Info

The 'Constantinian turn' and its literary reflex Only five to seven decades after Origen's death (254 cE), the African layman Lactantius (c.250-325 ce) and the Palestinian bishop Eusebius (c.264/5-339/ 40 ce) would witness the 'revolution' which Origen would not have completely excluded, although he could hardly have counted on it. The 'christianisation' of the Roman empire (or, better, its beginning) is normally associated with the name of emperor Constantine (reigning 305/ 6-337 ce) and therefore called the 'Constantinian turn' or 'revolution' respectively, although this 'turn' was in reality a process of a longer duration.65 To describe this process is not our task in this chapter.66 We confine ourselves to asking how these two Christian eyewitnesses, both skilled authors, one from the western and one from the eastern part ofthe Roman empire, experienced the fundamental reorientation of the religious policy of the Roman empire and reflected on it in their writings.

Lactantius was engaged between 290 and 300 cE by Diocletian as a teacher of Latin rhetoric at his court in Nicomedia and, later on (314/15), by Constantine as a tutor of his son Crispus in Treves, where he possibly had also some influence on the emperor's politics and legislation. Lactantius was an exponent of a millenarian orientation of Christian eschatology, in the footsteps of Irenaeus, Hippolytus and Tertullian (also Cyprian), as can be seen unambiguously in the last book (bk 7) of his Divinae institutiones ('Divine institutions'), his major theological writing, and the last five chapters of its abridged version (or Epitome).

What does Lactantius' millenarianism mean for his attitude towards the Roman empire? If one compares his various exhortations, delivered over an extended period of time, for Christians to intercede for the Roman authorities, a remarkable change can be observed. According to a passage in the first 'edition' of the Divinae institutiones, written before the 'Constantinian turn' (exactly between 304 and 311 cE), Christians have to intercede (pray) for the 'Romans' in order that the horrors preceding the millenarian rule be delayed (the Roman empire as mora finis).6 But in his work De morte persecutorum ('On the deaths of the persecutors'), written between 313 and 316 ce - after such momentous events as the publication of emperor Galerius' edict of toleration (311), Constantine's defeat of the 'tyrant' Maxentius (28 October 312), Licinius' victory over the great enemy of the Christians, Maximinus Daia (30 April 313), and, last of all, the agreement made by Constantine and Licinius at Milan

65 Grant, Augustus to Constantine.

Was this article helpful?

0 0

Post a comment