Writings of Arnobius. Against the Heathen. (Adversus Gentes.)

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The Seven Books of Arnobius Against the Heathen. (Adversus Gentes.)

Translated by Archdeacon Hamilton Bryce, LL.D., D.C.L., and Hugh Campbell, M.a.

Text edited by Rev. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson and first published by T&T Clark in Edinburgh in 1867. Additional introductionary material and notes provided for the American edition by A. Cleveland Coxe, 1886.

Appendix [4962]

We do not deny that all these things which have been brought forward by you in opposition are contained in the writings of the annalists. For we have ourselves also, according to the measure and capacity of our powers, read these same things, and know that they have been alleged; but the whole discussion hinges upon this: whether these are gods who you assert are furious when displeased, and are soothed by games and sacrifices, or are something far different, and should be separated from the notion even of this, and from its power.

For who, in the first place, thinks or believes that those are gods who are lost in joyful pleasure at theatrical shows [4963] and ballets, at horses running to no purpose; who set out from heaven to behold silly and insipid acting, and grieve that they are injured, and that the honours due to them are withheld if the pantomimist halts for a little, or the player, being wearied, rests a little; who declare that the dancer has displeased them if some guilty fellow passes through the middle of the circus to suffer the penalty and punishment of his deeds? All which things, if they be sifted thoroughly and without any partiality, will be found to be alien not only to the gods, but to any man of refinement, even if he has not been trained to the utmost gravity and self-control. [4964]

For, in the first place, who is there who would suppose that those had been, or believe that they are, gods, who have a nature which tends to [4965] mischief and fury, and lay these [4966] aside again, being moved by a cup of blood and fumigation with incense; who spend days of festivity, and find the liveliest pleasure in theatrical shows [4967] and ballets; who set out from heaven to see geldings running in vain, and without any reason, and rejoice that some of them pass the rest, that others are passed, [4968] rush on, leaning forward, and, with their heads towards the ground, are overturned on their backs with the chariots to which they are yoked, are dragged along crippled, and limp with broken legs; who declare that the dancer has displeased them if some wicked fellow passes through the middle of the circus to suffer the punishment and penalty of his deeds; who grieve that they are injured, and that the honours due to them are withheld if the pantomimist halts for a little, the player, being wearied, rests a little, that puer matrimus happens to fall, stumbling through some [4969] unsteadiness? Now, if all these things are considered thoroughly and without any partiality, they are found to be perfectly [4970] alien not only to the character of the gods, but to that of any man of common sense, even although he has not been trained to zealous pursuit of truth by becoming acquainted with what is rational. [4971]

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Note 9, p. 459.

This is a most extraordinary note. The author uses "so to say" (= "as it were") merely to qualify the figure, which a pagan might think extravagant. "This is, as it were, the door of life: "the expression qualifies the rhetoric, not the Scripture, as such. On the contrary, I should adduce this very passage as an instance of our author's familiarity alike with the spirit and the letter of two most important texts of the Gospel, which he expounds and enforces with an earnest intelligence, and with a spirit truly evangelical.


Covered with garments, note 7, p. 469.

A heathen might have retorted, had he known the Scriptures, by asking about the "white robes" of angels, and the raiment of the risen Redeemer; e.g., Rev. i. 13. "Curious and unlearned questions" concerning these matters have been stirred by a certain class of Christians. (See Stier [4972] and Olshausen. [4973] ) But let us not reason from things terrestrial as regards things celestial: our coarse material fabrics are "shadows of the true." The robes of light are realities, and are conformed to spiritual bodies, as even here a mist may envelop a tree. Because of men's stupid and cam ally gross ideas, let it be said of "harps" and "phials," and all like phraseology as to things heavenly, once for all, "it cloth not yet appear" what it means; but they intimate realities unknown to sense, and "full of glory."


The eyes of Jupiter, p. 483

Arnobius with remorseless vigour smites Jove himself,--the Optimus Maximus of polytheism,--and, as I have said, with the assurance of one who feels that the Church's triumph over "lords many and gods many" is not far distant. The scholar will recall the language of Terence, [4974] where the youth, gazing on the obscene picture of Jupiter and Danäe, exclaims,--

"What! he who shakes high heaven with his thunder

Act thus, and I, a mannikin, not do the same?

Yes, do I, and right merrily, forsooth!"

On which the great African Father [4975] remarks pithily, "Omnes enim cultores talium deorum, mox ut eos libido perpulerit, magis intuentur quid Jupiter fecerit, quam quid docuerit Plato, vel censuerit Cato." And here is not only the secret of the impotence of heathen ethics, but the vindication of the Divine Wisdom in sending the God-Man. Men will resemble that which they worship: law itself is incapable of supplying a sufficient motive. Hence, [4976] "what the law could not do, in that it was weak, ... God sending His own Son," etc. Thus "the foolishness of God is wiser than men," and "the love of Christ constraineth us."

"Talk they of morals? O Thou bleeding Lamb

The grand morality is love of Thee."

The world may sneer at faith, but only they who believe can love; and who ever loved Christ without copying into his life the Sermon an the Mount, and, in some blest degree, the holy example of his Master?


For those freed from the bondage of the flesh, p. 488 and note 1 [4977]

The early Christians prayed for the departed, that they might have their consummation in body and spirit at the last day. Thus, these prayers for the faithful dead supply the strongest argument against the purgatorial system, which supposes the dead in Christ (1) not to be in repose at first, but (2) capable of being delivered out of "purgatory" into heaven, sooner or later, by masses, etc. Thus, their situation in the intermediate state is not that of Scripture (Rev. xiv. 13), nor do they wait for glory, according to Scripture, until that day (2 Tim. iv. 8). Archbishop Usher, therefore, bases a powerful argument against the Romish dogma, on these primitive prayers for the departed. Compare vol. iii. p. 706, and vol. v. p. 222, this series. He divides it into five heads, as follows: [4978] --

"(1) Of the persons for whom, after death, prayers were offered;

"(2) Of the primary intention of these prayers;

"(3) Of the place and condition of souls departed;

"(4) Of the opinion of Aerius, the heretic, touching these prayers; and

"(5) Of the profit, to the persons prayed for, of these prayers."And his conclusion is, after a rich collation of testimonies, that "the commemoration and prayers for the dead used by the ancient Church had not any relation with purgatory, and therefore, whatsoever they were, Popish prayers we are sure they were not."


The pine ... sanctuary of the Great Mother, p. 504.

I Recall with interest the pine-cone of Dante's comparison (Inferno, canto xxxi. 59) as I saw it in the gardens of the Vatican. Valuable notes may be found in Longfellow's translation, vol. i. p. 328. It is eleven feet high, and once adorned the summit of Hadrian's mausoleum, so they say; but that was open, and had no apex on which it could be placed. It is made of bronze, and, I think, belonged to the mysteries satirized by our author. It is less pardonable to find the vilest relics of mythology on the very doors of St. Peter's, where I have seen them with astonishment. They were put there, according to M. Valery, [4979] under Paul V.; "and among the small mythological groups," he adds, "may be distinguished Jupiter and Leda, the Rape of Ganymede, some nymphs and satyrs, with other very singular devices for the entrance of the most imposing of Christian temples." It is painful to think of it; but the heathenism to which the age of Leo X. had reduced the court of Rome must be contrasted with the ideas of a Clement, an Athenagoras, and even of an Arnobius, in order to give us a due sense of the crisis which, after so many appeals for a reformation "in the head and the members" of the Latin communion, brought on the irrepressible revolt of Northern Europe against the papacy.


Sacrifices, p. 519.

It must be felt that Arnobius here lays himself open to a severe retort. The God of Christians is the author of sacrifice, and accepts the unspeakable sufferings of the innocent Lamb for the sins of the whole world.

The answer, indeed, suggests itself, that the sacrifices of the heathen had no apparent relation whatever to faith in this Atoning Lamb; none in the mysterious will of God that this faith should be nurtured before the Advent by an institution in which He had no pleasure, but which was profoundly harmonious with human thought and the self-consciousness of human guilt.

Arnobius would have written better had he been a better-instructed Christian. He demolishes pagan rites, but he should have called up the Gentile mind to the truths covered under its corruptions and superstitions. On this subject the reader will do well to consult the work of a modern Arnobius, the eccentric Soame Jenyns, who called out such a controversy in the last century about the truths and errors of his View of the Internal Evidence of the Christian Religion [4980] to which he had become a convert from previous scepticism. This essay attracted the attention of the Count. (Joseph) de Maistre, who read it in the French translations of MM. le Tourneur and de Feller both, reflected it in his Considerations sur la France, [4981] and reproduced some of its admirable thoughts in the Soirées de St Pétersbourg. [4982] From these two striking writers, the one an Anglican and the other a rabid Ultramontane, I must permit myself to condense an outline of their views of sacrifice.

So long as we know nothing of the origin of evil, we are not competent judges of what is or is not a suitable remedy. Nobody can assure us that the sufferings of one may not be in some way necessary to the good of the many. A tax may thus be laid upon innocence in behalf of the guilty, and a voluntary sacrifice may be accepted from the Innocent (the Holy One) for the payment of the debts of others. In spite of something illogical which seems to cling to this idea, the Get of its universal adoption in all ages among men must be accounted for,--the fact that all nations have always accepted this principle of expiatory sacrifice, innocent men and innocent beasts suffering for the unjust. Never could this principle have been thus universalized by human wisdom, for it seems to contradict reason; nor by human stupidity, for ignorance never could have proposed such a paradox; nor could priestcraft and kingcraft have obtained for it, among divers races and forms of society, with barbarians and philosophers, freemen and slaves, alike, a common acceptance. It must therefore proceed (1) from a natural instinct of humanity, or (2) from a divine revelation: both alike must be recognised as the work of our Creator· Now, Christianity unveils the secret, presenting the Son of God, made man, a voluntary sacrifice for the sins of the whole world· If it be a mystery, still we do not wonder at the idea when we see one man paying the debts of another, and so ransoming the debtor. [4983] Christianity states this as God's plan for the ransom of sinners· Such is the fact: as to the why, it says nothing. [4984] As to the philosophy of these mysteries, we reason in vain; and, happily, the Gospel does not require us to reason· The Nicene Creed formulates the truth: "For us men and for our salvation He came down," etc. But we are called to profess no more than "I believe; help Thou mine unbelief."

De Maistre responds as follows: This dogma is universal, and as old as creation; viz., the reversibility of the sufferings of innocence for the benefit of the guilty. As to the fall of man, "earth felt the wound; " [4985] , the whole creation groaneth and travaileth [4986] in pain together." In this condition of things the human heart and mind have universally acquiesced in the idea of expiation. [4987] ... And as well the Gentile sacrifices (corrupted from Noah's pure original) as those which were perpetuated in their purity by the Hebrews on one spot, and looking to their only explanation in the coming of one Redeemer, bear witness to the Wisdom which framed the human mind and adapted its ordinances thereto with profound and divine comprehension of all human wants and all human capabilities· When the infinite Victim exclaimed upon the cross, "It is finished," the veil was rent, the grand secret was unfolded. For this event, God had prepared all mankind by the system of sacrifice which, even in its corruption, had made preparation for the true elucidation.

In a word, then, Arnobius should have said this, as the Church was always saying it in the perpetual commemoration of Calvary, in her Holy Eucharist, and in her annual Paschal celebration. It was all summed up by the prophet a thousand years before "the Lamb of God" was slain· By the prophet, the Lamb Himself expounds it all: --

"Sacrifice and meat-offering Thou wouldest not, but mine ears hast Thou opened: burnt-offerings and sacrifice for sin hast Thou not required. Then said I, Lo, I Come: in the volume of the Book it is written of Me, that I should fulfil Thy will, O my God. I am content to do it; yea, Thy law is within my heart."

The expiatory sacrifice, the voluntary Victim, the profound design of God the Father, are all here. But the infinite value of the sacrifice was unfolded when the Son of man was identified by the poor Gentile centurion: "Truly this was the Son of God."parparpar [4988]


[4962] This section, which is found in the ms. after the first sentence of ch. 44, was retained in the text of both Roman editions, marked off, however, by asterisks in that of Ursinus, but was rejected by Gelenius and later editors as the useless addition of some copyist. Oehler alone has seen that it is not "a collection of words gathered carelessly and thoughtlessly" (Hildebrand), and maintained that we have in it the corrections of Arnobius himself. If the three paragraphs are read carefully, it will be observed that the first is a transposition and reconstruction of the first two sentences of ch. 39; the second a revision of the interrogations in ch. 41, but with the sentence which there precedes placed after them here, whilst the third is made up of the same sentences in a revised and enlarged form. Now this must be regarded as conclusive evidence against the hypothesis that these sentences were originally scribbled carelessly on the margin, and afterwards accidentally incorporated in the text. Cf. p. 532, n. 10. [4963] Lit., "motions." [4964] Lit. "to the heights (apices) of gravity and weight," i.e., of that constancy of mind which is not moved by trifles. [4965] Lit., "of hurting and raging." [4966] i. e., evil dispositions. [4967] Lit., "motions." [4968] So the ms., according to Crusius, inserting transiri, which is omitted by Hild., either because it is not in the ms., or because he neglected to notice that Orelli's text was deficient. If omitted, we should translate, "that some pass, leaning forward, and rush with their heads towards the ground." [4969] Lit., "of something." [4970] Lit., "far and far." [4971] 0 [For puer matrimus (one whose mother is yet living), see p. 486, note 11, supra And for the argument, here recast, turn to cap. 41, p. 534.] [4972] Words of Jesus, vol. viii. p. 63, trans., ed. Edinburgh, 1858. [4973] New-Testament Commentary, Kendrick's trans., vol. iii. p. 120, ed. 1858. [4974] Eunuch., iii. 5. [4975] August., De Civitate, book ii. cap. 7. [4976] Rom. viii. 3-39. [4977] te 11 The service in which these prayers were offered was presided over by the bishop, to whom the dead body was brought: hymns were then sung of thanksgiving to God, the giver of victory, by whose help and grace the departed brother had been victorious. The priest next gave thanks to God, and some chapters of the Scriptures were read; afterwards the catechumens were dismissed; the names of those at rest were then read in a clear voice, to remind the survivors of the success with which others had combated the temptations of the world. The priest again prayed for the departed, at the close beseeching God to grant him pardon, and admission among the undying. Thereafter the body was kissed, anointed, and buried.--Dionysius, Eccl. Hier., last chapter quoted by Heraldus. Cf. Const. Apost., viii. 41. With the Church's advance in power there was an accession of pomp to these rites. [Elucidation IV.] [4978] Quoted in Tracts for the Times (p. 30), vol. iii., ed. New York, 1840. [4979] He was royal librarian at Versailles under Charles X. See his Travels in Italy (Clifton's trans.), p. 501, ed. Paris, 1842. [4980] It appeared in Paris 1764. A more literal translation (by the Abbé de Feller) was published, Liege, 1779. [4981] Published in 1794. [4982] 0 Works, vol. vi. p. 140, ed. Paris, 1850. [4983] De Maistre quotes, "Potest unus ita pro alio poenam compensare vel debitum solvere ut ille satisfacere merito dici possit." Bellarmin, Opp., tom. iii. col. 1493, ed. Ingolstadt, 1601. [4984] See Jenyns, p. 67 (ed. eighth), Philadelphia, 1780. [4985] Milton, Paradise Lost, ix. 785. [4986] Rom. viii. 19. [4987] Plato, Repub., Opp., tom. vi. pp. 225-226, ed. Bipont. [4988] Roberts, Alexander and Donaldson, James, Ante-Nicene Fathers: Volume VI, (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.) 1997.

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