Saturday, July 30, 2005

Minucius Felix and God the Father

Minucius Felix reasons that one who upholds God’s majesty readily acknowledges that humans cannot comprehend the omnipotent deity:

This God cannot be seen; He is too bright for sight. He cannot be grasped; He is too pure for touch. He cannot be measured; He is too great for our senses—a boundless infinity, sharing with Himself alone the knowledge of His vastness. But the understanding we have is too limited to comprehend Him and that is why we measure Him worthily when we say that He is immeasurable.[1]

The apologist’s teaching here brings to mind concepts found in Philo, who stresses God’s beyondness, ineffability and utter incognoscibility. Minucius Felix contends that one cannot know God by means of the senses or the intellect: the divine one is completely uncircumscribable and incomprehensible, he asserts. While it is possible that one can detect hints of Stoic or Gnostic influence in his particular brand of apophatic theology, these are by no means the only notions that modified Minucius’ thought.[2] Additionally, Minucius follows conceptually in the steps of his Christian apologetic predecessors. One can particularly witness this in his emphasis on the anonymity of God. “Do away with divine names,” Minucius exclaims, because they are fusei and not qesei.[3] In this way, he contends that humans should abandon all titles for God including “Father” and simply invoke the Christian God as deus, a practice that supposedly upholds the divine transcendence (= beyondness) with all claritas:

Nor should you seek a name for God: God is His name. We have need of titles in cases where we want to separate individuals from a large group; we use, then the distinguishing mark of personal names. But God is unique; all He has for title is God. Should I call Him father, you would consider that He is earthly; should I call Him king, you would suspect that He is made of flesh; should I call Him lord, you would certainly understand that He is mortal. Remove the aggregate of names and you will clearly see His splendor[4]

Daniélou considers this view “radical” and he attributes it, in part, to the influence that Stoicism more than likely had on the working concepts of Minucius.[5] Moreover, the statement in the Octavius is reminiscent of what one reads in the Philonic corpus. It stresses the absolute ineffability of God without equivocation, as suggested in the maxim: “It is easier to say what God is not than to say what he is.” Minucius is convinced that names diminish God.[6] Therefore, when one clears away designations such as “Father” or “Lord” or King, one then allows for the manifestation of God’s glorious splendor to obtain.

[1] Octavius 18.8: “Hic nec videri potest: visu clarior est; nec conprehendi potest nec aestimari: sensibus maior est, infinitus inmensus et soli sibi tantus, quantus est, notus. Nobis vero ad intellectum pectus angustum est, et ideo sic eum digne aestimamus, dum inaestimabilem dicimus.”

[2] Daniélou, Early Christian Doctrine, 3:192-193.

[3] See Plato’s Cratylus. Daniélou, Early Christian Doctrine, 3:193. D.A. Black, Linguistics; Octavius 16.

[4] Octavius 18:8-10: “Nec nomen deo quaeras: Deus nomen est. Illic vocabulis opus est, cum per singulos propriis appellationum insignibus multitudo dirimenda est: deo, qui solus est, dei vocabulum totum est. Quem si patrem dixero, terrenum opineris; si regem, carnalem suspiceris; si dominum, intelleges utique mortalem. Aufer additamenta nominum et perspicies eius claritatem.”

[5] See Daniélou, Early Christian Doctrine, 3:189-207 and Colish, The Stoic Tradition, 2:30-31.

[6] Daniélou, Early Christian Doctrine, 3:192.

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