LACTANTIUS. Divinarum institutionum libri septem (with)

TERTULLIAN. Apologeticus adversus gentes.

Venice, in aedibus Aldi et Andreae soceri, 1515.


8vo. Two works in one, ff. (xvi) 248 (xii); (iv) 48, separate t-p and colophon to each. Italic letter, occasional Roman and Greek. Printer’s device to titlepages and recto of last. A little age yellowing, some ll. lightly thumbed, very faint water stain to lower margins of a few ll., slight marginal foxing to last gathering. An excellent, well-margined copy, crisp and clean, in stunning mid-C16 Roman olive goatskin, a.e. blue. Blind-tooled to a triple-ruled panel design, second border with blind-tooled floral branch, centre panel with blind-tooled arabesque cornerpieces and semis of fleurons, gilt centrepiece of leaves and fleurons, gilt title to upper and Fortuna holding a sail to lower covers. Spine in six compartments, double-fillet border to each, blind-tooled triple-ruled cross-hatching at head and foot, raised bands, expert repair to extremities. Early ex-libris ‘Sum (?) fratris Josephi Borselli (?) Ordinis Servorum S[anctae] Mariae’ to t-p.

The corner and centrepieces on the superb binding, including the depiction of Fortuna holding a sail, reprise some made in Rome for Antonio Filareto c.1530s (de Marinis I, 819, 820).

Excellent, well-margined copies of these milestones of early Christian apologetics, edited by the philologist Giovan Battista Cipelli (or Egnazio, 1478-53). Born in Numidia, Lactantius (c.250-325AD) moved to Greece where he taught rhetoric and converted to Christianity. After resigning his post to escape Diocletian’s religious persecutions, he lived in poverty until he became advisor to Emperor Constantine. The main focus of his works is the criticism of pagan cults and the formulation of a coherent Christian theology. ‘Institutiones divinae’ was the first attempt at a large-scale theorisation of Christianity in Latin, which examined the nature of ‘false’ religions, the origin of mistaken beliefs, false and true wisdom, justice and divine reward; it was later turned into an ‘Epitome’. Lactantius conceived ‘De opificio Dei’ as a defence of Christian truth during Diocletian’s persecutions, and wrote ‘De ira Dei’ against Epicurean and Stoic beliefs. The poems ‘Phoenix’, ‘Carmen de Dominica Resurrectione’ and ‘Carmen de Passione Domini’ are no longer attributed to Lactantius; the first inspired the famous, namesake Anglo-Saxon poem. Tertullian (155-240AD), of whom little is known, was born in Carthage and was probably a lawyer and priest. He became one of the earliest defenders of Christianity against pagan cults like Gnosticism; he was also the first writer in Latin to use the word ‘trinity’. Tertullian’s ‘Apologeticus’ discussed key theological questions like the nature of Christ and the devil, the kingdom of God, the Roman religion, and why pagan deities cannot be considered ‘gods’. Although it bears a separate t-p and colophon, this Aldine work only appeared, very appropriately, bound with Lactantius’s critique of paganism.

The owner of this copy was probably a friar in the Church of Santa Maria in Via, in Rome.

BM STC It., p. 366; Rénouard 70:2; Brunet II, 736.

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