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Lactantius

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Treatise
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(4/5) *****
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Greek
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Estimated Range of Dating: 303-316 A.D.

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K. H. Schwarte lists his works as De opificio Dei, which was "composed in 303/304 and emulating Cicero, this is a cryptochristian (because of the persecution) treatise on the human being as a successful work of God that is obliged to venerate its creator"; Divinae institutiones, which was "published in a first version between 304 and 311, expanded beginning in 324 by speeches of the emperor and dualistic additions, and in this version published perhaps only after Lactantius's death"; Epitome divinarum institutionum, which was "a summary of the principal work ... after 314, probably between the first and second edition of inst."; De ira Dei, "a defense of the biblical picture of an angry and, in his anger, justly punishing God"; De mortibus persecutorum, "a politically inspired medition on persecutions of Christians down to 313 ... the time of composition can be narrowed down to the period from the end of 313 to the summer of 316"; and De ave Phoenice, "a poem of eighty-five distichs, written probably between 303 and 311, on the phoenix, a marvelous bird who appears first in Herodotus 2.37 and, in a Christian interpretation, in 1 Clem 25f." (Dictionary of Early Christianity, pp. 366-367)

Claudio Moreschini writes, "As noted above, a bond of teacher and student joined Arnobius to Lactantius, who was likewise an apologist but took a far different approach and had a wider range of views. Lactantius marks the end of the age of apologetics in the West, but his apologetics are already much more different from those of Tertullian, thus reflecting the changing times. We have seen that apologetics was no longer a matter of defense and controversy but could also be exhortatory, as in Minucius Felix. Now, for Lactantius, it becomes a tool of controversy with pagans and therefore, while more learned, also less specifically Christian. The ability to debate and teach, to broaden the scope of one's research, and to explore problems without aprioristic exclusions, but rather with the outlook of a Christian who lives in this world and peacefully awaits the end time, was not valued in the later centuries of early Christianity. Jerome writes sourly: 'Would that he had been able to teach our doctrines with the same ease with which he could tear down those of others!' (Epist. 58.10)." (Early Christian Greek and Latin Literature, vol. 1, p. 398)

Oliver Nicholson writes, "Lactantius, taught by Arnobius at Sicca, had acquired wider horizons than his master by the time he wrote his surviving works in later life. He was called to be professor of Latin rhetoric at the imperial city of Nicomedia in Asia Minor (Jerome, Vir. Ill. 80), in extreme old age he was tutor to the son of the Emperor Constantine (Jerome, Chron. p. 230e Helm), and there may even be political overtones to his elegant elegiacs On the Phoenix. His enthusiasm for court gossip is most evident in his vitriolic pamphlet On the Deaths of the Persecutors, an important source for the political history of the years which saw the Great Persecution (303–13) and the rise to supreme power of Constantine the Great (306–37). It was written in 313/15, soon after Constantine and his ally Licinius had brought the persecutions to an end, and recounts recent history in detail to show by 'great and wonderful examples' how God's judgment has destroyed emperors who dared to harm the Christians; 'it has come late, but heavily and in the way it ought' (Mort. 1.6). The message may have influenced Constantine directly: the peroration of a sermon preached by the emperor to the Christians at his court enumerated the unsavoury circumstances in which his persecuting predecessors had perished (Coet. 24–5). On the Deaths of the Persecutors is notable for its argument as well as for the historical details it records; it is the first application by a political insider of Christian notions about God's involvement in human history to the realities of practical politics." (The Cambridge History of Early Christian Literature, pp. 261-262)

Among his lost writings are the Banquet (Symposion), Itinerary (Hodoepericum), Grammaticus, two books To Asclepiades, four books with Epistles to Probus, two books with Epistles to Severus, and two books with Epistles to His Pupil Demetrianus. In addition to this, J. Quasten writes, "A manuscript at Milan (Codex Ambrosianus F 60 sup. saec. VIII-IX) contains a small fragment with the marginal note Lactantius de motibus animi. Consisting of a few lines only, it deals with the affections of the soul and explains their origin. They have been implanted by God, to help man in the practice of virtue. If they are kept within limits they lead to righteousness and eternal life, otherwise to vice and everlasting damnation. Form and content make it probable that the fragment is really Lactantius'." (Patrology, vol. 2, p. 405)

Claudio Moreschini writes, "The Divine Institutes, though polemical in character, are devoted to a global reappraisal of the pagan past, in order to condemn it, yes, but also to salvage it where the author believes it to have borne its best fruits. As such, the work is an intelligent effort to mediate between Christianity and paganism, and a work of harmonious synthesis that would bear its fruit in the Renaissance when the rediscovery of the classical world would have to take account of the Christian religion. Lactantius became a model for the synthesis or syntheses attempted by the Renaissance. This writer's interpretation of Virgil, as a poet who did not end up very far from the truth, is typical of the Christianity of his age and also a symbol of that synthesis." (Early Christian Greek and Latin Literature, p. 400)


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