16. Eusebius and Lactantius: Rhetoric, Philosophy, and Christian Theology [1]

Kristina A. Meinking
Philosophers and theologians of antiquity had long held that the supreme god was impassible and thus not subject to emotions. In his De ira Dei, however, Lactantius argues that the Christian God does have emotions and that anger, in particular, is critical to the divine nature. My aim in this essay is to outline the basic contours of Lactantius’ argument and to suggest its significance, not only on its own, but also as a counter to Eusebius. Indeed, by examining Lactantius, we can better understand Eusebius. Both apologists lived through and wrote about the same historical events, both were steeped in the classical rhetorical tradition, and both manipulated that tradition in order to represent Christianity in very specific ways. Yet in corpus and in theological persuasion, these two Christian intellectuals maintained decidedly different opinions. In what follows, I argue that, in De ira Dei, we see the hallmarks and effects—strategic and unnoticed, intentional and conditioned—of an intellectual tradition that stands in marked contrast to that of Eusebius. These distinctions are especially apparent in two facets of the treatise: Lactantius’ treatment of philosophers and his mode of argument. In both cases, where we would expect to see a privileging of philosophical hermeneutics and argumentation, we find instead the employment and elevation of Latin rhetorical discourse.
Scholars have long noted that Eusebius drew upon his rhetorical training across the constituent genres of his corpus and have likewise carefully studied his theological arguments in light of the rhetorical moves that he makes therein. [2] In this way, Eusebius the theologian is markedly representative of the broader state of fourth-century Christian studies. Rhetorical influences in the works of John Chrysostom and Origen have also been examined for both their technical and their theological argument. [3] In all of these cases, rhetoric has been conceptualized as the handmaiden to theology and as an underpinning of a theologian’s reading and reception of, especially, biblical texts. At the same time, the long tradition of Greek (and mostly Platonic) philosophy has been seen as the mechanism by which these theologians interpreted their sacred texts. Similarly, the arguments maintained by such philosophers were those with which Greek-writing Christian intellectuals are thought to have aligned their own theological claims. Despite a handful of author-based studies, for example, of Tertullian, Arnobius, and even Lactantius, little attention has been paid to the ways in which Christian intellectuals of the Latin tradition crafted their contributions to Christian theology. [4] That is to say that, although a general awareness of the importance of the rhetorical tradition has shaped the relevant scholarship about these individuals, our focus should now be on the consequences of different traditions of rhetorical training and techniques on Christian theology.
Lactantius’ display of his rhetorical education and the tradition of which it is representative in De ira Dei also brings the effects of Eusebius’ rhetorical training into clearer view. Two facets of De ira Dei will prove useful in determining the extent to which each apologist relied on similar or divergent traditions: first, the allusions to biblical texts; and, second, the rhetorical argumentation of the text. Lactantius’ use of these methods is both pedestrian and at the same time unique. On the one hand, Lactantius reflexively and unconsciously draws upon his educational (and vocational) training, as do others like Origen and Eusebius. Yet, despite their shared description as “rhetorical,” the educations and traditions of these two Greek-writing intellectuals remain distinct from that of Lactantius. On the other hand, however, the very nature of his Latin rhetorical training caused Lactantius to shape a different argument and, more crucially, to approach the theological problems at hand in a significantly different way.
One of the most obvious places that we would expect to find mention of divine wrath is in Lactantius’ chronicle of the persecutions in his De Mortibus Persecutorum, a text which has parallels in Book 8 of Eusebius’ Historia Ecclesiastica. Yet it is here that the idea of God’s anger is surprisingly absent. Lactantius’ prefatory comments indicate both relief at the end of persecution and conviction that those who offend God will eventually be punished:
They who insulted the divinity lie low, they who cast down the holy temple are fallen with more tremendous ruin, and the tormentors of just men have poured out their guilty souls amidst plagues inflicted by heaven, and amidst deserved tortures. For God delayed to punish them that, by great and marvelous examples, he might teach posterity that he alone is God, and that with fit vengeance he executes judgment on the proud, the impious, and the persecutors.
Lactantius, De Mortibus Persecutorum 1.5–7 [5]
The list begins with Nero and continues through Galerius and the eventual triumph of Constantine (and Licinius), increasing in detail with each successive emperor. Given Lactantius’ expressed plan to show how the punishment of God was meted out, some consideration of the anger that led to punishment seems warranted. Yet there is no exploration of divine wrath, and only one mention of it, wherein Aurelian is described as having “provoked the anger of God.” [6] The emphasis instead is on God as punisher (vindex) and on his judgment, and not on the necessity of anger to these roles.
We see Eusebius taking a similar approach in his discussion of the persecutions, with one important exception: while Lactantius is focused on the description of God’s punishment against the persecutors, Eusebius initially envisions the persecutions as punishment for lax Christian attitudes and behaviors. [7] Conflict and dissent among Christian leaders and congregations are here seen as reasons for divine judgment (8.1.7), with a biblical quotation (Lamentations 2:1–2) about God’s wrath provided as justification. Later in the book, divine judgment is linked not to Christian suffering, but rather to God’s punishment of Galerius (8.16.3); this is also, interestingly, the only point in the book where God’s anger is directly mentioned (8.16.2). [8]
Both De Mortibus Persecutorum and Historia Ecclesiastica were designed to serve specific apologetic purposes, yet even these purportedly historical accounts betray the theological opinions of their authors. Lactantius and Eusebius invoke the rhetoric of God’s punishment as evidence of his judgment and his wrath in what they deem to be an appropriate context; elsewhere each writer makes a significantly different claim about the existence and function of divine emotions. In Divine Institutes 2.17.3–5, Lactantius tell us that God:
suffers men to stray and to fail in duty even to himself while he remains just, gentle, and patient. In him is perfect virtue: perfect patience is necessarily in him also. Hence the view of some people that God does not even get angry, because he is not subject to emotions, which are disturbances of the mind: all creatures liable to emotional affect are frail. That belief destroys truth and religion utterly. Let us set aside for the moment, however, this topic of the wrath of God, because the material for it is quite large and needs to be treated more broadly in its own right. [9]
This programmatic statement comes immediately before Lactantius gives his readers a recapitulation of the book’s material. The philosophers’ refusal to attribute anger to God is presented as a significant factor in their greater misconception of the divine. It is also shaped as a topic worth its own separate treatment. Lactantius’ awareness of his projects in both texts and of their relationship to one another is further evidenced in the second chapter of De ira Dei, where he refers to this passage and its broader context as ample proof of philosophical error. [10]
In Divine Institutes, Lactantius establishes a divide between philosophy and theology qua religion that carries into, and is equally evident in, De ira Dei. Indeed, the problem at the heart of De ira Dei is very much a theological one: is the supreme deity capable of anger? The question of the supreme god’s impassibility, as well as his immateriality and immutability, had long been a subject of philosophical and theological debate. In response to their inheritance of a series of texts, most notably the Homeric epics, Greek philosophers adopted varied ways of negotiating the (philosophically) problematic depictions of deities as fickle, anthropomorphic, and subject to emotions. An example from the Republic is illustrative of the basic problem in its early formation. In the second book, during a conversation about the education necessary and appropriate for the youth in the ideal state, Socrates attacks the Homeric divinities. Having divided education into two parts, music and gymnastics, Socrates first addresses music, including literature. He defines bad literature as belonging to the realm of the poets, namely Homer and Hesiod, and, more precisely, as anything that carries the fault of “telling a bad lie.” This kind of lie is one that consists of an “erroneous representation made of the nature of gods and heroes,” like a painter who paints a portrait that lacks even the shadow of a likeness to the original. [11] It does not matter, Socrates says, whether or not these stories are meant to be read allegorically; what matters is that the youth, especially, will not know how to differentiate between the literal and the allegorical, and that this is too grave a risk to take. [12]
Heraclitus “the Allegorist,” writing some five hundred years later, would agree with such critiques: “if he [Homer] meant nothing allegorically, he was impious through and through, and sacrilegious fables, loaded with blasphemous folly, run riot through both epics.” [13] Heraclitus seeks to redeem Homer, however, and argues that in order to understand the poet, one needs to “recognize Homeric allegory” and to discern “what is said in a philosophical sense.” [14] For Philo of Alexandria (20 BC–AD 50), allegory served a pedagogical function. In his Quod Deus Sit Immutabilis, Philo attributes the need to endow God with human characteristics to the human failure to comprehend anything other than the fact of God’s existence. [15] Christians faced opposition similar to that against which Philo was writing in his treatise, for they too had inherited a series of texts in which the supreme deity was described in anthropomorphic and anthropopathic language. [16] As Karen Jo Torjesen succinctly states: “among Christians, the crisis was generated by the confrontation of a philosophical conception of divine incorporeality with biblical anthropomorphism.” [17] Just as Heraclitus, Philo, and others did, Christians developed allegorical strategies for explaining such representations and moreover for offering an interpretation of them that would be consonant with their own cultural and intellectual traditions and inheritances. [18]
Despite the popularity and long-standing tradition of allegorical and figural reading among Greek theologians, however, there remained a persistent strand of literal interpretation among Christian intellectuals writing in Latin. In De ira Dei, Lactantius gives us a clear example of this: here, God’s wrath is correct and essential. Against the Stoic and Epicurean straw men of the treatise, the apologist maintains that God has certain appropriate and necessary emotions, among which he counts anger. In choosing to affirm divine anger, Lactantius intentionally adopts a stance contrary to those of his predecessors and contemporaries. This choice could be attributed to his avowed, blatant dislike of philosophy and to his desire to appeal to a decidedly pagan audience. To take Lactantius’ claims in De ira Dei at face value, however, and to accept that he abandoned one of the foremost intellectual traditions of his time out of mere dislike of it, is far too simplistic. Part of the challenge in finding an alternative is that Lactantius himself does not provide one; rather he informs us that he intends to meet the philosophers on their own terms. Both ancient and modern readers would correctly expect a treatment of the problem that is more obviously philosophical or theological. Yet this is precisely what he does not do. The arguments of the treatise are not so much philosophical as rhetorical, as Lactantius both confronts and conceptualizes the theological problem in terms of Latin rhetorical discourse and principles.
What Lactantius offers is a reasoned and organized defense of God’s wrath, presented step-by-step and built upon the refutation of his opponents’ claims. One of the ways he does this is by presenting a point in the opposition’s argument and rebutting it with one of his own. Given the purportedly Christian bent of the treatise, one would expect to find a series of such rebuttals explicitly couched in scriptural examples and proofs. This expectation too is in vain: early on, Lactantius informs us that he will refrain from referencing biblical texts because they are viewed with such hostility by the philosophers. [19] Insofar as he intended his audience to understand him to mean direct and obvious references (e.g. quotation and exegesis), Lactantius fulfills this promise. The same cannot be said for more allusive and indirect references. In fact, he relies on scriptural themes and parallels, particularly those culled from the books of the Old Testament, at precise moments in the treatise. Three moments in De ira Dei are illustrative of this approach: his discussion of the master and slave (5.12–5.14); his argument for the necessity of evil (13.13; 13.17); and his definition of anger itself (17.7; 17.11–12; 17.17; 17.20–21). We shall briefly consider each of these.
In the fifth chapter of the treatise, Lactantius introduces the relationship between the master and the slave as a useful model for understanding the relationship between God and humans. He begins by attacking the Stoic idea of a supreme god who is free from vicious emotions, who is envisioned to be incapable of inflicting injury on anyone. [20] Where the Stoics see definitive difference between, e.g. anger and kindness, Lactantius sees the all-encompassing nature of the divine. A verse from Deuteronomy lies at the heart of this idea: “See now that I, even I, am he; there is no god besides me. I kill and I make alive; I wound and I heal; and no one can deliver from my hand.” [21] The Deuteronomic expression of God’s power to embrace such contradictions is thus brought to bear on the Stoics’ inability to fathom that such apparent opposites could coexist. It is never the case that God can be or have only one thing or another, or that he can have nothing, but rather that he has both elements of a pair.
Lactantius again invokes the analogy, this time more fully, to highlight the close dependence of these seemingly opposite emotions. In Lactantius’ mind, the intertwined nature of love and hatred, and of anger and kindness, are exemplified by this social relationship:
If any master has a good and a bad slave in his household, clearly he does not hate both or confer honor and favors on both. For if he does this he is both unjust and foolish. But he addresses the good one in a friendly manner, he honors him and appoints him to the command of his house and family and all of his own things, but he punishes the bad one with reproaches, with whippings, with nakedness, hunger, thirst, with fetters, so that by these things the latter may be an example to others to keep them from sinning, and the former to gain favor, so that fear may restrain some, and honor excite others . . . And just as he who loves confers good things on those whom he loves, so he who hates inflicts evils upon those whom he hates. Because this proof is true it can be dissolved by no means.
Lactantius, De ira Dei 5.12–5.14 [22]
A parable that appears in both the Gospel of Matthew (24:45–51) and that of Luke (12:24–48, but especially 35–48) lies at the core of this idea. [23] In each version of the parable, Jesus tells the story of a master who has unexpectedly come home. If this master discovers that his slaves have behaved well and are alert upon his arrival, he rewards them; if however he finds that the slave believed him to have been delayed, has beaten other slaves and has otherwise abused the master’s property, the master will “cut him into pieces.” [24]
In its scriptural context, the passage is meant to be an allegory for what will happen upon the return of Jesus; the eschatological point of the story is that he can return at any moment and that those who worship him should be prepared for that arrival and the judgment that will come with it. [25] Lactantius’ paraphrase omits the eschatological elements and construes the story as a simple example: the master’s reaction to the state of affairs he discovers upon his return is illustrative of the natural balance between love and hate. While the language that Lactantius adopts to express this idea is ultimately scriptural, he also draws upon a classical parallel in the figure of Archytas of Tarentum. [26] Later in the treatise, Lactantius mocks those who tout Archytas as an example of restrained rage; Archytas is praised for having stopped himself from beating a slave who ruined his estate and for telling the slave that he would have beaten him had he not been angry. [27] In the first place, Lactantius takes issue with Archytas’ forbearance with the slave: “it is a fault,” he writes, “not to check the faults of slaves and children; for through their escaping without punishment they will proceed to greater evil.” [28] The only situation in which Archytas’ self-restraint would have been appropriate is if he had been angry at “any citizen or equal who injured him”—proper anger is reserved for those who are inferior to the individual holding authority, but anger is inappropriate when directed towards those who are equal to or above an individual in power or stature. [29]
The models of the power dynamic and that of reward and punishment provided by the analogy are indicative of the way in which Lactantius alludes to scriptural sources and associates them with examples drawn from stories familiar to those who were versed in the moral and ethical literature of the classical tradition. By refraining from a direct quotation or nominal reference to the parable, Lactantius allows the story to remain at a comfortable distance from the explicit scriptural accounts that his opponents so detest while simultaneously leaving open the possibility for a well-versed (Christian) reader to connect the abbreviated account given in De ira Dei with the Christian parable. [30] His criticism of the classical example of Archytas is not only a direct attack on the Stoics (and Plato, whom he also names), but also an echoing endorsement of the scriptural parable to which he had earlier alluded. Again we find a shift in meaning: the model presented is not so much eschatological as it is moral; the slave ought to obey and always expect the master lest he (rightfully) react in anger, and not necessarily because the final judgment could come at any moment. This is not to say that the eschatological element was completely absent from Lactantius’ mind, but rather that his immediate concern in the treatise lies within the parameter of human behavior and its consequences.
Lactantius carries the discussion of anger’s utility and appropriateness in God as he continues to argue against the Stoics. Particular attention is devoted to this idea in the thirteenth chapter, where the correlativity of opposites is expressed in terms of the mutual dependence of good and evil. The larger claim in this chapter is that both the Stoics and the Academics misunderstood the problem of evil: the Academics have used it to argue that the world was not made (by God) for humankind, and the Stoics have given the ridiculous reply that there is some benefit even in something that appears bad. [31] Lactantius proposes a solution:
They could have answered more concisely and truly in this way: when God had formed man as if in his own image . . . he set before him both good and evil things, since he gave him wisdom, the whole system of which depends on the discernment of things evil and good . . . Truly, if only good things are put in sight, what need is there for deliberation, intellect, skill, or reason . . .?
Lactantius, De ira Dei 13.13 and 13.17 [32]
The idea that humankind was formed in God’s own image has clear scriptural parallels, but the more important resonance here is that God placed (proposuit) both good and evil before humans. According to Lactantius, it is because God endowed humans alone with wisdom (sapientia), itself the one trait that most links humans to their creator, that they are capable of distinguishing between good and evil; the entire reason (ratio) for which that wisdom exists is to recognize what is good and what is evil and to respond appropriately. [33]
Lactantius’ articulation of this idea is phrased in scriptural terms; the lines above are modeled on a passage from Deuteronomy in which the covenant between God and the Israelites is renewed. De ira Dei 13.13 and 13.17 directly echo only two verses from the Deuteronomic passage; the intermediary verses are concerned with threats following upon disobedience of God’s commandments. [34] The verses in question are 30:15 and 30:19:
See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity. . . . . [19] I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live. [35]
The direct scriptural references are those concerned with God’s creation of both good and evil. The connection between the creation of good and evil—and humankind’s ability to choose one or the other—would have been apparent to Lactantius as he sought to explain the existence of evil. This use of scripture presents us with a second example in which a biblical source is brought in to refute a Stoic claim. [36] It also gives us some insight to Lactantius’ exegetical practice. Much as in his consideration of divine anger, Lactantius chooses not to engage in an allegorical or figural interpretation of an idea or concept that traditionally has been given a negative association. While the Stoics, Lactantius argues, interpret an apparent evil as an actual good, what they should do is admit that it is actually an evil and that, because it came from God, exists for a specific purpose. [37] Here Lactantius subtly deploys a scriptural model as a challenge to the philosophical argument of his opponents. The way in which he does so is illustrative of his methodology: since he knows that these opponents would not accept proof that is explicitly scriptural (such as would be announced by a direct quotation), he incorporates just enough of the Deuteronomic verse to allow for its recognition by those familiar with it, but not so much as to cast suspicion on his claims. [38]
The Deuteronomic excerpt also points to a particular framing of the obedience to the law and the legitimacy of God’s wrath when the law is not obeyed. This is a theme that permeates the treatise. Lactantius often pairs it with presentations of his disagreement with the Stoics on specific points, and it forms a crucial element in his definition of anger. After dismissing the definitions of the Greek and Roman philosophers, Lactantius provides his own. [39] According to the apologist, anger is “a movement of the mind, arising for the restraining of faults.” [40] Lactantius seeks to claim that anger is the only appropriate reaction to an infraction of the divine law. Scriptural references and models are interspersed with his criticisms of the Stoic and Epicurean theories about anger, and biblical motifs are scattered throughout the chapter. In 17.7, for example, Lactantius endorses the view that both the just law and the good, unbiased judge will uphold a verdict that delivers retribution upon an offender. The belief that each individual will get his due grounds this claim and can be located in Isaiah 35:4, where the emphasis is just as much on the fact of divine vengeance as it is on the idea that one must await it. [41] Lactantius molds this idea to argue that God’s anger and retribution come not from a desire to repay injury, but rather from the proper and fitting justice due to both those who obey and those who transgress the law. [42]
That God’s anger is not a response to injury and is not intended injuriously are crucial components of Lactantius’ idea and definition of divine wrath. The belief that humans are best understood as the slaves of God (already hinted at in chapter five, above) is equally relevant to Lactantius’ position on the matter. Lactantius links the two ideas as follows:
For the world is just as the house of God, and men just as his slaves; and if his name is a subject of derision to them, what kind or amount of forbearance is this, that he should cede his own honors to see wicked and unjust things done, and that he should not be indignant, which is peculiar and natural to him to whom sins are displeasing?
Lactantius, De ira Dei 17.11 [43]
Lactantius begins with a classical analogy and quickly shifts to a biblical idea: Cicero would agree that the world is the house of God (mundus . . . dei domus), but perhaps not that humans are the slaves of God (homines . . . servi). [44] In this instance, Lactantius’ combination of the classical and biblical themes serves as a rebuttal of the Stoic claim for the unsuitability of anger, the attack of which he turns to in the next line. [45] Lactantius’ complaint here is that the Stoics cannot see the difference between right and wrong or between just and unjust anger. The criticism itself is made on moral grounds, but at the same time it echoes his critique of the Stoics in chapter five. There the problem was that the Stoics interpret bad things as good things in disguise; here it is that they cannot discern any difference whatsoever. The scriptural model of humans as the slaves of their master (God) provides Lactantius with the basis for his argument and a framework for understanding the relationship between mortals and the divine. It also allows him to articulate why anger is fitting for God. With an appropriate object, and when it is employed for the sake of justice, anger has a fitting place, unlike the mere desire for revenge on account of which the Stoics (argues Lactantius) view anger as a negative attribute. [46]
Lactantius favors the models of God and of the divine-human relationship as expressed in some of the exhortative and disciplinary verses of the Old Testament scriptures. The Christian God for Lactantius, then, exists at some remove from the supreme deity envisioned by Plato and Heraclitus, as too from that of the Stoics and the Epicureans. Here Lactantius’ deployment of allusions to passages from the Old Testament worked to rebut and undermine philosophical, and primarily Stoic, thought. Lactantius’ claim towards the end of the text—that he cannot bring to bear the testimony of the prophets since it will not be accepted by his opponents—is not entirely honest. [47] He did in fact use biblical proofs and exempla in his argument, just not in so obvious a way as to attract attention and leave himself open to criticism. The subtle ways in which Lactantius formulated and supported his claims in De ira Dei are indicative of his training in Latin rhetoric, for rhetoric provided Lactantius with a mode of argument, and moreover with principles of argumentation, that allowed him to achieve these ends. In addition, it equipped him with a mode of discourse suitable to, yet distinctly different from, the philosophical arguments of his opponents.
Often described as the “Christian Cicero,” Lactantius has long received notice for the ways in which he emulates and imitates the famous classical rhetor’s style. [48] Such studies, however, have neglected to question whether the apologist’s allegiance to the genre is discernible in any other areas of the treatise. In the pages that remain, I quickly sketch the contours of the sort of education that Lactantius would have received in mid-third-century North Africa and the basic components of rhetorical works to which De ira Dei conforms. I then suggest that Lactantius adopted such rhetorical techniques not just out of habit, but also because he believed rhetoric to provide the soundest ratio for his material. Lactantius’ disillusionment with philosophy, together with his training, educational and vocational, made rhetoric the most accessible and the most natural way for him to express his beliefs about the “true religion.” Equally importantly, rhetoric gave him a way of articulating theological arguments that allowed him to be most persuasive to a specific audience.
To get a sense of what education might have been like in North Africa in the middle of the third century AD, we must look both backward to the texts, treatises, and techniques advanced by Cicero and Quintilian and also forward to the information passed on to us by Ausonius, Augustine, and others. [49] Generally, little is thought to have changed between the first century BC and the fourth century AD. [50] If what Ausonius writes about fourth-century education in Bordeaux can be taken as largely representative of the state of education in the empire at that time, at six or seven a child would pursue elementary studies in the schola grammatici, remaining there for about nine years. [51] Classroom numbers would decrease as the material and the cost of education became more difficult for families to manage. [52] One schoolroom exercise in particular has drawn attention for its value to teach students not only about the principles of speech and delivery but also about the social roles and responsibilities that young men would assume as adults: declamation. [53] It was in this exercise that students’ skills were honed and sharpened with increasing precision until they could display mastery in the art of fashioning and delivering a convincing argument.
Declamation involved both skill and talent, both theory and practice. [54] Students would have to defend one or the other position while deploying both tactical and technical principles as they crafted an emotionally moving speech. [55] Pseudo-Quintilian’s Minor Declamations offer some insight not only into the sorts of topics on which students would have to speak, but also into the pedagogical lessons they were meant to learn from them. [56] Many of these declamations required that the student adopt a persona, for example of a woman or soldier or someone of a social status other than their own. [57] To do so well necessitated the ability to think both within and across such categories, as well as to approach the speech with clear organization and thought; the student also would have relied on principles of distinction and definition. [58]
These exercises in delineation and differentiation were critical to success in oratorical pursuits beyond the classroom; in this respect the declamations practiced by students had as their goal the translation of the rules and methods of rhetorical theory into actual practice. The precise nature of those declamations and of the rules that governed them during the time in which Lactantius would have encountered and, later, taught them are beyond our reach. Certain principles, however, likely remained fairly stable, including the system of rhetoric proposed by Cicero and Quintilian as well as those outlined in the Rhetorica ad Herennium. [59] Thus, while the division of the partes orationis into five or six parts might have been a matter of opinion or preference (as it was even in Cicero’s day), the fact that a speech could be divided into recognizable and purposeful sections was not. [60] Nor did the officia oratoris shift: inventio, dispositio, elocutio, memoria, and actio retained their importance.
Both Cicero and the anonymous author of the Rhetorica ad Herennium identify six structural components of a speech: the exordium, narratio, divisio (or partitio), confirmatio, confutatio, and conclusio. [61] Lactantius’ treatise corresponds to this structure on a grand scale, although it admits of some modifications. The first three organizational elements listed by Cicero come in quick succession at the beginning of Lactantius’ treatise: exordium (1); narratio (2.1–8); and divisio (2.9–10). Despite an unequal distribution of material, the remainder of the treatise (up to chapter twenty-two) consists of the confirmatio, which in this case often contains elements of refutation, or confutatio. Narrative elements are interwoven throughout these chapters of the treatise, but their primary function is to give Lactantius a platform for the articulation and exposition of his argument. Three programmatic statements, variously distributed, and their explication, form the bulk of the treatise (identifiable at 3; 6.2; 12.5; 15.12; 16; and 17.20). A conclusio, which Lactantius himself terms a “peroration in the manner of Cicero,” shapes the final three chapters of the treatise (22–24).
Lactantius devotes the largest part of the treatise to the advancement of his own arguments about God’s wrath and frequently merges these with a refutation of his opponents’ claims, as we have seen above. This area, primarily of confirmatio, was considered the most important in rhetorical theory, since it was here that the orator could give an exposition of his arguments. It was here too that the rhetorician could showcase the most talent in deploying and displaying the very qualities that were necessary for him to be considered competent (at least) and innovative (at best) in his field. According to Cicero and the Rhetorica ad Herennium, those traits that made an orator an orator (or the duties, officia oratoris, as above) included: the degree to which he was able to find and develop his argument (inventio); the arrangement of that argument into its constituent parts (dispositio, consisting of the elements just discussed); his style (elocutio or pronuntiatio); his ability to memorize the speech to be delivered (memoria); and the delivery itself, with its attendant invocation of gesture and emotion (actio). [62] Our focus here will be on Lactantius’ work in the area of inventio.
In Cicero’s De Oratore, the interlocutor Antonius states that the process of inventio is the first to which the orator must attend when preparing his case. [63] Once the rhetorician has discovered the nature of the case, the next step is to identify “the point that cannot be removed without eliminating the dispute.” [64] After this, he may advance to the third, namely to identify “the issue to be decided.” The rhetorician’s talent comes to the fore in the discovery of “the arguments bearing on the issue to be decided.” [65] To find these, the orator must consider the arguments of both the defense and the prosecution, and he must realize that the specific circumstances of the case are in reality related to much more general categories. The question is not about the individual parties involved in the dispute, but rather the fundamental issue that is raised by the dispute. [66]
Lactantius applies this method to his framing of the question of divine anger. In its purest form, Lactantius’ argument is concerned with whether or not God has anger. [67] This perspective is evident in the opening lines of the treatise, where Lactantius chastises the philosophers for their denial of this possibility and identifies his purpose in writing as being to dispel this error. [68] Shortly thereafter, Lactantius provides a clear statement of his argument: because some say that God has no emotions and other that he has only kindness, he too will follow this division. He refutes the other possibilities—that God has neither anger nor kindness, that God has only anger and not kindness, that God has only kindness and not anger—as he sets up his defense of the claim that God has both anger and kindness. [69]
Here Lactantius links God’s anger to religion: God has anger because without it, no one would fear or worship him, and religion would be destroyed as a consequence. [70] The point that determines the case for Lactantius—the point that, if removed, would result in the destruction of his case—is that God’s anger is born of the necessity to preserve religion, which is itself required for the existence of wisdom and justice, which are in turn necessary for the preservation of humankind, its civility and its institutions. [71] Although Lactantius adds a number of further arguments to this initial claim, it remains the most important to his criticism of his opponents. Lactantius’ statements about the dependence of religion on God’s anger, on the one hand, and humans’ fear of God, on the other hand, here also help to explain the material that he discusses in the chapters that follow it. [72] For Lactantius to support this idea, he must convince his audience that religion is uniquely important to humans, he must explain what religion is, whom it is that they should worship, and why.
In both its structure and its argumentation, De ira Dei reflects the classical rhetorical training in which its author was most experienced; Lactantius’ emulation of Cicero is not only stylistic but also formative. That Lactantius relied on the principles that he learned as a student and later taught as a rhetor should not surprise; that these strategies informed his theological perspective is a characteristic of his work that has parallels in the works and writings of his peers among the Greek-writing Christian intellectuals. [73] Lactantius’ largely rhetorical argument, however, represents a distinct choice on the part of the author: De ira Dei fits neatly into no category—it is not clearly apologetic and certainly not the kind of homiletic or exegetical text the sort of which a Philo or Origen would write. Like his Divinae Institutiones, the text has judicial undertones, but it does not offer the kinds of precepts that are found in the longer work, nor is it necessarily prescriptive. [74] What the treatise does do, however, is to formulate a theological claim in rhetorical terms. It is not just that Lactantius looked toward his training in rhetoric or to the principles of reading and articulation that he could extract from it, but rather that he presented a doctrinal matter in a rhetorical framework.
Two considerations help to elucidate the reasons behind this choice. The first brings us back to Cicero, but this time our interest is with his idea of the relationship between rhetoric and philosophy. Points of dissent between rhetoricians and philosophers were many in antiquity, as each believed their own discipline to be best suited to the consideration of weighty matters. In its most basic form, the matter at stake was one that questioned training and preparation: could a rhetorician adequately expound upon a philosophical matter or was a philosopher appropriately equipped to criticize the art of the rhetorician? Cicero, in De Oratore, suggests that an individual could do both. In an oft-quoted excerpt, Cicero argues that the rhetorician can apply his art to any subject:
But if we want to assign to the orator, besides his normal tasks, that other wide-ranging, unrestricted, and extensive group of questions, that is, if we think it is his duty to speak about good and evil, the things to be pursued and avoided, honorable or base, expedient or inexpedient, about virtue, justice, self-control, prudence, greatness of spirit, generosity, dutifulness, friendship, moral duty, loyalty, and all the other virtues and their corresponding vices, about the State, the exercise of power, military affairs, the political system, and human behavior—let us then take this group of questions upon ourselves also, provided that it be confined within moderate limits.
Cicero, De Oratore 2.67 [75]
That matters of a philosophical nature could and should fall under the jurisdiction of the orator is thus an idea with which Lactantius would have been familiar; we see application of this principle in De ira Dei. It is not merely that Lactantius chose a medium of argumentation with which he was most comfortable, but rather that he saw in that medium a justifiable and appropriate way to express a matter of Christian theology.
Nor is the relevance of rhetoric’s principles to philosophical (or in Lactantius’ case, theological) matters the only way to understand the argumentation of the treatise. The deeper motivation behind Lactantius’ strategy was that he, like Cicero, saw in the proper exercise of rhetoric the pursuit of a reasoned and logical argument. Unlike philosophers, orators (in their own estimation) were required to stick to a specific plan and procedure by the adherence to which they approached the truth of the matter. [76] A good orator has been trained in and employs a good method (ratio); later in the text Cicero will argue that this method (ratio, again) depends on three means of persuasion. [77] Lactantius too frequently returns to the idea that it is because of the ratio of a matter (whether that matter be the speech, or treatise, itself, the argument, the emotions, or something else) that the answer to the question becomes apparent. He uses the term to mean not only “reason” but also “method” and “system.” Thus, for example, some people do not understand the ratio of the “great and heavenly secret,” ratio (and ordo) can “lead to the hiding place of truth,” there is no ratio for men to hope if God is only the author of evils, and there is one ratio to which the emotions belong. [78]
Lactantius’ use of ratio to mean “method” or “system” can take two forms. On the one hand, he invokes the term when he wants to mark a transition in the text or when he comments on his purpose; so that the matter may progress as it should it must be led by ratio. [79] On the other hand, his criticisms of his opponents are phrased as sarcastic comments on and assaults against their philosophical ratio. It is by virtue of the Stoics’ “accurate method of reasoning” that they attribute only kindness to God and not anger, and thus “fall into the greatest error.” [80] Lactantius is clearly mocking the Stoics and setting their false, philosophical reasoning against his own rhetorical methodology. This line of argument has parallels in the Divinae Institutiones, where ratio is also preferred as the means by which to come to the knowledge and worship of God. [81] Religion, for Lactantius, is a rational choice, thoughtful and reasoned out; it is not a system of beliefs to which one dedicates oneself based solely on revelation. [82] A decision reached by such a method requires a similar method of exposition and explication; philosophical terms and thought are inadequate to the task, but the principles of rhetorical argumentation provide the tools by which Lactantius can convince and persuade his audience. The rhetorical system and principles that Lactantius adopted for the purpose of persuasion indicate a conscious and intentional decision on the part of the apologist.
This was in many ways a natural choice, and one that reflects Lactantius’ educational training and background as well as his vocation. I have argued that in it he found a method for the explication and presentation of theological arguments that he believed to contain greater reason and reasoning than methods of philosophical discourse. We come to see that he is the “Christian Cicero” in ways that outstrip mere stylistic parallels; the similarities between the two include a greater cultural project. [83] For Cicero, this involved the translation of Greek philosophical terms and ideas into Latin and the introduction thereof into Roman culture. For Lactantius, this involved the pairing of biblical ideas with familiar notions and the introduction thereof into an educated pagan culture of the Roman tradition. Rhetoric, although an ever-present and important facet of all intellectual production of the period, is the centerpiece of Lactantius’ intellectual project.
It is primarily in this thorough dependence upon rhetoric—from the conceptualization of the problem to its articulation in the structure of the treatise—that Lactantius is ultimately distinct from Eusebius and others in the Greek Christian theological tradition. Lactantius’ disavowal of philosophy belies a more complex factor at work, namely the epistemological basis that he took for granted. For Greek philosophers and theologians of the Platonic tradition (broadly construed), the tenets of that philosophical tradition were the benchmarks of validity; any attempt to square Christian doctrine with the beliefs held by their contemporaries had to account for the difficult discrepancies between the two. Rhetoric for such intellectuals informed their defenses and exegeses largely insofar as it provided them with the tools to express ideas in clear and cogent terms. Rhetoric was for Lactantius, however, the epistemological basis of his understanding of Christianity and his articulation of Christian doctrine. It also suggests that he found it a useful tool with which to explicate ideas to his audience, including Constantine.
Nor was Lactantius alone in adopting this strategy. Other Christian intellectuals who wrote in Latin—Arnobius, Tertullian, Novatian, Cyprian, and Minucius Felix among them—also situated their theological claims in principles that we most readily identify as rhetorical. If Lactantius can be taken as representative of a dominant approach among Latin-writing Christian intellectuals, and if Eusebius can be taken as representative of the same among Greek authors, we have in these two key figures a poignant example of the variety of Christian intellectual thought of the third and fourth centuries, as well as the indication that these differences both began earlier and varied more greatly than has been previously suggested. It is not that Eusebius was not equally influenced by his rhetorical training and philosophical background, but merely that there were important distinctions between the intellectual world of Eusebius and that of Lactantius. This point has been heretofore overlooked in discussions of Lactantius and has bearing on how we ourselves approach the apologist’s work. The debates and disagreements of the early fourth century might be more fully understood if the education, training, language, and origin of their authors are taken into account. Those rifts that have commonly been construed as theological have, perhaps, not as much to do with orthodox or heterodox belief as with the particular intellectual traditions upon which individuals drew, and the cultural, linguistic, and historical pasts that informed their understanding of an ever-shifting present.

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[ back ] 1. My thanks are owed to Aaron Johnson and Jeremy Schott for their invitation to be a part of the 2011 panel and to contribute to this volume. I have appreciated their advice and keen editorial eyes along the way, as well as the comments and suggestions of those present at the session.
[ back ] 2. The bibliography here is vast, but Barnes 1981 and Drake 1976 have been particular influences on the present study.
[ back ] 3. Cameron 1994, Mitchell 2002 and 2005, Young 1997a and 1997b.
[ back ] 4. Barnes 1985, Simmons 1995, Digeser 2000.
[ back ] 5. “Qui insultaverant deo, iacent, qui templum sanctum everterant, ruina maiore ceciderunt, qui iustos excarnificaverunt, caelestibus plagis et cruciatibus meritis nocentes animas profuderunt. Sero id quidem, sed graviter ac digne. Distulerat enim poenas eorum deus, ut ederet in eos magna et mirabilia exempla, quibus posteri discerent et deum esse unum et eundem iudicem digna vid supplicia impiis ac persecutoribus inrogare.”
[ back ] 6. Lactantius, De Mortibus Persecutorum 1.6.1: “Aurelianus, qui esset natura vesanus et praeceps, quamvis captivitatem Valeriani meminisset, tamen oblitus scleris eius et poenae iram dei crudelibus factis lacessivit.” ‘Ira’ appears three times in this text, as compared to sixty-two times in De ira Dei.
[ back ] 7. Eusebius, Historia Ecclesiastica 8.1.7. In taking this hard line against Christians themselves, Eusebius’ claims closely resemble those of Cyprian, d.258, whose work Lactantius, at least, knew and admired (Divinae Institutiones 5.1.24–25).
[ back ] 8. Eusebius, Historia Ecclesiastica 8.16.2–3: οὐκ ἀνθρώπινον δέ τι τούτου κατέστη αἴτιον οὐδ᾿ οἶκτος, ὡς ἂν φαίη τις, ἢ φιλανθρωπία τῶν ἀρχόντων: πολλοῦ δεῖ: πλείω γὰρ ὁσημέραι καὶ χαλεπώτερα ἀρχῆθεν καὶ εἰς ἐκεῖνο τοῦ καιροῦ τὰ καθ᾿ ἡμῶν αὐτοῖς ἐπενοεῖτο, ποικιλωτέραις μηχαναῖς ἄλλοτε ἄλλως τὰς καθ᾿ ἡμῶν αἰκίας ἐπικαινουργούντων: ἀλλ᾿ αὐτῆς γε τῆς θείας προνοίας ἐμφανὴς ἐπίσκεψις, τῷ μὲν αὐτῆς καταλλαττομένης λαῷ, τῷ δ᾿ αὐθέντῃ τῶν κακῶν ἐπεξιούσης καὶ πρωτοστάτῃ τῆς τοῦ παντὸς διωγμοῦ κακίας ἐπιχολουμένης. καὶ γὰρ εἴ τι ταῦτ᾿ ἐχρῆν κατὰ θείαν γενέσθαι κρίσιν, ἀλλά ‘οὐαί,’ φησὶν ὁ λόγος, ‘δι᾿ οὗ δ᾿ ἂν τὸ σκάνδαλον ἔρχηται.’
[ back ] 9. Lactantius, Divine Institutes 2.17.3–5: “Nunc autem patitur homines errare, et adversum se quoque impios esse, ipse iustus, et mitis, et patiens. Nec enim fieri potest, ut non is, in quo perfecta sit virtus, sit etiam perfecta patientia. Unde quidam putant, ne irasci quidem Deum omnino, quod affectibus, qui sunt perturbationes animi, subjectus non sit; quia fragile est omne animal quod afficitur et commovetur. Quae persuasio veritatem, atque religionem funditus tollit. Sed seponatur interim locus hic nobis de ira Dei disserendi, quod et uberior est materia, et opere proprio latius exequenda.”
[ back ] 10. Lactantius, De ira Dei 2.4: “Sed horum inperitiam iam coarguimus in secundo Divinarum Institutionum libro.”
[ back ] 11. Plato, Republic 2.377d–e.
[ back ] 12. Plato, Republic 2.378d–e. On allegorical and figural reading in the Greco-Roman world, see Struck 2004, Dawson 1992, and Dawson 2002.
[ back ] 13. Heraclitus, Homeric Problems 1.2. Despite some difficulties in dating (see Konstan and Russell 2005, xi–xii for discussion) the text was likely written around AD 100. Although references are made to other such treatises, the next earliest such work was that of Porphyry. For a discussion of the varieties of Homeric exegesis, see Lamberton 1989.
[ back ] 14. Heraclitus, Homeric Problems 3.2.
[ back ] 15. Philo, Quod Deus Sit Immutabilis 62.
[ back ] 16. With the significant exception of the theological issues raised by the suffering and death of Jesus, the criticism leveled at Christians was directed at the representations of God found in the texts of the Old Testament, texts (and thus problems) that Christians thus inherited, or more properly appropriated, from Judaism. For discussions about the adoption of the Hebrew scriptures by Christians and what the content of those scriptures would have included, see, for example, Stern 2003; on the level of social interaction and literary representation, see Juel 2003; for a history of the scholarship on the question of Jewish-Christian relations and a call for a post-colonial critic’s approach to the material, see Jacobs 2007.
[ back ] 17. Torjesen 2005:76. See also Stroumsa 1983, despite a now-outdated discussion of the Gnostics. That such anthropomorphic language continued to present problems in different contexts, on the medieval Jewish thinkers Saadia Gaon and Bahya Ibn Paquda, see Lobel 2008.
[ back ] 18. Dawson 1992 and 2002.
[ back ] 19. Lactantius, De ira Dei 22.3–4.
[ back ] 20. Lactantius, De ira Dei 5.5–6. The idea of the calm and benevolent father against which Lactantius argues here is a marked contrast to his own idea of the justifiably emotional dominus. For discussions of how Lactantius fashions the claims of the philosophical schools whose opinions he attacks in the treatise, see Colish 1990, Harvey 2003, Micka 1943, Bufano 1951, Ingremeau 1998, Kendeffy 2000, and Althoff 1999.
[ back ] 21. Lactantius, De ira Dei 5.7. The precise parallel is in the verbs vivificare and salvare (see Ingremeau 1982:241–242, who notes that the prior verb pairing [prodesse . . . nocere] is classical, as in e.g. Cicero, De Officiis 3.25, which Lactantius cites elsewhere). The verse quoted above is Deuteronomy 32:39. All English translations of the Old Testament and the New are from the New Revised Standard Version. Lactantius’ citation of Deuteronomy here also points to his privileging of the scriptural text, particularly this legalistic book of the Old Testament, over and against the ethical teachings of the Stoics (as he represents them). On the structure of Deuteronomy and in particular its exhortative strategies, see Penner and Stichele 2009.
[ back ] 22. With the following lines omitted from the quotation above: “Si quis dominus habens in familia servos bonum ac malum: utique non aut ambos odit aut ambos beneficiis et honore prosequitur—quod si faciat, et iniquus et stultus est—sed bonum adloquitur amice et ornat et domui ac familiae suisque rebus omnibus praeficit, malum vero maledictis verberibus nuditate fame siti conpedibus punit, ut et his exemplo ceteris sit ad non peccandum et ille ad promerendum, ut alios metus coerceat, alios honor provocet. Qui ergo diligit, et odit, qui odit, et diligit; sunt enim qui diligi debeant, sunt qui odio haberi. Et sicut is qui diligit confert bona in eos quos diligit, ita qui odit inrogat mala his quos odio habet; quod argumentum quia verum est, dissolvi nullo pacto potest.”
[ back ] 23. On the parable in its Matthean form and as part of a more contextual study of slaves and slavery in the New Testament, see Glancy 2000.
[ back ] 24. Matthew 24:51 (“He will cut him in pieces and put him with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth”) and Luke 12:46 (“the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour that he does not know, and will cut him in pieces, and put him with the unfaithful”). The notes to each version of the parable mark it as intended to be read allegorically. Luke’s version has an additional verse in which the severity of the punishments are meted out according to the degree to which a slave knew or did not know what was required of him. The slave who knew what was expected receives a severe beating, but the one who did not know, although he sinned, will receive a lesser beating.
[ back ] 25. In Matthew, the parable comes before three parables about the return of Jesus and the final judgment; in Luke, it is followed by a proclamation about the “time of judgment” (12:49–59). Glancy 2000:68 mentions the metaphorical meaning of this, and related parables with bibliography.
[ back ] 26. On Archytas’ moral character as represented in the literary sources, see Huffman 2005, who fleshes out the testimonia he gives (283–288) by noting that the “basic point of this anecdote about Archytas and the similar ones about Plato is that one should never punish in anger (Diogenes Laertius Lives 8.20 has Pythagoras himself make the point) . . . Applied to the specific circumstances of punishing when controlled by anger, the point would be that, if we punish in anger, we will punish unjustly. This in turn could be judged morally problematic for two different reasons: (1) the person punished will suffer unjustly, (2) the person punishing will act unjustly and hence harm his own soul . . . The startling fact that the slaves escape all punishment is precisely what makes this version so memorable.” (288). Cf. Ingremeau 1982:341.
[ back ] 27. Lactantius discusses the correct set of behaviors necessary for the punishment of slaves, with criticisms of Archytas’ handling of his own slaves at 18.4–18.9 and 18.12.
[ back ] 28. Lactantius, De ira Dei 18.12: “servorum autem filiorumque peccata non coercere peccatum est; evadent enim ad maius malum per impunitatem.”
[ back ] 29. Lactantius, De ira Dei 18.12: “esset igitur laudandus Archytas si, cum alicui civi et pari facienti sibi iniuriam fuisset iratus, repressisset se tamen et patientia furoris impetum mitigasset.” Lactantius is not alone in thinking that anger has a specific and just use in specific contexts. Aristotle’s definition of anger in his Rhetoric, for example, stresses the social aspect and utility of the emotion as one properly directed towards those whom we regard as below us in power and status. For an overview of the moral dimensions of anger in antiquity, see Harris 2001.
[ back ] 30. Lactantius, De ira Dei 17.11. For the ways in which such stories would have circulated in the ancient Mediterranean see for example Lane Fox 1994.
[ back ] 31. Lactantius, De ira Dei 13.10: “Quod Stoici veritatem non perspicientes ineptissime reppulerunt. Aiunt enim multa esse in gignentibus et in numero animalium quorum adhuc lateat utilitatis sed eam processu temporum inveniri, sicut iam multa prioribus saeculis incognita necessitas et usus invenerit.” Lactantius’ presentation of the Stoic position on evil has resonances in Stoic theory about the emotions, in short, that it is human judgment of an initial impression that leads one to deem something as good or bad and to have a corresponding emotional reaction. For studies of the emotions in Stoic thought with consideration of the Christian opinion, see e.g. Sorabji 2000 and Graver 2007.
[ back ] 32. “Brevis igitur ac verius respondere potuerunt in hunc modum: deus cum formaret hominem veluti simulacrum suum, quod erat divini opificii summum, inspiravit ei sapientiam soli, ut omnia imperio ac dicioni suae subiugaret omnibusque mundi commodis uteretur. Proposuit tamen ei et bona et mala, quia sapientiam dedit cuius omnis ratio in discernendis bonis ac malis sita est . . . Positis enim tantummodo in conspectu bonis quid opus est cogitatione intellectu scientia ratione, cum, quocumque porrecerit manum, id naturae aptum et adcommodatum sit?”
[ back ] 33. It is in this (their possession of sapientia) that humans are also differentiated from beasts, an important idea for Lactantius, not only for establishing the superiority of humankind in creation, but also for distinguishing just human emotions from the irrational and uncontrolled emotions of animals. See e.g. Lactantius, De ira Dei 7 (passim) and 17.14. We shall return to the significance of ratio below.
[ back ] 34. On the interpretative statements and assumptions involved in adducing such “echoes,” see the comments of Juel 2003:297–300.
[ back ] 35. See Ingremeau 1982:306–307 for a discussion of proposuit . . . bona et mala and Ingremeau 309 for positis in conspectu in relation to the verses from Deuteronomy. The immediate context of the ideas that Lactantius incorporates have to do with the privileged status of the one true God above all other gods and an injunction to worship only him. The consequences for not doing so are here made very clear.
[ back ] 36. Lactantius had actually agreed with the Stoics until this point. His first concern is to dismiss the Academics who, he writes, challenge the Stoics by asking why, if God made everything for humans’ benefit, there exist things that are contrary to human well-being (3.12). While the Stoics are correct to believe that God made the world for the benefit of humans, they were incorrect in their explanation of why evils (mala) exist; it is here that Lactantius draws on the scriptural text to refute a Stoic claim.
[ back ] 37. As in his thinking through anger, Lactantius appears to prefer an attempt to work with apparent reality (anger is anger, evil is evil, etc.) rather than to try to find a way to make that reality fit with an ideal or to argue that it really means something other than what it initially appears to mean. The task that he set for himself, if we can extract it from this treatise, was to discover why things were the way they were—that is, why God created evil (in his view) and not how we might interpret evil.
[ back ] 38. By doing so, Lactantius is asserting the following idea posited by Penner and Stichele 2009:249: “In fact, an analysis of early Christian oratorical discourse from the vantage point of the Greek and Roman rhetorical handbooks would suggest that, with respect to the deployment of the Hebrew Bible, it is difficult to draw a firm line between exemplum and auctoritas in so far as both scriptural citations and broader narrative references provide ‘proof-texts’ for the argument being developed. Such argumentation presumes the weight of the scriptural texts thus used and secures, in turn, the authority of the material that is cited.”
[ back ] 39. The list comes at 17.13 and includes the definitions of the philosophers as presented by Seneca, Posidonius, and Aristotle; Cicero’s definition comes later, at 17.20.
[ back ] 40. Lactantius, De ira Dei 17.20: “Ergo ita definire debuerunt: ira est motus animi ad coercenda peccata insurgentis.”
[ back ] 41. Isaiah 35:4: “Say to those who are of a fearful heart, ‘Be strong, do not fear! Here is your God. He will come with vengeance, with terrible recompense. He will come and save you.’” Cf. Psalm 27:4.
[ back ] 42. Here Lactantius reformulates his discussion of the moral and ethical components of anger by closely linking them to the obedience or transgression of the law; the divine law becomes the arbiter of morality.
[ back ] 43. “Nam mundus tamquam dei domus est et homines tamquam servi; quibus si ludibrio sit nomen eius, qualis aut quanta patientia est? Ut honoribus suis cedat, ut prava et iniqua fieri videat ut non indignetur, quod proprium et naturale est ei cui peccata non placeant?” Cf. Ingremeau 1982:329–330.
[ back ] 44. Ciceronian parallels: Cicero, De Natura Deorum 2.154; 3.26; De Re Publica 1.19; 3.14; Cicero, De Legibus 2.26; see also Seneca, De Beneficiis 7.1.7. Biblical parallels for dominus . . . servi and servi Dei: Genesis 50:17; 1 Ezra 5:11; Daniel 3:93; Acts 16:17; I Peter 2:16; Revelation 7:3.
[ back ] 45. Lactantius, De ira Dei 17.12, cf. Lactantius, Divinae Institutiones 6.15.2; 6.16.1–11; and 6.19.1–11, to which Lactantius himself points his reader, another indication that De ira Dei came after the major work.
[ back ] 46. The judicial and disciplinary aspects of Lactantius’ understanding of divine wrath have scriptural parallels as expressed, for example, in 2 Maccabees. See the comments of Ingremeau 1982:337, who identifies the reference and argues that it indicates that Lactantius had in mind biblical ideas of God’s wrath and divine punishment—although she does not think that he was necessarily aware of the depth of the parallel. A consideration of the excerpt above within its scriptural context, however, suggests that this was an intentional and precise use of the text. For a concise overview of 2 Maccabees with attention paid to its claims about both Judaism and Hellenism, see Himmelfarb 1998.
[ back ] 47. Lactantius, De ira Dei 22.3–4.
[ back ] 48. The term seems to have originated with Pico de la Mirandola, in his De studio divinae atque humanae philosophiae (7).
[ back ] 49. On Augustine, see Brown 2000:23–28. For the argument that we can use what Ausonius writes about education in his own day as representative of larger trends, see Booth 1979. Also useful to an extent (given our focus) is Kaster 1988.
[ back ] 50. This is not to say that rhetoric remained static throughout the centuries separating Cicero and Lactantius (or Augustine, for that matter), but rather that there were elements of consistency to the basic progression of a young man through the Roman educational system and the values and knowledge imparted by that system.
[ back ] 51. Booth 1979:7.
[ back ] 52. See Augustine’s oft-quoted statements about the cost of education at Confessions 2.5–6; see also Watts 2006:24–47 for a sense of education’s cost—and cultural prestige—in late antique Athens.
[ back ] 53. Bloomer 1997, who also spends time on the hermeneumata (see 72–78).
[ back ] 54. As evidenced not least by Quintilian’s division of his Institutio Oratoria into two parts (theory and education or teaching). Winterbottom 1982 has argued that Cicero’s Pro Milone was designed with the specific purpose of retaining for educational purposes the theory as put into practice by the orator.
[ back ] 55. The idea that a speech (as well as the orator delivering it) should have an emotional impression on the audience is important not only to Cicero but also to Aristotle, among others. Although this aspect of a text is more difficult to access in the case of De ira Dei, we should not discard its import and emphasis altogether.
[ back ] 56. See Winterbottom 1982, with Fantham 1978 and Bloomer 1997.
[ back ] 57. Bloomer 1997:58 and especially note 21.
[ back ] 58. Bloomer 1997:57 and, with reference to a specific declamation, “The declaimer’s first task is to redefine poisoning to include drugging. Again the declamation works by definition and it works out a conflict—the brave man accused of desertion—but shifts the blame to the stepmother” (67).
[ back ] 59. Although such a statement elides the differences that originally existed between each of these individuals, as well as between various schools and traditions of rhetoric, my point here is that, in the case of Lactantius especially, we are best able to detect the basic influences of Ciceronian rhetorical theory, which is unlikely to have undergone significant alteration since its formation.
[ back ] 60. On the different divisions of the partes orationis, see e.g. Clarke 1996:24–25. Cicero gives a six-fold division in De Inventione as does the Rhetorica ad Herennium; Quintilian has five, and others are said to have had four.
[ back ] 61. The speech could be divided into fewer of these as well, see Quintilian at 4.2–6.
[ back ] 62. Clarke 1996:23.
[ back ] 63. Cicero, De Oratore 2.104a. All translations from the text are by Wisse and May 2001.
[ back ] 64. Cicero, De Oratore 2.132b; cf 2.104, where this is presented as the need to “establish the point of reference for the whole portion of the speech that specifically concerns the judgment of the issue itself.”
[ back ] 65. Cicero, De Oratore 2.132d: “Perspicua sunt haec quidem et in vulgari prudentia sita; sed illa quaerenda, quae et ab accusatore et a defensore argumenta ad id, quod in iudicium venit, spectantia debent adferri.” The statement is followed by a sharp criticism of contemporary teachers who train their students only to seek two categories of cases.
[ back ] 66. Cicero, De Oratore 2.132–2.127.
[ back ] 67. Wisse and May 2001:151n75; the text of the note: “Antonius here summarizes (a particular version of) status theory, which was very important in contemporary standard rhetoric. He mentions, respectively, the conjectural status (status coniecturalis; developed in 2.105 below), the status of quality (status qualitatis; see 2.106), and the status of definition (status definitionis; see 2.107–109). His view differs from the standard view in two essential respects: (1) ‘immediately’ and (2) insistence that doctrine applicable to other than juridical cases.”
[ back ] 68. Lactantius, De ira Dei 1.1: “Animadverti saepe, Donate, plurimos id aestimare, quod etiam nonnulli philosophorum putaverunt, non irasci deum . . .”
[ back ] 69. Lactantius, De ira Dei 6.1.
[ back ] 70. Lactantius, De ira Dei 6.2: “Haec tuenda nobis et adserenda sententia est: in eo enim summa omnis et cardo religionis pietatisque versatur. Nam neque honor ullus deberi potest deo, si nihil praestat colenti, nec ullus metus, si non irascitur non colenti.” This should be read closely with 12.5: “Timor igitur dei solus est qui custodit hominum inter se societatem, per quem vita ipsa sustinetur munitur gubernatur. Is autem timor aufertur si fuerit homini persuasum quod irae sit expers deus, quem moveri et indignari, cum iniusta fiunt, non modo communis utilitas sed etiam ratio ipsa nobis et veritas persuadet.”
[ back ] 71. Lactantius, De ira Dei 6 and 12.2.
[ back ] 72. Ingremeau 1982:37–44.
[ back ] 73. Although Jerome, for instance, fretted over whether or not he was more Ciceronian than Christian, at Apology 2.6 (and Letter 22), Jerome recounts a dream wherein, upon meeting heaven’s judge and identifying himself as a Christian, the judge replies: “You lie: you are a Ciceronian. Where your treasure is, there is your heart.” As a consequence, Jerome vows never again to read the classics. In this respect, Jerome’s comments support the assertion of Leadbetter 1998:245 that “Christian intellectuals, in particular, had to struggle with classical learning. They could not ignore it because it formed the core of their own education and they used its forms—the letter, the speech, the treatise—to communicate their own position. That involved them in necessary compromise with something that they formally rejected.” Lactantius would seem to be an exception to this statement.
[ back ] 74. Digeser 2006 notes the legal language of the Divinae Institutiones.
[ back ] 75. Sed si illam quoque partem quaestionum oratori volumus adiungere vagam et liberam et late patentem, ut de rebus bonis aut malis, expetendis aut fugiendis, honestis aut turpibus, utilibus aut inutilibus, de virtute, de iustitia, de continentia, de prudentia, de magnitudine animi, de liberalitate, de pietate, de amicitia, de officio, de fide, de ceteris virtutibus contrariisque vitiis dicendum oratori putemus; itemque de re publica, de imperio, de re militari, de disciplina civitatis, de hominum moribus, adsumamus eam quoque partem, sed ita, ut sit circumscripta modicis regionibus.” Cf. Cicero, De Inventione 1.1–3 and Cicero, De Oratore 2.34. See also the comments of Clarke 1996:61: “To appreciate his [Cicero’s] contribution justly one must see it against the background of contemporary rhetorical teaching. One will then recognize the pertinence of the main theme of De Oratore. In emphasizing the importance of having something to say as well as knowing how to say it, and the desirability of combining the two main disciplines of the ancient world, rhetoric and philosophy, he was putting his finger on one of the weaknesses of ancient education.”
[ back ] 76. Cicero, De Oratore 2.32, where Cicero disparages orators who declaim “haphazardly” in the forum.
[ back ] 77. Cicero, De Oratore 2.115: “Ita omnis ratio dicendi tribus ad persuadendum rebus est nixa: ut probemus vera esse, quae defendimus; ut conciliemus eos nobis, qui audiunt; ut animos eorum, ad quemcumque causa postulabit motum, vocemus.”
[ back ] 78. Lactantius, De ira Dei 1.9; 2.10; 3.2; 3.4; 4.12; 5.15; 7.1; 7.2; 7.5; 7.10; 7.15; 8.3; 9.1; 9.4; 9.8; 10.2; 10.11; 10.22; 10.25; 10.32; 10.34; 10.36; 10.38; 10.41; 10.51; 10.52; 11.10; 12.3; 12.5; 13.8; 13.13; 13.17; 13.20; 13.22; 13.24; 14.2; 15.5; 15.9; 17.2; 17.12; 17.13; 18.10; 22.3; 23.9; 24.6.
[ back ] 79. See e.g. his use of ratio at 2.10: “Consideremus singula, ut nos ad latebras veritatis et ratio et ordo deducat.”
[ back ] 80. Lactantius, De ira Dei 5.15: “Ii vero, quos ratio et veritatis argumenti huius inducit, falso omnino sententia suscepta, in maximum errorem cadunt.”
[ back ] 81. Perrin 2001 provides an insightful analysis of this trend in the Divinae Institutiones; he references De ira Dei from time to time but focuses on the longer treatise.
[ back ] 82. Perrin 2001:155.
[ back ] 83. Evidence of this can also be found in the intertexual relationship between De ira Dei and Cicero’s De natura Deorum, an exploration of which indicates the extent to which Lactantius saw himself as operating in a Ciceronian philosophical, theological fashion just as much as in a rhetorical one.