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 _
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
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 "childish".
_ 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
* _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
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 9782723302395 .
* ^ _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
* ^ _Encyclopædia Britannica_. 7 (15th ed.). 1993.
* ^ Stephenson 2010:106.
* ^ _A_ _B_ _C_ Healy, Patrick. "Lucius Caecilius Firmianus
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_ (
and PDF). 1.
* _ This article incorporates text from a publication now in the
public domain : Herbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "Lucius Caecilius
Catholic Encyclopedia _. New York: Robert