Arnobius of Sicca: Religious Conflict and Competition in the Age of Diocletian

Arnobius of Sicca: Religious Conflict and Competition in the Age of Diocletian

Arnobius of Sicca: Religious Conflict and Competition in the Age of Diocletian

Arnobius of Sicca: Religious Conflict and Competition in the Age of Diocletian

Synopsis

Arnobius of Sicca, in North Africa, was a Christian convert writing in the time of the Emperor Diocletian in the 3rd sentury AD. His most famous work, Against the Pagans, was written shortly after his conversion (c. AD 302), and is a brilliant defense of his new religion using arguments taken from the best of pagan learning. It demonstrates exactly the nature and intensity of the conflict between pagans and Christians at this period. This book, the first major study of Arnobius, deals fully with every important aspect of his life and writing and demonstrates his significant contribution to the final triumph of Christianity over its Graeco-Roman competitors.

Excerpt

The present study is the first comprehensive work on Arnobius of Sicca to appear in English. This is significant for several reasons. First, although the Adversus nationes is the last Christian 'apology' written before the peace of Constantine in ad 311, and therefore merits the careful attention of patristic scholars, classicists, and historians, it nevertheless still remains one of the least understood and most controversial works of Ante-Nicene Christianity. I have attempted to show that Arnobius is important for an understanding of the great religious changes which were occurring in the late third and early fourth centuries of the Christian era within the Roman Empire generally and, specifically, within Roman North Africa where Arnobius taught rhetoric. Two main religious conflicts occurred in this period: the greatest state persecution of Christians that Rome had ever initiated; and the tremendous conflict and competition between the Saturn cult of Roman North Africa and Christianity. Arnobius sheds some historically important light on both events.

To clarify more specifically how the first of these (the Great Persecution) relates to the Adversus nationes, I have argued that the successful anti-Christian writings of Porphyry of Tyre have received the main brunt of Arnobius' attack throughout his work. Until now scholars have restricted his rebuttal of Porphyry to the first two books, but the present work is significant for revealing an anti-Porphyrian argumentation which permeates the Adv. nat. as a whole and has given Arnobius the framework according to which he developed the basic premisses of his frontal assault upon religious paganism. the remark of Jerome that Arnobius always used to attack Christianity, and for this reason the bishop at Sicca refused to admit him into membership in the church, makes perfect sense in light of this association with the anti-Christian propaganda of Porphyry. Because he is much more adept in his attack upon paganism than he is in his 'defence' of Christianity, scholars have failed to understand Arnobius simply because they have tried to make him something that he himself never intended to be, and that was a Christian apologist. I have therefore further argued that Arnobius was using this Porphyrian propaganda before he became a Christian, and Jerome's statement that the bishop demanded a pledge of faith resulted in the . . .

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