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702

LACTANTIUS.

liness, and wisdom of pure religion ; thus seeking to recommend the principles of the true belief to the favour of the philosophers and educated men of the age, to whom chiefly the work is addressed. The period at which this manual was composed is involved in considerable doubt. There is on the one hand a direct allusion (v. 17. § 5) to a per­secution still raging (Spectatae sunt enim spectantur-que adhuc per orbem poenae cultorum Dei, &c.), which seems to point to the horrors under Diocle­tian ; while on the other hand Constantine is ad­dressed by name as emperor, at the beginning of the first, second, fourth, and fifth books. These clauses, it is true, are omitted altogether in several MSS., and hence have by some editors been re­jected as spurious ; while others avoid the difficulty by supposing that the task, commenced in Bithy-nia, was completed in Gaul, after a lapse of twenty years ; or by adopting the plausible conjecture of Baluze, that copies passed into circulation at Ni-comedeia, from which one family of MSS. was derived, and that a second edition was published at a later epoch under happier auspices. Each of the seven books into which the Institutions are divided bears a separate title, whether proceeding from the author or from a transcriber it is impos­sible to say, and constitutes as it were a separate' essay. In the first, De Falsa Religione, the ruling providence and unity of God are asserted, the un­reasonableness of a plurality of deities is demon­strated, and the absurdity of the popular creed is illustrated by an examination of the history and legends of the ancient mythology. In the second, De Origine Erroris, the same subject is pursued, with reference particularly to the folly of paying reverence to idols, and then the steps are traced by which men gradually wandered away from the plain and simple truth. The third, De falsa Sapientia, exposes the empty pretences of so-called phi­losophy, which is pronounced to be an arrogant but weak imposture, a mass of flimsy speculations upon physics, mo-rals, and theology, at once unsub­stantial and contradictory. The fourth, De vera Sapientia et Religione, points out that pure religion is the only source whence pure wisdom can flow, and then proceeds to prove that Christianity is the religion required, by entering into an inquiry with regard to the nature and history of the Messiah. The fifth, De Justitia, is occupied with a dis­quisition upon righteousness, which, having been banished from earth by the invasion of the heathen gods, was brought back by Christ; and concludes with a vehement denunciation of the injustice and impiety of those who persecuted the followers of the Saviour. The sixth, De Vero Cultu, treats of the manner in which homage ought to be rendered to the one true God. The seventh, De Vita Beata, embraces a great variety of discussions ; among others, an investigation of the chief good, the im­mortality of the soul, the duration of the world, the second coming of Christ, the general resurrec­tion, future rewards and punishments.

II. An Epitome of the Institutions, dedicated to Pentadius, is appended to the larger work and is attributed to Lactantius by Hieronymus, who de­scribes it as being even in his time d,Ke(pa\os; and in fact, in all the earlier editions this abridgement begins at the sixteenth chapter of the fifth book of the original. But in the eighteenth century the work was discovered nearly entire in a very an­cient MS. deposited in the royal library at Turin,

LACTANTIUS.

and was published at Paris in 1712 by C. M. Pfafiy chancellor of the university of Tiibmgenv It may, be observed, that Walchius and others have doubted, whether the Epitome really proceeded from the pen: of Lactantius, but we can scarcely prefer their conjectures to the positive testimony of Jerome.

III. De Ira Dei, addressed to an unknown; Donatus, is a controversial tract, directed chiefly against the Epicureans, who maintained that the deeds of men could produce no emotions either of anger or of pleasure in the Deity ; a position which Lactantius declares to be subversive of all true religion, since it at once destroys the doctrine of rewards and punishments.

IV. De Opiftcio Dei s. De Formatione Hominis, addressed to a certain Demetrianus. The first part of this book, to which there seems to be a reference in the Institutions (ii. 10. $ 15), belongs to natural theology, being an argument in favour of the wisdom and beneficence of God, deduced from the wonderful contrivances and adaptations of means to ends discernible in the structure of the human frame; the second part is devoted to spe­culations concerning the nature of the soul.

V. De Mortibm Persecutorum. See caecilius.

VI. Hieronymus speaks of Lactantius as a poet, and several pieces still extant have been ascribed to him, but erroneously. These are, 1. De Phoe-nice, in elegiacs, containing a collection of all the most remarkable tales and legends regarding the far-famed Arabian bird. It is probably a com­pilation comparatively modern. For full inform­ation with regard to its history see Wernsdorff, Poetae Lat. Minores, vol. iii. p. 283. 2. Symposium, an assemblage of one hundred riddles. This is noticed in the article firmianus. 3. De Pascha ad Felicem Episcopum, in elegiacs, is generally be­lieved to have been composed by Venantius Ho-norianus Clementianus Fortunatus, who flourished in the middle of the sixth century. 4. De Passione Domini^ in hexameters, one of the most admired productions of the Christian muse, not unworthy of Lactantius, but bearing in its language the im­press of a much later age. It will be found in the Poetarum Veterum Eccles. Op. Christiana, edited by G. Fabricius, Bas. fol. 1564, and in the Biblio-tlwca Patrum Max., Lugdun. 1677, vol. ii. p. 671.

VII. Lactantius, according to Hieronymus, was the author of a Symposium, of a piece called Gram-maticus, of an itinerary in hexameters, 'Ofionropucov. de Africa usque Nicomediam, of two books, Ad Asclepiadem, who had himself addressed to Lac­tantius a work De Providentia summi Dei (Instit. vii. 4), of four books of epistles Ad Probum, two Ad Severum, and two Ad Demetrianum, all of which are now lost. It appears from his own words (Instit. vii. 1, sub fin.), that he had formed the design of drawing up a work against the. Jews, but we cannot tell whether he ever accomplished his purpose.

The style of Lactantius, formed upon the model of the great orator of Rome, has gained for him the appellation of the Christian Cicero, and not undeservedly. No reasonable critic, indeed, would now assert, with Picus of Mirandula, that the imitator has not only equalled but even surpassed the beauties of his original. But it is impossible not to be charmed with the purity of diction, the easy grace, the calm dignity, and the sonorous flow of his periods, when compared with the harsh phraseology and barbarous extravagance of his

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