Felix, M. Minu'cius
a distinguished Roman lawyer
He was the author of a dialogue entitled Octavius
, which occupies a conspicuous place among the early Apologies for Christianity.
The speakers are Caecilius Natalis, a Pagan, and Octavius Januarius, a true believer, who, while rambling along the shore near Ostia during the holidays of the vintage with their common friend Minucius, are led into a discussion in consequence of an act of homage paid by Caecilius to a statue of Serapis, a proceeding which calls forth severe, although indirect animadversions from Octavius. Irritated by these remarks, Caecilius commences a lengthened discourse, in which he combines a formal defence of his own practice with an attack upon the principles of his companion. His arguments are of a twofold character. On the one hand he assails revealed religion in general, and on the other the Christian religion specially. Octavius replies to all his objections with great force and eloquence ; and when he concludes, Caecilius, feeling himself defeated, freely acknowledges his errors, and declares himself a convert to the truth.
The tone of this production is throughout earnest and impressive; the arguments are well selected, and stated with precision; the style is for the most part terse and pregnant, and the diction is extremely pure; but it frequently wears the aspect of a cento in which a number of choice phrases have been culled from various sources.
There is, moreover, occasionally a want of simplicity, and some of the sentiments are expressed in language which borders upon declamatory inflation.
But these blemishes are not so numerous as to affect seriously our favourable estimate of the work as a whole, which. in the opinion of many, entitles the author to rank not much below Lactautius. Its value in a theological point of view is not very great, since the various topics are touched upon lightly, the end in view being evidently to furnish a ready reply to the most common popular objections.
The censure of Dupin, who imagined that he could detect a tendency to materialism, seems to have been founded upon a misapprehension of the real import of the passages whose orthodoxy he impugns.
It is remarkable that the Octavius
was for a long period believed to belong to Arnobius, and was printed repeatedly as the eighth book of his treatise Adversus Gentes,
notwithstanding the express testimony of St. Jerome, whose words (de Viris Ill.
58) are so clear as to leave no room for hesitation.
The time, however, at which Minucius Felix lived is very uncertain.
By some he is placed as early as the reign of M. Aurelius; by some as low as Diocletian; while others have fixed upon various points intermediate between these two extremes.
The critics who, with Van Iloven, carry him back as far as the middle of the second century, rest their opinion chiefly on the purity of his diction, upon the indications afforded by allusions to the state of the Church, both as to its internal constitution, and to the attention which it attracted from without, upon the strong resemblance which the piece bears to those Apologies which confessedly belong to the period in question, and upon the probability that the Fronto twice named in the course of the colloquy is the same with the rhetorician, M. Cornelius Fronto, so celebrated under the Antonines.
But this position, although defended with great learning, can scarcely be maintained against the positive evidence afforded by St. Jerome, who, in his account of illustrious men, where the individuals mentioned succeed each other in regular chronological order, sets down Minucius Felix after Tertullian and before Cyprian, an arrangement confirmed by a paragraph in the Epistola ad Magnum, and not contradicted by another in the Apologia ad Pammachium, where Tertullian, Cyprian, and Felix, are grouped together in the same clause.
The circumstance that certain sentences in the Octavius
and in the De Idolorum Vanitate
are word for word the same, although it proves that one writer copied from the other, leads to no inference as to which was the original. We may therefore acquiesce in the conclusion that our author flourished about A. D. 230.
That he was a lawyer, and attained to eminence in pleading, is distinctly asserted both by St. Jerome and Lactantius; but beyond this we know nothing of his personal history, except in so far as we are led by his own words to believe that he was by birth a Gentile, and that his conversion did not take place until he had attained to manhood. We are further told (Hieron. l.c.
) that a book entitled De Fato,
or Contra Mathematicos,
was circulated under his name, but that, although evidently the work of an accomplished man, it was so different in style and general character from the Octavius,
that they could scarcely have proceeded from the same pen.
It has already been remarked that this dialogue was long supposed to form a part of the treatise of Arnobius, Adversus Gentes. It was first assigned to its rightful owner, and printed in an independent form, by Balduinus (Heideiberg. 1560), who prefixed a dissertation, in which he proved his point so indisputably, that we are surprised that such an error should have escaped the keen eyes of Erasmus and other great scholars.
Since that time a vast number of editions have been published, a full account of which will be found in Funceius, Schönemann, and Bähr. For general purposes, that of Jac. Gronovius (8vo. Lug. Bat. 1707) forming one of the series of Variorum Classics
; that of Lindner (8vo. Longosal. 1760) reprinted, with a preface by Ernesti (ibid. 1773)
; and that of Muralto, with a preface, by Orelli (8vo. Turic. 1836), will be found the most useful.
The German translations by J. G. Russwurm (4to. Hamb. 1824)
, and by J. H. B. Lübkert (8vo. Leip. 1836), may be consulted with advantage.
In illustration, we may read the essay of Balduinus, which is appended to the edition of Gronovius; J. D. Van Hoven, Epistola ad Gerh. Meermann,
4to. Camp. 1766, reprinted in Lindner's edition of 1773; H. Meier, Comment. de Minucio Felice
(8vo. Turic. 1824); and the remarks prefixed to the translation of Russwurm.
Hieronym. de Viris Ill. 58, Ep. ad Magnum, Apolog. ad Pammach., Epitaph. Nepot.;
Lactant. Div. Instit.
1.9, 5.1.; Dupin, Bibl. Eccles.
vol. i. p. 117; Funceius, de L. L. Vegeta Senectute,
10.10-16 ; Le Nourry, Apparat. ad Bibl. Patr.
vol. ii. diss. i.; Schröck, Kirchengescht.
vol. iii. p. 417; Schönemann, Bibl. Patr. Lat.
3.2; Bähr, Gesch. der Römisch. Litt.
Suppl. Band ii. Abtheil. § 18-21.