Arnobius, a Christian apologist, flourished during the reign of Diocletian (284-305). St. Jerome says, in his Chronicle, that before his conversion Arnobius was a distinguished rhetorician at Sicca in Proconsular Africa, and owed the gift of Christian faith to a dream. To overcome the doubts of the local bishop as to the earnestness of his Christian belief he wrote (about 305) an apologetic work in seven books that St. Jerome calls (De Vir. Ill., lxxix) “Adversus Gentes” but is entitled “Adversus Nationes” in the only (ninth-century) manuscript that has reached us. Arnobius is a vigorous apologist for the Christian Faith, defends and expounds its noble monotheism (deus prince ps, deus summus), the Divinity of Christ and of the Christian religion, proved by its rapid diffusion, its incredible influence over uncivilized peoples, and its agreement with the views of the best philosophers. Apropos of the Christian tendencies of Plato, he has left us a very remarkable treatise on the nature of the soul (II, 14-62). Heathen idolatry he refutes as filled with contradictions and openly immoral. His work, especially Books III-V, abounds with curious information gathered from reliable sources (e.g. Cornelius Labeo) concerning the forms of idolatrous worship, temples, idols, and the Graeco-Roman mythology of his time, for which reason it is much esteemed by Latin philologists and antiquarians. Arnobius is more earnest in his defense of Christianity than correct in his tenets. Thus, he holds the heathen gods to be real beings, but subordinate to the supreme Christian God; the human soul is not the work of God, but of an intermediate being, and is not immortal by nature, but capable of putting on immortality as a grace.
THOMAS J. SHAHAN