Lactantius
(c. 250 -c. 325)

EarlyChurch.org.uk


Synopsis

Lucius Caecilius Firmianus Lactantius trained as a rhetorician under Arnobius the Elder.[1] He was appointed by Emperor Diocletian (c.245-313) as head of rhetoric at Nicomedia in about AD 300, which he resigned upon his conversion to Christianity. From 317 he served Constantine (c. 274-337) as tutor to his son, Crispus.[2] His surviving works and the testimonies of his successors demonstrate that he was a poor theologian, being "...more adept at showing the incongruity of heathen polytheism than in establishing Christian teaching."[3] Jerome wrote of him that: "If only Lactantius, almost a river of Ciceronian eloquence, had been able to uphold our cause with the same facility with which he overturns that of our adversaries!"[4]

The stated purpose of Lactantius’ writings was to present Christianity in a form that would be attractive to philosophical pagans.[5] In practice this resulted in a uneasy amalgam of Christianity, Platonism, Stoicism and Pythagorianism. His views led to his posthumous condemnation as a heretic. Interest in his works was revived during the Renaissance not because of their outstanding theological content, but rather due to their "excellent Latin style."[6]

The surviving works of Lactantius have played an important part in the development of what J.B. Russell calls "the flat error" - the idea that the early and mediaeval church taught that the earth is flat.[7] The reason for this was because he linked the a rejection of belief in antipodes (the existence of a country on the other side of the world) with the shape of the earth.[8] The question of the existence of the antipodes[9] had posed a problem for all Christian theologians. Russell, who has researched the "flat error" in some detail, explains:

Christian doctrine affirmed that all humans must be of one origin, descended from Adam and Eve and redeemable by Christ, "the Second Adam." The Bible was silent as to whether antipodeans existed, but natural philosophy had demonstrated that if they did, they could have no connection with the known part of the globe, either because the sea was too wide to sail across or because the equatorial zones were too hot to sail through. There could be no genetic connection between the antipodeans and us. Therefore any alleged antipodeans could not be descended from Adam and therefore could not exist.(10)

Rob Bradshaw, Webmaster

References

[1] Methodius, Chastity 9.2 (Musurillo, 134-135).

[2] Jerome, Lives, 80; Epistle 70.5 (NPNF, 2nd series, Vol. 3, 378).

[3] F.L. Cross & E.A. Livingstone, editors. The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, 3rd edn. (Oxford: OUP, 1997)(3)ODCC, 791.

[4] Encyclopedia Britannica Micropedia., Vol. 7, 15th edn., 1993, 90.

[5] Jerome, Epistle 58.10.

[6] Lactantius, Institutes, 1.1 (ANF, Vol. 7, 10); R.M. Ogilvie, The Library of Lactantius. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1978), 96.

[7] Jeffrey Burton Russell, Inventing the Flat Earth: Columbus and Modern Historians. (New York: Praeger, 1991), 32.

[8] Pliny the Elder (23-79 AD) notes that it was the common belief in his day that the world was a globe. Pliny, Natural History 2.2.5; 2.65.161-166; trans. H. Rackham, Loeb Classical Library, Vol. 1. (London: William Heinemann Ltd., 1988), 173, 297-301.

[9] Russell, 20: "...land on the opposite side of the planet or, more commonly, human inhabitants of lands on the other side of the planet."

[10] Russell, 20.

Bibliography

On-line Resource Bibliography of Lactantius (Prof. Jackson Bryce)
Article T.P. Halton & R.D. Sider, "A Decade of Patristic Scholarship 1970-1979," The Classical World, Vol. 76 (1982-1983): 125-127.

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Primary Sources

Book or monograph Jerome, Lives of Illustrius Men, 80.
On-line Resource Lactantius (Christian Classic Ethereal Library)
Book or monograph Lactantius: De Mortibus Persecutorum, J.L. Creed, ed. & trans. Oxford: Clarendon, 1984.
Book or monograph Lactantius,The Divine Institutes, Books 1-7, The Fathers of the Church, Vol. 49, M.F. McDonald, trans. Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 1964, 1965. Hbk. ISBN: 0813200490. pp.495. {Amazon.com}
On-line Resource Lactantius, The Divine Institutes (Christian Classics Ethereal Library)
Book or monograph Lactantius, Minor Works, The Fathers of the Church, Vol. 54, Mary Francis McDonald, trans. Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 1992. Hbk. ISBN: 0813200547. pp.241. {Amazon.com}
On-line Resource Lactantius, On the Deaths of the Persecutors (Christian Classics Ethereal Library)

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Secondary Sources

Book or monograph Marcia L. Colish, The Stoic Tradition From Antiquity to the Early Middle Ages: II Stoicism in Christian Latin Thought Through the Sixth Century. Leiden: Brill, 1990. Hbk. ISBN: 9004093303. pp.37-47 {Amazon.com}
Book or monograph F.L. Cross, The Early Christian Fathers. Studies in Theology 1. London: Gerald Duckworth & Co. Ltd., 1960. Hbk. pp.184-186.
Article Elizabeth DePalma Digeser, "Lactantius and Constantine's Letter to Arles. Dating the Divine Institutes," Journal of Early Christian Studies 2.1 (1994): 33-52.
Article J.A. Draper, "Lactantius and the Jesus Tradition in the Didache," Journal of Theological Studies 40.1 (1989): 112-116.
Article P. McGuckin, "The Christology of Lactantius," Studia Patristica, Vol. 17, No. 2. (1982): 813-820.
Article P. McGuckin, "The non-Cyprianic Scripture Texts in Lactantius' Divine Institutes," Vigiliae Christianae 36 (1982): 145-63.
Article P. McGuckin, "Spirit Christology; Lactantius and His Sources," Heythrop Journal 24 (1983): 141-48.
Article P. McGuckin, "Lactantius as Theologian; an Angelic Christology on the Eve of Nicaea," Revista di storia e letteratura religiosa 22 (1986): 492-97.
Article O.P. Nicholson, "The Source of the Dates in Lactantius' Divine Institutes," Journal of Theological Studies, Vol. 36 (1985): 291-310.
Article Oliver Nicholson, "Flight from Persecution as Imitation of Christ: Lactantius' Divine Institutes IV.18,1-2," Journal of Theological Studies 40.1 (1989): 48-65; 40 (1989): 48-645.
Article C. Ocker, Unius Arbitrio Mundum Regi Necesse Est: Lactantius' Concern for the Preservation of Roman Society," Vigiliae Christianae, Vol. 40 (1986): 348-364.
Book or monograph Robert Maxwell Ogilvie, The Library of Lactantius. Oxford: Clarendon, 1978. Hbk. ISBN: 0198266456. pp.132. {Amazon.com}
Article P.A. Roots, "The De Orpificio Dei: The Workmanship of God in Lactantius," Classical Quarterly, Vol. 37 (1987): 466-486.
Book or monograph Arne Søby-Christiansen, Lactantius the Historian: An Analysis of the Mortibus Persecutorum. Copenhagen: Museum Tusculanum, 1980. Pblk. ISBN: 8772891882. pp.119. {Amazon.com}
Article J. Stevenson, "The Life and Literary Activity of Lactantius," Studia Patristica, Vol. 1 (1957): 661-677.
Article J. Stevenson, "Aspects the Relations Between Lactantius and the Classics," Studia Patristica, Vol. 4 (1961): 497-503.

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Biographies

On-line Resource Lucius Caecilius Firmianus Lactantius (P.J. Healy)

Related Subjects

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