Archive Authors E.J. Hutchinson Nota Bene

Image and Word in Lactantius

An interesting juxtaposition in Lactantius’ De mortibus persecutorum (“On the Deaths of the Persecutors”) 12. At the beginning of the Diocletianic/Galerian, or Great, Persecution, government agents went to a church in Nicomedia:

[W]hile it was yet hardly light, the prefect, together with chief commanders, tribunes, and officers of the treasury, came to the church in Nicomedia, and the gates having been forced open, they searched everywhere for an image of the Divinity. The books of the Holy Scriptures were found, and they were committed to the flames; the utensils and furniture of the church were abandoned to pillage: all was rapine, confusion, tumult. (De mort. pers. 12)

The agents apparently thought that the Christians would worship as they did, and looked for their visual stimuli. But there were none. Instead they found the Word, Holy Scripture, which, as the source of their faith, had to be destroyed. Lactantius’ juxtaposition, it seems to me, can be rephrased as: “they searched for an image of God, their way of knowing and raising their eyes to the Most High, and found the Bible.”

By E.J. Hutchinson

E.J. Hutchinson is Assistant Professor of Classics at Hillsdale College.