Ancient Church historian; b. Spain, c. 390; d. after 418, place unknown. Paul Orosius first appeared in history at Hippo, Africa, in 414 as a young priest consulting augustine about a book on the origin of the human soul, Commonitorium de errore Priscillianistarum et Origenistarum. Augustine gave him his written opinion in 415; but meanwhile he had instructed Orosius about the new and dangerous heresy of Pelagianism and sent him to the Holy Land, where Pelagius himself was residing (see pelagius and pelagianism). Orosius and Pelagius met in Jerusalem in July of 415, before a synod of the bishops of Palestine. After listening to both sides, Bishop john of jerusalem referred the matter to Rome and insinuated that Orosius's teaching was not entirely orthodox. In his Liber apologeticus Orosius indignantly refuted this accusation and explained why the bishops should have condemned Pelagius. Upon Orosius's return to Hippo in 416, Augustine requested him to write a book proving that greater calamities had occurred in pagan than in Christian times. This would serve as a historical supplement to his own monumental City of God.
Orosius completed this task in two years (418) and disappeared from history. He had divided the history of mankind from the creation to his own day into seven distinct periods. His work, called Historiarum adversus paganos libri VII, is dependent for its information on previous writers, except for the events from 377 to 417 about which he provides contemporary information. Orosius proved conclusively what Augustine had asked him to do, and dante therefore called him "the advocate of the Christian centuries" (Paradiso 10.119).
This first history of the world by a Christian writer enjoyed an immense prestige for many centuries, and over 200 MSS have been found in the medieval libraries. bossuet in his Universal History is indebted to Orosius. Modern historians regard it as one-sided and superficial; but even they admire the author's literary style, his appreciation of what Romania —his favorite word for Roman culture—meant to the world, his hope of a better civilization from a commingling of the Roman and Germanic people, and his sublime faith that a wise, omnipotent, and merciful God governs the affairs of men.
Bibliography: orosius, Historiarum adversum paganos libri VII, ed. c. zangemeister (Corpus scriptorum ecclesiasticorum latinorum 5; 1882), Eng. Seven Books of History Against the Pagans, tr. and ed. i. w. raymond (New York 1936). É. amann, Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, ed. a. vacant et al., 15 v. (Paris 1903–50; Tables Générales 1951–) 11.2:1602–11. p. guilday, ed., Church Historians (New York 1926). g. de plinval, a. fliche and v. martin eds., Histoire de l'église depuis les origines jusqu'à nos jours (Paris 1935–) 4:96–97. j. martin, Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, ed. j. hofer and k. rahner, 10 v. (2d, new ed. Freiburg 1957–65) 7:1238–39.
[s. j. mckenna]