Monday, January 23, 2006

Was Lactantius an Arian?

Lactantius contends that before God produced the world and other angels, he “created a holy and incorruptible spirit whom he called his son,” since this spirit was firstborn and distinguished by “a name of divine significance” in that God granted the Son possession of God the Father’s authority and supremacy.[1] Lactantius thus believes, strictly speaking, that God calls Christ “Son,” but only after the Logos passes some type of arduous trial.[2] Hence, the Son does not inherently possess divine titles: God names the Logos, “Son” or allows him to bear the divine name because of Christ’s faithfulness to the Father.[3]

Bowen and Garnsey believe that Lactantian thinking here “smacks of Arianism.”[4] Conversely, others such as Mary McDonald exhibit sympathy toward the Lactantian writings, presuming that they reflect the cultural situation in which he composed them.[5] This study proposes there were some angels postulated in ancient Judaism who seemingly possessed the holy name of God ex officio (Exodus 23:20-22).[6] Lactantius may perceive a correlation between the status of angels in Judaism and the position of the Logos in Christian circles when he argues that God the Father vouchsafed the divine name to the Son. In fact, the North African seems to believe that the Son is an angel whom God promotes to the status of Son and God: “In fine, of all the angels, whom the same God formed from his own breath, he alone was admitted into a participation of his supreme power, he alone was called God. For all things were through him, and nothing was without him” (Epitome 42). Lactantian concepts regarding the Son’s nomina, as in other instances, evidently find their provenance in both Hermes and the ancient Hebrew prophets.

[1] DI 4.6.1-4.

[2] Schneweis, Angels and Demons, 21. Contrast McGuckin’s remarks in “The Christology of Lactantius,” 816.

[3] DI 4.6.1-4.

[4] Divine Institutes, 232. Cf. McGuckin, “Christology of Lactantius,” 816.

[5] McDonald; Paul McGuckin, “The Christology of Lactantius,” 815.

[6] See Bock, Blasphemy and Exaltation; S. Olyan, A Thousand Thousands Served Him: Exegesis and the Naming of Angels in Ancient Judaism. Tübingen: J. C. B. Mohr (Paul Siebeck), 1993.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Lactantius and Egalitarianism

A cursory reading of Divinae institutiones may lead one to believe that Lactantius is a strict egalitarian. However, a deliberate perusal of his magnum opus reveals that the Lactantian understanding of equality (aequalitas) or fairness (aequitas) lends itself to certain nuances that may be at odds with strict egalitarianism. The belief that all humans are socially unequal was prevalent in antiquity. While the Stoics espoused the conviction that all humans are fragments of God or fellow cosmopolites, it appears that no ancient secular writer reprimands legal or social inegalitarianism, as does Lactantius in Divinae institutiones.[1] The Christian Cicero sorts out justice in terms of piety (pietas) and equity (aequitas).[2] His construal of equity (aequitas) as equality (aequabilitas) indicates, “Lactantius is sailing in uncharted waters.”[3] Advocating a form of equality in which humans are arithmetically on the same footing seems progressive, even avant-garde.[4] However, other passages found in the Lactantian corpus possibly demonstrate signs of inconsistency regarding his view of aequitas.

First, Lactantius censures Plato’s theory of an ideal utopian republic since it eschews private property in the name of facilitating economic parity among philosopher-rulers.[5] The political views of Lactantius resemble those of Aristotle, who considers collective ownership unfeasible and detrimental to the polis (Politics 1261b34). Nevertheless, one might ask whether it is genuinely possible for equality to obtain in a society that allows ownership of private property. Non-collective ownership certainly allows personal freedom and responsibility to flourish.[6] But Garnsey and Humfress maintain that the ownership of private property does not seem conducive to socio-economic equality.[7]

[1] Garnsey and Humfress, Evolution of the Late Antique World, 204.

[2] DI 5.15; Epitome 60; Cochrane, Christianity and Classical Culture, 213; Allen Verhey, Remembering Jesus: Christian Community, Scripture, and the Moral Life (Cambridge, UK and Grand Rapids: 2002), 465.

[3] Garnsey and Humfress, Evolution of the Late Antique World, 204.

[4] Ibid. 205.

[5] DI 3.22: “Non rerum fragilium sed mentium debet esse communitas.”

[6] See Dewey's remarks on democracy.

[7] Evolution of the Antique World, 204.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Hannah Arendt on Metaphor and Cognition

Hannah Arendt insists that speculative thought only reveals itself by means of metaphoric implementation.[1] Metaphors bridge the gulf that allegedly demarcates cognitive processes from the realm of sensibilia.[2] Without metasememes that rhetorically alternate or maneuver conceptual similarities, “there would have been no bridge whereby to cross from the minor truth of the seen to the major truth of the unseen” or vice versa.[3] Arendt therefore contends that metaphors revert the contemplative human NOUS back towards the sensible realm so that the contemplative or speculative NOUS can disclose its hitherto wholly noetic activities to rational datives of manifestation dwelling in the phenomenal realm of appearances.[4] Based on her reading of Aristotle and Kant, Arendt prefers to associate “metaphor” with “the transition from one existential state, that of thinking, to another, that of being an appearance among appearances.”[5] She postulates that abstract relata forming metasememic constructs allow thought concealed to become thought revealed. For Arendt, percipient subjects make the existential transition from the notional to the empirical level of being by positing metaphors in analogical relation to one another.[6] Her reading of Aristotle’s substitution theory of metaphor through a Kantian-Heideggerian template undoubtedly explains the uniqueness of her construal. Arendt’s approach to substitution theory further implies that metaphor is the sine qua non of theolinguistics. Without rational agents positing metaphors in analogical relationship to one another, it might be impossible to bridge the ostensive linguistic or relational chasm that subsists between the seen (= creatures) and the unseen (= God).

[1] Arendt, Thinking, 103.

[2] Cristina Cacciari, “Why Do We Speak Metaphorically: Reflections on the Functions of Metaphor in Discourse and Reasoning” in Katz’s Figurative Language and Thought, 121-122.

[3] Quoted in Arendt, Thinking, 106.

[4] Thinking, Arendt, 106.

[5] Thinking, 106.

[6] Arendt, Thinking, 103.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Life of Lactantius in Breve

Life of Lactantius in Breve

Lucius Caecilius Firmianus Lactantius[1] was born circa 250 CE in Proconsular Africa and likely died at Trier in 325 CE.[2] Arnobius of Sicca evidently taught Lactantius the art of rhetoric while the latter resided in Africa, although historians from time to time dispute this point.[3] Lactantius also wrote a number of literary works, the first of which he entitled the Banquet, which is no longer extant.[4] He further composed a document in hexameter prose entitled Journey from Africa to Nicomedia and a pamphlet De mortibus persecutorum.[5] Finally, it appears that Lactantius authored his most memorable work Divinae institutiones around 311 CE in order to confront verbal and physical aggressions directed against the Christian faith, aggressions which the campaign of Diocletian persecution instigated.[6] McGiffert considers Divinae institutiones, “the most ambitious work published by a Latin Christian before the time of Augustine.”[7] In this apologetic treatise, Lactantius displays his ability to make a persuasive case for the Christian faith. Moreover, he exhibits uncharacteristic erudition in this work.

Lactantius eventually left Africa at the behest of Emperor Diocletian (284-304 CE) to assume the position of rhetor Latinus[8] in Nicomedia.[9] However, he did not fare well as an instructor of rhetoric since this kind of training apparently was not in high demand at that time.[10] Therefore, his pecuniary resources rapidly depleted and Lactantius subsequently undertook the task of writing theological documents in order to sustain himself materially and to advocate the Christian religion.[11] Nevertheless, he still maintained his position as professor of rhetoric until fateful events dictated otherwise.

In 303 CE, persecution directed against Christians by Emperor Diocletian forced Lactantius to relinquish his prestigious chair as rhetor Latinus.[12] He accordingly departed from Bithynia around 305-306 CE and in time became the tutor of Constantine the Great’s son, Caesar Crispus (De vir illustribus 80).[13] While tutoring Crispus, Lactantius persisted in arranging rhetorical and apologetic documents, endeavoring to model his writing after Marcus Tullius Cicero (Epistle 58.10; 70.5).[14] Perhaps, for this reason, Lactantius possibly never learned Greek: he only acquainted himself with those pre-Nicene authors, who wrote in Latin. More than likely, Lactantius acquired his knowledge of Greek philosophy from his reading of Cicero and Seneca.[15] The lacuna concerning his knowledge of Greek writers seems to manifest itself in his apologetic writings. Conversely, Bowen and Garnsey believe that Lactantius had first-hand knowledge of Greek and even quoted texts written in Koine.

In conclusion, successors of Lactantius did not consider him a profound thinker, especially respecting theological matters. Quasten notes that the apologist maybe denied either the existence or at least the distinct personality of God’s Holy Spirit, at times identifying the Spirit of holiness (spiritum sanctificationis)[16] with the Father or the Son.[17] Immediate evidence of Lactantius’ pneumatology, however, does not survive in written form. But in view of his “unorthodox” Christology and pneumatology, an oft-heard criticism of Lactantius is that “he was not a theologian” (theologus non erat).[18] Modern-day research somewhat mitigates this evaluation, however.[19]

[1] A number of MSS contain the praenomen Lucius and the nomen Caecilius or Caelius for Lactantius (his Christian name). See Cruttwell, A Literary History, 642.

2 Berardino says 260 CE. See page 469. Wlosok says 250 CE on p. 370 of Theologische. McGiffert (History of Christian Thought, 44) states that the details of his death are unknown. Cruttwell (A Literary History, 643) suggests that Lactantius was born in Africa.

3 McCracken. However, see Epistle 70.5; De viribus illustribus 80.

4 Quasten, Patrology, 392-393; Campenhausen, Fathers of the Church, 62.

[5] Barry Baldwin, “Lactantius,” 2:1168 of Aleksandr Petrovich Kazhdan,

ed., The Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium. New York & Oxford: 1991.

6 See Gieschen, Angelomorphic Christology, 197.

[7] History of Christian Thought, 45.

8 Kennedy notes that five of the major Latin pre and post-Nicenes taught rhetoric prior to becoming Christians. These rhetores respectively were Tertullian, Cyprian, Arnobius, Lactantius and Augustine. Vide A New History of Classical Rhetoric (Princeton: Princeton University Press, ), 264-265.

9 Quasten, Patrology, 393; Campenhausen, Fathers, 62; Bardenhewer, Patrology, 203, Wlosok, Theologische, p. 20:370; McGuckin, Handbook to Patristic Theology, p. 202; McGiffert, History of Christian Thought, 44; Timothy Barnes, Constantine and Eusebius, 13.

[10] De viribus illustribus 80.

10 Quasten, Patrology, 393.

[12] Lactantius reportedly witnessed the razing of Nicomedia’s city church (H. Chadwick, The Church in Ancient Society, 191). See Historia ecclesiastica 8.2.1-4 and De mortibus persecutorum 12. Lactantius relates the steps that Diocletian took to remove “eloquence” from Nicomedia in De mortibus persecutorum 22. But see Drake, Constantine and the Bishops, 117-118.

[13] Quasten, Patrology, 393, Bardenhewer, Patrology, 203, Wlosok, Theologische, 20:371.

13 See Jerome Catal. 80 about erudition of Lactantius. Fourteen extant MSS of his writings in 15th century (Quasten, Patrology, 394). It is common to see historians and humanists affixing the moniker “Christian Cicero” to Lactantius because of his extraordinary literary and rhetorical abilities. See The Dictionary of Christian Biography, 639; Bowen and Garnsey, Divine Institutes, xi.

14 Campenhausen, Fathers of the Church, 63-64. See Divinae Institutiones 2.8.23 and 1.17.3. See also T. B. de Graff, “Plato in Cicero.” Classical Philology 35 (1940): 143-153.

[16] See Romans 1:4.

16 See Quasten, Patrology, 407, McGuckin, Handbook, 203; Epistle 84.7; Comm in Gal ad 4.6.

17 Dictionary of Christian Biography, 639. Cf. Labriolle, History and Literature of Christianity, 207; Cruttwell, Literary History, 650.

[19] Bowen and Garnsey, Divine Institutes, .