Apocalyptic Spirituality: Treatises and Letters of Lactantius, Adso of Montier-En-Der, Joachim of Fiore, the Franciscan Spirituals, Savonarola

By Bernard McGinn | Go to book overview

Part I LACTANTIUS

Even the students and admirers of Lactantius have not bestowed undue praise on him. To René Pichon, "Lactantius is 'mediocre' in the Latin sense of the word--and also a bit in the French sense"; 1 to Vincenzo Loi, "Lactantius is neither a philosophical or theological genius nor linguistic genius." 2 Despite these rather cool remarks, it would be a mistake to underestimate this fluent Christian rhetorician whom the Renaissance Humanist Giovanni Pico della Mirandola once referred to as "the Christian Cicero." Like his pagan mentor, Lactantius's originality is not as important as his typicality. He is an important witness to many of the major themes of Patristic thought, not only the encounter between Christian doctrine and Latin Classical culture, but also the continued vitality of Christian apocalypticism.

The facts of his life can be briefly told. 3 L. Caecilius Firmianus Lactantius was born in North Africa before the middle third century. Jerome tells us that he was a student of Arnobius, another African rhetorician who converted to Christianity late in life. We do not know whether Lactantius's conversion took place before he was summoned to teach rhetoric at Nicomedia in Asia Minor by the Emperor Diocletian. At the beginning of Diocletian's persecution in 303, Lactantius had to retire from his position at court. He appears to have

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