Skip to content
Catholic Online Logo

A Christian poet, the date of whose birth is uncertain, but generally placed at about the middle of the third century, or between the end of Diocletian's persecution and the issuing of the edict of Maxentius (305-11). It has lately been asserted, however, that Commodianus lived under Julian or even in the middle of the fifth century. He is not known outside of his own writings except through a notice by Gennadius, "De Viris Illustribus" (ch. xv), and the condemnation of Pseudo-Gelasius, who prohibits the reading of his books ("De Libris recipiendis et non recipiendis", in Migne, P. L., LIX, 163) Gennadius seems to draw his information chiefly from the works themselves, and claims that Commodianus imitated Tertullian, Lactantius, and Papias. From two passages in his manuscripts it was gleaned that Commodianus came from Gaza in Palestine and had been invested with the episcopal dignity, but the first of these passages has a very uncertain meaning, and the second has been attributed to the mistake of a copyist. Commodianus declares that he is not a "doctor", which has led to the belief that he was a layman. He styles himself "mendicant of Christ", mendicus Christi , but that could also mean "one who implores Christ" or "one who begs for Christ". What is certain, however, is that, after various religious experiences, such as associating with pagans and practising the occult sciences, and probably conforming to the religious doctrines and rites of the Jews, he adopted Christianity, having been converted by reading the Bible .

His works are a collection of "Instructions" and a "Carmen apologeticum". The former consists of eighty acrostic, or abecedarian, essays, divided into two books. The plan of this work and the Biblical quotations introduced therein reveal the influence of St. Cyprian's "Testimonia". The first book is against the Jews and pagans, the second being addressed to different categories of the faithful: catechumens, baptized Christians, penitents, matrones , clerks, priests, and bishops. In parts its tone is decidedly satirical. The author is manifestly engrossed with ethics, and recommends alms-deeds above all else. The "Carmen apologeticum" has a misleading title, thanks to Pitra, its first editor (1852). It may be divided into four parts: a preamble (1-88); a résumé of the doctrine on God and Christ (89-578); a demonstration of the necessity of faith for salvation (379-790); and a description of the end of the world (791-1060). It is principally this picture that has made the name of Commodianus famous. According to it the Christians are a prey to a seventh persecution — the number is symbolical and indicates the last persecution. The Goths surprise and destroy Rome. Suddenly Nero, the Antichrist of the West, reappears, recaptures Rome from the Goths, associates himself with two Cæsars and maltreats the Christians for three and a half years. Then a second Antichrist, the man from Persia, comes from the East, conquers Nero, burns Rome, establishes himself in Judea, and works wonders. But God, with an army of the blessed. advances from beyond Persia in a triumphal march; Antichrist is overcome, and Christ and His saints settle in Jerusalem. To learn what follows we must consult the "Instructions" (II, 1-4). First of all the elect rise from the dead and for 1000 years lead lives of pleasure and happiness. At the end of that time the world is destroyed by fire, Christ appears, and all the dead arise for the Last Judgment, which leads either to the joys of Paradise or the pains of Hell.

The sources of Commodianus's information were the Bible — principally the Apocalypse, the Prophets, and the Fourth Book of Esdras — the Sibylline oracles, Tertullian, Minucius Felix, Cyprian, and Lactantius. From Terence, Lucretius, Horace, Cicero, and most of all from Virgil, he borrows modes of expression. His theology is not reliable; besides Millenarianism, he seems to profess Monarchianism and Patripassianism, two heresies in regard to the Trinity. His language is not only crude, but incorrect, and it would be a mistake to seek in Commodianus the origin of versification based on accent. Although unacquainted with prosody, he tries to write in dactylic hexameter, and succeeds in only 63 out of more than 2000 verses. However, his shortcomings are somewhat atoned for by his use of parallelism, rhyme, and the acrostic, and the regular division of his verses; moreover, in spite of its defects, his work is decidedly energetic. He has well-defined formulæ, he conjures up magnificent pictures, and among the many artists and writers who have attempted a portrayal of the end of the world, Commodianus occupies a prominent place. His works have been edited by Ludwig (Leipzig, 1877-78) and by Dombart (Vienna, 1877, in "Corpus scriptorum eccles. latinorum", XV). The poem against Marcio, attributed by some critics to Commodianus, is the work of an imitator.

More Encyclopedia

The Catholic Encyclopedia is the most comprehensive resource on Catholic teaching, history, and information ever gathered in all of human history. This easy-to-search online version was originally printed between 1907 and 1912 in fifteen hard copy volumes.

Catholic Encyclopedia

Designed to present its readers with the full body of Catholic teaching, the Encyclopedia contains not only precise statements of what the Church has defined, but also an impartial record of different views of acknowledged authority on all disputed questions, national, political or factional. In the determination of the truth the most recent and acknowledged scientific methods are employed, and the results of the latest research in theology, philosophy, history, apologetics, archaeology, and other sciences are given careful consideration.

No one who is interested in human history, past and present, can ignore the Catholic Church, either as an institution which has been the central figure in the civilized world for nearly two thousand years, decisively affecting its destinies, religious, literary, scientific, social and political, or as an existing power whose influence and activity extend to every part of the globe. In the past century the Church has grown both extensively and intensively among English-speaking peoples. Their living interests demand that they should have the means of informing themselves about this vast institution, which, whether they are Catholics or not, affects their fortunes and their destiny.

Copyright © Catholic Encyclopedia. Robert Appleton Company New York, NY. Volume 1: 1907; Volume 2: 1907; Volume 3: 1908; Volume 4: 1908; Volume 5: 1909; Volume 6: 1909; Volume 7: 1910; Volume 8: 1910; Volume 9: 1910; Volume 10: 1911; Volume 11: - 1911; Volume 12: - 1911; Volume 13: - 1912; Volume 14: 1912; Volume 15: 1912

Catholic Online Catholic Encyclopedia Digital version Compiled and Copyright © Catholic Online


Newsletter Sign Up icon

Stay up to date with the latest news, information, and special offers

Subscribe to Catholic OnlineYouTube Channel

Daily Readings

Reading 1, Ephesians 6:1-9
1 Children, be obedient to your parents in the Lord -- that is what ... Read More

Psalm, Psalms 145:10-11, 12-13, 13-14
10 All your creatures shall thank you, Yahweh, and your faithful shall ... Read More

Gospel, Luke 13:22-30
22 Through towns and villages he went teaching, making his way to ... Read More

Saint of the Day

Saint of the Day for October 26th, 2016 Image

St. Bean
October 26: On December 16, there is named in the Roman ... Read More