Ante-Nicene Fathers/Volume IV/Minucius Felix/Introductory Note
[a.d. 210.] Though Tertullian is the founder of Latin Christianity, his contemporary Minucius Felix gives to Christian thought its earliest clothing in Latinity. The harshness and provincialism, with the Græcisms, if not the mere Tertullianism, of Tertullian, deprive him of high claims to be classed among Latin writers, as such; but in Minucius we find, at the very fountain-head of Christian Latinity, a disciple of Cicero and a precursor of Lactantius in the graces of style. The question of his originality is earnestly debated among moderns, as it was in some degree with the ancients. It turns upon the doubt as to his place with respect to Tertullian, whose Apology he seems to quote, or rather to abridge. But to me it seems evident that his argument reflects so strikingly that of Tertullian’s Testimony of the Soul, coincident though it be with portions of the Apology, that we must make the date of the Testimony the pivot of our inquiry concerning Minucius. Now, Tertullian’s Apology preceded the Testimony, and the latter preceded the essay on the Flesh of Christ. If the Testimony was quoted or employed by Minucius, therefore, he could not have written before a.d. 205; and the statement of Jerome is confirmed, which makes our author, and not Tertullian, the copyist. The modern discussion of the matter is an interesting literary controversy; not yet settled, perhaps, though the dip of the balance just now sustains my own impressions. But it is a very unimportant matter in itself, the primary place in Latin Christianity being necessarily adjudged to the commanding genius and fertile mind of Tertullian, while it is no discredit to assign to Minucius his proper but secondary credit, of showing, at the very outset of the literature of Western Christianity, that believers were not all illiterate men, nor destitute of polite erudition, and that the language of the Tusculan philosopher was not degraded by its new destination to the higher and holier service of the faith.
Like Tertullian, our author appears to have been a jurisconsult, at Rome, at some period of his history. Beautiful glimpses of his life and character and surroundings are gained from his own pages, and nearly all we know about him is to be found therein. So far, he is his own biographer. He probably continued a layman, and may have lived, as some suppose, till the middle of the third century.
It is not unimportant to note that we are still dealing with “the North-African school,” and that Rome has nothing to do with the birth of Latin Christianity, as such. We have entered upon the third Christian century, and as yet the venerable apostolic see of the West has made no movement whatever towards the creation of a Latin literature among Christians. So far from being “the mother and mistress” of the churches, she is yet voiceless in Christendom; while Africa holds the mastery of Christian thought alike in her schools of Alexandria and Carthage. This, although it is our fourth volume, contains nothing to modify this fact; and yet the whole literature of early Christianity is contained in our series. Well said Æneas Sylvius, who afterwards became Pope Pius the Second, “Verily, before the Council of Nice, some regard there was unto the Bishops of Rome, although but small.” Holy men as most of them were, they are invisible and unfelt in the formation of Christian theology.
In our author’s style and thought there is a charm and a fragrance which associate him, in my mind, with the pure spirit of “Mathetes,” with whose Epistle to Diognetus, written nearly a hundred years before, it may be profitably compared. See also my prefatory remarks to Mathetes, and the reference to Bunsen which I have suffixed to the Notice of the Edinburgh editors.
In the Edinburgh series, Minucius comes into view after Cyprian, and not till the end of the thirteenth volume of that edition. It will gratify the scholar to find it here where it belongs, and not less to note that it has an index of its own, while in the Edinburgh edition its contents are indexed with those of Cyprian. Consequently, the joint index is rendered nearly worthless, and the injury and confusion resulting to the Contents of Cyprian are not inconsiderable.
Here follows the valuable Prefatory Notice of Dr. Wallis:
Minucius Felix is said by Jerome to have been an advocate at Rome prior to his conversion to Christianity. Very little else is known, however, of his history; and of his writings nothing with any certainty, except the following dialogue; although Jerome speaks of another tract as having, probably without reason, been ascribed to him.
The Octavius, which is here translated, is a supposed argument between the heathen Cæcilius and the Christian Octavius—the writer being requested to arbitrate between the disputants. The date of its composition is still a matter of keen dispute. The settlement of the point hinges upon the answer to the question—Whether, in the numerous passages which are strikingly similar, occurring in the Apologeticus and the Octavius, Tertullian borrowed from Minucius, or Minucius borrowed from Tertullian? If Minucius borrowed from Tertullian, he must have flourished in the commencement of the third century, as the Apologeticus was written about the year 198 a.d. If, on the other hand, Tertullian borrowed from Minucius, the Octavius was written probably about the year 166, and Minucius flourished in the reign of Marcus Aurelius. The later date was the one adopted by earlier critics, and the reasons for it are well given by Mr. Holden in his introduction. The earlier date was suggested by Rösler, maintained by Niebuhr, and elaborately defended by Muralto. An exhaustive exhibition of arguments in favour of the earlier date has been given by Adolf Ebert in his paper, Tertullian’s Verhältniss zu Minucius Felix, Leipzig, 1868.
Of the literary character of the dialogue, it is sufficient to quote the testimony of the late Dean Milman: “Perhaps no late work, either Pagan or Christian, reminds us of the golden days of Latin prose so much as the Octavius of Minucius Felix.”
In considering the claim of the dialogue to such praise as this, it must be borne in mind that the text as we have it is very uncertain, and often certainly corrupt; so that many passages seem to us confused, and some hopelessly obscure. Only one manuscript of the work has come down to us; which is now in the Imperial Library in Paris. It is beautifully written. Some editors have spoken of two other mss.; but it is now known that they were wrong. They supposed that the first edition was taken from a different ms. than the Codex Regius, and they were not aware that a codex in Brussels was merely a transcript of the one in Paris.
The Octavius appears in the ms. as the eighth book of Arnobius, and at first it was published as such. To Franciscus Balduinus (1560) is due the merit of having discovered the real author.
There are very many editions of the Octavius. Among the earlier, those of Gronovius (1709) and Davies (1712) are valuable. Among the later, Lindner (1760), Eduard de Muralto (1836), and Oehler (1847) may be mentioned. There is a very good English edition by the Rev. H. A. Holden, M.A., Cambridge, 1853. The most recent edition is that of Carl Halm, published under the auspices of the Imperial Academy of Letters in Vienna; Vindobonæ, 1867. Both Holden and Halm give new recensions of the Codex Regius.
- Possibly as late as a.d. 230. Comp. Wordsworth, Hippol., p. 126.
- A condensed and valuable view of this matter may be seen in Dr. Schaff’s History, etc., vol. iii. pp. 834–841.
- See Bishop Jewell, Works, vol. i. pp. 386, 441. Cambridge, 1845.
- Vol. I. of this series, pp. 23, 24. See also Bunsen, Hippol., i. p. 244.
- De Viris Illustribus, c. 58.
- [His connection with the Roman courts is inferred from cap. ii. infra.]
- Milman’s Hist. of Christianity, vol. iii. book iv. ch. iii.
- [Dr. Wallis, the learned translator of the Octavius, is described in the Edinburgh edition as “Senior Priest-Vicar of Wells Cathedral, and incumbent of Christ Church, Coxley, Somerset.”]