The Divine Institutes

Institutiones Divinae (Classical Latin[ĩːstɪtuːtɪˈoːneːs diːˈwiːnae̯], Ecclesiastical Latin[institutsiˈones diˈvine]; The Divine Institutes) is the name of a theological work by the Christian Roman philosopher Lactantius, written between AD 303 and 311.

Beginning of Lactantius’ Divinae institutiones in a Renaissance manuscript written in Florence ca. 1420–30 by Guglielmino Tanaglia


Arguably the most important of Lactantius's works, the Divinae institutiones—the title of which was meant to correspond to the institutiones that expressed the workings of civil law—is both a systematic as well as apologetic work that, as Patrick Healy argues, "point out the futility of pagan beliefs and to establish the reasonableness and truth of Christianity."[1][2] The work was the first full attempt to defend Christian theology in Latin, and it was likely written to appeal to and convince educated pagans.[1][3] While Lactantius focused much of Divinae institutiones on combating the claims of pagan writers (who at the time were aiding the persecutors of Christianity by writing specialized attack pamphlets), the author also sought to make his work "sufficiently broad" so that it might stem criticisms from all directions.[1]


Book VII of the work indicates a familiarity with Jewish, Christian, Egyptian and Iranian apocalyptic material, and alludes to the (now-lost) Oracle of Hystaspes.[4] The work also makes use of Sibylline sources as well as the Hermetica of Hermes Trismegistus.[4][5] Included in this treatise is also a quote from the nineteenth of the Odes of Solomon, one of only two known texts of the Odes until the early twentieth century.[6]


Patrick Healy notes, "The strengths and the weakness of Lactantius are nowhere better shown than in his work. The beauty of the style, the choice and aptness of the terminology, cannot hide the author's lack of grasp on Christian principles and his almost utter ignorance of Scripture."[1] Lactantius's mockery of the idea of a round earth[7] was criticized by Copernicus in the preface to his book De revolutionibus orbium coelestium, in which the author writes, "Lactantius, the writer celebrated in other ways but very little in mathematics, spoke somewhat childishly of the shape of the earth when he derided those who declared the earth had the shape of a ball" (Lactantium, celebrem alioqui scriptorem, sed Mathematicum parum, admodum pueriliter de forma terræ loqui, cum deridet eos, qui terram globi formam habere prodiderunt).[8][9]

According to the World Digital Library, Divinae institutiones was one of the first books to be printed in Italy, as well as the first Italian imprint to be dated.[10]


  1. ^ a b c d Healy (2012) [1910].
  2. ^ McDonald (1964a), p. xiv.
  3. ^ McDonald (1964b), p. 3.
  4. ^ a b McGinn (1998), p. 24.
  5. ^ McDonald (1964a), p. xix.
  6. ^ Charlesworth (1973), pp. 1, 82.
  7. ^ Lactantius, The Divine Institutes 3.24.
  8. ^ Stimson (2009) [1917], p. 113.
  9. ^ Copernicus, De revolutionibus orbium coelestium, preface.
  10. ^ "The Rubrics of the First Book of Lactantius Firmianus's On the Divine Institutes Against the Pagans Begin". World Digital Library. September 18, 2015. Retrieved March 1, 2014 – via University Library of Naples.


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