Firmicus Maternus, Julius
FIRMICUS MATERNUS, JULIUS
Junior V (ir) C (larissimus), 4th-century apologist and polemicist; b. Syracuse, date unknown; d. after 350. An aristocrat of senatorial rank, he was reared in paganism and went through three successive careers: advocate, astrologer, and Christian polemicist. He wrote Matheseos libri VIII (c. 334–337), the longest systematic account of astrology in the Latin language. Converted to Christianity probably within the next decade, he decided to turn his pen to the defense of his adopted religion. The result, written c. 346, was the 80-page essay De errore profanarum religionum. The book yields valuable information on the Oriental religions, which had chiefly supplanted other pagan cults in the Roman Empire.
On Christianity and its spirit Firmicus was less well informed. He addressed his book to the Emperors Constans and Constantius and in fiery terms exhorted them to allow no religious liberty and to stamp out by drastic and violent means every vestige of pagan belief and cult, destroying the shrines and temples. This was the earliestknown instance of an appeal by a Christian to "the secular arm" to enforce Christianity and destroy other religions without mercy. The Emperors apparently elected not to adopt Firmicus's intemperate and intolerant advice.
Firmicus was a bookish man. He endeavored to write in a Ciceronian style and borrowed data freely from Cicero's De natura deorum. Like the apologists, he used euhemeristic methods to discredit the putative divinity of sundry pagan gods. Among his other unacknowledged sources were clement of alexandria (Protrepticus ), arnobius the elder, irenaeus, and cyprian. While he quoted the Bible (70 quotations or allusions), he did so mostly from the pages of Cyprian's Testimonia rather than directly.
Firmicus's book lay in oblivion for 1,200 years until the Reformation. It survived in a solitary minuscule codex, written in Germany in the 9th or 10th century. Matthias flacius illyricus, Lutheran Church historian, found the codex in a monastery at Minden and published the first (unsatisfactory) edition at Strassburg in 1562. The codex is now in the vatican (Vatican Palatinus Latinus 165). The attempt by G. Morin to identify Firmicus as the author of the Consultationes Zacchaei et Apollonii has been rejected by most scholars.
Bibliography: Editions. Matheseos, ed. w. kroll et al., 2 v. (Bibliotheca scriptorum Graecorum et Romanorum Teubneriana ; 1897–1913); De errore, ed. c. halm (Corpus scriptorum ecclesiasticorum latinorum 2; 1867); ed. k. ziegler, v.3 of Das Wort der Antike ; ed. r. beutler (Munich 1953); ed. and tr. g. heuten (Brussels 1938); Works, ed. and tr. c. forbes (Ancient Christian Writers ;1965). g. morin, ed., Consultationes Zacchaei et Apollonii (Florilegium Patristicum 39; 1935). Literature. g. morin, Revue Bénédictine 46 (1934) 456–459; Jahrbuch für Liturgiewissenschaft 13 (1936) 185–188. p. courcelle, Revue de l'histoire des religions 146 (1954) 174–193, on the Consultationes. j. lenzenweger, Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche 2 4:144. f. boll, Paulys Realenzyklopädie der klassichen Altertumswisschenschaft 6.2 (1909) 2365–79.
[c. a. forbes]