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on August 15, 2008
A great shadow has been cast over this unique ancient Christian writer, so much so that he is scarcely mentioned in contemporary studies pertaining to early Christianity. This is due, in part, to modern theologians who deemed him unorthodox in his doctrines, laying on him the charge of semi-Arianism. Others have presumed him to not be a Christian at all on account of his lack of biblical knowledge. Additionally, Arnobius was initiated into the mysteries of Christ at a late stage in life, making him less acquainted to Christian teaching than to that of his Hellenistic heritage. Consequently, he was, according to the standard of the times, theologically inept, whereas his excellent proficiency in Hellenistic learning crowned his mind. But the facts, if properly comprehended, tell us that he was a convert who, during the golden years of his life, utilized his traditional Greek/Latin learning to combat those who assailed his new-found-faith. Thus, Arnobius' towering knowledge of polytheism made him a great defender of the Universal Church. His elementary understanding of the Christian system was sufficient to demolish the scourge of the enemies of Christ. He should then be taken seriously as a Christian apologist and the shadow of obscurity should be dispelled on account of his importance in Christian history. Now, his forerunners were Tertullian and St Cyprian, both N. Africans like himself; and he impacted his pupil Lactantius significantly and inspired St Augustine, who found much useful apologetic material in the Adversus Gentes of which he integrated into the City of God's narrative. Furthermore, St Jerome speaks highly of him and incorporates Arnobius into his Lives of Illustrious Men, saying "Arnobius was a most successful teacher of rhetoric at Sicca in Africa during the reign of Diocletian, who wrote volumes Against the Nations which may be found everywhere (Vir.Ill. ch.79)." Consequently, with Arnobius in the discussion along with men of such stature in Christian tradition, more than sufficiently furnishes evidence enough to settle the issue of his orthodoxy and diligence to his new faith. Now the Adversus Gentes was composed during the Great Persecution inspired by Diocletian [sometime between 303-313 AD]. It is said that the piety and fortitude of the martyrs who perished during the persecution spurred Arnobius to seek Christ. And St Jerome remarks that in a dream Arnobius received vision to submit to Christ (Dic. Christ. Bio. Arnobius, pg. 50). The work is divided into seven books, the first two of which Arnobius defends Christianity against the charges of the pagans, who claimed that since the spread of Christianity the gods have avenged themselves upon the world by sending various calamities upon it such as famine and plague: Book Two deals with those who have maligned Christ and His followers. In the last five books Arnobius poses to unveil the folly of polytheism in its worship of idols, vain sacrifices and lack of unity between cults. Also mythology is attacked and pagan theology is ridiculed for its base and anthropomorphic conception of the gods. Arnobius also argues against the lusty stage-plays and the games held in honor of the gods, of which neither, he claims, are honorable events even to human standards. These are just a few examples of the many arguments that will be found in this work; there is much information of value to the historian or theologian in this treatise. Overall, the Adversus Gentes is a piece of apologetic literature that deserves more notice than it has received in recent centuries. In the Adversus Gentes are found the seeds which mighty St Augustine sewed in his masterpiece the City of God. Arnobius' impact upon Latin Christianity is great and has far to long been overlooked or passed in silence. Prospective readers are directed to the Ante-Nicene Fathers edition [Rev. Alexander Roberts] as it contains the whole of the treatise while present are significant works from Methodius, Gregory Thaumaturgus and Dionyius the Great among others.
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