Lactantius, Firmian

, or Lucius Cælius, or Cæcilius (Firmianus), an eminent father of the church, was, as some say, an African, or, according to others, a native of Fermo, a town in the marche of Ancdna, whence Le is supposed to have taken his surname. Arnobius was his preceptor. He studied rhetoric in Africa, and with so great reputation, that Constantine the Roman emperor appointed him preceptor to his son Crispus. This brought him to court; but he was so far from giving into the pleasures or corruptions incident to that station, that, amidst very great opportunities of amassing riches, he lived so poor as even frequently to want necessaries. He is account^d the most eloquent of all the ecclesiastical Latin authors. He formed himself upon Cicero, and wrote in such a pure, smooth, and natural, style, and so much in the taste and manner of the lloman orator, that he is generally distinguished by the title of “The Christian Cicero.” We have several pieces of his, the principal of which is his “Institutiones Divinae,” in seven books, composed about the year 320, in defence of Christianity, against all its opposers. Of this treatise he made an abridgment, of which we have only a part, and added it to another tract, “De Ira Divina.” In 1777 the late sir David Dalrymple lord Hailes, published with notes a correct edition of the fifth book “De Justitia,” Edin. 12mo. Lactantius had before written a book “De Operibus Dei,” in which he proves the creation of man, and the divine providence. St. Jerome mentions other works of our author, as “Two Books to Æsclepiades;” “Eight Books of | Letters;” a book entitled “The Festin,” composed before he went to Nicomedia; a poem in hexameter verse, containing a description of his journey thither; a treatise entitled “The Grammarian;” and another, “De Persecutione.” Concerning this last tract, there are various opinions. Dr. Lardner, after stating the evidence on both sides, seems inclined to deny that it was written by LaCtantius. He allows, however, that it is a very valuable work, containing; a short account of the sufferings of Christians under several of the Roman emperors, from the death and resurrection of Christ to Dioclesian; and then a particular history of the persecution excited by that emperor, with the causes and springs of it; as well as the miserable deaths of its chief instruments. The learned judge above mentioned, who published a translation of this work in 1782, Edin. 12mo, has also examined the opinions of those who have treated of its authenticity, with far more acuteness than Lardner, and concludes with Baluze, Mosheim, and other eminent critics, that the treatise “De Mortibus Persecutorum” was written by Lactantius. Lord Hailes’s preface is a master-piece of critical inquiry, nor are his notes and illustrations, which occupy one half of the volume, of less merit or utility.

Some works have unquestionably been erroneously attributed to Lactantius; as the poem called “The Phoenix,” which is the production of a pagan, and not of a Christian. The poem “Upon Easter,” indeed, appears to have been written by a Christian, but one who lived after the time of Lactantius; that “Of the Passion of Christ” is not in his style. The “Arguments upon the Metamorphoses of Ovid,” and the “Notes upon the Thebaid of Statius,” have for their true author Lactantius Placidius the grammarian.

The character of Lactantius as a Christian writer is, that he refutes paganism with great strength of reasoning, but treats divinity too much as a philosopher. He did not understand thoroughly the nature of the Christian mysteries, and has fallen into several errors. His works have gone through a great number of editions, the first of which was published at Rome, in 1468, folio and the last, which is the most ample, at Paris, 1748, in 2 vols. 4-to. 1