ARNOBIUS THE ELDER (Arnobius)—at first a pagan philosopher and rhetorician, later a Christian writer and apologist, b. around 260 in Sicca (in Numidia), d. around 327.
He is commonly called ”Elder” to distinguish him from another Christian writer of the fifth century called Arnobius the Younger, an African monk who worked in Rome where he attacked St. Augustine’s doctrine on grace (PL 53, 239–580). Arnobius the Elder lived and worked in Africa was the teacher of Lactantius. Initially he was a resolute foe of the Christian religion, but after his conversion around 311 he wrote an apology Adversus nationes (PL 5, 365–1288, frg. in: Bober AP 74–78). In this work he showed the irrationality of pagan mythology. He argued for the divine origin of Christianity on the basis of its rapid spread, the miracles of Christ, and the martyrdom of those who professed it. He argued that Christians were not to blame for the misfortunes that befall humanity; as a result this apology was more an attack on the pagans than an encouragement to choose Christianity.
Arnobius conceived of God as so transcendent that he deprived God of any connection with the world or even care for the world; he regarded Christ as God but of a lower rank, one who teaches the truth about the highest God and in this way rescues human souls from final destruction; he thought that human souls do not come immediately from the highest God and that by their nature they are beings endowed with an intermediate dignity, which means that they are immortal if they know Christ, but mortal if they do not know Him (and such souls are destroyed in the end). Arnobius the Elder is not a Doctor of the Church. His apology demonstrates a feeble knowledge of Christian doctrine and is written in a pathetic style, yet the very failings of his apology are revealing. The apology did not have any greater influence on later apologists.
The philosophical sources of Arnobius’ thought were Epicurianism, Lucretius, Gnosticism, and Hermeticism. He also drew upon the Greek apologists (including Clement of Alexandria). Arnobius was a follower of a peculiar Skepticism which did not so much deny the natural ability of the reason to know the truth as it considered the limits of the reason, since even apart from revelation the human reason encounters many mysteries. He was an opponent of innate knowledge, and the French materialist Le Mettrie cited Arnobius when he arged that all our cognition is based on sense perception.
Arnobius’ language and vocabulary were often studied in the late third and early fourth century as an example of Latin rhetoric. Arnobius defended the literary values of the Gospels.
K. Morawski, Przyczynek do znajomości pisarzy chrześcijańskich Arnobiusza i Laktancjusza [A contribution to knowledge of the Christian writers Arnobius and Lactantius], SPAU 8 (1920); F. Gabarrou, Arnobius, son oeuvre, P 1921 (bibliogr.); K. Morawski, Schylek literatury rzymskiej po Chr. [The decline of Roman literature after Christ], Kr 1921, 159–165; A. J. Festugière, La doctrine des “viri novi” sur l’origine et le sort des âmes d’après Arnobius, in: Mémorial Lagrange, P 1940, 97–132; E. Rapisarda, Arnobio, Catania 1946; G. Bardy, RAC I 709–711; Gilson HFS 50–52, 560–561; B. Amata, Problemi di antropologia arnobiana, R 1984; idem, L’apologia cristiana di Arnobio di Sicca come ricerca della verità assoluta, Salesianum 51 (1989) n. 1, 47–70; S. Pieszczoch, EK I 941.