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A History of Rome to 565 A. D. by Boak

Christian Latin literature Lactantius d


Latin literature: Lactantius (d. about 325 A. D.).* It is among the writers of Christian literature that the few great Latin authors of the time are to be found. At the beginning of the fourth century stood Lactantius, an African, who became a teacher of rhetoric in Nicomedia, where he was converted to Christianity. His chief work was the _Divinae Institutiones_, an introduction to Christian doctrine, which was an attempt to create a philosophical Christianity. His purity of style has caused him to be called the "Christian Cicero."

*Ambrose, (d. 397 A. D.).* Ambrose, the powerful bishop of Milan, who exercised such great influence with Gratian and Theodosius the Great, also displayed great literary activity. In general, his writings are developments of his sermons, and display no very great learning. Their power depended upon the strength of his personality. More important from a literary standpoint are the hymns which he composed for use in church services to combat in popular form the Arian doctrines. In his verses Ambrose adhered to the classic metrical forms, but in the course of the next two centuries these were abandoned for the use of the rhymed verse, which itself was a development of the current rhetorical prose.

*Jerome, 335-420 A. D.* The most learned of the Latin Christian writers of antiquity was Jerome (Hieronymus), a native of northern Bosnia, whose retired, studious life was in striking contrast

to the public, official career of Ambrose. A Greek and Hebrew scholar, in addition to his dogmatic writings he made a Latin translation of the Old Testament from the Hebrew (the basis of the later _Vulgate_), and another of the Greek _Church History_ of Eusebius.

*Augustine, 354-430 A. D.* The long line of notable literary figures of the African church is closed by Augustine, the bishop of Hippo who died during the siege of his city by the Vandals in 430 A. D. In his early life a pagan, he found inspiration and guidance in the philosophy of Plato and Aristotle. But while Jerome was still dominated by Greek religious thought, Augustine was the first Latin Christian writer to emancipate himself from this dependence and display originality of form and ideas in his works. Of these the two most significant are the _Confessions_ and _On the City of God_. The _Confessions_ reveal the story of his inner life, the struggle of good and evil in his own soul. The work _On the City of God_ was inspired by the sack of Rome by Alaric in 410 and the accusation of the pagans that this was a punishment for the abandonment of the ancient deities. In answer to this charge Augustine develops a philosophical interpretation of history as the conflict of good and evil forces, in which the Heavenly City is destined to triumph over that of this world. His work prepared the way for the conception of the Roman Catholic Church as the city of God.

*Boethius (d. 524 A. D.) and Cassiodorus (c. 480-575 A. D.).* Between the death of Augustine and the death of Justinian the West produced no ecclesiastical literary figure worthy of note. However, under the Ostrogothic regime in Italy, profane literature is represented by two outstanding personalities--Boethius and Cassiodorus. The patrician Boethius while in prison awaiting his death sentence from Theoderic composed his work _On the Consolation of Philosophy_, a treatise embued with the finest spirit of Greek intellectual life. Cassiodorus, who held the posts of quaestor and master of the offices under Theoderic, has left valuable historical material in his _Variae_, a collection of official letters drawn up by him in the course of his administrative duties. His chief literary work was a history of the Goths, of which unfortunately only a few excerpts have remained. In his later years Cassiodorus retired to a monastery which he founded and organized according to the Benedictine rule. There he performed an inestimable service in fostering the preservation of secular as well as ecclesiastical knowledge among the brethren, thus giving to the Benedictine monks the impulse to intellectual work for which they were so distinguished in medieval times.

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