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m Now that a Virgin has broughtforth a child, Where isyour power? In that virgin mother Mankind lost its primal stain and TowerJrom on high has created a newßesh. A maid unwed gave birth to God, Christ Who was manfrom his Mother, But along with his Father God. From that day allfiesh is divine. For it gave him birth and by this union Shares in God's nature. TheWord madeflesh has never ceased to be What he was before, thoughjoined toflesh. His majesty is not abased by union with theflesh But lifts up wretched men. What he always was he remains, and now begins to be what he was not. We are not what we were, but are born to a better state. He gives to meyet remains himself. By taking on what is ours God is not less, For in giving ofhis own he lifts us to heavenly heights. Prudentius, Psychomachia, 11. 71—86. Robert Louis Wilken Prudentius: The First Christian Poet Walking into the private library of a provincial Gaulic landowner, a Christian bishop in the fifth century felt as though he had wandered into the towering shelves of a bookseller. The books were arranged in sections, light reading and devotional works in one area and the works of elegant Latin stylists in another. Among the manuscripts were to be found works not only of Horace and Varro, but also of the Christian writers Prudentius and Augustine. The bishop, SidoniusApolinaris, expressed no surprise at seeing the writings of two Christian authors, and one a poet, Prudentius, among works ofliterature.' Before the fifth century few works written by Christian authors would have been considered literary. Christians had written works of biblical interpretation, essays on theological topics, tracts in defense ofthe faith, countless sermons, a few works ofhistory, lives ofholy men and women, a large body of letters, and other sundry writings. Some Christian thinkers, for example Clement ofAlexandria or Gregory Nazianzus, had literary ambitions, but most oftheir writings were didactic in the broad sense of that term. They wrote LOGOS 2:2 SPRING 1999 3° LOGOS to instruct and edify the Christian people and to explain and defend the faith.They did not write"literature,"works ofthe imagination to be read at one's leisure and for pleasure. And the one genre that epitomized the belles lettres in antiquity, poetry, was practiced by only the very few. It is ofsome interest that Prudentius, a Christian poet, was found on die bookshelves ofthis wealthy Gaulic aristocrat, and even more, that Sidonius paired him with the great Latin poet, Horace. Aurelius Prudentius Clemens was born into a Christian family in Roman Hispania, present-day Spain, in the northeast province ofTarraconensis , modern Calahorra, in 348 a.d. As a child ofthe provincial aristocracy he received a traditional education, which meant he studied Latin grammar, rhetoric, and finally law. When his studies were completed he pursued a career as an advocate and then, like many others with a similar background, moved to a position in the civil administration. Advancing quickly, he soon found himself the governor ofa province, a post he held on two occasions. Later he was invited by the emperor to become part of the imperial court in Milan, most likely as a secretary in the scrinia memoriae, the office that keptrecords ofthe sovereign's words and actions.There he remained for some two decades until he retired to return to Spain where he devoted himself wholly to poetry. Prudentius's public career, though distinguished, was in many respects conventional for someone from his background. By his day many other Christians from the best families followed a similar path. What sets Prudentius apart is that he was a poet, and more, that he saw himselfas a poet by profession. Some bishops had written poetry , chiefly for didactic or liturgical purposes, but Prudentius was not a priest who dabbled in verse in his spare time or wrote hymns to be sung in church. He was a layman who believed he had a vocation as a poet. In his words: "IfI cannot give praise to God by my works, let my soul praise God with my voice."2 PRUDENTIUS: THE FIRST CHRISTIAN...


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