Coelius Sedulius

Illuminated miniature of St Luke beneath the inscription Iura sacerdotii Lucas tenet ore iuuenci from Sedulius' Carmen paschale. St Augustine Gospels, Parker Library MS 286, late 6th century

Sedulius (sometimes with the praenomen Coelius or Caelius, both of doubtful authenticity)[1] was a Christian poet of the first half of the 5th century.


Extremely little is known about his life. The only trustworthy information is given by his two letters to Macedonius, from which we learn that he devoted his early life, perhaps as a teacher of rhetoric, to secular literature. Late in life he converted to Christianity, or, if a Christian before, began to take his faith more seriously.[2] One medieval commentary states that he resided in Italy.[1] He is termed a presbyter by Isidore of Seville and in the Gelasian decree.


His fame rests mainly upon a long poem, Carmen paschale, based on the four gospels. In style a bombastic imitator of Virgil, he shows, nevertheless, a certain freedom in the handling of the Biblical story, and the poem soon became a quarry for the minor poets. His description of the Four Evangelists in Carmen Paschale became well-known; the English translation below is from Springer (2013, p. 21).

Hoc Matthaeus agens hominem generaliter implet;
Marcus ut alta fremit uox per deserta leonis;
Iura sacerdotii Lucas tenet ore iuuenci;
More uolans aquilae uerbo petit astra Iohannes.


Matthew plays the role of the whole human race;
Mark roars like the loud voice of a lion through the wilderness;
Luke holds the office of the priesthood with the face of an ox;
Flying like an eagle, John reaches for the stars with his word.

His other writings include an Abecedarian hymn in honour of Christ, consisting of twenty-three quatrains of iambic dimeters, has partly passed into the liturgy, the first seven quatrains forming the Christmas hymn "A solis ortus cardine";[3] and the Epiphany hymn, "Hostis Herodes impie." A "Veteris et novi Testamenti collatio" in elegiac couplets has also come down, but we have no grounds for ascribing to him the Virgilian cento, "De verbi incarnatione."


Further reading


  1. 1 2  Paul Lejay (1913). "Sedulius". In Herbermann, Charles. Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.
  2. Biography of Sedulius (5th century poet) at Christian Classics Ethereal Library
  3. This incipit was borrowed for the Carolingian Planctus de obitu Karoli; see Peter Godman (1985), Latin Poetry of the Carolingian Renaissance (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press), 206211.

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