Beatus of Liébana

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Saint Beatus
The world map from the Saint-Sever Beatus. Painted c. 1050 as an illustration to Beatus's work at the Abbey of Saint-Sever in Aquitaine.
Bornc. 750
Diedc. 800
Venerated inCatholic Church,
Orthodox Church
FeastFebruary 19
Lionheaded Fire-Breathing Horses (Rev. 9:16-19), Saint-Sever Beatus.[1]

Beatus of Liébana (Spanish: Beato; c. 750 – c. 800) was a monk, theologian, and author of the Commentary on the Apocalypse, an influential compendium of previous authorities' views on the Apocalypse. He also led the opposition against a Spanish variant of Adoptionism, the heretical belief that Christ was the son of God by adoption, an idea first propounded in Spain by Elipandus, the bishop of Toledo.

Aside from his work, almost nothing is known about Beatus. He was a monk and probably an abbot at the monastery of Santo Toribio de Liébana in the Kingdom of Asturias, the only region of Spain remaining outside of Moorish control. Beatus appears to have been well known by his contemporaries. He was a correspondent with the notable Christian scholar, Alcuin, and a confidant of queen Adosinda, daughter of Alfonso I of Asturias and wife of Silo of Asturias.[2][3] A supposed biography, the Life of Beatus, has been identified as a 17th century fraud with no historical value.[2][4]

Apocalypse commentary[edit]

He is best remembered today as the author of the Commentary on the Apocalypse, written in 776, then revised in 784 and again in 786.[5] The Commentary is a work of erudition but without great originality, made up principally of extracts from the texts of Church authorities including Augustine of Hippo, Tyconius, Ambrose, Irenaeus, and Isidore of Seville. He relied most heavily on the lost Commentary by Tyconius, whose writing provided Beatus with much of the text for his work.[6] In his last revision, Beatus added the commentary by Jerome on the Book of Daniel.[4]

The Commentary was popular during the Middle Ages and survives in at least 32 manuscripts (usually called a beatus) from the 9th through the 13th centuries.[7] No contemporary copies of Beatus's work have survived. Not all of the manuscripts are complete, and some exist only in fragmentary form. Twenty-six of these manuscripts are lavishly decorated and have been recognized as some of the best examples of the Mozarabic style of illumination.[5][8][2]

Beatus map[edit]

Of special interest to cartographers is a world map included in the second book of the Commentary. Unlike most medieval maps which showed only the three known continents of Europe, Asia, and Africa, the Beatus map also displayed a fourth, unknown continent. The original purpose of the map was evangelical, displaying the apostles preaching in every part of the world, including the fourth continent. The original map has been lost but several copies have survived, all featuring an eastern orientation and paradise with four rivers flowing from it.[9]

Adoptionism controversy[edit]

Beatus was a vocal opponent of a Spanish variant of adoptionism, the belief that Christ was the son of God by adoption, an idea first put forward by Elipandus, Bishop of Toledo and Bishop Felix of Urgell on the Iberian Peninsula. Elipandus and Felix declared that Jesus, in respect to his human nature, was the adopted son of God by God's grace, thus emphasizing the distinction between the divinity and the humanity of Christ. Beatus and other opponents of adoptionism, such as Alcuin and Paulinus II of Aquileia, feared that this view would so divide the person of the Savior that the reality of the incarnation would be lost. In addition, many theologians were concerned that this adoptionism was a new version of the Nestorianism advanced by Nestorius.[10]

In 794, Elipandus attacked Beatus in a letter to the bishops of Gaul, calling Beatus a pseudo-prophet and accusing him of having falsely announced the imminent end of the world. In response to the controversy, Charlemagne called together the Council of Frankfurt in 794. The assembled bishops condemned adoptionism as a heresy and in 798, Pope Leo III confirmed the heresy of adoptionism.[5]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Beatus of Liébana. "Monstrous Cavalry, Beatus de Saint-Sever". Commentary on the Apocalypse.
  2. ^ a b c Collins 2000, p. 225.
  3. ^ Cavadini 1993, p. 45.
  4. ^ a b Vivancos Gomez.
  5. ^ a b c Wolf 2003, p. 155.
  6. ^ Cavadini 1993, p. 46.
  7. ^ Williams 1992, pp. 217–218.
  8. ^ Piera 2010.
  9. ^ Woodward 1987, pp. 303–304.
  10. ^ González 2010, pp. 109–111.


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