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§ 198.s Minucius Felix.


(I.) M. Minucii Felicis Octavius, best ed. by Car. Halm, Vienna 1867 (in vol. II. of the "Corpus Scriptorum Eccles. Latin."), and Bernh. Dombart, with German translation and critical notes, 2d ed. Erlangen 1881. Halm has compared the only MS. of this book, ormerly in the Vatican library now in Paris, very carefully ("tanta diligentia ut de nullo jam loco dubitari possit quid in codice uno scriptum inveniatur ").

Ed. princeps by Faustus Sabaeus (Rom. 1543, as the eighth book of Arnobius Adv. Gent); then by Francis Balduin (Heidelb. 1560, as an independent work). Many edd. since, by Ursinus (1583), Meursius (1598), Wowerus (1603), Rigaltius (1643), Gronovius (1709, 1743), Davis (1712), Lindner (1760, 1773), Russwurm (1824), Lübkert (1836), Muralt (1836), Migne (1844, in "Patrol." III. Col. 193 sqq.), Fr Oehler (1847, in Gersdorf’s "Biblioth. Patr. ecelesiast. selecta," vol. XIII). Kayser (1863), Cornelissen (Lugd. Bat. 1882), etc.

English translations by H. A. Holden (Cambridge 1853), and R. E. Wallis in Clark’s "Ante-Nic. Libr." vol. XIII. p. 451–517.

(II.) Jerome: De Vir. ill. c. 58, and Ep. 48 ad Pammach., and Ep. 70 ad Magn. Lactant.: Inst. Div. V. 1, 22.

(III.) Monographs, dissertations and prolegomena to the different editions of M. Fel., by van Hoven (1766, also in Lindner’s ed. II. 1773); Meier (Turin, 1824,) Nic. Le Nourry, and Lumper (in Migne, "Patr. Lat." III. 194–231; 371–652); Rören (Minuciania,) Bedburg, 1859); Behr (on the relation of M. F. to Cicero, Gera 1870); Rönsch (in Das N. T Tertull.’s, 1871, P. 25 sqq.); Paul P. de Felice (Études sur l’Octavius, Blois, 1880); Keim (in his Celsus, 1873, 151–168, and in Rom. und das Christenthum, 1881, 383 sq., and 468–486); Ad. Ebert (1874, in Gesch. der christlich-latein. Lit. I. 24–31); G. Loesche (On the relation of M. F. to Athanagoras, in the "Jahr b. für Prot. Theol." 1882, p. l68–178); RENAN (Marc-Auréle, 1882, p. 389–404); Richard Kuhn: Der Octavius des Minucius Felix. Eine heidnisch philosophische Auffassung vom Christenthum. Leipz. 1882 (71 pages). See also the art. of Mangold in Herzog2 X. 12–17 (abridged in Schaff-Herzog); G. Salmon in Smith and Wace III. 920–924.

(IV.) On the relation of Minuc. Fel. to Tertullian: Ad. Ebert: Tertullian’s Verhältniss zu Minucius Felix, nebst einem Anhang über Commodian’s Carmen apoloqeticum (1868, in the 5th vol. of the "Abhandlungen der philol. histor. Classe der K. sächs. Ges. der Wissenschaften"); W. Hartel (in Zeitschrift für d. öester. Gymnas. 1869, p. 348–368, against Ebert); E. Klusmann ("Jenaer Lit. Zeitg," 1878) Bonwetsch (in Die Schriften Tert., 1878, p. 21;) V. Schultze (in "Jahr b. für Prot. Theol." 1881, p. 485–506; P. Schwenke (Uber die Zeit des Min. Fel. in "Jahr b. für Prot. Theol.’ " 1883, p. 263–294).


In close connection with Tertullian, either shortly before, or shortly after him, stands the Latin Apologist Minucius Felix.15321532    Jerome puts him after Tertullian (and Cyprian), Lactantius beforeTertullian.533

Converts are always the most zealous, and often the most effective promoters of the system or sect which they have deliberately chosen from honest and earnest conviction. The Christian Apologists of the second century were educated heathen philosophers or rhetoricians before their conversion, and used their secular learning and culture for the refutation of idolatry and the vindication of the truths of revelation. In like manner the Apostles were Jews by birth and training, and made their knowledge of the Old Testament Scriptures subservient to the gospel. The Reformers of the sixteenth century came out of the bosom of mediaeval Catholicism, and were thus best qualified to oppose its corruptions and to emancipate the church from the bondage of the papacy.15331533    We may, also refer to more recent analogies: the ablest champions of Romanism-as Hurter, Newman, Manning, Brown, owe their intellectual and moral equipment to Protestantism; while the Old Catholic leaders of the opposition to Vatican Romanism—as Döllinger, Friedrich, Reinkens, Reusch, Langen, von Schulte—were formerly eminent teachers in the Roman church.534

I. Marcus Minucius Felix belongs to that class of converts, who brought the rich stores of classical culture to the service of Christianity. He worthily opens the series of Latin writers of the Roman church which had before spoken to the world only in the Greek tongue. He shares with Lactantius the honor of being the Christian Cicero.15341534    Jerome decribes him as "in signis causidicis Romani fori," but he depended on Lactantius, who may have derived this simply from the introduction to the book, where the author speaks of taking advantage of the court holidays for an excursion to Ostia. The gens Minucia was famous in Rome, and an inscription (Gruter, p. 918) mentions one with the cognomen Felix535 He did not become a clergyman, but apparently continued in his legal profession. We know nothing of his life except that he was an advocate in Rome, but probably of North African descent.15351535    From Cirta (now Constantine). This we must infer from the fact that he call Corn. Fronto "Cirtensis noster, " Octav. c. 9; comp. c. 31, "tuus Fronto."536

II. We have from him an apology of Christianity, in the form of a dialogue under the title Octavius.15361536    In 40 (al. 41) short chapters which, in Halm’s edition, cover 54 pages, oct. The book was written several years after the Dialogue and after the death of Octavius (c. 1: "discedens or decedens vir eximius et sanctus immensum sui deside rium nobis reliquit, " etc.).537 The author makes with his friend Octavius Januarius, who had, like himself, been converted from heathen error to the Christian truth an excursion from Rome to the sea-bath at Ostia. There they meet on a promenade along the beach with Caecilius Natalis, another friend of Minucius, but still a heathen, and, as appears from his reasoning, a philosopher of the sceptical school of the New Academy. Sitting down on the large stones which were placed there for the protection of the baths, the two friends in full view of the ocean and inhaling the gentle sea breeze, begin, at the suggestion of Caecilius, to discuss the religious question of the day. Minucius sitting between them is to act as umpire (chaps. 1–4).

Caecilius speaks first (chs. 5–15), in defence of the heathen, and in opposition to the Christian, religion. He begins like a sceptic or agnostic concerning the existence of a God as being doubtful, but he soon shifts his ground, and on the principle of expediency and utility he urges the duty of worshipping the ancestral gods. It is best to adhere to what the experience of all nations has found to be salutary. Every nation has its peculiar god or gods; the Roman nation, the most religious of all, allows the worship of all gods, and thus attained to the highest power and prosperity. He charges the Christians with presumption for claiming a certain knowledge of the highest problems which lie beyond human ken; with want of patriotism for forsaking the ancestral traditions; with low breeding (as Celsus did). He ridicules their worship of a crucified malefactor and the instrument of his crucifixion, and even an ass’s head. He repeats the lies of secret crimes, as promiscuous incest, and the murder of innocent children, and quotes for these slanders the authority of the celebrated orator Fronto. He objects to their religion that it has no temples, nor altars, nor images. He attacks their doctrines of one God, of the destruction of the present world, the resurrection and judgment, as irrational and absurd. He pities them for their austere habits and their aversion to the theatre, banquets, and other innocent enjoyments. He concludes with the re-assertion of human ignorance of things which are above us, and an exhortation to leave those uncertain things alone, and to adhere to the religion of their fathers, "lest either a childish superstition should be introduced, or all religion should be overthrown."

In the second part (ch. 16–38), Octavius refutes these charges, and attacks idolatry; meeting each point in proper order. He vindicates the existence and unity of the Godhead, the doctrine of creation and providence, as truly rational, and quotes in confirmation the opinions of various philosophers (from Cicero). He exposes the absurdity of the heathen mythology, the worship of idols made of wood and stone, the immoralities of the gods, and the cruelties and obscene rites connected with their worship. The Romans have not acquired their power by their religion, but by rapacity and acts of violence. The charge of worshipping a criminal and his cross, rests on the ignorance of his innocence and divine character. The Christians have no temples, because they will not limit the infinite God, and no images, because man is God’s image, and a holy life the best sacrifice. The slanderous charges of immorality are traced to the demons who invented and spread them among the people, who inspire oracles, work false miracles and try in every way to draw men into their ruin. It is the heathen who practice such infamies, who cruelly expose their new-born children or kill them by abortion. The Christians avoid and abhor the immoral amusements of the theatre and circus where madness, adultery, and murder are exhibited and practiced, even in the name of the gods. They find their true pleasure and happiness in God, his knowledge and worship.

At the close of the dialogue (chs. 39–40), Caecilius confesses himself convinced of his error, and resolves to embrace Christianity, and desires further instruction on the next day. Minucius expresses his satisfaction at this result, which made a decision on his part unnecessary. Joyful and thankful for the joint victory over error, the friends return from the sea-shore to Ostia.15371537    "Post haec laeti hilaresque discessimus, Caecilius quod crediderit, Octavius gaudere [ad gaudendum] quod vicerit, ego [Minuc. Fel.] et quod hic crediderit et hie vicerit."538

III. The apologetic value of this work is considerable, but its doctrinal value is very insignificant. It gives us a lively idea of the great controversy between the old and the new religion among the higher and cultivated classes of Roman society, and allows fair play and full force to the arguments on both sides. It is an able and eloquent defense of monotheism against polytheism, and of Christian morality against heathen immorality. But this is about all. The exposition of the truths of Christianity is meagre, superficial, and defective. The unity of the Godhead, his all-ruling providence, the resurrection of the body, and future retribution make up the whole creed of Octavius. The Scriptures, the prophets and apostles are ignored,15381538    The only traces are in chs. 29 and 34, which perhaps allude to Jer. 17:5 and I Cor. 15:36, 42.539 the doctrines of sin and grace, Christ and redemption, the Holy Spirit and his operations are left out of sight, and the name of Christ is not even mentioned; though we may reasonably infer from the manner in which the author repels the charge of worshipping "a crucified malefactor," that he regarded Christ as more than a mere man (ch. 29). He leads only to the outer court of the temple. His object was purely apologetic, and he gained his point.15391539    Keim supposes that he intended to refute Celsus (but he is nowhere mentioned); De Félice, that he aimed at Fronto (who is twice mentioned); Kühn better: public opinion, the ignorant prejudice of the higher classes against Christianity.540 Further instruction is not excluded, but is solicited by the converted Caecilius at the close, "as being necessary to a perfect training."15401540    C. 40: "Etiam nunc tamen aliqua consubsidunt non obstrepentia veritati, sed perfectae institutioni necessaria, de quibus crastino, quod iam sol occasu declivis est, ut de toto (oret die toto)congruentius, promptius requiremus."541 We have therefore no right to infer from this silence that the author was ignorant of the deeper mysteries of faith.15411541    Renan (p. 402) takes a different view, namely that Minucius was a liberal Christian of the Deistic stamp, a man of the world "qui n’empêche ni la gaieté, ni le talent, ni le goût aimable de la vie, ni la recherche, de l’élégance du style. Que nous sommes loin de l’ébionite ou méme du juif de Galilée! Octavius, c’est Cicéron, ou mieux Fronton, devenu chrétien. En réalité, c’est par la culture intellectuelle qu’il arrive au déisme. Il aime la nature, il se plaît a la conversation des gens biens élevés. Des hommes faits sur ce modèle n’auraient créé ni l’Évangile ni l’Apocalypse; mais, réciproquement, sans de tels adhérents, l’Évangile, l’Apocalypse, les épItres de Paul fussent restés les éscrits secrets d’une secte ferméé, qui, comme les esséens ou les théapeutes, eut finlement disparu." Kühn, also, represents Minucius as a philosopher rather than a Christian, and seems to explain his silence on the specific doctrines of Christianity from ignorance. But no educated Christian could be ignorant of Christ and His work, nor of the prophets and apostles who were regularly read in public worship.542

His philosophic stand-point is eclectic with a preference for Cicero, Seneca, and Plato. Christianity is to him both theoretically and practically the true philosophy which teaches the only true God, and leads to true virtue and piety. In this respect he resembles Justin Martyr.15421542    On the philosophy of Minucius, see the analysis of Kühn, p. 21 sqq.; 58 sqq.543

IV. The literary form of Octavius is very pleasing and elegant. The diction is more classical than that of any contemporary Latin writer heathen or Christian. The book bears a strong resemblance to Cicero’s De Natura Deorum, in many ideas, in style, and the urbanity, or gentlemanly tone. Dean Milman says that it "reminds us of the golden days of Latin prose." Renan calls it "the pearl of the apologetic literature of the last years of Marcus Aurelius." But the date is under dispute, and depends in part on its relation to Tertullian.

V. Time of composition. Octavius closely resembles Tertullian’s Apologeticus, both in argument and language, so that one book presupposes the other; although the aim is different, the former being the plea of a philosopher and refined gentleman, the other the plea of a lawyer and ardent Christian. The older opinion (with some exceptions15431543    Blondel (1641), Daillé (1660), Rösler (1777), Russwurm (1824), doubted the priority of Tertullian. See Kühn, l.c., p. v.544) maintained the priority of Apologeticus, and consequently put Octavius after a.d. 197 or 200 when the former was written. Ebert reversed the order and tried to prove, by a careful critical comparison, the originality of Octavius.15441544    In his essay on the subject (1866), Ebert put Octavius between 160 and the close of the second century; in his more recent work on the History of Christ. Lat. Lit. (1874), vol. I., p. 25, be assigns it more definitely to between 179 and 185 (" Anfang oder Mitte der achtziger Jahre des 2. Jahrh."). He assumes that Minucius used Athenagoras who wrote 177.545 His conclusion is adopted by the majority of recent German writers,15451545    Ueberweg (1866), Rönsch (Das n. T. Tertull. 1871), Keim (1873), Caspari (1875, III. 411), Herzog (1876), Hauck (1877), Bonwetsch (1878), Mangold (in Herzog2 1882), Kühn (1882), Renan (1882), Schwenke (1883). The last (pp. 292 and 294) puts the oral dialogue even so far back as Hadrian (before 137), and the composition before the death of Antoninus Pius (160).546 but has also met with opposition.15461546    Hartel (1869), Jeep (1869), Klussmann (1878), Schultze (1881), and Salmon (1883). Hartel, while denying that Tertullian borrowed from Minucius, leaves the way open for an independent use of an older book by both. Schultze puts Minucius down to the reign of Domitian (300-303), which is much too late.547 If Tertullian used Minucius, he expanded his suggestions; if Minucius used Tertullian, he did it by way of abridgement.

It is certain that Minucius borrowed from Cicero (also from Seneca, and, perhaps, from Athenagoras),15471547    Renan (p. 390) calls Minucius (although he puts him before Tertullian) a habitual plagiarist who often copies from Cicero without acknowledgment. Dombart (p. 135 sqq.), and Schwenke (p. 273 sqq.) prove his dependence on Seneca.548 and Tertullian (in his Adv. Valent.) from Irenaeus; though both make excellent use of their material, reproducing rather than copying it; but Tertullian is beyond question a far more original, vigorous, and important writer. Moreover the Roman divines used the Greek language from Clement down to Hippolytus towards the middle of the third century, with the only exception, perhaps, of Victor (190–202). So far the probability is for the later age of Minucius.

But a close comparison of the parallel passages seems to favor his priority; yet the argument is not conclusive.15481548    The crucial test of relative priority applied by Ebert is the relation of the two books to Cicero. Minucius wrote with Cicero open before him; Tertullian shows no fresh reading of Cicero; consequently if the parallel passages contain traces of Cicero, Tertullian must have borrowed them from Minucius. But these traces in Tertullian are very few, and the inference is disputable. The application of this test has led Hartel and Salmon (in Smith and Wace, III. 92) to the opposite conclusion. And Schultze proves 1) that Minucius used other works of Tertullian besides the Apologeticus, and 2) that Minucius, in copying from Cicero, makes the same kind of verbal changes in copying from Tertullian.549 The priority of Minucius has been inferred also from the fact that he twice mentions Fronto (the teacher and friend of Marcus Aurelius), apparently as a recent celebrity, and Fronto died about 168. Keim and Renan find allusions to the persecutions under Marcus Aurelius (177), and to the attack of Celsus (178), and hence put Octavius between 178 and 180.15491549    Chs. 29, 33, 37. I can find in these passages no proof of any particular violent persecution. Tortures are spoken of in ch. 37, but to these the Christians were always exposed. Upon the whole the situation of the church appears in the introductory chapters, and throughout the Dialogue, is a comparatively quiet one, such as we know it to have been at intervals between the imperial persecutions. This is also the impression of Schultze and Schwenke. Minucius is silent about the argument so current under Marcus Aurelius, that the Christians are responsible for all the public calamities.550 But these assumptions are unfounded, and they would lead rather to the conclusion that the book was not written before 200; for about twenty years elapsed (as Keim himself supposes) before the Dialogue actually was recorded on paper.

An unexpected argument for the later age of Minucius is furnished by the recent French discovery of the name of Marcus Caecilius Quinti F. Natalis, as the chief magistrate of Cirta (Constantine) n Algeria, in several inscriptions from the years 210 to 217.15501550    Mommsen, Corp. Lat. Inscript. VIII. 6996 and 7094-7098; Recueil de Constantine, 1869, p. 695. See an article by Dessau in "Hermes, " 1880, t. xv., p. 471-74; Salmon, l.c., p. 924; and Renan, l.c., p.’090 sq. Renan admits the possible identity of this Caecilius with the friend of Minucius, but suggests in the interest of his hypothesis that he was the son.551 The heathen speaker Caecilius Natalis of our Dialogue hailed from that very city (chs. 9 and 31). The identity of the two persons can indeed not be proven, but is at least very probable.

Considering these conflicting possibilities and probabilities, we conclude that Octavius was written in the first quarter of the third century, probably during the peaceful reign of Alexander Severus (A. D. 222–235). The last possible date is the year 250, because Cyprian’s book De Idolorum Vanitate, written about that time is largely based upon it.15511551    V. Schultze denies Cyprian’s authorship; but the book is attester by Jerome and Augustin.552



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