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An article from the 1911 Encyclopaedia Britannica, now in the public domain.
Any color photos are mine, © William P. Thayer.

Minucius Felix

Minucius, Felix Marcus, one of the earliest if not the earliest, of the Latin apologists for Christianity. Of his personal history nothing is known, and even the date at which he wrote can be only approximately ascertained. Jerome (De Vir. ill. 58) speaks of him as "Romae insignis causidicus," but in this he is probably only improving on the expression of Lactantius (Inst. div. V.1) who speaks of him as "non ignobilis inter causidicos loci." He is now exclusively known by his Octavius, a dialogue on Christianity between the pagan Caecilius Natalis​1 and the Christian Octavius Januarius, a provincial lawyer, the friend and fellow-student of the author. The scene is pleasantly and graphically laid on the beach at Ostia on a holiday afternoon, and the discussion is represented as arising out of the homage paid by Caecilius, in passing, to the image of Serapis. His arguments for paganism (possibly modelled on those of Celsus) are taken up seriatim by Octavius, with the result that the assailant is convinced. Minucius himself plays the part of umpire. The form of the dialogue is modelled on the De natura deorum and De divinatione of Cicero and its style is both vigorous and elegant if at times not exempt from something of the affectation of the age. Its latinity is not of the specifically Christian type. If the doctrines of the Divine unity, the resurrection, and future rewards and punishments be left out of account, the work has less the character of an exposition of Christianity than of a philosophical and ethical polemic against the absurdities of polytheism. While it thus has much in common with the Greek Apologies it is full of the strong common sense that marks the Latin mind. Its ultimate appeal is to the fruits of faith.

The Octavius is admittedly earlier than Cyprian's Quod idola dii non sint, which borrows from it; how much earlier can be determined only by settling the relation in which it stands to Tertullian's Apologeticum. Since A. Ebert's exhaustive argument in 1868, repeated in 1889, the priority of Minucius has been generally admitted; the objections are stated in the Dict. Chr. Biog. article by G. Salmon. Editions: F. Sabaeus-Brixianus, as Bk. VIII of Arnobius (Rome, 1543); F. Balduinus, first separate edition (Heidelberg, 1560); Migne, Patrol. Lat. III.239; Halm in Corp. Scr. Eccl. Lat. (Vienna, 1867); H. A. Holden. Translations: R. E. Wallis, in Ante-Nic. Fathers, vol. IV; A. A. Brodribb's Pagan and Puritan. Literature: in addition to that already cited see H. Boenig's art. in Hauck-Herzog's Realencyk. vol. 13, and the various histories of early Christian Literature by A. Harnack, G. Krüger, A. Ehrhard and O. Bardenhewer.

The Author's Note:

1 This name occurs in six inscriptions of the years 211‑217 found at Constantine (Cirta), North Africa (CIL vol. VIII). Like the other North African fathers Tertullian, Cyprian, Arnobius and Lactantius, he was a lawyer. Some use may have been made of rhetorical expressions of M. Cornelius Fronto of Cirta (d. c. A.D. 170).

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Page updated: 7 May 12