Friday, 24 May 2019

Oliver Nicholson: The Anger of God and the Deaths of the Persecutors

Lactantius wrote De Mortibus Persecutorum soon after the Great Persecution ended in 313 and dedicated it to a Christian comrade called Donatus who had endured six years in a Nicomedia gaol. It contains much factual information about recent events, interpreted in a distinctive manner which contrasts with contemporary political propaganda, especially that emerging from the court of Constantine.  It owes various literary debts, to the Maccabees, to the Sallustian monograph and to classical invective. More difficult to locate is the author's mentalité; one would expect something more subtle than naïve triumphalism from a writer who articulated the sophisticated ethical thoughts expressed in the Divine Institutes, thoughts whose long roots have been explored by B. Colot, S. Freund and G. Kendeffy.    The present paper will juxtapose the magna et mirabilia exempla of God's anger manifested in De Mortibus with Lactantius's explanation of the nature of divine anger in his De Ira Dei, written around the same time as De Mortibus and also dedicated to a comrade called Donatus. It will consider the distinctions which Lactantius makes between Divine Anger and Human Anger, and his attitude to the adfectus which is the corollary of Anger, namely Fear, a dominant sensation for Christians undergoing persecution.  What should emerge is a sense of the spirituality which sustained a survivor of the Great Persecution, a spirituality more thoughtful and complex than that which later generations of hagiographers were to ascribe to Christians who had suffered the terrors of the Great Persecution

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