Arius the Libyan: An Idyll of the Early Church (NY: Appleton, 1884) was a work of historical fiction that portrayed Arius as the real hero of the fourth century. To portray Arius as the good guy requires a complete re-imagining of what Christianity is all about, and that’s what Arius the Libyan attempted. Read my summary and analysis of the book’s theology in a previous post.
Reception of Arius the Libyan
How was the book received? Did people like it?
Arius the Libyan sold well and was reprinted several times, down into the 1930s. The book was well-received by the general public. Harper’s Magazine said the book succeeds in “Portraying the life and character of the primitive Christians with great force and vividness of imagination.” The Continent wrote,
It is a story of the development of religious thought; the conflict between early Christianity and idolatry, the sharp struggles of doubt in minds that could feel the beauty but dreaded the leveling influence of the new creed. The passage of the little Theckla from the faith in Egyptian idols to that in the Christ is most delightfully told, … There is a most masterly portrait of the Emperor Constantine, and the crowd of lesser actors are all faithfully drawn. From the martyrdom of Theckla, just as life opened most brightly, to the quiet passing of Arius long years afterward, the picture is a noble one. Nothing sweeter and purer in tone has been given for long, and the most indifferent reader must feel the intense inward force which has governed the author and made in Arius a book of deep and permanent value.
The New York Observer said it was “a work of great beauty and power, and with fascinating style and intimate knowledge of the history of the early centuries of the Christian era.” And the Boston Globe said, “The noble plan, the grave importance of the questions that agitate its characters, its religious interest to believer and skeptic, its historical learning and thought, its dramatic construction and force, its beautiful style, combine to make the work a powerful and valuable production, without a rival in its field.”
The 1928 reprint features an introduction by Nicholas Murray Butler, president of Columbia University, who would go on to win the Nobel Peace Prize. Butler admits, “when Arius the Libyan was first published, nearly forty years ago, I was one of its most eager and most interested readers.” He commends the book wholeheartedly;