1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Arnobius (writer)
ARNOBIUS (called Afer, and sometimes “the Elder”), early Christian writer, was a teacher of rhetoric at Sicca Venerea in proconsular Africa during the reign of Diocletian. His conversion to Christianity is said by Jerome to have been occasioned by a dream; and the same writer adds that the bishop to whom Arnobius applied distrusted his professions, and asked some proof of them, and that the treatise Adversus Gentes was composed for this purpose. But this story seems rather improbable; for Arnobius speaks contemptuously of dreams, and besides, his work bears no traces of having been written in a short time, or of having been revised by a Christian bishop. From internal evidence (bk. iv. 36) the time of composition may be fixed at about A.D. 303. Nothing further is known of the life of Arnobius. He is said to have been the author of a work on rhetoric, which, however, has not been preserved. His great treatise, in seven books, Adversus Gentes (or Nationes), on account of which he takes rank as a Christian apologist, appears to have been occasioned by a desire to answer the complaint then brought against the Christians, that the prevalent calamities and disasters were due to their impiety and had come upon men since the establishment of their religion. In the first book Arnobius carefully discusses this complaint; he shows that the allegation of greater calamities having come upon men since the Christian era is false; and that, even if it were true, it could by no means be attributed to the Christians. He skilfully contends that Christians who worship the self-existent God cannot justly be called less religious than those who worship subordinate deities, and concludes by vindicating the Godhead of Christ. In the second book Arnobius digresses into a long discussion on the soul, which he does not think is of divine origin, and which he scarcely believes to be immortal. He even says that a belief in the soul’s immortality would tend to remove moral restraint, and have a prejudicial effect on human life. In the concluding chapters he answers the objections drawn from the recent origin of Christianity. Books iii., iv. and v. contain a violent attack on the heathen mythology, in which he narrates with powerful sarcasm the scandalous chronicles of the gods, and contrasts with their grossness and immorality the pure and holy worship of the Christian. These books are valuable as a repertory of mythological stories. Books vi. and vii. ably handle the questions of sacrifices and worship of images. The confusion of the final chapter points to some interruption. The work of Arnobius appears to have been written when he was a recent convert, for he does not possess a very extensive knowledge of Scripture. He knows nothing of the Old Testament, and only the life of Christ in the New, while he does not quote directly from the Gospels. He is also at fault in regard to the Jewish sects. He was much influenced by Lucretius and had read Plato. His statements concerning Greek and Roman mythology are based respectively on the Protrepticus of Clement of Alexandria, and on Antistius Labeo, who belonged to the preceding generation and attempted to restore Neoplatonism. There are some pleasing passages in Arnobius, but on the whole he is a tumid and a tedious author.