Paul the Deacon

Paul The Deacon (Paulus Diaconus), called also by his patronymic WARNEFRIDUS, one of the most learned ecclesiastics of the Middle Ages, is noted especially as a historical writer and iconographist. He was born about 740, at the town of Friuli (Forum Julii). He became attached to the court of Rachis, king of the Lombards, and received a superior education at Pavia. About 763 he left the court, and was ordained deacon of the Church at Aquileia. He returned to the court on the invitation of Desiderius, successor of Rachis, by whom he was made chancellor. About the part of his life which followed the overthrow of the kingdom of Desiderius by Charlemagne in 774 we know nothing for certain; but the most probable account is that he retired to a monastery, and afterwards entered the celebrated monastery of Monte Casino, whence he addressed to Charlemagne in the year 781 an elegy, in which he implores the release of a brother who had been taken prisoner in the Lombard war. About this time Charlemagne appears to have attached him to his court. Paul was employed to instruct in Greek the clergymen who were to accompany the emperor's daughter Rotrude in her journey to Constantinople to wed the son of the empress Irene. Paul visited France, and stayed some time at Metz, of the early bishops of which city he wrote a history. He afterwards returned to Monte Casino, where he died about the year 799. As a poet, Paul is spoken of in the most extravagant terms of praise by his contemporary Peter of Pisa. His poems, which are really good, consist chiefly of hymens and other short pieces in Latin. Of his hymns, the song in praise of John the Baptist is still in use in our day in the Roman Catholic Church. Paul's fame rests however chiefly on his merits as a historian. His works were: Historial Miiscellanea, a Roman history consisting of twenty-four books, of which the first eleven contain the history of Eutropius; the next five, by Paul himself, contain the period from the reign of Valentinian to that of Justinian; the remaining books are attributed to Landulphus Sagax. The best edition of this work is in Muratori's "Rerum Italicarutm Scriptores." This Roman history is a work of no great value at present, for it is a mere compilation of works that have been preserved to us; but in the Middle Ages it was greatly used, as the many MSS., recensions, and continuations of it attest: — De Gestis Longobardarum Libri Sex, a history of the Lombards; his most valuable work. It is unfortunately incomplete; he lived to bring it down only to the death of Luitprand, in A.D. 744. There are several editions of this work. It is characterized by remarkable candor, and a style unusually pure for that age. The high repute in which this work was long held is attested by the great number of MSS. and continuations. This is also contained in Muratori's collection: — Gesta Episcoporum Metensium; this history of the bishops of Metz was undertaken at the request of Angilram, bishop of Metz. it was the first work of the kind south of the Alps, and became an example which was soon very generally followed: — Vita S. Gregorii Magni (later much interpolated): — Excerpta from Festus, "De Verborum Significatione." There are also extant a collection of homilies and two sermons which are attributed to him. The Homiliarium was collected from the best sources at emperor Charlemagne's request, and was introduced into the whole Frankish Church. It was printed several times between the years 1482 and 1569, and translated into German and Spanish. See Wattenbach and Bethmann, Paulus Diaconus Leben u. Schriften, in the "Archiv der Gesellschaft fur iltere deutsche Geschichtskunde," vol. x (1851); Potthast, Bibl. Med. AEv. p. 484 sq., where the bibliography regarding Paulus is almost complete; Piper, Monumental-Theologie, p. 828 sq.; Mosheim, Eccles. Hist. vol. ii.

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