Rabanus Maurus

Rabanus Maurus
Blessed Rabanus Maurus

Rabanus Maurus (left) presents his work to Otgar of Mainz
Born ~780
Died February 4, 856
Honored in Roman Catholic Church
Feast February 4

Rabanus Maurus Magnentius (c. 780 – 4 February 856), also known as Hrabanus or Rhabanus, was a Frankish Benedictine monk, the archbishop of Mainz in Germany and a theologian. He was the author of the encyclopaedia De rerum naturis (On the Nature of Things). He also wrote treatises on education and grammar and commentaries on the Bible. He was one of the most prominent teachers and writers of the Carolingian age, and was called "Praeceptor Germaniae," or "the teacher of Germany." On the Roman calendar (Martyrologium Romanum, 2001, pp. 126f.), he is celebrated on 4 February and listed as 'sanctus,' though the online version of the Catholic Encyclopedia of nearly a century earlier lists him as 'beatus.'



Rabanus was born of noble parents in Mainz. The date of his birth is uncertain, but in 801 he received a deacon's order at Fulda in Hesse, where he had been sent to school. In the following year, at the insistence of Ratgar, his abbot, he went together with Haimon (later of Halberstadt) to complete his studies at Tours. He studied there under Alcuin, who in recognition of his diligence and purity gave him the surname of Maurus, after the favourite disciple of Benedict, Saint Maurus. Returning to Fulda two years later, he was entrusted with the principal charge of the school, which under his direction became one of the most preeminent centers of scholarship and book production in Europe, and sent forth such pupils as Walafrid Strabo, Servatus Lupus of Ferrières, and Otfrid of Weissenburg. At this period he probably compiled his excerpt from the grammar of Priscian, a popular text book during the Middle Ages.

In 814 Rabanus was ordained a priest. Shortly afterwards, apparently on account of disagreement with Ratgar, he was compelled to withdraw for a time from Fulda. This banishment has long been understood to have occasioned a pilgrimage to Palestine, based on an allusion in his commentary on Joshua. The passage in question is taken from Origen's Homily xiv In Librum Jesu Nave. It is Origen, not Rabanus, who was in Palestine.[1] He returned to Fulda on the election of a new abbot (Eigil) in 817, upon whose death in 822 he himself became abbot. He was efficient and successful in this role until 842, when, in order to secure greater leisure for literature and for devotion, he resigned and retired to the neighbouring cloister of St Petersberg.

In 847, Rabanus was again constrained to enter public life by his election to succeed Otgar in the archbishopric of Mainz. He died at Winkel on the Rhine in 856.


Rabanus' works, many of which remain unpublished, comprise Scriptural commentaries (Genesis to Judges, Ruth, Kings, Chronicles, Judith, Esther, Canticles, Proverbs, Wisdom, Sirach, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, Maccabees, Matthew, the Epistles of St Paul, including Hebrews); and various treatises relating to doctrinal and practical subjects, including more than one series of Homilies. In De institutione clericorum he brought into prominence the views of Augustine and Gregory the Great as to the training which was requisite for a right discharge of the clerical function.[2] One of his most popular and enduring works is a spectacular collection of poems centered around the cross, called De laudibus sanctae crucis, a set of highly sophisticated poems that present the cross (and, in the last poem, Rabanus himself kneeling before it) in word and image, even in numbers.[3]

Among the others may be mentioned the De universo libri xxii., sive etymologiarum opus, a kind of dictionary or encyclopedia, heavily dependent upon Isidore of Seville's Etymologies, designed as a help towards the typological, historical and mystical interpretation of Scripture, the De sacris ordinibus, the De disciplina ecclesiastica and the Martyrologium. All of them are characterized by erudition (he knew even some Greek and Hebrew) and includes "Veni Creator Spiritus," a hymn to the Holy Spirit, often sung at Pentecost and at ordinations. (Centuries later "Veni Creator Spiritus" would be used by Gustav Mahler as the first choral of his epic eighth symphony.)

In the annals of German philology a special interest attaches to the Glossaria Latino-Theodisca. A commentary, Super Porphyrium, printed by Cousin in 1836 among the Ouvrages inédits d'Abélard, and assigned both by that editor and by Haurau to Hrabantis Maurus, is now generally believed to have been the work of a disciple.

In 2006, the 1150th anniversary of his death was celebrated in Germany, especially in Mainz and Fulda. One of the highlights of the celebrations was the display of Codex Vaticanus Reginensis latinus 124, an extremely rare loan by the Vatican to Mainz of a spectacular manuscript containing De laudibus sanctae crucis. The anniversary also saw the publication of no fewer than three book-length studies of Maurus and his work.[4]


The first nominally complete edition of the works of Hrabanus Maurus was that of Colvener (Cologne, 6 vols. fol., 1627). The Opera omnia form vols. cvii-cxii of Migne's Patrologiae cursus completus. The De universo is the subject of Compendium der Naturwissenschaften an der Schule zu Fulda im IX. Jahrhundert (Berlin, 1880).

Recent critical editions are available of some of his works:

  • Expositio in Matthaeum, edited by B. Löfstedt, 2 vols. Corpus Christianorum, continuatio medievalis 174-174A. Turnhout: Brepols, 2000.
  • In honorem sanctae crucis, edited by M. Perrin, 2 vols. Corpus Christianorum, continuatio medievalis 100-100A. Turnhout: Brepols, 1997.
  • Martyrologium. Liber de computo, edited by J. McCulloh and W. Stevens, Corpus Christianorum, continuatio mediaevalis 44. Turnhout: Brepols, 1997.
  • Hrabanus Maurus: De institutione clericorum; Studien und Edition. Freiburger Beitraege zur mittelalterlichen Geschichte 7. Frankfurt am Main: 1996.

Publications on the occasion of the 1150th anniversary of his death:

  • Hans-Jürgen Kotzur, ed., Rabanus Maurus: Auf den Spuren eines karolingischen Gelehrten. Mainz: Philipp von Zabern, 2006. ISBN 3805336136. 120 pages, 77 color ills., 8 b/w ills. Contains full-color illustrations of Maurus's cross poems and their transcriptions and partial translations.
  • Stephanie Haarländer, Rabanus Maurus zum Kennenlernen: Ein Lesebuch mit einer Einführung in sein Leben und Werk. Publikationen Bistum Mainz. Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgeselschaft, 2006. ISBN 978-3-934450-24-0. 184 pages, many b/w ills. Collection of texts by Maurus translated into German, with extensive introduction to Maurus's life and work.
  • Franz J. Felten, ed., Hrabanus Maurus: Gelehrter, Abt von Fulda und Erzbischof von Mainz. Mainz: Publikationen Bistum Mainz, 2006. ISBN 978-3-934450-26-4. 196 pages, 4 color ills. Collection of historical essays.

An edition (with German translation?) of the 'De Institutione Clericorum' is listed as 'in preparation' by Brepols. An online edition (by William Schipper of Memorial University of Newfoundland) of De rerum naturis (De universo) is available at http://www.mun.ca/rabanus/. An English translation of De universo is:

  • Priscilla Throop, trans., Hrabanus Maurus: De Universo: the peculiar properties of words and their mystical significance, 2 vols. Charlotte, VT: MedievalMS, 2009.


  1. ^ Throop, Hrabanus Maurus: De Universo, vol. 1, p. x
  2. ^ Newly edited by Detlev Zimpel, see bibliography.
  3. ^ A new publication, occasioned by the 1250th anniversary of his death and the display in Mainz of the famous Vatican manuscript Reg. lat. 124, contains many full-color illustrations of some of the poems, as well as textual and visual explanations. Hans-Jürgen Kotzur, Rabanus Maurus: Auf den Spuren eines karolingischen Gelehrten. Mainz: Philipp von Zabern, 2006. Images of these poems (copied from the Vatican MS) can also be found at this site
  4. ^ Aaij, Michel (May 2009). "Continental Business: Rabanus Maurus, the Preaceptor Germaniae, on the 1150th Anniversary of his Death". The Heroic Age (12). ISSN 1526-1867. http://www.heroicage.org/issues/12/cb.php. Retrieved 30 April 2010. 
Preceded by
Archbishop of Mainz
Succeeded by

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