Has anyone read Lactantius: Divine Institutes?

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Puritan Board Freshman
I've been reading some Reformed Scholastics on varying topics, and they quote from Lactantius from time to time. He seems like a pretty big figure for the early church in attempting to systematize Christian doctrine to combat error, and wanted to ask PB if he is worth reading. If he is, what translation is the best? Also, is there anything I should consider or know before I read him?


Puritan Board Junior
I've read him. He has been quoted by the Reformed, as you've pointed out. I would read his volume in the Schaff s ante-nicene series since it's free. Here are some of the choice pieces of his that I've collated...

Lactantius (260-330) on private judgment: It is therefore right, especially in a matter on which the whole plan of life turns, that every one should place confidence in himself, and use his own judgment and individual capacity for the investigation and weighing of the truth, rather than through confidence in others to be deceived by their errors, as though he himself were without understanding. God has given wisdom to all alike, that they might be able both to investigate things which they have not heard, and to weigh things which they have heard. Nor, because they preceded us in time did they also outstrip us in wisdom; for if this is given equally to all, we cannot be anticipated in it by those who precede us. It is incapable of diminution, as the light and brilliancy of the sun; because, as the sun is the light of the eyes, so is wisdom the light of man’s heart. Wherefore, since wisdom — that is, the inquiry after truth — is natural to all, they deprive themselves of wisdom, who without any judgment approve of the discoveries of their ancestors, and like sheep are led by others. But this escapes their notice, that the name of ancestors being introduced, they think it impossible that they themselves should have more knowledge because they are called descendants, or that the others should be unwise because they are called ancestors. What, therefore, prevents us from taking a precedent from them, that as they handed down to posterity their false inventions, so we who have discovered the truth may hand down better things to our posterity? ANF: Vol. VII, The Divine Institutes, Book II, Chapter 8.

Lactantius (260-330) on the perspicuity of Scripture: For this is especially the cause why, with the wise and the learned, and the princes of this world, the sacred Scriptures are without credit, because the prophets spoke in common and simple language, as though they spoke to the people. And therefore they are despised by those who are willing to hear or read nothing except that which is polished and eloquent; nor is anything able to remain fixed in their minds, except that which charms their ears by a more soothing sound. But those things which appear humble are considered anile, foolish, and common. So entirely do they regard nothing as true, except that which is pleasant to the ear; nothing as credible, except that which can excite pleasure: no one estimates a subject by its truth, but by its embellishment. Therefore they do not believe the sacred writings, because they are without any pretence; but they do not even believe those who explain them, because they also are either altogether ignorant, or at any rate possessed of little learning. ANF: Vol. VII, The Divine Institutes, Book V, Chapter I.

Lactantius (260-330) on the perspicuity of Scripture: For all those things which are unconnected with words, that is, pleasant sounds of the air and of strings, may be easily disregarded, because they do not adhere to its, and cannot be written. But a well-composed poem, and a speech beguiling with its sweetness, captivate the minds of men, and impel them in what direction they please. Hence, when learned men have applied themselves to the religion of God, unless they have been instructed by some skillful teacher, they do not believe. For, being accustomed to sweet and polished speeches or poems, they despise the simple and common language of the sacred writings as mean. For they seek that which may soothe the senses. But whatever is O pleasant to the ear effects persuasion, and while it delights fixes itself deeply within the breast. Is God, therefore, the contriver both of the mind, and of the voice, and of the tongue, unable to speak eloquently? Yea, rather, with the greatest foresight, He wished those things which are divine to be without adornment, that all might understand the things which He Himself spoke to all. ANF: Vol. VII, The Divine Institutes, Book VI Of true Worship, Chapter 21 Of the Pleasures of the Ears, And of Sacred Literature.

And you've probably seen the following quote cited by Reformed writers where Lactantius speaks of the self-attesting nature of Holy Scripture.

Lactantius (260-330): For since all error arises either from false religion or from wisdom, in refuting error it is necessary to overthrow both. For inasmuch as it has been handed down to us in the sacred writings that the thoughts of philosophers are foolish, this very thing is to be proved by fact and by arguments, that no one, induced by the honourable name of wisdom, or deceived by the splendour of empty eloquence, may prefer to give credence to human rather than to divine things. Which things, indeed, are related in a concise and simple manner. For it was not befitting that, when God was speaking to man, He should confirm His words by arguments, as though He would not otherwise be regarded with confidence: but, as it was right, He spoke as the mighty Judge of all things, to whom it belongs not to argue, but to pronounce sentence. He Himself, as God, is truth. But we, since we have divine testimony for everything, will assuredly show by how much surer arguments truth may be defended, when even false things are so defended that they are accustomed to appear true. Wherefore there is no reason why we should give so much honour to philosophers as to fear their eloquence. For they might speak well as men of learning; but they could not speak truly, because they had not learned the truth from Him in whose power it was. ANF: Vol. VII, The Divine Institutes, Book III, Chapter I. See also FC, Vol. 49, The Divine Institutes, Book III, Chapter 1 (Washington D.C.: The Catholic University Press, 1963), pp. 165-166.
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