Sunday, December 25, 2005

Lactantius on the Ira Dei

Lactantius points out that God will destroy the wicked during the day of anger, wherein “torrents of blood shall flow,” and “the prince also of the demons himself, the author and contriver of evils, being bound with fiery chains, shall be imprisoned, that the world may receive peace, and the earth, harassed through so many years, may rest.”[1] Lactantius follows John’s Apocalypse closely here as he relates: “Therefore peace being made, and every evil suppressed, that righteous King and Conqueror will institute a great judgment on the earth respecting the living and the dead, and will deliver all the nations into subjection to the righteous who are alive, and will raise the righteous dead to eternal life, and will Himself reign with them on the earth, and will build the holy city, and this kingdom of the righteous shall be for a thousand years.”[2]

Moreover, Lactantius bases his apocalyptic vision, in part, on the OT prophets, who describe an age in which beasts will coexist peacefully with one another and humans (Epitome 72). We read: “The beasts shall lay aside their ferocity and become mild, the wolf shall roam among the flocks without doing harm, the calf shall feed with the lion, the dove shall be united with the hawk, the serpent shall have no poison; no animal shall live by bloodshed” (ibid).

Nevertheless, as foretold in the Apocalypse of John, “the prince of the demons” will be loosed when the thousand years terminate.[3] He will cause multitudes of the nations to revolt against the people of God, “to storm the city of the saints” (ibid). However, they will not prevail since God “will shake the earth froth its foundations, and the cities shall be overthrown, and He Shall rain upon the wicked fire with brimstone and hail, and they shall be on fire, and slay each other. But the righteous shall for a little space be concealed under the earth, until the destruction of the nations is accomplished, and after the third day they shall come forth, and see the plains covered with carcasses” (ibid).

[1] Epitome 72.

[2] Epitome 72.

[3] Lactantius contrasts Satan, “the prince of demons” with Christ “the prince of the angels” (DI 4.14.17). Here again, one discerns the influence of Jewish apocalyptic literature in the Divinae institutiones. The Testament of Simeon 2.7 designates ha Satan “the prince of deceit,” who was responsible for provoking Simeon to ruin his brother, Joseph. The Testament of Solomon 6.7 also uses the expression “prince of all the demons” when describing ha Satan.

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