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Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol VII:
Lactantius: A Poem on the Passion of the Lord

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A Poem on the Passion of the Lord

Formerly Ascribed to Lactantius

Whoever you are who approach, and are entering the precincts 2069 of the middle of the temple, stop a little and look upon me, who, though innocent, suffered for your crime; lay me up in your mind, keep me in your breast. I am He who, pitying the bitter misfortunes of men, came hither as a messenger 2070 of offered peace, and as a full atonement 2071 for the fault of men. 2072 Here the brightest light from above is restored to the earth; here is the merciful image of safety; here I am a rest to you, the right way, the true redemption, the banner 2073 of God, and a memorable sign of fate. It was on account of you and your life that I entered the Virgin’s womb, was made man, and suffered a dreadful death; nor did I find rest anywhere in the regions of the earth, but everywhere threats, everywhere labours. First of all a wretched dwelling 2074 in the land of Judæa was a shelter for me at my birth, and for my mother with me: here first, amidst the outstretched sluggish cattle, dry grass gave me a bed in a narrow stall. I passed my earliest years in the Pharian 2075 regions, being an exile in the reign of Herod; and after my return to Judæa I spent the rest of my years, always engaged 2076 in fastings, and the extremity of poverty itself, and the lowest circumstances; always by healthful admonitions applying the minds of men to the pursuit of genial uprightness, uniting with wholesome teaching many evident miracles: on which account impious Jerusalem, harassed by the raging cares of envy and cruel hatred, and blinded by madness, dared to seek for me, though innocent, by deadly punishment, a cruel death on the dreadful cross. And if you yourself wish to discriminate these things more fully, 2077 and if it delights you to go through all my groans, and to experience griefs with me, put together 2078 the designs and plots, and the impious price of my innocent blood, and the pretended kisses of a disciple, 2079 and the insults and strivings of the cruel multitude; and, moreover, the blows, and tongues prepared 2080 for accusations. Picture to your mind both the witnesses, and the accursed 2081 judgment of the blinded Pilate, and the immense cross pressing my shoulders and wearied back, and my painful steps to a dreadful death. Now survey me from head to foot, deserted as I am, and lifted up afar from my beloved mother. Behold and see my locks clotted with blood, and my blood-stained neck under my very hair, and my head drained 2082 with cruel thorns, and pouring down like rain 2083 from all sides a stream 2084 of blood over my divine face. Survey my compressed and sightless eyes, and my afflicted cheeks; see my parched tongue poisoned with gall, and my countenance pale with death. Behold my hands pierced with nails, and my arms drawn out, and the great wound in my side; see the blood streaming from it, and my perforated 2085 feet, and blood-stained limbs. Bend your knee, and with lamentation adore the venerable wood of the cross, and with lowly countenance stooping 2086 to the earth, which is wet with innocent blood, sprinkle it with rising tears, and at times 2087 bear me and my admonitions in your devoted heart. Follow the footsteps of my life, and while you look upon my torments and cruel death, remembering my innumerable pangs of body and soul, learn to endure hardships, 2088 and to watch over your own safety. These memorials, 2089 if at any time you find pleasure in thinking over them, if in your mind there is any confidence to bear anything like my p. 328 sufferings), 2090 if the piety due, and gratitude worthy of my labours shall arise, will be incitements 2091 to true virtue, and they will be shields against the snares of an enemy, aroused 2092 by which you will be safe, and as a conqueror bear off the palm in every contest. If these memorials shall turn away your senses, which are devoted to a perishable 2093 world, from the fleeting shadow of earthly beauty, the result will be, that you will not venture, 2094 enticed by empty hope, to trust the frail 2095 enjoyments of fickle fortune, and to place your hope in the fleeting years of life. But, truly, if you thus regard this perishable world, 2096 and through your love of a better country deprive yourself 2097 of earthly riches and the enjoyment of present things, 2098 the prayers of the pious will bring you up 2099 in sacred habits, and in the hope of a happy life, amidst severe punishments, will cherish you with heavenly dew, and feed you with the sweetness of the promised good. Until the great favour of God shall recall your happy 2100 soul to the heavenly regions, 2101 your body being left after the fates of death. Then freed from all labour, then joyfully beholding the angelic choirs, and the blessed companies of saints in perpetual bliss, it shall reign with me in the happy abode of perpetual peace.  



Limina, “the threshold.”  




Venia, “remission.”  


Communis culpæ.  






i.e., Egypt.  




Latius, “more widely,” “in greater detail.”  




Clientis. The “cliens” is one who puts himself under the protection of a “patronus.” Here it is used of a follower.  




Infanda, “unspeakable,” “wicked.”  






Vivum cruorem.  




Terram petens.  


Nonnunquam; others read, “nunquam non,” always.  












Labilis orbis amicos sensus.  


Auseris, an unusual form.  


Occiduis rebus.  


Ista caduca sæcula.  




Rerum usus.  


Extollent. The reading is uncertain; some editions have “expolient.”  


Purpuream, “bright, or shining.”  


Sublimes ad auras.  

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