Monday, July 25, 2005

Arnobius of Sicca, God the Father and Souls

Arnobius rejects the inherent immortality of the soul. Humans are not born with deathless souls, he avers, in an attempt to refute Platonism, Neoplatonism, hermetism, the Chaldean Oracles and other writers of the period.[1] The Christian neophyte considers the aforementioned philosophers “new men” (novi viri) who introduce novel ideas at odds with the Christian faith:

Wherefore there is no reason that that should mislead us, should hold out vain hopes to us, which is said by some men till now unheard of, and carried away by an extravagant opinion of themselves, that souls are immortal, next in point of rank to the God and ruler of the world, brought forth by that Begetter and Father, divine, wise, learned, and not touchable by any contact with the body (Adversus Nationes 2.15).

<>
God the Father is the one from whom souls causally emanate. Arnobius consequently reasons that it is the height of folly to assume that the souls of human beings resemble the Father with respect to immortality (Adversus Nationes 2.16). God has reserved deathlessness and indestructibleness for himself. However, human souls “have one origin, we therefore think exactly alike; we do not differ in manners, we do not differ in beliefs; we all know God; and there are not as many opinions as there are men in the world, nor are these divided in infinite variety” (Adversus Nationes 2.15).

Not only has God the Father begotten human souls, but if a multitude of gods exists, as the Greeks and Romans claimed, then these deities are evidently subject to the vicissitudes of temporality since the omnipotent Father generates them temporally posterior to himself:

For if we all agree that there is one Father of all, who alone is immortal and unbegotten, and if nothing at all is found before Him which could be named, it follows as a consequence that all these whom the imagination of men believes to be gods, have been either begotten by Him or produced at His bidding. Are they produced and begotten? they are also later in order and time: if later in order and time, they must have an origin, and beginning of birth and life; but that which has an entrance into and beginning of life in its first stages, it of necessity follows, should have an end also” (Adversus Nationes 2.35).

<>
The general consensus among theists of Arnobius’ time was that there is one Father of all things, who has begotten divine but lesser entities, divinities naturally having their origin in him and existing temporally posterior to the one Father. Arnobius reasons that if the gods whom the Father generates have a beginning, they must also have a terminus. Since these gods evidently experience both natality and the cessation of life, they are of necessity inferior to the Father, in some respect. Of course, the apologist intends for his line of reasoning to function as an argumentum reductio ad absurdum. Nevertheless, apart from assessing his logic for soundness and validity, Arnobius’ words illuminate his concept of divine paternity. God is not a literal Father: divine paternitas marks God as the source of all things. However, does Arnobius think that God is masculine quoad se? Alternatively, does he believe that God merely reveals a masculine side pro nobis?



[1] See McCracken on book two.

No comments: