Dionysius Exiguus

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Dionysius Exiguus (Dennis the Small, Dennis the Little or Dennis the Short, meaning humble) (c. 470 – c. 544) was a sixth century monk born in Scythia Minor, modern Dobruja shared by Romania and Bulgaria. He was a member of the Scythian monks community concentrated in Tomis, the major city of Scythia Minor. Dionysius is best-known as the inventor of the Anno Domini era, which is used to number the years of both the Gregorian calendar and the (Christianized) Julian calendar.

From about 500 he lived in Rome, where, as a learned member of the Roman Curia, he translated from Greek into Latin 401 ecclesiastical canons, including the apostolical canons and the decrees of the councils of Nicaea, Constantinople, Chalcedon and Sardis, and also a collection of the decretals of the popes from Siricius to Anastasius II. These collections had great authority in the West and still guide church administrations. Dionysius also wrote a treatise on elementary mathematics.

The author of a continuation of Dionysius's Computus, writing in 616, described Dionysius as a "most learned abbot of the city of Rome", and the Venerable Bede accorded him the honorific abbas, which could be applied to any monk, especially a senior and respected monk, and does not necessarily imply that Dionysius ever headed a monastery; indeed, Dionysius's friend Cassiodorus stated in Institutiones that he was still only a monk late in life.

Contents

Works and translations

According to his friend and fellow-student, Cassiodorus (De divinis Lectionibus, c. xxiii), though by birth a Scythian,[3] he was in character a true Roman and thorough Catholic, most learned in both tongues (by which he meant Greek and Latin) and an accomplished Scripturist. He translated standard works from Greek into Latin, principally the "Life of St. Pachomius", the "Instruction of St. Proclus of Constantinople" for the Armenians, the "De opificio hominis" of St. Gregory of Nyssa, and the history of the discovery of the head of St. John the Baptist. The translation of St. Cyril of Alexandria's synodical letter against Nestorius, and some other works long attributed to Dionysius are now acknowledged to be earlier and are assigned to Marius Mercator.

Of great importance were the contributions of Dionysius to the science of canon law, the first beginnings of which in Western Christendom were due to him. His Collectio Dionysiana embraces (1) a collection of synodal decrees, of which he has left two editions: (a) Codex canonum Ecclesiæ Universæ. This contains canons of Oriental synods and councils only in Greek and Latin, including those of the four œcumenical councils from Nicæa (325) to Chalcedon (451). (b) Codex canonum ecclesiasticarum. This is in Latin only; its contents agree generally with the other, but the Council of Ephesus (431) is omitted, while the so-called "Canons of the Apostles" and those of Sardica are included, as well as 138 canons of the African Council of Carthage (419). (c) Of another bilingual version of Greek canons, undertaken at the instance of Pope Hormisdas, only the preface has been preserved. (2) A collection of papal Constitutions (Collectio decretorum Pontificum Romanorum) from Siricius to Anastasius II (384-498).

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