Thursday, 7 February 2019

Johannes Breuer: The Role of Imperfection in Arnobius of Sicca

At about 300 CE Arnobius of Sicca composed an apologetic work named Adversus nationes. In this treatise he defends Christian faith against a great number of reproaches and attacks on his part aspects of the traditional pagan religion and intellectual life. His work is characterised by a technique that modern scholars call retorsio: the speaker demonstrates that pagans can also be charged with those opinions and ways of conduct that they accuse the Christians of.In my paper I will argue that imperfection is an important feature of the debate presented in Adversus nationes by analyzing the way Arnobius discusses two topics which involve imperfection: on the one hand, I will demonstrate his reaction to the pagan reproach that the Christian sacred writings display stylistic flaws, on the other hand, I will focus on his criticizing the imperfection of pagan philosophers. When discussing the literary qualities of Christian sacred writings, Arnobius (or his persona) argues that it is necessary to evaluate the content of a statement without taking its stylistic presentation into account; moreover, he provides interesting insights into his linguistic concepts. Then again he criticizes pagan philosophers for imperfection in several respects, e.g. the limitations of their knowledge, their disagreement among themselves and even their own weaknesses of character.My aim is to demonstrate the virtuosity with which this Christian apologist handles the topic “imperfection” not only to put pagan criticism of Christian faith into perspective, but also to attack pagan notions.

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