Lactantius

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Lucius Caecilius Firmianus Lactantius was an early Christian author (ca. 240 – ca. 320) who became an advisor to the first Christian Roman emperor, Constantine I, guiding his religious policy as it developed,[1] and tutor to his son.

Contents

Biography

Lactantius, a Latin-speaking 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 people who still practiced the traditional religions of the Empire, while defending Christian beliefs against the criticisms of Hellene 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 took a renewed interest in him, more for his elaborately rhetorical Latin style than for his theology.

A translator of the Divine Institutions starts his introduction as follows:

Lactantius was not born into a Christian family. In his early life, he 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 Roman Emperor Diocletian, he became an official professor of rhetoric in Nicomedia, the voyage from Africa described in his poem Hodoeporicum. There he associated in the imperial circle with the administrator and polemicist Sossianus Hierocles and the pagan philosopher Porphyry; here he will first have met Constantine, and Galerius, whom he cast as villain in the persecutions.[3] Having converted to Christianity, he resigned his post[4] 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).[5] As a Latin rhetor he subsequently lived in poverty according to Jerome and eked out a living by writing, until Constantine I became his patron. The new emperor appointed the aged scholar in 311 or 313. The friendship of the Emperor Constantine raised him from penury and he became tutor in Latin to his son Crispus, whom Lactantius may have followed to Trier in 317, when Crispus was made Caesar (lesser co-emperor) and sent to the city. Crispus was put to death in 326, but when Lactantius died and in what circumstances is not known.

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