Arnobius of Sicca was a Feminist

Click to OrderWhen we speak of God, we use a masculine word, but let no thoughtless person accuse us of saying that God, is a man. It is not gender that is expressed but rather his name, its customary meaning and the way in which we habitually use words. The deity is not male, even though his name is of the masculine gender. In contrast, attribute gender to the gods, by calling them either “god” of “goddess.” We cannot believe that God has a body, because if he did, he would have to be either male or female. (Against the Nations, 3.8, ACD vol 1, p38)

We should remember that he is a new convert, coming directly from the rhetorican school of the Greeks.

Update – Suzanne has posted on this passage.

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29 Replies to “Arnobius of Sicca was a Feminist”

  1. right.  I realize Arnobius writes about the Greek philosophers.  But according to rhetoric historian, George Kennedy, philosophy was much different from rhetoric for the “eight greatest Latin fathers of the church” – including Arnobius.  There was a “distrust of philosophy and acceptance of rhetoric” which “seemed to be useful, concrete, and manly.”  Kennedy is talking about the later Roman rhetoric (as formalized by Cicero and Quintilian) with respect to the “Christian Latin writers” (Classical Rhetoric and Its Christian and Secular Tradition from Ancient to Modern Times, 2nd ed, p 146).  Kennedy is quick to note that all of the prominent church fathers were rhetoricians, and five of the eight, including Arnobius, were rhetoric experts before they became Christians.  Of course, Arnobius’s treatise on rhetoric has been lost – so we can’t know for sure how much he formalized from the Greeks.

  2. And yet with the Incarnation, and even before (Gen. 18:1-8, etc.) The Hebrew word Ish is used, and has regard to sex, a male. The first occurrence in the feminine is Gen.2:23, ishah= woman. Therefore, ‘ish= male, or husband a man, in contrast with a woman.  It is rendered “husband” 69 times, “person” 12 times, and once or twice each in thirty-nine different ways.
    But, again, the body of Christ is still “incarnate” at the right hand of the Father. “We also, in our heart of hearts, tend to slur over the risen ‘manhood’ of Jesus, to conceive Him, after death, simply returning into Deity, so that the Resurrection would be no more than a reversal or undoing of the Incarnation.” (CS Lewis, Miracles, page 151)
    Yes, Christ is forever the God-Man!  “He being one Son, dual in nature, not dual in Person. Wherefore we do confess, preaching the truth that Christ is perfect God and perfect Man.” ~ Troparion of the Resurrection (Eastren Orthodox)
    Fr. R.

  3. Your questions are excellent.  If you do read Kennedy, I’d love to hear your thoughts.  To be sure, I read Kennedy with a big grain of salt.  He himself is an aristotelian rhetorician, disparaging of philosophers as if Aristotle was first a rhetorician who disparaged philosophy.  (On Kennedy, on rhetoric, I blogged something once upon a time:
    What’s fascinating to me is how little rhetoricians and bible scholars talk in the recent centuries.   Some Greek and Latin terms are actually defined much differently by the respective experts – and the histories diverge.  It’s frustrating when trying to do scholarship that acknowledges both.  Every so often, a theologian will attempt to help rhetoricians, such as BWIII did here:  And rhetoricians such as Kennedy, and James Kinneavy with his Greek Rhetorical Origins of Christian Faith, have tried to show Christianity in terms of their rhetoric historiography.
    But back to your post:  I confess I’ve studied classical rhetoric under the rhetoricians, who mostly see a huge reinterpretation of Greek rhetoric by the Romans, and a bigger reinterpretation of Latin rhetoric then by the Christians.  These distinctions seem much more important to historians of rhetoric per se, than they do to bible scholars or theologians with a historical interest in religious rhetorics.

    Cheers to you, nonetheless, for bringing to the forefront the issues of feminism and gender in rhetoric, even in the rhetoric of one of the earliest Christian rhetoricians!!


  4. But what does the scripture say about men & women?  Awe, now that is the real issue!  We simply cannot overlook the different “roles” of men and women in Scripure and God’s revelation!  But this is just part of the bane of Postmodernism!
    Fr. R.

  5. Yes, this may be the sad situation there. But, we still must maintain the differences that God has chosen for male and female!  I know this issue swings from right to left, but there again we must maintain the balance of Scripture. Yes? I am certainly not advocating the denigration of women…God forbid!  But, today’s “feminism” is hardly neutral either.
    Fr. R.

  6. Joel, the fact that I take this stand (just for balance) causes me more bad mail than you can believe!  And within Evangelical circles!  I come from the opposite end (Church) then yours…liberals!  I mean on scripture and these issues.
    Fr. R.

  7. Joel,
    It is true that some of the early Fathers did not see God in gender. But they did see God as “person”. Perhaps Gen.1:26 is helpful. God or Elohim is a plurality within the divine unity (Augustine). The special dignity of humanity is that as men and women we may reflect and reproduce, at our levels of our own created and creaturely “person” the theos of God. Thus the redeemed are a triune reality of God Himself!
    Fr. R.

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