Lactantius

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Lucius Caelius (or Caecilius?) Firmianus Lactantius was an early Christian author who wrote in Latin (c. A.D. 240 - c. 320). Lactantius, a native of North Africa, was a pupil of Arnobius (according to Methodius, Chastity 9.2) and taught rhetoric in various cities of the Eastern Roman Empire, ending in Constantinople. He wrote apologetic works explaining Christianity in terms that would be palatable to educated pagans while defending it from pagan philosophers. His Divinae Institutiones ("Divine Institutions") is an early example of a systematic presentation of Christian thought. He was considered somewhat heretical after his death, but Renaissance humanists picked up renewed interest in Lactantius, more for his good elaborately rhetorical Latin style than for his theology.

Lactantius was born a pagan and in his early life taught rhetoric in his native place, 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 Emperor Diocletian he became an official professor of rhetoric in Nicomedia, the voyage from Africa described in his poem Hodoeporicum. Having converted to Christianity, he would have been dismissed after the publication of Diocletian's first "Edict against the Christians" (February 24, 303), and as a Latin rhetor he lived in poverty according to Jerome and eked out a living by writing, until Constantine became his patron. The new emperor appointed the aged scholar 311 or 313 he had to find a home elsewhere. The friendship of the Emperor Constantine raised him from penury and tutor in Latin to his son Crispus, whom Lactantius may have followed to Trier in 317, when Crispus was made Caesar and sent to the city. Crispus was put to death in 326, but when Lactantius died and in what circumstances is not know.

Like so many of the early Christian authors, Lacantius depended on classical models and true to the requirements of his profession, he is polished rather than profound. He well merits the designation of the "Christian Cicero" (Cicero Christianus) bestowed on him by the humanists, for he exhibits many of the shortcomings as well as the graces of his master.


His works:

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,

The Divine Institutions (Divinarum Institutionum Libri VII), written between 303 and 311. This the most important of the writings of Lactantius. 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, planned on a broad scale sufficiently broad enough to silence all opponents. The Catholic Encyclopedia said, "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."

An Epitome of the "Divine institutions" is a summary treatment of the subject.

De Ira Dei ("On the Wrath of God"), directed against the Stoics and Epicureans, dealing with anthropomorphic deities.

De Mortibus Persecutorum, 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 frightful deaths of the persecutors of Christians: Nero, Domitian, Decius, Valerian, Aurelian, and the contemporaries of Lactantius himself, Diocletian, Maximian, Galerius, and Maximus. This work is taken as a chronicle of the last and greatest of the persecutions, in spite of the moral point each anecdote has been arranged to tell. Here Lactantius preserves the story of Constantine I's vision of the labarum 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 Persecutorium.

Widely attributed to Lactantius although it shows no overt sign of Christianity, the charming 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.

External links

fr:Lactance sr:Лактанције

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