Lactantius The Deaths of the Persecutors

Lactantius (full name: Lucius Caelius Firmianus Lactantius; ca. 260-340 C.E.) served as a professor of rhetoric in Diocletian's imperial capital of Nicomedia (mentioned in the text) and later as private tutor to the Emperor Constantine's son Crispus. Lactantius is best known for his apologetic work Divine Institutes, in which he defended the intellectual and philosophical foundations of Christianity. The Deaths of the Persecutors recounts the horrible and

From Lactantius: Minor Works, trans. Sr. Mary Francis McDonald. Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 1965. Used with permission.

divinely administered ends met by the imperial persecutors of the Christian church. After brief chapters concerning Nero, Domitian, Decius, Valerian, and Aurelian, Lactantius spends most of the work describing the ten-year period (303-313 C.E.) between the onset of the Great Persecution and the triumph of Constantine over the persecutors (Diocletian, Galerius, Maximian, and Maximin Daia). The entire work is structured like many non-Christian imperial histories (see Chapter 3), in which the author evaluates the merits and failures of the emperors of Rome from political, economic, social, and cultural perspectives. In the Deaths ofthe Persecutors, all these views are ultimately subordinated to the perspective of Christian suffering and triumph.

Two selections from this work are included here. First are the chapters describing the instigation of persecution of the Christians under Diocletian and Galerius. Lactantius combines classically structured evaluations of these men as poor leaders (greedy, ignorant, and immoral) with their particularly evil persecution of Christians. Also presented is Lactantius's version of the so-called Edict of Milan (313 C.E.). Celebrated by Christian historians as the "legalization of Christianity," this was actually a joint resolution by the co-emperors Licinius and Constantine granting official toleration to Christians in both the eastern and western halves of the Roman Empire.

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