Introductory Notice to Arnobius.
[a.d. 297-303.] Arnobius appears before us, not as did the earlier apologists, but as a token that the great struggle was nearing its triumphant close. He is a witness that Minucius Felix and Tertullian had not preceded him in vain. He is a representative character, and stands forth boldly to avow convictions which were, doubtless, now struggling into light from the hearts of every reflecting pagan in the empire. In all probability it was the alarm occasioned by tokens that could not be suppressed--of a spreading and deepening sense of the nothingness of Polytheism--that stimulated the OEcumenical rage of Diocletian, and his frantic efforts to crush the Church, or, rather, to overwhelm it in a deluge of flame and blood.
In our author rises before us another contributor to Latin Christianity, which was still North-African in its literature, all but exclusively. He had learned of Tertullian and Cyprian what he was to impart to his brilliant pupil Lactantius. Thus the way was prepared for Augustine, by whom and in whom Latin Christianity was made distinctly Occidental, and prepared for the influence it has exerted, to this day, under the mighty prestiges of his single name.
And yet Arnobius, like Boethius afterwards, is much discredited, and has even been grudged the name of a Christian. Coleridge is one of the many who have disparaged Arnobius, but he always talked like an inspired madman, and often contradicted himself. Enough to say, that, emerging from gross heathenism in mature life, and forced to learn as he could what is now taught to Christian children, our author is a witness to the diffusion of truth in his day. He shows also such a faculty of assimilation, that, as a practical Christian, Coleridge himself does not shine in comparison; and if, as is probable, he closed his life in martyrdom, we may well be ashamed to deny him our gratitude and the tribute of our praise. Our author is an interesting painter of many features of paganism in conflict with the Church, which we gain from no one else. Economizing Clement of Alexandria, he advances to an assured position and form of assault. He persistently impeaches Jove himself in a daring confidence that men will feel his terrible charges to be true, and that the victory over heathenism is more than half gained already. 1 I doubt not that, as a heathen, he was influenced by a dream to study Christianity. As a believer, he discarded dreams as vain. Converted late in life, we need not wonder at some tokens of imperfect knowledge; but, on the whole, he seems a well-informed disciple, and shows how thoroughly the catechumens were trained. But what does he prove? In short, he gives us a most fascinating insight into the mental processes by which he, and probably Constantine soon after him, came to the conclusion that heathenism was outworn and must disappear. He proves that the Church was salt that had not "lost its savour." It is true, that, reasoning with pagans, he does not freely cite the Scriptures, which had no force with them; yet his references to the facts of Scripture show that he had studied them conscientiously, and could present the truths of the Gospel clearly and with power. Lardner has demonstrated 2 this in a fair spirit and with conclusive evidence. Referring the reader to his admirable criticisms, I am glad to say that a full and satisfactory outline of his career is presented in the following:--