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. His most important work is the
Institutiones Divinae ("The Divine Institutes"), an apologetic
treatise intended to establish the reasonableness and truth of
Christianity to pagan critics.
3 Prophetic exegesis
5 See also
8 External links
Lactantius, a Latin-speaking North African of Berber
origin, was not born into a Christian family. He was a
Arnobius who taught at 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 Firmianus".
Lactantius had a successful public career at first. At the request of
Roman Emperor Diocletian, he became an official professor of
rhetoric in 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.
Trier in 317, when
Crispus was made Caesar (lesser
co-emperor) and sent to the city.
Crispus was put to death by order of
Constantine I in 326, but when
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 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 characterized."
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
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 Guglielmino Tanaglia
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 (although the
Sibylline Oracles are now known to be
pseudepigrapha). Book VII of
The Divine Institutes
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
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
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 (Nero, Domitian,
Decius, Valerian, Aurelian) and the contemporaries of Lactantius
himself: Diocletian, Maximian, 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. Here,
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.
^ 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.
^ 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 29,
^ Paul Stephenson, Constantine, Roman Emperor, Christian Victor,
^ Encyclopædia Britannica. 7 (15th ed.). 1993.
^ Stephenson 2010:106.
^ a b c d e f One or more of the preceding sentences
incorporates text from a publication now in the public
domain: Healy, Patrick (1910). "Lucius Caecilius Firmianus
Lactantius". In Herbermann, Charles. Catholic Encyclopedia. 8. New
York: Robert Appleton. Retrieved 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 (
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