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Aurelius Prudentius

Roman Christian poet

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Aurelius Prudentius Clemens was a Roman Christian poet, born in the Roman province of Tarraconensis (now Northern Spain) in 348. He probably died in Spain, as well, some time after 405, possibly around 413. The place of his birth is uncertain, but it may have been Caesaraugusta Saragossa, Tarraco Tarragona, or Calagurris Calahorra.

Prudentius practised law with some success, and was twice provincial governor, perhaps in his native country, before the emperor Theodosius I summoned him to court. Towards the end of his life (possibly around 392) Prudentius retired from public life to become an ascetic, fasting until evening and abstaining entirely from animal food. Prudentius later collected the Christian poems written during this period and added a preface, which he himself dated 405.

The poetry of Prudentius is influenced by early Christian authors, such as Tertullian and St. Ambrose, as well as the Bible and the acts of the martyrs. His Christmas plainsong hymn "Divinum Mysterium" ("Of the Father's Love Begotten") and the hymn for Epiphany "O sola magnarum urbium" ("Earth Has Many a Noble City"), both from the Cathemerinon, are still in use today. The allegorical Psychomachia, however, is his most influential work and became the inspiration and wellspring of medieval allegorical literature.

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His poetry inspired by Tertullian, St. Ambrose, and other early church Fathers, Prudentius’ hymns are some of the oldest Christian hymns still sung in churches today. “Divinum Mysterium” (“Of the Father’s Love Begotten”) and “O sola magnarum urbium” (“Earth Has Many a Noble City”) number among his currently well-known hymns. These 1905 English translations from the original Latin texts come from Robert Martin Pope, a Wesleyan minister and scholar.

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