Sulpicius Severus

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Church historian and hagiographer; b. c. 363; d. c. 420. Sulpicius, son of a distinguished Aquitanian family, made the most of the fine schooling then available in Gaul. He studied presumably in Bordeaux and met his lifelong friend paulinus of nola, along with whom he was baptized (c. 390). Promptly successful in the law, Sulpicius then married into a well-to-do family. The early death of his wife and the promptings of Paulinus and of Martin, already for two decades bishop of Tours, directed him to a life of ascetic retirement, which he led first at Eluso, near Toulouse, and then at a place called by Paulinus Primuliacum and not satisfactorily located. Sulpicius remained in close association with martin of tours until the latter's death and later with several of the saint's disciples. A dozen letters to Sulpicius found in the correspondence of Paulinus witness the busy exchange between the two friends, but no letter from Sulpicius to Paulinus survives. In Gennadius's brief biography (De vir. ill. 19) Sulpicius is called a presbyter, a statement otherwise unsupported but not to be rejected. Through confusion with another Sulpicius (Severus), 6th-century bishop of Bourges, Sulpicius of Primuliacum stood for a time in the Roman Martyrology (Jan. 29).

About half of Sulpicius's preserved writing is devoted to an enthusiastic and artistic rehearsal of the life of Martin of Tours. Three different literary forms are employed. The Life proper, written substantially before Martin died, is a narrative with dedication and preamble. As supplements there are, first, three Letters. Of these the second and third were occasioned by the saint's death, which is movingly narrated in the third. Latest of the three in date is the first letter, which, like many another passage in the Martiniana, is a defense of the bishop against detractors. The final supplements are the two Dialogues (more commonly divided as three), which present a two-day reunion at Primuliacum; the talk is mainly of miracles, many just reported from the East, with new ones of Martin's to match them.

Recent studies reveal Sulpicius's literary aims in these hagiographical compositions that in part may be said to stand close to the historical novel; they betray a Sulpicius who is to be distinguished from the critical author of the Chronica. Whatever their motivation, the Martiniana enjoyed an early and lasting popularity and had a substantial influence on later hagiography.

Little-known in the Middle Ages and preserved to modern times in a single manuscript are the two books of the Chronica, an abridgment of sacred history from creation to the author's own time. In Chronica 1 and2.126 Sulpicius presents OT history; Chronica 2.27 to the end gives the postapostolic history of the Church to the first consulship of Stilicho (a.d. 400). Certain parts of these concluding chapters have primary historical value, especially those dealing with the case of priscilli an and the courageous part taken in it by St. Martin. In the Chronica Sulpicius makes fullest use of classical models and achieves his most polished style.

Bibliography: Editions. k. halm, ed., Corpus scriptorum ecclesiasticorum latinorum 1 (Vienna 1866). b. m. peebles, ed. and tr., The Fathers of the Church: A New Translation 7 (1949) 77254, Martiniana. Clavis Patrum latinorum, ed. e. dekkers (2d ed. Streenbrugge 1961) 474477. Series latina (Turnhout, Belg. 1953 ). Literature and commentary. p. hyltÉn, Traditio 19 (1963) 447460; Studien zu Sulpicius Severus (Lund 1940), on style and text. n. k. chadwick, Poetry and Letters in Early Christian Gaul (London 1955). j. fontaine, in S. Martin et son temps (Studia anselmiana 46; 1961), 189236, Martiniana. É. griffe, Bulletin de littérature ecclésiastique 62 (1961) 114118; in Mélanges offerts à Mademoiselle Christine Mohrmann (Utrecht 1963) 8495; Analecta Bollandiana 81 (1963) 3158. g. lampl, in Jahresbericht des Kollegium Petrinum (Linz 195158). m. j. mcgann, Archivum latinitatis medii aevi 32 (1962) 9194. g. resta, ed., Vita S. Martini di Anonimo (Padua 1964), medieval Latin verse rendering of some of the Martinana. s. prete, I Chronica di Sulpicio Severo (Rome 1955). h. montefiore, Historia 11 (1962) 156170. m. l. w. laistner, Classical Philology 35 (1940) 241258. p. fabre, Essai sur la chronologie de l'oeuvre de saint Paulin de Nole (Paris 1948). Clavis Patrum latinorum, ed. e. dekkers (2d ed. Streenbrugge 1961) 746, 741, 479, 758, for seven (eight) spurious letters. a. kappelmacher, Paulys Realenzyklopädie der klassischen Altertumswissenschaft, ed. g. wissowa et al. 4A.1 (1931) 863871. h. leclercq, Dictionnaire d'archéologie chrétienne et de liturgie, ed. f. cabrol, h. leclercq, and h. i. marrou, 15 v. (Paris 190753) 14.2:178198, on Primuliacum. g. bardy, Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, ed. a. vacant et al., 15 v. (Paris 190350; Tables Générales 1951) 14.2:276062. j. a. fischer, Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, ed. j. hofer and k. rahner, 10 v. (2d, new ed. Freiburg 195765) 9:116162. j. fontaine, Dictionnaire de spiritualité ascétique et mystique. Doctrine et histoire, ed. m. viller et al. (Paris 1932) 5:789797.

[b. m. peebles]