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Arnobius of Sicca

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Treatise
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(4/5) *****
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Greek
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Estimated Range of Dating: 297-310 A.D.

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Information on Arnobius of Sicca

Claudio Moreschini writes, "The work Against the Pagans (Adversus nationes) was written under Diocletian. More precisely, since reference is made (4.36) to some specific measures such as the destruction of churches and the sacred books, it was written during the persecution, between 304 and 310. The first three books may hve been written earlier, and its seems that books 1 and 2 may go back to 297-300. Like all defenses of Christianity, the Against the Pagans is both a defense and a polemical work." (Early Christian Greek and Latin Literature, vol. 1, p. 393)

R. Jakobi writes, "The circumstances of the writing as described by Jerome, chr. a. 327 (a dream as occasion for Arnobius's conversion, and the composition of the work as pledge of faith in order to receive baptism from the bishop) ought not to be taken as historical imaginative embellishments: from a codicological examination of the acephalous archetype of the ms. tradition, Paris BN lat. 1661 (9th c.), scholars have concluded to the loss not only of a title (inscriptio) but also of an extensive preface, the content of which could have been the source of Jerome's biographical data. According to Jerome, the work enjoyed wide favor with the public, which after the victory of Christianity could have had more of an aesthetic interest in Arnobius's eloquence, praised by Jerome (in Is. 8 praef.), and in his rhetorical rebuttal strategies, and was ready to dispense with a systematics and orthodoxy of a textbook kind. The heterodoxies to be met with in books 1 and 2 were the occasion for the work to be condemned as 'apocryphal' in the Decretum Gelasianum (320). This assessment explains the break in reception: Only one Carolingian ms., the Parisinus, from northern Italy, has been shown to exist, and of this again only one copy (Brussels B. Roy. 10846-47, 11th c.) is known. In the ms. tradition the Octavius of Minucius Felix has been passed down as book 8 of the adv. nat.; given the common origin of the two authors we may accept a North African model for their transmission in antiquity. With the exception of the 17th and 18th century, when Arnobius's agnosticism, which was useful to Cartesianism, gave him an influence among French theologians, the work has remained an object rather of philological interest, which since early modern times (and contrary to its author's intention) has used nat. as a quarry of lost sources of pagan theology." (Dictionary of Early Christian Literature, pp. 49-50)

J. Quasten writes, "Mention should be made of the sources which Arnobius employed in the composition of his work. To begin with Greek, he refers fourteen times to Plato or one of his works, twice to Aristotle, Sophocles, Mnaseas of Patara, Myrtillus and Posidippus. There is an excerpt from the Orphica and an allusion to Hermes Trismegistus. Festugiere has shown that the second book displays considerable familiarity with hermetism, Neo-Platonism, the Chaldaic oracles, Plotinus, Zoroaster, Osthanes and the magical papyri of the Mithriatic liturgies. Of the Latin writers, he relied especially on varro, of whom there are fifteen citations. He exploited Cicero and Lucretius, but the theory that Cornelius Labeo was among his more important informants has no foundation, as Tullius and Festugiere have sufficiently proved." (Patrology, vol. 2, p. 386)

Oliver Nicholson writes, "What furnished the rationale for persecution was the public religion of cities, particularly that of Rome, the paradigm city for the Romans of North Africa, domina Roma (Nat. 2.12). Roman religion protected cities from natural disasters, pagans thought: '"it is on account of the Christians”, they say, "that the gods send all evils, and that destruction comes upon the crops from above"' (1.13; cf. 1.1). The answer of Arnobius' first book is that the communities of the Roman world had endured natural disasters long before there had been Christianity, and that anyway it demeans the whole notion of the divine to think that famine, plague and pestilence are caused by pique on the part of the gods at Christian neglect of the rites of Roman religion (1.23). In any case, the Most High was greater and more ancient that the pagan gods. 'Does Apollo rain for you, does Mercury rain for you?' (1.30); there was a time before they were born, yet even in those ages there was rain and weather." (Cambridge History of Early Christian Literature, p. 260)

J. Quasten writes, "If we turn to his biblical and Christian sources, it is surprising that he never names a single Christian author, but there is evidence that he read and used Clement of Alexandria's Protrepticus, Tertullian's Apologeticum and Ad nationes, and the Octavius of Minucius Fleix. The similarities between the Adversus nationes and Lactantius' Divinae institutiones seems to be based on a common source." (Patrology, vol. 2, p. 386)

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