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Wall painting from the fourth century

Lucius Caecilius Firmianus Lactantius ( Firmianus, qui et Lactantius , the name in Jerome , De viris illustribus 80;. Dt name form usually Laktanz * 250, † 320) was a from the Roman province of Africa originating Latin rhetoric teacher and Christian apologist . He is counted among the church fathers .


Lactantius was of Berber , non-Christian origin. In Sicca Veneria he became a student of Arnobius the Elder .

Lactantius initially had a successful public career. The Roman emperor Diocletian appointed him as the official rhetorician to Nicomedia ; the journey from Africa is described in his poem Hodoeporicum , which has not survived . There he made the acquaintance of the governor and polemicist Sossianus Hierokles , the philosopher Porphyrios and the later emperors Constantine and Galerius . After converting to Christianity, he resigned his position shortly before the publication of Diocletian's first "Edict against Christians" of February 24, 303, which initiated the persecution of Christians under Diocletian .

As a Latin rhetorician in a Greek city he then lived, according to Hieronymus , in poverty and earned meager earnings from his writings until Constantine became his patron . Because of the persecution of Christians he had to leave Nicomedia and at an advanced age was appointed by Emperor Constantine to teach his son Crispus . In 317 Lactantius Crispus followed Augusta Treverorum ( Trier ); the date and circumstances of his death are unknown.


Lactant is one of the best known apologists (defenders) of early Christianity , that is, he defended Christianity with his writings against the pagan criticism of his environment. The Latin of Laktanz, who also teaches rhetoric, was so good that Pico della Mirandola called him the "Christian Cicero " (Cicero christianus) . However, writers like Jerome expressed doubts about the content of his theology, such as his views on the nature of Jesus. Lactantium did not reject pagan literature, but used it quite extensively and saw its stylistic dexterity as a good means of conveying Christian ideas in a catchy way. Theologically, Laktanz represented an eschatological and a dualistic worldview.

His most important work are the "Divine Instructions" (Institutiones Divinae) , which for apologetic purposes unfold a comprehensive representation and criticism of ancient philosophy, mythology, etc. from a Christian perspective. In the Middle Ages , however, his little writing De mortibus persecutorum ("From the deaths of the persecutors"), in which he tells the life and above all the suffering and death stories of ten Roman emperors , who according to tradition were involved in the persecution of Christians in the The Roman Empire particularly stood out. The work is considered to be strongly propagandistically colored, the respective years of rule are presented in the worst possible light; Nevertheless, the work is a not unimportant source for the history of late antiquity in the time of Diocletian. It also contains one of the versions of Constantine's vision ( De mortibus persecutorum 44: 1-9). A full manuscript was not discovered until 1678 in the French Abbey of Saint Pierre de Moissac .

He dealt extensively with evil or evil , asked the following questions and developed possible alternatives: Either God wants to eliminate the evils and cannot: Then God would be weak, which would not apply to him, or he could and wants to not: Then God would be jealous of what was alien to him. Or he doesn't want to and can't: Then he would be weak and envious at the same time, i.e. not God. Or if he wanted to and could do it, which was only befitting God, then he asked further: Then where do the evils come from and why does he not take them away?

Vides ergo magis propter mala opus esse sapientia: quae nisi fuissent proposita, rational animal non essemus. “So you see that we need wisdom above all because of evil. If this were not there, we would not be reasonable living beings. ”According to Lactantius, the evils serve the knowledge of the good, the question remains open, why God created the opposition between good and evil.


Lactantium rejected the spherical shape of the earth , which only a few educated people did in the period from late antiquity to the renaissance. For him, the resulting possibility of the existence of antipodes , i.e. people in the southern hemisphere below, contradicted the statements of the Bible (for example Rom. 10.18  EU ). The church father Augustine of Hippo joined in the rejection of the antipodes, even if he believed the spherical shape of the earth to be possible. In De genesi ad litteram , Augustine exhorted the Christian preachers not to contrast proven statements of the pagan philosophers about the cosmos with nonsensical assumptions derived from the literal interpretation of Scripture. In 748 Boniface accused Virgil of Salzburg of heresy with Pope Zacharias , referring to lactance, since he was considering a separate redeemer for the antipodes. Philosophers such as Blaise Pascal and René Descartes reminded the Church of this letter when they rejected the heliocentric system on the basis of scriptures.


Beginning of the Divinae institutiones in a magnificent Renaissance manuscript (Florence, around 1425)
  • De opificio Dei ("On God's work of creation")
  • Divinae institutiones ("Divine Instructions"). Includes seven books, these are:
    • de falsa Religione ("About false religion")
    • de origine erroris ("About the origin of error")
    • de falsa sapientia ("From false wisdom")
    • de vera sapientia et religione ("On true wisdom and religion")
    • de justitia ("On Justice")
    • de vero cultu ("Of true worship")
    • de vita beata ("About blessed life")
  • Epitome divinarum institutionum (excerpt from the "Divine Instructions")
  • De mortibus persecutorum ("Of the ways in which the persecutors died")
  • De ave Phoenice ("About the Phoenix Bird")
  • De ira Dei ("On the Wrath of God") [2]

Editions / translations

  • Lactant: De ira Dei liber . Edited and introduced by Heinrich Kraft and Antonie Wlosok. Scientific Book Society, Darmstadt 1971, ISBN 3-534-06044-X .
  • Lucius Caelius Firmianus called Lactantius: Divine instructions in short form. Introduced, translated and explained by Eberhard Heck and Gudrun Schickler. KG Saur, Munich and Leipzig 2001, ISBN 3-598-73006-3 .
  • Lactant: De mortibus persecutorum - The ways of death of the persecutors. Latin / German, translated and introduced by Alfons Städele (= Fontes Christiani . Volume 43). Brepols, Turnhout 2003.


Overview representations


  • Timothy D. Barnes : Lactantius and Constantine . In: Journal of Roman Studies . No. 63, 1973, pp. 29-46.
  • Elizabeth De Palma Digeser: The Making of a Christian Empire. Lactantius and Rome . Cornell University Press, Ithaca / London 2000, ISBN 0-8014-3594-3 .
  • Anne Friedrich: The symposium of the XII sapientes. Commentary and author's question (= texts and comments . Vol. 22). de Gruyter, Berlin / New York 2002, ISBN 3-11-017059-0 .
  • Renate Laszlo: The poetic poems of Lactantius . Tectum, Marburg 2002, ISBN 3-8288-8387-7 .
  • Andreas Löw: Hermes Trismegistus as a witness to the truth. The Christian hermetic reception from Athenagoras to Laktanz (= Theophaneia . Vol. 36). Philo, Berlin / Vienna 2002, ISBN 3-8257-0322-3 .
  • Wolfram Winger: Personality through humanity. The ethical-historical profile of Christian doctrine of action at Lactanz. Horizon of thought - text translation - interpretation - history of impact (= forum interdisciplinary ethics . Vol. 22). Peter Lang, Frankfurt am Main 1999, ISBN 3-631-33602-0 .
  • Antonie Wlosok : Lactance and the Philosophical Gnosis. Investigations into the history and terminology of the Gnostic concept of salvation . Carl Winter University Press, Heidelberg 1960.

Web links

Wikisource: Lactantius  - Sources and full texts
Wikisource: Lucius Caelius Firmianus Lactantius  - Sources and full texts (Latin)
Commons : Lucius Caecilius Firmianus Lactantius  - Collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Lactantius: Liber de ira Dei. (PL 7 0115A) CAPUT XIII De mundi et temporum commodo et usu. [1]