Just here I economize a little spare room to note the cynical Gibbons ideas about Lactantius and his works. He quotes him freely, and recognises his Ciceronian Latinity, and even the elegance of his rhetoric, and the spirit and eloquence with which he can garnish the “dismal tale” of coming judgments, based on the Apocalypse. But then, again 1946 he speaks of him as an “obscure rhetorician,” and affects a doubt as to his sources of information, notably in doubting the conversation between Galerius and Diocletian which forced the latter to abdicate. This is before he decides to attribute the work on the Deaths of Persecutors to somebody else, or, rather, to quote its author ambiguously as Cæcilius. And here we may insert what he says on this subject, as follows:—
“It is certain that this…was composed and published while Licinius, sovereign of the East, still preserved the friendship of Constantine and of the Christians. Every reader of taste must perceive that the style is of a very different and inferior character to that of Lactantius; and such, indeed, is the judgment of Le Clerc 1947 and Lardner. 1948 Three arguments (from the title of the book and from the names of Donatus and Cæcilius) are produced by the advocates of Lactantius. 1949 Each of these proofs is, singly, weak and defective; but their concurrence has great weight. I have often fluctuated, and shall tamely 1950 follow the Colbert ms. in calling the author, whoever he was, Cæcilius.”
After this the critic adheres to this ambiguity. I have no wish to argue otherwise. Quite as important are his notes on the Institutes. He states the probable conjecture of two original editions,—the one under Diocletian, and the other under Licinius. Then he says: 1951 —
“I am almost convinced that Lactantius dedicated his Institutions to the sovereign of Gaul at a time when Galerius, Maximin, and even Licinius, persecuted the Christians; that is, between the years a.d. 306 and a.d. 311.”
“The first and most important of these is, indeed, wanting in twenty-eight mss., but is found in nineteen. If we weigh the comparative value of those mss., one, … in the King of Frances library, 1954 may be alleged in its favour. But the passage is omitted in the correct ms. of Bologna, which the Père de Montfaucon 1955 ascribes to the sixth or seventh century. The taste of most of the editors 1956 has felt the genuine style of Lactantius.”
Do not many indications point to the natural suggestion of a third original edition, issued after the conversion of Constantine? Or the questionable passages may be the interpolations of Lactantius himself.
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