1902 Encyclopedia > Salvian (Salvianus)

Christian writer
(fl. 5th century)

SALVIAN, a Christian writer of the 5th century, was; born in Gaul, and most probably in the neighbourhood of Treves or Cologne (De Gub. Dei, vi. 8, 13). His birth has been conjecturally assigned to the period from 390 to 420. He was probably brought up as a Christian, though of this there is no absolute proof. Zschimmer considers his writings to show that he had made a special study of the law; and this is the more likely as he appears to have been of noble birth and could describe ones of his relations as being " of no small account in her own: district and not obscure in family" (Ep. i.). He was. already a Christian when he married Palladia, the daughter of heathen parents, Hypatius and Quieta, whose displeasure he incurred by persuading his wife to retire with him to a distant monastery, which is almost certainly to be identified with that so lately founded by St Honora-tus at Lerins. For seven years there was no communica-tion between the two branches of the family, till at last,, when Hypatius had become a Christian, Salvian wrote _ him a most touching letter in his own name, his wife's, and that of his little daughter Auspicióla, begging for the; renewal of the old affection (Ep. iv.). This whole letter is a most curious illustration of Salvian's reproach against. his age that the noblest man at once forfeited all esteem if.' he became a monk (De Gub., iv. 7; cf. viii. 4).

It was presumably at Lerins that Salvian made the' acquaintance of St Honoratus (ob. 429), St Hilary of Aries (ob. 449), and St Eucher of Lyons (ob. 449). That he was a friend of the former and wrote an account of his life we learn from St Hilary (Vita Hon., ap. Migne,, 1. 1260). To St Eucher's two sons, Salonius and Veranus,, he acted as tutor in consort with St Vincent of Lerins.. As he succeeded St Honoratus and St Hilary in this office,, this date cannot well be later than the year 426 or 427, when the former was called to Aries, whither he seems to-have summoned Hilary before his death in 429 (Eucherii Instructio ad Salonium, ap. Migne, 1. 773; Salv., Ep.. ii.). Salvian continued his friendly intercourse with both, father and sons long after the latter had left his care; it was to Salonius (then a bishop) that he wrote his explana-tory letter just after the publication of his treatise Ad Ecclesiam; and to the same prelate a few years later he dedicated his great work, the De Gubernatione Dei. The above facts, as will be seen, render it almost certain that he. must have been born a good deal before 420. If French scholars are right in assigning Hilary's Vita Honorati to-430, Salvian, who is there called a priest, had probably already left Lyons for Marseilles, where he is known to have-spent the last years of his life (Genn., ap. Migne, lviii. 1099). It was probably from Marseilles that he wrote his. first letter—presumably to Lerins—begging the community there to receive his kinsman, the son of a widow of Cologne, who had been reduced to poverty by the barbarian in-vasions. It seems a fair inference from this letter that Salvian, acting up to the precepts of his own treatise Ad1' Ecclesiam, had divested himself of all his property in favour of that society and, having no longer any possessions of his. own, sent his relative to Lerins for assistance (Ep. i., with which compare Ad Eccles., ii. 9, 10; iii. 5). It has been, conjectured that Salvian paid a visit to Carthage ; but this is a mere inference based on the minute details he gives of the state of this city just before its fall (De Gub., vii., viii.). He seems to have been still living at Marseilles when Gennadius wrote under the papacy of Gelasius (492-496).

Of Salvian's writings there are still extant two treatises, entitled respectively De Gubernatione Dei and Ad Ecclesiam, and a series of nine letters. The De Gubernatione, Salvian's greatest work, was published after the capture of Litorius at Toulouse (439), to which he plainly alludes in vii. 10, and after the Vandal conquest of Car-thage in the same year (vi. 12), but before Attila's invasion (450), as Salvian speaks of the Huns, not as enemies of the empire, but as serving in the Roman armies (vii. 9). The words "proximum bellum " seem to denote a year very soon after 439. In this work Salvian deals with the same problem that had moved the eloquence of St Augustine and Orosius. Why were these miseries falling on the empire ? Could it be, as the pagans said, because the age had forsaken its old gods ? or, as the semi-pagan creed of some Chris-tians taught, that God did not constantly overrule the world he had created (i. 1)? With the former Salvian will not argue (iii. 1). To the latter he replies by asserting that, "just as the navigating steersman never looses the helm, so does God never remove his care from the world." Hence the title of the treatise. In books i. and ii. Salvian sets himself to prove God's constant guidance, first by the facts of Scripture history, and secondly by the enumeration of special texts declaring this truth. Having thus " laid the founda-tions " of his work, he declares in book iii. that the misery of the Roman w_orld is all due to the neglect of God's commandments and the terrible sins of every class of society. It is not merely that the slaves are thieves and runaways, wine-bibbers and gluttons,—the rich are worse (iv. 3). It is their harshness and greed that drive the poor to join the Bagaudae and fly for shelter to the barbarian invaders (v. 5 and 6). Everywhere the taxes are heaped upon the needy, while the rich, who have the apportioning of the impost, escape comparatively free (v. 7). The great towns are wholly given up to the abominations of the circus and the theatre, where decency is wholly set at nought, and Minerva, Mars, Neptune, and the old gods are still worshipped (vi. 11 ; cf. vi. 2 and viii. 2). Treves was almost destroyed by the barbarians ; yet the first petition of its few surviving nobles was that the emperor would re-establish the circus games as a remedy for the ruined city (vi. 15). And this was the prayer of Christians, whose baptismal oath pledged them to renounce "the devil and his works . . . the pomps and shows (spectacula) " of this wicked world (vi. 6). Darker still were the iniquities of Carthage, surpassing even the unconcealed licentious-ness of Gaul and Spain (iv. 5) ; and more fearful to Salvian than all else was it to hear men swear "by Christ" that they would commit a crime (iv. 15). It would be the atheist's strongest argument if God left such a state of society unpunished (iv. 12),— especially among Christians, whose sin, since they alone had the Scriptures, was worse than that of barbarians, even if equally wicked, would be (v. 2). But, as a matter of fact, the latter had at least some shining virtues mingled with their vices, whereas the Romans were wholly corrupt (vii. 15, iv. 14). With this iniquity of the Romans Salvian contrasts the chastity of the Vandals, the piety of the Goths, and the ruder virtues of the Franks, the Saxons, and the other tribes to whom, though heretic Arians or unbelievers, God is giving in reward the inheritance of the empire (vii. 9, 11, 21). It is curious that Salvian shows no such hatred of the hetero-dox barbarians as was rife in Gaul seventy years later.

Ad Ecclesicvm is sufficiently explained by its common title, Contra Avaritiam. It is quoted more than once in the De Gubernatione. Salvian published it under the name of Timothy, and explained his motives for so doing in a letter to his old pupil, Bishop Salonius (Ep. ix. ). This work is chiefly remarkable because in some places it seems to recommend parents not to bequeath anything to their children, on the plea that it is better for the children to suffer want in this world than that their parents should be damned in the next (iii. 4). Salvian is very clear on the duty of absolute self-denial in the case of sacred virgins, priests, and monks (ii. 8-10). Several works mentioned by Gennadius, notably a poem " in morem Grsecorum " on the six days of creation (hexaemeron), and certain homilies composed for bishops, are now lost (Genn., 67).

The Ad Ecclesiam was first printed in Siehard's Antidoton (Basel, 1528) ; the De Gubernatione by Brassican (Basel, 1530). The two appeared in one volume at Paris in 1575. Pitiiœus added variae lectiones and the first seven letters (Paris, 15S0); Ritterhusius made various conjectural emendations (Altorf, 1611), and Baluze many more based on MS. authority (Paris, 1663-1669). Numerous other editions appeared from the 16th to the 18th century, all of which are now superseded by the excellent ones of C. Halm (Berlin, 1877) and F. Pauly (Vienna, 1883). The two oldest MSS. of the De Gubernatione belong to the 10th century (Cod. Paris, No. 13,385) and the 13th (Brussels, 10,628); of the Ad Ecelesiam to the 10th (Paris, 2172) and the 11th (Paris, 2785) ; of Epistle IX. to the 9th (Paris, 2785) ; of Epistle VIII. to the 7th or 8th century (Paris, 95,569) and to the 9th or 10th century (Paris, 12,237,12,236). Of the first seven epistles there is only one MS. extant, of which one part is now at Bern (No. 219), the other at Paris (No. 3791). See Histoire Littéraire de France, vol. ii. ; Zschimmer's Salvianus (Halle, 1875). Salvian's works are reprinted (after Baluze) in Migne's Cursus Patrologiae, vol. liii. For bibliography see T. G. Schoenemann's Bibliotheca Patrum (ii. 823) and the prefaces to the editions of Halm and Pauly. Gennadius, St Hilary, and St Eucher may be consulted in Migne, vols. lviii. and l. (T. A. A.)

The above article was written by: A. Archer.

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