ARNOBIUS of Sicca

ARNOBIUS of Sicca 3rd-4th c.. Apologist. After many years as a teacher of rhetoric at Sicca Venaria in Numidia and an adversary of Christianity, and at an advanced age, Arnobius converted probably in the first years of the 4th c., at the time of Diocletian’s persecution and composed an apologetic work in seven books, the Adversus Nationes. Jerome, who tells us something of him see Chron. ad an. 2343; De vir. ill. 79 and 80; Ep. 58,10; 70,5, asserts that the composition of Arnobius’s only surviving work was requested by his bishop as proof of the sincerity of his conversion. Died probably 327. The Adversus Nationes, passed down in a single 9thc. codex, the Parisinus latinus 1661, begins by refuting the accusation already known to Tertullian see Ad Nat. I, 9,3; Apolog. 40,1f. and Cyprian see Ad Demetr. 2 that the cause of every disaster to come upon the world was the Christians; it continues by rejecting the charge that they worship a man, and a crucified one at that. A fiery polemic then follows, in part directed at pagan philosophy Arnobius rejects the Platonic conception of the immortality of the soul book II and Greco-Roman religion, with its anthropomorphism book III, its improbable or shameful images of the gods book IV, the ceremonies and fables of the mystery cults book V, its temples, idols book VI, and sacrifices in short its string of erroneous ideas or superstitions which show the limits of pagan thought on the deity, which Arnobius contrasts with the Christian notion and experience of it. His high-flown style smacks of rhetorical tricks and scholastic influence, though it is occasionally effective because of its vehemence and vividness. Jerome, in a short, severe compendium on the style of Christian authors before him Ep. 58, judges Arnobius rather negatively as uneven and confused, with no order or precision in his writings. Scholars have identified many of Arnobius’s sources: among pagans he cites Plato, Aristotle, Sophocles, Posidippus, Varro and an extract of the Orphica; he alludes to Hermes Trismegistus see Hermeticism; he seems to use the Chaldaean oracles, the magic papyri of the liturgies of Mithras, Zoroaster, Ostanes; also Plotinus, Cicero and Lucretius. Regarding his conception of the deity and the divine, some critics have noted an Epicurean influence; others have recently explained it in terms of late 3rd-c. African heterodoxy. As for Christian sources, the almost complete absence of scriptural citations is surprising, as is the lack of any explicit mention of ecclesiastical authors, though he seems to have used them: from Clement of Alexandria to Tertullian and Minucius Felix. A common source has been supposed for the points of contact between Arnobius’s work and Lactantius’s Divinae Institutiones. Some of Arnobius’s doctrinal opinions have attracted the attention of historians by the fact that they do not correspond to the main lines of Christian theology, even Latin theology, which at that time was becoming more organized: God is conceived of as an absolutely transcendent being, without contact with creatures and incapable of anger in contrast with Lactantius’s De ira Dei; the pagan gods are not always denied but are thought of as inferior gods; nor are they identified with demons, according to the widespread idea of earlier apologists. Arnobius says that the human soul is corporeal, weak and inconstant, such that God cannot have been its creator; it is perhaps the work of a demiurge, inferior to God whose character seems to be influenced by gnosticism. Moreover, the human soul for Arnobius is corporeal and not by nature endowed with immortality, which it can nonetheless attain through knowledge of the true God an idea already proposed, with different characteristics, by Tatian or Origen. On the whole, Arnobius’s thought oscillates between conflicting positions, seems to be in search of itself, and is hard to systemize coherently and univocally. Certainly it reflects the disturbed and unquiet atmosphere of the late 3rd and early 4th c., and perhaps it attempts to reconcile pagan religious and philosophical elements with orthodox and heterodox Christian elements in a vision that reflects its author’s enigmatic personality. The overarching characteristic of Arnobius’s work is the anguished search for truth that pervades it and which expresses itself in the search for the truth about God, the truth about human nature and the truth about the cosmos. Impeding this search, however, are prejudices common to both ordinary people and the learned, calumnies against all that seems new, esp. regarding religion, and a visceral hatred of those who neither know nor want to know even the basic ideas of the emerging doctrine. Arnobius explains both the subjective criteria, essentially religious, that must motivate intellectual assent and the objective criteria capable of allowing one to overcome the stage of doubt in the conscious effort to construct a system of total truth. Insisting on the mediation of faith as a fundamental dimension of finding and adhering to truth, he is able not only to recover the values of the human ratio but also the dialectic significance of the relations that historically link humanity with the forces of nature Nat. II, 46. Certainty, both subjective and objective can be reached even in the absence of absolutely convinc ing arguments: practically speaking, this implies action according to the precepts of a truth-risk, in which one assents precisely sine ratione Nat. II, 78. To a blind faith in the philosophers, Arnobius counterposes a luminous faith in Christ. In particular the concept of medietas seems to best express the thought of Arnobius: philosophus medius, a philosopher who chooses the middle way, knows the laws of his profession rhetoric and puts them to use as a theologian, as his new condition as a convert requires. He thus makes use of the mediocritas sermoni a style neither too elevated nor too humble and the examinatio momentorum parium a balanced evaluation of the arguments for and against to arrive at a theological judgment Nat. VI, 8: ut mediocriter dicatur. With the laws of logic and philosophical dialectic and recourse to the principles of evidence, contradiction, causality and, esp. regarding God, the apophatic way, Arnobius questions the pagan cultural inheritance and the Stoic division of physics, ethics and logic Nat. I, 2,7,8,18,20,65; II, 57; III, 29; IV, 15,19,27; V, 8,16,26,39; VII, 27. His convictions can be summed up in the axiom that only God is the highest being summae qualitatis and therefore only he belongs to the realm of necessity and certainty, whereas the rest inferior gods and demons, if they exist, human beings, animate and inanimate creatures, if the latter also in some sense have perception are mediae qualitatis, i.e., in an inbetween state, thus belonging to the realm of the contingent, the relative and the doubtful, inasmuch as they receive being and existence, and perhaps immortality, from God Nat. I, 28. In this sense Arnobius’s work is a hymn to the true God, a pious homage, obsides pietatis, as Jerome significantly called it, and an invitation to accept his lordship. Editions: CPL 93; PL 5, 718-1288; CSEL 4 1875; Corpus Script. Latin. Paravianum 62 2 1953. Translations: Ger.: F.A. v. Besnard, Landshut 1842; J. Alleker, Trier 1858; Eng.: G.E. MacCracken. ACW 7-8, Westminster, MD – London 1949; It.: R. Laurenti, Turin 1962. L. Berkowitz, Index Arnobianus, Hildesheim 1967; P. Monceaux, Histoire litt. de l’Afrique chrtienne, 3, Paris 1905, 241-286; F. Gabarrou, Arnobe. Son Å“uvre, Paris 1921; E. Rapisarda, Arnobio, Catania 1945; G. Bardy: RAC 1, 709-711; P. Courcelle, Les sages de Porphyre et les viri novi d’Arnobe: REL 31 1953 257-271; P. Kraft, Beiträge zur Wirkungsgeschichte des Älteren Arnobius, Wiesbaden 1966; A. Sitte, Mythologische Quellen des Arnobius, Vienna 1970 diss.; M. Jufresa, La divinidad y lo divino en Arnobio: BIEH 7,1 1973 61-64; H. Le Bonniec, Tradition de la culture classique. Arnobe tmoin et juge des cultes païens: BAGB 1974, 201-222. Further bibliography in B. Altaner – A. Stuiber, Patrologie, Freiburg i.B. 8 1978, 183-185 and 584; E. Gareau, Le fondement de la vraie religion d’apres Arnobe: CEA 11 1980 13-23; O. Gigon, Arnobio. Cristianesimo e Mondo Classico, Rome 1982, 87-100; R. Laurenti, Il platonismo di Arnobio: Stud. Filos. 4 1981 3-54; B. Amata, Problemi di antropologia Arnobiana, Rome 1984; O.P. Nicholson, The date of Arnobius’ Adversus gentes: SP 15 =TU 128, Berlin 1984, 100-107; W. Schmid, Christus als Naturphilosoph bei Arnobius: Ausgewählte philologische Schriften, eds. H. Erbse – J. Kueppers, Berlin 1984, 562-583; A. Viciano, Retórica, filosofía y gramática en el Adversus Nationes de Arnobio de Sicca, Frankfurt a. M.- Bern 1993; F. Mora, Arnobio e i culti di mistero: analisi storica del V libro dell’Adversus Nationes, Rome 1994; M.B. Simmons, Arnobius of Sicca: Religious Conflict and Competition in the Age of Diocletian, Oxford 1995; Updated bibliography in Arnobius, Difesa della vera religione, ed. B. Amata, Rome 2000, 57-78.Arnobius of Sicca – YouTube travelquaz

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