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Minucius Felix

Christian apologist, flourished between 160 and 300; the exact date is not known.

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* Published by Encyclopedia Press, 1913.


Minucius Felix, Christian apologist, flourished between 160 and 300; the exact date is not known. His "Octavius" has numerous points of agreement with the "Apologeticum" of Tertullian, similarities that have been explained by the theory of a common source an apology written in Latin, and which is supposed to have disappeared without leaving any trace, not even in the name of its author. This hypothesis is now generally abandoned. It seems improbable that such a work, from which Minucius and Tertullian might have drawn, would have so thoroughly disappeared. Lactantius (Diu. Inst., V, i, 21) enumerates the apologists who preceded him and does not even suspect the existence of such a writer. The most natural supposition is that one of the two writers, Minucius or Tertullian, is directly dependent on the other. Formerly, Minucius was regarded as posterior to Tertullian. The first doubts in this respect were expressed in France by Blondel in 1641, by Dallaeus in 1660, and in England by Dodwell. The theory of the priority of Minucius was defended by van Hoven in the second edition of Lindner in 1773. In modern times it was most ably defended by Ebert. The priority of Tertullian has been chiefly defended by Ad. Harnack, who has been refuted by A. Krueger. M. Waltzing, the scholar best acquainted with Minucius Felix and what has been written about him, is inclined to think him anterior to Tertullian. The arguments in favor of one or the other of these theories are not decisive. However, it may be said that in the passages taken from the ancient authors, such as Seneca, Varro, and especially Cicero, Minucius seems to be more exact and closer to the original; consequently he seems to be intermediary between them and Tertullian. The ecclesiastical authors were probably not better informed than we are with regard to Minueius. Lactan-tius puts him before Tertullian (Diu. Inst., I, xi, 55; V, i, 21), and St. Jerome after; but St. Jerome contradicts himself by putting him after St. Cyprian (Ep. lxx, (lxxxiii); v; Ix; xlviii; "In Isaiam", VIII, prmf.), and elsewhere putting him between Tertullian and St. Cyprian (De Viris, lviii). Fronto (d. about 170) is mentioned by Minucius. If the treatise "Quod idola non dii sint" is by St. Cyprian (d. about 258) there is no need of going beyond that date, for this treatise is based on the "Octavius". It is true that the attribution of the aforesaid treatise to St. Cyprian has been contested, but without serious reason. If this be rejected there is no period ante quern before Lactantius.

The birthplace of the author is believed to be Africa. This is not proved by Minucius's imitation of African authors, any more than it is by the resemblance between Minucius and Tertullian. At this period the principal writers were Africans, and it was natural that a Latin, of whatever province he might be, would read and imitate them. The allusions to the customs and belief of Africa are numerous, but this may be explained by the African origin of the champion of paganism. The "Octavius" is a dialogue of which Ostia is the scene. Caecilius Natalis upholds the cause of paganism, Octavius Januarius that of Christianity; the author himself is the judge of the debate. Caecilius Natalis was a native of Cirta; he lived at Rome and attentively followed Minucius in his activity as an advocate. Octavius had just arrived from a foreign country where he had left his family. Minucius lived at Rome. All three were advocates. The name Minucius Felix has been found on inscriptions at Tebessa and Carthage (Cor. Inscrip. Lat. VIII, 1964 and 12499); that of Octavius Januarius at Saldae (Bougie; ib., 8962); that of Caecilius at Cirta itself (ib., 7097-7098, 6996). The M. Caecilius Natalis of the inscriptions discharged important municipal duties and gave pagan festivals with memorable prodigality. He may have belonged to the same family as the interlocutor of the dialogue. Attempts have been made to make them identical or to establish family relationship between them. These are pure hypotheses subordinate to the opinion entertained regarding the date of the dialogue.

The persons are real. The dialogue may likewise be so, despite the fact that Minucius has transformed into an almost judicial debate what must have been a mere conversation or series of conversations. Owing to the adjournment of the courts during the vintage time, the three friends went for rest to Ostia. Here they walked on the sea-shore, and when they passed before a statue of Serapis, Caecilius saluted it with the customary kiss. Octavius thereupon expressed his indignation that Minucius should allow his daily companion to fall into idolatry. They resume their walk while Octavius gives an account of his voyage; they go to and fro on the shore and the quay; they watch children jumping about in the sea. This beginning is charming; it is the most perfect portion of the work. During the walk Cwcilius, silenced by the words of Octavius, has not spoken. He now explains himself and it is agreed to settle the debate. They seat themselves on a lonely pier; Minucius seated in the center is to be the arbitrator. Thereupon Cwcilius begins by attacking Christianity; Minucius says a few words, and then Octavius replies. At the end Minucius and Caecilius express their admiration and the latter declares that he surrenders. Fuller explanations of the new religion are postponed until the next day. The dialogue therefore consists of two discourses, the attack of Caecilius and the refutation of Octavius.

The discussion bears on a small number of points: the possibility of man arriving at the truth, creation, Providence, the unity of God, the necessity of keeping the religion of one's aneestors and especially the advantage to the Romans of the worship of the gods, the low character of Christians, their tendency to conceal themselves, their crimes (incest, worship of an ass's head, the adoration of the generative organs of the priest, prayers addressed to a criminal, sacrifice of children) their impious and absurd conception of the Divinity, their doctrine of the end of the world and the resurrection of the dead, the hardships of their life, threatened, and exposed without remedy to all sorts of dangers, cut off from the joys of life. In this debate the conception of Christianity is very limited, and is reduced almost solely to the unity of God, Providence, the resurrection, and reward after death. The name of Christ does not appear; among the apologists of the second century Aristides, St. Justin, and Tertullian are the only ones who pronounced it. But Minucius omits the characteristic points of Christianity in dogma and worship; this is not because he is bound to silence by the discipline of the secret, for St. Justin and Tertullian do not fear to enter into these details. Moreover in the discussion itself Octavius ends abruptly. To the accusation of adoring a criminal he contents himself with replying that the Crucified One was neither a man nor guilty (xxix, 2) and he is silent with regard to the mysteries of the Trinity, the Incarnation, and the Redemption which would have made clear his reply. He merely repels the accusation of incest and infanticide without describing the agape or the Eucharist (xxx and xxxi). He does not quote Scripture, or at least very little; and he does not mention the fulfilment of the prophecies. On the other hand he makes only a brief allusion to the manner of proceeding against the Christians (xxiii, 3). He does not speak of the loyalty of the Christians towards the state and the emperors. Political and judicial considerations, which are given so much space in Tertullian, are almost entirely absent here. These omissions are explained by a voluntary limitation of the subject. Minucius wished only to remove the prejudices of the pagans, to prepossess his readers by a pleasant discussion, and to show them the possibility of Christianity. He himself indicated this intention by putting off until the next day a more profound discussion (xl, 2). He addressed himself chiefly to the learned, to sceptics, and to the cultured; and wished to prove to them that there was nothing in the new religion that was incompatible with the resources of dialectics and the ornaments of rhetoric. In a word his work is an introduction to Christianity, a Protrepticon.

It is a mosaic of imitations, especially of Cicero, Seneca, and Virgil. The plan itself is that of the "De natura deorum" of Cicero, and Caecilius here plays the role of Cotta. However the personages have their peculiar characteristics. Caecilius is a young man, presumptuous, somewhat vain, sensitive, yielding to his first impression. Octavius is more sedate, but provincial life seems to have made him more intolerant; his pleading is hot and emotional. Minucius is more indulgent and calm. These learned men are charming friends. The dialogue itself is a monument of friendship. Minucius wrote it in memory of his dear Octavius, recently deceased. In reading it one thinks of Pliny the Younger and his friends. These minds exhibited the same delicacy and culture. The style is composite, being a harmonious combination of the Ciceronian period with the brilliant and short sentences of the new school. It sometimes assumes poetic tints, but the dominating color is that of Cicero. By the choice of subjects treated, his ease in reconciling very different ideas and styles, the art of combinations in ideas as well as in language, Minucius Felix belongs to the first rank of Latin writers whose talent consisted in blending heterogeneous elements and in proving themselves individual and original in imitation.

PAUL LEJAY


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