Part 4
Chapter 3—Of Original Sin

Section 12—Lactantius. A.D. 320.

Lactantius embraced and maintained the same doctrine his master Arnobius did; he seems to be very sensible of the proneness of human nature to sin, and of its weakness and frailty, and how many ways it becomes subject to it. “No man,” says he,[1] “can be without sin as long as he is burdened with the clothing of the flesh, whose infirmity is subject three ways to the dominion of sin, by deeds, words, and thoughts; therefore just men, who can restrain themselves from every unjust work, yet sometimes are overcome through frailty itself, that either they say that which is evil in anger, or upon sight of things delightful, lust after them in secret thought.” And to the same effect he says in another place,[2] “There is none who sins not at all, and there are many things which provoke to sin, as age, oppression, want, occasion, reward, adeo subjecta est peccato fragilitas carnis qua induti sumus, ‘the frailty of the flesh with which ye are clothed, is so subject to sin, that unless God should spare this necessity, very few, perhaps, would live.” He sometimes represents man as in a state of blindness and darkness, and suggests, that it is impossible he should have a knowledge of spiritual and heavenly things without divine teachings; “We,” says he,[3] “who before as blind men, and as shut up in the prison of folly, sat in darkness, ignorant of God and truth, are enlightened by God, who hath adopted us in his covenant, and being delivered from evil bonds, and brought into the light of wisdom, he hath took into the inheritance of the heavenly kingdom.” And elsewhere he says,[4] that “the mind shut up in earthly bowels, and hindered by the corruption of the body, aut comprehendere per se potest aug capere veritatem nisi aliunde doceater, can neither by itself comprehend nor receive truth, unless it be taught from some other person:” yea, he expressly says in another place,[5] that “man cannot himself come to this knowledge, nisi doceatur a Deo, ‘unless he is taught of God:' “ by which he means the knowledge of spiritual and heavenly things; for elsewhere he observes,[6] that “the knowledge of truth, and of heavenly things, non potest esse in homine, nissi Deo docente, percepta, ‘cannot be perceived in man, unless God teaches it;' for if man could understand divine things, he could do them; for to understand is, as it were, to follow them closely; but he cannot do what God can, because he is clothed with a mortal body, therefore neither can he understand what God has done.” There are some things which he denies are in the power of man; “To undertake a thing,” he observes, “is[7] easy, to fulfill is difficult; for when thou committest thyself to a combat and conflict, in arbitrio Dei, non tuo, posita Victoria est, the victory lies in the will of God, not in thine own.” Hence he says in another place,[8] “It is not the part of a wise and good man to will, to strive, and to commit himself to danger, because to overcome, non est in nostra potestate, is not in our power.” The appeasing of conscience and healing the wounds which sin has made in it, are by him ascribed alone to the power and grace of God; his words are these:[9] “It is better therefore either to avoid conscience, or that we should willingly open our minds, and pour out the deadliness thereof through the lanced wound, quibus nemo altus mederi potest, ‘which no other can heal,' but he alone who has given to the lame to walk, and sight to the blind, hath cleansed spotted members, and hath raised the dead; he will extinguish the heat of lust, he will root out unlawful desires, he will draw away envy, he will mitigate anger, he will give true and perpetual soundness.” In one place, indeed, he seems to take too much upon him, and what is beyond the power of a mere man, when he says,[10] “Give me a man that is angry, reproaching, and unruly, with a very few words of God I will make him as quiet as a lamb; give me one greedy, covetous, and tenacious, by and by I will return him to thee liberal, freely giving his money with his own hands, and those full; give me one fearful of pain and death, he shall immediately despise crosses, fires, and Phalaris's bull; give me one lustful, adulterous, a haunter of stews, you shall presently see him sober, chaste, and continent; give me one cruel and thirsting after blood, at once his fury shall be changed into true clemency; give me one unjust, foolish, a sinner, forthwith he shall be just, and prudent, and innocent.” But then all this he ascribes to the power of divine grace attending the word and ordinances of the gospel; “for by one laver,” adds he, “all wickedness shall be abolished, fanta divinae sapientiae vis est, ut in hominis pectus infusa, such is the power of divine wisdom, that being infused into the breast of man, at once, by one effort, it expels folly, the mother of sin; to effect which, there is no need of hire of books or lucubrations; these things are done freely, easily, quickly, so that the ears be open, and the breast thirsts after wisdom.” This he opposes to the maxims, notions, and wisdom of the philosophers, with all the art of moral suasion they were masters of; “their wisdom,” says he,[11] “the most that it can do, can hide vices, but not root them out; but the few precepts of God so change the whole man, and polishing the old man, make the man new, that you cannot know him to be the same.”


[1] Lactant. Divin. Institut. 1. 6, c. 13, p. 480, 481.

[2] De Ira Dei, c. 20, p. 660.

[3] Divin. Institut. 1. 4, c. 20, p. 328.

[4] Ibid. c. 24, p. 333.

[5] Ibid. 1. 2, c. 3, p. 109.

[6] Ibid. 1. 7, c. 2, p. 530, 531.

[7] Ibid. 1. 6, c. 6, p. 452.

[8] Ibid. c. 18, p. 499.

[9] Ibid. c. 24, p. 520.

[10] Ibid. 1. 3, c. 26, p. 255.

[11] Divin. Instit. 1. 3, c. 26, p. 256.