Tuesday, January 09, 2024

The Shady Cloud

  O greatest, O Supreme Creator of things invisible! O Thou who art Thyself unseen, and who art incomprehensible! Thou art worthy, Thou art verily worthy-if only mortal tongue may speak of Thee-that all breathing and intelligent nature should never cease to feel and to return thanks; that it should throughout the whole of life fall on bended knee, and offer supplication with never-ceasing prayers. For Thou art the first cause; in Thee created things exist, and Thou art the space in which rest the foundations of all things, whatever they be. Thou art illimitable, unbegotten, immortal, enduring for aye, God Thyself alone, whom no bodily shape may represent, no outline delineate; of virtues inexpressible, of greatness indefinable; unrestricted as to locality, movement, and condition, concerning whom nothing can be clearly expressed by the significance of man's words. That Thou mayest he understood, we must be silent; and that erring conjecture may track Thee through the shady cloud, no word must be uttered. Grant pardon, O King Supreme, to those who persecute Thy servants; and in virtue of Thy benign nature, forgive those who fly from the worship of Thy name and the observance of Thy religion. It is not to be wondered at if Thou art unknown; it is a cause of greater astonishment if Thou art clearly comprehended.

Arnobius, Seven Books Against the Heathen, Book I, section 31. Arnobius of Sicca was a Christian apologist from Numidia in North Africa in the late third and early fourth century. Very little is known about him; Jerome gives us most of what we know in a single sentence (De Viris Illustribus 79):

Arnobius was a most successful teacher of rhetoric at Sicca in Africa during the reign of Diocletian, and wrote volumes Against the nations which may be found everywhere.
He also mentions that Lactantius was a student of Arnobius. It's notable that while Jerome says that Arnobius's book can "be found everywhere", it only survived in one ninth-century manuscript. The past, too, is tracked through a shady cloud.