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Worshippers of the GodsDebating Paganism in the Fourth-Century Roman West$
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Mattias P. Gassman

Print publication date: 2020

Print ISBN-13: 9780190082444

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: July 2020

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780190082444.001.0001

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‘Like a Stream of Tullian Eloquence’

‘Like a Stream of Tullian Eloquence’

Lactantius, Cicero, and the Critique of Roman Religion in the Divine Institutes

(p.19) 1 ‘Like a Stream of Tullian Eloquence’
Worshippers of the Gods

Mattias P. Gassman

Oxford University Press

Formerly professor of Latin in the court of the emperor Diocletian, Lactantius responded to the Tetrarchic ‘Great Persecution’ with the most extensive defence and exposition of Christianity written in Latin before Augustine’s City of God. His seven-book Divine Institutes, the last Christian apology written before Constantine’s rise to power, credited the invention of pagan cults to a historical King Jupiter. Building on this euhemeristic narrative, Lactantius reinterpreted the philosophical theories surveyed in Cicero’s On the Nature of the Gods to attack polytheism as an irrational display of empty religiosity. With the help of Christian cosmology and eschatology, he set the present sufferings of Christians in a grand historical context, predicting the final victory over paganism at the return of Christ, a few centuries after his own day. Lactantius later hailed the victories of Constantine and Licinius as a divine vindication of persecuted Christians. Nevertheless, he still expected pagan domination and persecution to continue until Christ’s return. His eschatology, not the experience of imperial politics, set his basic approach to paganism before and after the ‘Constantinian revolution’.

Keywords:   Lactantius, Diocletian, Tetrarchy, Great Persecution, eschatology, Cicero, De natura deorum, superstitio, religio, euhemerism

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