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Ante-Nicene Christian library : translations of the writings of the Fathers down to A. D. 325 (Volume 19) online

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DOWN TO A.D. 325.















CranStattB b»









Preface, .....

Introduction, ....

§ 1. Account of Arnobius given by Jerome,
§ 2. Facts derived from Arnobius himself,
§ 3. Kesult, ....
§ 4. His Work : its Style and Character,
§ 5. Knowledge of Scriptures, and References to other Writ-
ings, .....-• XV
§ 6. MS. and Editions of the Seven Books adversus Gentes, . xvii
§ 7. Title, ..... xviii







Book I.,







Index of Authors quoted,

Index of Subjects,





HE translation of Arnobius was begun in the
hope that it ^Yould be possible to adhere through-
out to the text of Orelli, and that very little
attention to the various readings would be found neces-
sary. This was, however, found to be impossible, not
merely because Hildebrand's collation of the Paris MS.
showed how frequently liberties had been taken with the
text, but on account of the corrupt state of the text itself.

It has therefore been thought advisable to lay before the
reader a close translation founded on the MS., so far as
known. A conjectural reading has in no case been adopted
without notice.

Throughout the Work use has been made of four editions,
— Oehler's, Orelli's, Hildebrand's, and that of Leyden ;
other editions being consulted only for special reasons.

It is to be regretted that our knowledge of the single
MS. of Arnobius is still incomplete ; but it is hoped that
this will soon be remedied, by the publication of a revised
text, based upon a fresh collation of the MS., with a com-
plete apparatus and a carefully digested body of notes.


RNOBIUS ■ has been most unjustly neglected
in modern times; but some excuse for this
may be found in the fact that even less
attention seems to have been paid to him in
the ages immediately succeeding his own. We find no men-
tion of him in any author except Jerome ; and even Jerome
has left only a few lines about him, which convey very little

In his list of ecclesiastical writers he says/ " During the
reign of Diocletian, Arnobius taught rhetoric with the great-
est success, at Sicca, in Africa, and wrote against the heathen
the books extant ;" and again speaks of this work more par-
ticularly when he says,^ " Arnobins published seven books
against the heathen." In his Chronicon, however, he writes
under the year 2342 (i.e. a.d. 326), " Arnobius is considered
a distinguished rhetorician in Africa, who, while engaged at
Sicca in teaching young men rhetoric, was led by visions to
the faith ; and not being received by the bishop as hitherto
a persistent enemy to Christ, composed very excellent books
against his former belief." It must at once be seen that there
is here a mistake, for Arnobius is put some twenty-three
years later than in the former passage. Jerome himself
shows us that the former date is the one he meant, for else-
where ^ he speaks of Lactantius as the disciple of Arnobius.
Lactantius, in extreme old age,^ was appointed tutor of Con-

1 Cat. Script Eccl Ixxix. f. 121, Bened. ed. torn. iv.

2 Ep. Ixxxiii. f. 656.

3 Cat. Script. Eccl. Ixxx. f. 121, ep. Ixxxiii. .
^ Cat. Script. Eccl. Ixxx.


stantine's son Crispus; and tins, we are told in the Chronicon^
was in the year 317. No one will suppose that if the dis-
ciple was a very old man in 317, his master could have been'
in his prime in 326. It is certain, therefore, that this date
is not correct; and it seems very probable that Oehler's con-
jecture is true, who supposes that Jerome accidentally trans-
posed his words from the year 303 to the place where we
find them, misled by noticing the vicenalia of Constantine
when he w^as lookino; for those of Diocletian.

It is with some difficulty that we can believe that Arnobius
was led to embrace Christianity by dreams, as he speaks of
these with little respect as " vain," — which he could hardly
have done if by them the whole course of his life had been
changed ; but in our utter ignorance we cannot say that this
may not have been to some extent the case. The further
statement, that his apology for Christianity was submitted
as a proof of his sincerity to the bishop of Sicca, is even less
credible, — for these two reasons, that it is evidently the fruit
not of a few weeks' but of protracted labour, and that it is
hardly likely that any bishop would have allowed some parts
of it to pass into circulation. It is just possible that the first
or third books may have been so presented ; but it is not
credible that any pledge w^ould be required of a man seek-
ing to cast in his lot with the persecuted and terrified Church
referred to in the fourth.

§ 2. If we learn but little from external sources as to the
life of Arnobius, we are not more fortunate when we turn
to his own writings. One or two facts, however, are made
clear ; and these are of some importance. " But lately," he
says, " O blindness, I worshipped images just brought from
the furnaces, gods made on anvils and forged with hammers :
now, led by so great a teacher into the ways of truth, I know
what all these things are." ^ We have thus his own assur-
ance of his conversion from heathenism. He speaks of him-
self, however, as actually a Christian, — not as a waverer, not
as one purposing to forsake the ancient superstitions and
1 Anno 2333. - i. 39, p. 31.


embrace the new religion, but as a firm believer, whose
faith is already established, and whose side has been taken
and stedfastlj maintained. In a word, he refers to himself
as once lost in error, but now a true Christian.

Agaiu, in different passages he marks pretty accurately
the time or times at which he wrote. Thus, in the first
book ^ he speaks of about three hundred years as the time
during which Christianity had existed ; and in the second,"
of a thousand and fifty, or not many less, having elapsed
since the foundation of Rome. There has been much dis-
cussion as to what era is here referred to ; and it has been
pretty generally assumed that the Fabian must be intended,
— in which case 303 would be the year meant. If it is ob-
served, however, that Arnobius shows an intimate acquaint-
ance with Yarro, and great admiration for him, it will pro-
bably be admitted that it is most likely that the Yarronian,
or common, era was adopted by him ; and in this case the
year referred to will be 297 a.d. This coincides sufficiently
with the passage in the first book, and is in harmony with
the idea which is there predominant, — the thought, that is,
of the accusation so frequently on the lips of the heathen,
that Christianity was the cause of the many and terrible
afflictions with which the empire was visited. These accusa-
tions, ever becoming more bitter and threatening, would
naturally be observed with care and attention by thoughtful
Christians towards the close of the third century ; and
accordingly we find that the words with which Arnobius
begins his apology, express the feeling of awakening anxiety
with which he viewed the growth of this fear and hatred
in the minds of the heathen. He declares, in effect, that
one great object — indeed the main object — which he had
proposed to himself, was to show that it was not because of
the Christians that fresh evils and terrible calamities were
continually assailing the state. And it must be remembered
that we cannot refer such a proposal to a later period than
that assicrned. It would certainlv not have occurred to a
Christian in the midst of persecution, with death overhang-
1 i. 13, p. 13. .- ii. 71, p. 141.



ing him, and danger on every side, to come forward and
attempt calmly to show the heathen that there was no reason
for their complaints against the Christians. In the later
books there is a change in tone, upon which we cannot
now dwell, although it is marked. In one passage he asks
indignantly,^ " Why should our writings be given to the
flames, our meetings be cruelly broken up, in which prayer is
offered to the supreme God, peace and pardon are asked for
all in authority, for soldiers, kings, friends, enemies ? " In
the calm tranquillity of the last half of the third century
these words could hardly have been written, but they are a
striking testimony to the terms of the imperial edict issued
in the year 303 a.d. So, too, the expression of anger and
disgust at the anti-pagan character of some of Cicero's
works, noticed in iii. 7, belongs to the incipient stages of

Nor must it be supposed that the whole work may be
referred to the era which ensued after the abdication of
Diocletian, in 305. From this time an apology for Chris-
tianity with such a design would have been an anachronism,
for it was no longer necessary to disarm the fears of the
heathen by showing that the gods could not be enraged at
the Christians. It has further to be noticed, that although
it is perfectly clear that Arnobius spent much time on his
apology, it has never been thoroughly revised, and does not
seem to have been ever finished.^

We surely have in all this sufficient reason to assign the
composition of these books adversus Gentes to the end of the
third and beginning of the fourth centuries. Beyond this we
cannot go, for we have no data from which to derive further

§ 3. We have seen that the facts transmitted to us are
very few and scanty indeed ; but, few as they are, they sug-
gest an interesting picture. Arnobius comes before us in
Sicca; we are made spectators of two scenes of his life there,
and the rest — the beginning and the end — are shrouded in
1 iv. 36, p. 218. 2 cf. pp. 347, n. 3, and 364, n. 3.


darkness. Sicca Veneria was an important town, lying on
the Numidian border, to the south-west of Carthage. As its
name signifies, it was a seat of that vile worship of the
goddess of lust, w^hich was dear to the Phoenician race. The
same cultus was found there which disgraced Corinth ; and
in the temple of the goddess the maidens of the town were
wont to procure for themselves, by the sacrifice of their
chastity, the dowries which the poverty of their parents
could not provide.

In the midst of traditions of such bestial foulness Arno-
bius found himself, — whether as a native, or as one who had
been led to settle there. He has told us himself how true
an idolater he was, how thoroughly he complied with the
ceremonial demands of superstition ; but the frequency and
the vehemence of lano;uao;e with which his abhorrence of the
sensuality of heathenism is expressed, tell us as plainly that
practices so horrible had much to do in preparing his mind
to receive another faith.

In strong contrast to the filthy indulgences with which
paganism gratified its adherents, must have appeared the
strict purity of life which was enjoined by Christianity and
aimed at by its followers ; and perhaps it was in such a place
as Sicca that considerations of this nature would have most
influence. There, too, the story of Cyprian's martyrdom
must have been well known, — may indeed have been told in
the nursery of the young Arnobius, — and many traditions
must have been handed down about the persistency with
which those of the new religion had held fast their faith, in
spite of exile, torture, and death. However distorted such
tales might be, there would always remain in them the evi-
dence of so exalted nobility of spirit, that every disclosure
of the meanness and baseness of the old superstition must
have induced an uneasy feeling as to whether that could be
impiety which ennobled men, — that piety which degraded
them lower than the brutes.

For some time all went well with Arnobius. He was not
too pure for the world, and his learning and eloquence won
him fame and success in his profession. But in some way,



we know not how, a higher learning was communicated to
him, and the admired rhetorician became first a suspected,
then a persecuted Christian. He has left us in no doubt as
to the reason of the change. Upon his darkness, he says,
there shone out a heavenly light, a great teacher appeared to
him and pointed out the way of truth ; and he who had been
an earnest worshipper of images, of stones, of unknown gods,
w^as now as earnest, as zealous in his service of the true God.
Of the trials which he must have endured we know nothing.
A terrible persecution swept over the world, and many a
Christian perished in it. Such a man as Arnobius must
have been among the first to be assailed, but we hear of him
no more. With his learning and talents he could not have
failed to make himself a name in the church, or outside its
pale, if he had lived. The conclusion seems inevitable, that
he was one of the victims of that last fiery trial to which
Christians under the Roman empire were exposed.

§ 4. The vast range of learning shown in this apology has
l)een admitted on all sides. Even Jerome says that it should
at times be read on account of the learning displayed in it.^
In another passage Jerome says,'^ " Arnobius is unequal and
prolix, confused from want of arrangement." This may be
admitted to a certain extent ; but although such defects are
to be found in his work, they are certainlj' not character-

Online LibraryAlexander RobertsAnte-Nicene Christian library : translations of the writings of the Fathers down to A. D. 325 (Volume 19) → online text (page 1 of 41)