LUCIUS CAECILIUS FIRMIANUS LACTANTIUS (c. 250 – c. 325) was an
early Christian author who became an advisor to the first Christian
Roman emperor ,
Constantine I , guiding his religious policy as it
developed, and a tutor to his son.
* 1 Biography
* 2 Writing
* 3 Prophetic exegesis
* 4 Works
* 5 See also
* 6 References
* 7 Sources
* 8 External links
Latin -speaking North African of Berber origin, was
not born into a Christian family. He was a pupil of
Sicca Veneria , an important city in
Numidia . In his early
life, he taught rhetoric in his native town, which may have been Cirta
in Numidia, where an inscription mentions a certain "L. Caecilius
Lactantius had a successful public career at first. At the request of
Diocletian , he became an official professor of
Nicomedia ; the voyage from Africa is described in his
poem Hodoeporicum (now lost ). There, he associated in the imperial
circle with the administrator and polemicist
Sossianus Hierocles and
the pagan philosopher Porphyry ; he first met Constantine, and
Galerius , whom he cast as villain in the persecutions . Having
converted to Christianity, he resigned his post before Diocletian's
purging of Christians from his immediate staff and before the
publication of Diocletian's first "Edict against the Christians"
(February 24, 303).
Latin rhetor in a Greek city, he subsequently lived in poverty
Saint Jerome and eked out a living by writing until
Constantine I became his patron . The persecution forced him to leave
Nicomedia and from the outbreak of hostilities until perhaps 311 or
313 he had to live elsewhere. The Emperor Constantine appointed the
Latin tutor to his son
Crispus . Lactantius
Trier in 317, when
Crispus was made Caesar (lesser
co-emperor) and sent to the city.
Crispus was put to death in 326, but
Lactantius died and under what circumstances are unknown.
Like so many of the early Christian authors,
Lactantius depended on
classical models. The early humanists called him the "Christian Cicero
Cicero Christianus). A translator of the Divine Institutes wrote:
Lactantius has always held a very high place among the Christian
Fathers, not only on account of the subject-matter of his writings,
but also on account of the varied erudition, the sweetness of
expression, and the grace and elegance of style, by which they are
He wrote apologetic works explaining
Christianity in terms that would
be palatable to educated people who still practiced the traditional
religions of the Empire . He defended Christian beliefs against the
criticisms of Hellenistic philosophers . His Divinae Institutiones
("Divine Institutes") were an early example of a systematic
presentation of Christian thought.
He was considered somewhat heretical after his death, but Renaissance
humanists took a renewed interest in him, more for his elaborately
Latin style than for his theology . His works were copied
in manuscript several times in the 15th century and were first printed
in 1465 by the Germans
Arnold Pannartz and Konrad Sweynheim at the
Abbey of Subiaco . This edition was the first book printed in Italy to
have a date of printing, as well as the first use of a Greek alphabet
font anywhere, which was apparently produced in the course of
printing, as the early pages leave Greek text blank. It was probably
the fourth book ever printed in Italy. A copy of this edition was sold
at auction in 2000 for more than $1 million.
Beginning of Lactantius’ Divinae institutiones in a
Renaissance manuscript written in
Florence ca. 1420–1430 by
Like many writers in the first few centuries of the early church,
Lactantius took a premillennialist view, holding that the second
coming of Christ will precede a millennium or a thousand-year reign of
Christ on earth. According to Charles E. Hill, "With
Lactantius in the
early fourth century we see a determined attempt to revive a more
“genuine” form of chiliasm."
Lactantius quoted the Sibyls
extensively. Book VII of
The Divine Institutes indicates a familiarity
with Jewish, Christian, Egyptian and Iranian apocalyptic material.
None of the fathers thus far had been more verbose on the subject of
the millennial kingdom than
Lactantius or more particular in
describing the times and events preceding and following. He held to
the literalist interpretation of the millennium, that the millennium
originates with the second advent of Christ and marks the destruction
of the wicked, the binding of the devil and the raising of the
He depicted Jesus reigning with the resurrected righteous on this
earth during the seventh thousand years prior to the general judgment.
In the end, the devil, having been bound during the thousand years, is
loosed; the enslaved nations rebel against the righteous, who hide
underground until the hosts, attacking the Holy City, are overwhelmed
by fire and brimstone and mutual slaughter and buried altogether by an
earthquake: rather unnecessarily, it would seem, since the wicked are
thereupon raised again to be sent into eternal punishment. Next, God
renews the earth, after the punishment of the wicked, and the Lord
alone is thenceforth worshiped in the renovated earth.
Lactantius confidently stated that the beginning of the end would be
the fall, or breakup, of the Roman Empire. However, this view fell
out of favor with the conversion of Constantine and the improved lot
of Christians: "Many Christians felt that any expectation of the
downfall of the empire was as disloyal to God as it was to Rome."
Attempts to determine the time of the End were viewed as in
contradiction to Acts 1:7: "It is not for you to know the times or
seasons that the Father has established by his own authority," and
Mark 13:32: "But of that day or hour, no one knows, neither the angels
in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father."
* De Opificio Dei ("The Works of God"), an apologetic work, written
in 303 or 304 during Diocletian's persecution and dedicated to a
former pupil, a rich Christian named Demetrianius. The apologetic
principles underlying all the works of
Lactantius are well set forth
in this treatise.
Institutiones Divinae ("The Divine Institutes"), written between
303 and 311. This is the most important of the writings of Lactantius.
It was "one of the first books printed in Italy and the first dated
Italian imprint." As an apologetic treatise, it was intended to point
out the futility of pagan beliefs and to establish the reasonableness
and truth of
Christianity as a response to pagan critics. It was also
the first attempt at a systematic exposition of Christian theology in
Latin and was planned on a scale sufficiently broad to silence all
opponents. Patrick Healy notes, "The strengths and the weakness of
Lactantius are nowhere better shown than in his work. The beauty of
the style, the choice and aptness of the terminology, cannot hide the
author's lack of grasp on Christian principles and his almost utter
ignorance of Scripture." Included in this treatise is a quote from
the nineteenth of the
Odes of Solomon , one of only two known texts of
the Odes until the early twentieth century. However, his mockery of
the idea of a round earth was criticised by Copernicus as
Page from the Opera, a manuscript from 1465, featuring various
colours of pen-work
* An Epitome of the Divine institutes is a summary treatment of the
* De Ira Dei ("On the Wrath of God" or "On the Anger of God"),
directed against the Stoics and Epicureans .
* De Mortibus Persecutorum ("On the Deaths of the Persecutors") has
an apologetic character but has been treated as a work of history by
Christian writers. The point of the work is to describe the deaths of
the persecutors of Christians before Lactanius (
Decius , Valerian ,
Aurelian ) and the contemporaries of Lactantius
Galerius , Maximinus . This work is
taken as a chronicle of the last and greatest of the persecutions in
spite of the moral point that each anecdote has been arranged to tell.
Lactantius preserves the story of Constantine\'s vision of the
Chi Rho before his conversion to Christianity. The full text is found
in only one manuscript, which bears the title Lucii Caecilii liber ad
Donatum Confessorem de Mortibus Persecutorum.
* Widely attributed to
Lactantius although it shows only cryptic
signs of Christianity, the poem The Phoenix (de Ave Phoenice) tells
the story of the death and rebirth of that mythical bird . That poem
in turn appears to have been the principal source for the famous
Anglo-Saxon poem to which the modern title The Phoenix is given.
* Opera ("Works") A second edition printed in the monastery at
Subiaco, Lazio , is still extant. It remained in Italy until the late
eighteenth century, when it was known to be in the library of Prince
Vincenzo Maria Carafa in
Messina . The
Bodleian Library in Oxford,
England, acquired this volume in 1817.
Problem of evil
* ^ His role is examined in detail in Elizabeth DePalma Digeser,
The Making of a Christian Empire:
Lactantius and Rome, Ithaca: Cornell
University Press, 2000.
* ^ Serralda, Vincent; Huard, André (1984). Le Berbère-- lumière
de l\'Occident (in French). Nouvelles Editions Latines. p. 56. ISBN
* ^ Annales de la Société d\'histoire et d\'archéologie de
l\'arrondissement de Saint-Malo (in French). 1957. p. 83.
* ^ Manceron, Gilles; Aïssani, Farid (1996). Algérie: comprendre
la crise (in French). Editions Complexe. p. 161. ISBN 9782870276617 .
* ^ Dérives (in French). 1985. p. 15.
* ^ Harnack, Chronologie d. altchr. Lit., II,416
* ^ Conte, Gian Biagio (1999).
Latin Literature: A History.
Baltimore: JHU Press. p. 640. ISBN 0-8018-6253-1 . Retrieved August
* ^ Paul Stephenson, Constantine, Roman Emperor, Christian Victor,
* ^ Encyclopædia Britannica. 7 (15th ed.). 1993.
* ^ Stephenson 2010:106.
* ^ A B C Healy, Patrick. "Lucius Caecilius Firmianus Lactantius."
Catholic Encyclopedia Vol. 8. New York: Robert Appleton Company,
1910. 26 February 2016
* ^ A B C W. Fletcher (1871). The Works of Lactantius.
* ^ "Lot 65 Sale 6417 LACTANTIUS, Lucius Coelius Firmianus (c.
240–c. 320). Opera.". Retrieved 2010-12-29.
* ^ Hill, Charles E., "Why the Early Church Finally Rejected
Premillennialism", Modern Reformation, Jan/Feb 1996, p. 16
* ^ A B C McGinn, Bernard. Visions of the End, Columbia University
Press, 1998 ISBN 9780231112574
* ^ Froom 1950 , pp. 357-358.
* ^ Froom 1950 , pp. 358.
* ^ Froom 1950 , pp. 356-357.
* ^ "The Rubrics of the First Book of
Lactantius Firmianus\'s On
the Divine Institutes Against the Pagans Begin". World Digital
Library. 2011-10-17. Retrieved 2014-03-01.
Lactantius The Divine Institutes, translated by Mary Francis
Catholic University of America Press (1964)
* ^ Charlesworth, James Hamilton. The Odes of Solomon. Oxford:
Oxford UP, 1973, pp. 1, 82
* ^ Lactantius, Divine Institutes, Book III Chapter XXIV
* ^ Nicholas Copernicus (1543), The Revolutions of the Heavenly
* ^ Polonsky Foundation Digitization Project: full scan of Lucius
Coelius Firmianus Lactantius, Opera hosted by the Bodleian Libraries
(bodleian.ox.ac.uk) Provenance information:
http://incunables.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/record/L-002 Accessed 13 July
* Froom, LeRoy (1950). The Prophetic Faith of our Fathers (
* This article incorporates text from a publication now in the
public domain : Herbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "Lucius Caecilius
Catholic Encyclopedia . New York: Robert