1902 Encyclopedia > Dionysius Exiguus

Dionysius Exiguus
Monk from Scythia Minor who invented the Anno Domini era
(c. 470-c. 540 AD)

DIONYSIUS EXIGUUS, one of the most learned men of the 6th century, and especially distinguished as a chronologist, was, according to the statement of his friend Cassiodorus, a Scythian by birth, " Scytha natione." This may mean only that he was a native of the region border-ing on the Black Sea, and does not necessarily imply that he was not of Greek origin. Such origin is indicated by his name and by his thorough familiarity with the Greek language. His surname " Exiguus" is usually translated " the Little," and is supposed to refer to his stature ; but it appears to be at least as probable that his known humility led him to assume the designation. He was living at Borne in the first half of the 6th century, and is usually spoken of as abbot of a Roman monastery. Cassiodorus, however, calls him simply " monk," while Bede calls him "abbot." But as it was not unusual to apply the latter term to distinguished monks who were not heads of their houses, it is uncertain whether Dionysius was abbot in fact or only by courtesy. He was in high repute as a learned theologian, was profoundly versed in the Holy Scriptures and in canon law, and was also an accomplished mathematician and astronomer. We owe to him a collection of ecclesiastical canons, comprising the apostolical canons and the decrees of the councils of Nicaea, Constantinople, Chalcedon, and Sardis, and also a collection of the decretals of the Boman pontiffs from Siricius to Anastasius II. These collections were published by Justel in 1628. Dionysius did good service to his contemporaries by his translations of many Greek works into Latin ; and by these translations some works, the originals of which have perished, have been handed down to us. His name, however, is now perhaps chiefly remembered for his chronological labours. It was Dionysius who intro-duced the method of reckoning the Christian era which we now use. (See CHRONOLOGY.) His friend Cassiodorus depicts in glowing terms the character of Dionysius as a saintly ascetic, and praises his wisdom and simplicity, his accomplishments and his lowly-mindedness, his power of eloquent speech and his capacity of silence. He died at Rome, probably about the year 545.

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