received qualified praise, with Mildred Dolores Tobinwho wrote a commentary on the poem in 1945arguing that while it was not of the same quality as the poems of the Golden Age writers, it is a better work than other contemporary poems.

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Not much is known about Orientius; he is mentioned in passing by Venantius Fortunatus in his Vita S. Martini, and a brief description of his life appears in the Acta Sanctorum.[3] From what information is available, he was evidently a Gaul who had converted to Christianity after realizing that he had been living a sinful life. He eventually became the bishop of Augusta Ausciorum (what is modern day Auch, France). He devoted the remainder of his life to promoting Christian spirituality to his followers, and it is almost certain that the Commonitorium was the result of this devotion.[4][5]

Given the paucity of information concerning Orientius himself, dating his poem has proven difficult, although there are several clues that have helped scholars construct a timeframe in which the Commonitorium was likely written and published. First, a short section in the poem’s second book explicitly references the c. AD 406 invasion of Gaul by various barbarian tribes, suggesting that the poem was written sometime after this event.[4][6] Second, the Vita S. Martini claims that when Orientius was near the end of his life, he was sent sometime in the mid-5th century by the Visigothic king Theodoric I (d. 451) to Roman commanders Flavius Aetius (d. 454) and Litorius (d. 439) to negotiate peace between Rome and the Visigoths.[4][5] Given these reference points, Tobin suggests that the poem was likely written c. AD 430.[4]

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