Catholic Encyclopedia – Nicetas

Article

(Niceta) A Bishop of Remesiana (Romatiana) in what is now Servia, born about 335; died about 414. Recent investigations have resulted in a more definite knowledge of the person of this ecclesiastical writer. Gennadius of Marseilles, in his catalogue of writers mentions a “Niceas Romatianæ civitatis episcopus” to whom he ascribes two works: one, in six books, for catechumens, and a little book on a virgin who had fallen. Outside of this reference no writer and bishop of the name of Niceas is known. This Niceas, therefore, is, without doubt, the same as Nicetas, “Bishop of the Dacians”, the contemporary and friend of Saint Paulinus of Nola. The identity is shown by a comparison of Gennadius with Paulinus in his “Carmina”, and, further, by the agreement in time. In Dacia, where, according to Paulinus, his friend Nicetas was bishop, there was a city called Romatiana (now Bela Palanka) on the great Roman military road from Belgrade to Constantinople, and this was the see of Nicetas. He is mentioned a number of times in the letters and poems of Saint Paulinus of Nola, especially in Carmen xxvii, and in Carmen xvii “Ad Nicetam redeuntem in Daciam”, written on the occasion of Nicetas’s pilgrimage to Nola, in 398, to visit the grave of Saint Felix. In this latter poem Paulinus describes how his friend, journeying home, is greeted everywhere with joy, because in his apostolic labours in the cold regions of the North, he has melted the icy hearts of men by the warmth of the Divine doctrine. He has laid the yoke of Christ upon races who never bowed the neck in battle. Like the Goths and Dacians, the Scythians are tamed; he teaches them to glorify Christ and to lead a pure, peaceable life. Paulinus wishes his departing friend a safe journey by land and by water. Saint Jerome, too, speaks of the apostolic labours of Nicetas and says of him that he spread Christian civilization among the barbarians by his sweet songs of the Cross.

This is all that is known concerning the life of Nicetas. Particulars concerning his literary activity are also given by Gennadius and Paulinus. The tradition concerning his writings afterwards became confused: his works were erroneously ascribed to Bishop Nicetas of Aquileia (second half of the fifth century) and to Nicetius of Trier. It was not until the researches of Dom Morin, Burn, and others that a larger knowledge was attained concerning the works of Nicetas. Gennadius (loc. cit.) mentions six books written by him in simple and clear style (simplici et nitido sermone), containing instructions for candidates for baptism (competentes). The first book dealt with the conduct of the candidates; the second treated of erroneous ideas of heathens; the third, of belief in one Divine Majesty; the fourth, of superstitious customs at the birth of a child (calculating nativities); the fifth, of confession of faith; the sixth, of the sacrifice of the paschal lamb. The work has not been preserved in its entirety, yet the greater part is still extant. Four fragments are known of the first book, one fragment of the second, the third probably consists of the two treatises, usually separated, but which undoubtedly belong together, namely, “De ratione fidei” and “De Spiritus sancti potentia”. Nothing is known of the fourth book. The fifth, however, is most probably identical with the “Explanatio symboli habita ad competentes”; in the manuscripts it is sometimes ascribed to Origen, sometimes to Nicetas of Aquileia, but there are very strong reasons for assigning it to the Bishop of Remesiana. Nothing is known of the sixth book. Gennadius mentions another treatise addressed to a fallen virgin, “Ad lapsam virginem libellus”, remarking that it would stimulate to reformation any who had fallen. This treatise used to be wrongly identified with the “De lapsu virginis consecratæ”, traditionally assigned to Saint Ambrose. Dom Morin has edited a treatise, unknown until he published it, “Epistola ad virginem lapsam”, which with far more reason may be regarded as the work of Nicetas.

Paulinus of Nola praises his friend as a hymn-writer; from this it is evident that Gennadius has not given a complete list of the writings of Nicetas. It is, therefore, not impossible that further works, incorrectly ascribed by tradition to others, are really his. Morin has given excellent reasons to prove that the two treatises “De vigiliis servorum Dei” and “De psalmodiæ bono”, which were held to be writings of Nicetius of Trier, are in reality the work of Nicetas. Particularly interesting is the fresh proof produced — again by Morin — to show that Nicetas, and not Saint Ambrose, is the author of the “Te Deum”. Paulinus, like Jerome, speaks of him particularly as a hymn-writer. According to the testimony of Cassiodorus the “Liber de Fide” of Nicetas was, in his time, included in the treatise “De Fide” written by Saint Ambrose, which shows that at an early date some were found to credit the great Bishop of Milan with works due to the Dacian bishop. The first complete edition of the works of Nicetas is that of Burn.

MLA Citation

  • Johann Peter Kirsch. “Nicetas”. Catholic Encyclopedia, 1913. CatholicSaints.Info. 27 May 2014. Web. 24 September 2018. <>