Lactantius (Cont.)The Divine Institutes. (Cont.)Book 4. (Cont.)

Book IV. (Cont.)

Chap. XXX. – Of Avoiding Heresies and Superstitions, and What Is the Only True Catholic Church.

But since many heresies have existed, and the people of God have been rent into divisions at the instigation of demons, the truth must be briefly marked out by us, and placed in its own peculiar dwelling-place, that if any one shall desire to draw the water of life, he may not be borne to broken cisterns (So Jer_2:13) which hold no water, but may know the abundant fountain of God, watered by which he may enjoy perpetual light. Before all things, it is befitting that we should know both that He Himself and His ambassadors foretold that there must be numerous sects and heresies, (See Mat_18:7; Luk_17:1; 1Co_11:19; 2Pe_2:1) which would break the unity347 of the sacred body; and that they admonished us to be on our guard with the greatest prudence, lest we should at any time fall into the snares and deceits of that adversary of ours, with whom God has willed that we should contend. Then that He gave us sure commands, which we ought always to treasure in our minds; for many, forgetting them, and abandoning the heavenly road, have made for themselves devious paths amidst windings and precipices, by which they might lead away the incautious and simple part of the people to the darkness of death: I will explain: how this happened. There were some of our religion whose faith was less established, or who were less learned or less cautious, who rent the unity and divided the Church. But they whose faith was unsettled,348 when they pretended that they knew and worshipped God, aiming at the increase of their wealth and honour, aspired to the highest sacerdotal power; and when overcome by others more powerful, preferred to secede with their supporters, than to endure those set over them, over whom they themselves before desired to be set.349

But some, not sufficiently instructed in heavenly learning, when they were unable to reply to the accusers of the truth, who objected that it was either impossible or inconsistent that God should be shut up in the womb of a woman, and that the Majesty of heaven could not be reduced to such weakness as to become an object of contempt and derision, a reproach and mockery to men; lastly, that He should even endure tortures, and be affixed to the accursed cross; and when they could defend and refute all these things neither by talent nor learning, for they did not thoroughly perceive their force and meaning, they were perverted350 from the right path, and corrupted the sacred writings, so that they composed for themselves a new doctrine without any root and stability. But some, enticed by the prediction of false prophets, concerning whom both the true prophets and he himself had foretold, fell away from the knowledge of God, and left the true tradition. But all of these, ensnared by frauds of demons, which they ought to have foreseen and guarded against, by their carelessness lost the name and worship of God. For when they are called Phrygians,351 or Novatians,352 or Valentinians,353 or Marcionites,354 or Anthropians,355 or Arians,356 or by any other name they have ceased to be Christians, who have lost the name of Christ, and assumed human and external names. Therefore it is the Catholic Church alone which retains true worship.

This is the fountain of truth, this is the abode of the faith, this is the temple of God; into which if any one shall not enter, or from which if any shall go out, he is estranged from the hope of life and eternal salvation. No one ought to flatter himself with persevering strife. For the contest is respecting life and salvation, which, unless it is carefully and diligently kept in view, will be lost and extinguished. But, however, because all the separate assemblies of heretics call themselves Christians in preference to others, and think that theirs is the Catholic Church, it must be known that the true Catholic Church is that in which there is confession and repentance,357 which treats in a wholesome manner the sins and wounds to which the weakness of the flesh is liable. I have related these things in the meanwhile for the sake of admonition, that no one who desires to avoid error may be entangled in a greater error, while he is ignorant of the secret358 of the truth. Afterwards, in a particular and separate work, we will more fully and copiously359 contend against all divisions of falsehoods. It follows that, since we have spoken sufficiently on the subject of true religion and wisdom, we discuss the subject of justice in the next book.


General Notes by the American Editor.


(On cap. 29.)

Here we should look for something also concerning the Holy Spirit. But our author’s principle is doubtless a reflection of the prevailing sentiment of the Church at this period, which was perhaps a violent exaggeration of our Lord’s example (Mar_4:33). And see something of this on p. 140, note 6, infra; also Mat_7:6.



(On cap. 30.)

The simplicity with which our author gives a note of the Catholic Church, in accordance with African canons and the teaching of Cyprian, is very noteworthy. It never occurred to him that communion with any one particular See was the note. Hippolytus alone would have reminded him that the worst heretics had been in communion with both Zephyrinus and Callistus in his days (see vol. 5. pp. 156 and 160; also Ibid., 125, 130), and that orthodoxy had been persecuted by these bishops of Rome.







347 Concordiam.

348 Lubrica.

349 [N.B. – The Callistians, Novations, etc.; vol. 5. Elucidation XIV. p. 160; and Ibid., p. 319, 321-333.]

350 Depravati sunt.

351 The Phrygians were the followers of Montanus, who was the founder of a sect in the second century. He is supposed to have been a native of Ardaba, on the borders of Phrygia, on which account his followers were called the Phrygian or Cataphygian heretics. Montanus gave himself out for the Paraclete or Comforter whom our Lord promised to send. The most eminent of his followers were Priscilla and Maximilla. [But see vol. 2. pp. 4 and 5; also vol. 3. and vol. 4. the series, and notes on Tertullian, passim.]

352 The Novatians were the followers of Novatus, in the third century. They assumed to themselves the title of Cathari, or the pure. They refused to re-admit to their communion those who had once fallen away, and allowed no place for repentance.

353 The Valentinians were the followers of Valentinus, an Egyptian who founded a sect in the second century. His system somewhat resembled the Gnostics. He taught that Christ had a heavenly or spiritual body, and assumed nothing from the Virgin Mary.

354 The Marcionites were the followers of Marcion, a heretic of the second century, who held the Oriental belief of two independent, eternal, co-existing principles, one of good, the other of evil. He applied this doctrine to Christianity. His chief opponent was Tertullian.

355 The Anthropians held that Jesus Christ was nothing but man (ἄνθρωπος).

356 This word is omitted by some editors, as Lactantius wrote before the Arian heresy had gained strength. [See vol. 6. p. 291.]

357 This is directed against the Novatians. See preceding note on the Novatians, [and vol. 5., this series, passim].

358 Penetrale, “the interior of a house or temple.”

359 Uberius. Others read “verius,” more truly; but the reading of the text is preferable.