Arnobius the Elder

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Fourth-century Christian apologist; d. c. 327. According to St. jerome (Chron. ad ann. a.d. 253327), Arnobius, a distinguished rhetorician at Sicca in proconsular Africa, who numbered Lactantius among his pupils (De vir. ill. 80), was a pagan who vigorously combated Christianity. Arnobius, however, was converted by dreams (Chron. loc. cit. ), although he himself did not mention his motives. To prove his sincerity, he composed the Adversus nationes sometime before 311. More an attack on paganism than a defense of Christianity, the Adversus nationes is classed among the apologies on the strength of the first two of its seven books. In the fourth century only Jerome knew of it; by the sixth century it was grouped with the apocrypha. It is extant in only one ninth-century manuscript. The work was greatly influenced by non-Christian writers, although it gives evidence that Arnobius was familiar with Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, and Minucius Felix. Arnobius made no use of the New Testament, and openly repudiated the Old (Adv. nat. 3.12). Though a poor source for Christian teaching, the work is useful for information about contemporary pagan religions. Book 1 defends Christianity against the calumnies of the pagans. Book 2 treats Christ's salvific acts, the final destiny of mankind, and the essence of Christianity. Books 3 to 5 attack the pagans, their deification of abstractions, and the mystery cults. Books 6 to 7 demonstrate that the pagans offend the divinity by their false cults and pagan sacrifices.

Bibliography: a. reifferscheid, ed., Corpus scriptorum ecclesiasticorum latinorum v.4 (1875). j. p. migne, Patrologia latina 5:3501372. o. bardenhewer, Geschichte der Altkirchlichen Literatur 2:517525. p. monceaux, Histoire littéraire de l'Afrique chrétienne, 7 v. (Paris 190123; repr. Brussels 1963) 2:135197. e. rapisarda, Arnobio (Catania 1946). j. quasten, Patrology 2:383392. j. martin, Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, ed. j. hofer and k. rahner (Freiburg 195765) 1:891892.

[r. k. poetzel]