St Victorinus of Poetovio: In Apocalypsin

My next treat on the translation front is the earliest preserved full commentary on the Apocalypse, written in Latin by Victorinus, bishop of Poetovio (now the charmingly named Ptui in Slovenia; also known as Pettau or Pettavium), who was martyred in the Great Persecution of Diocletian in 304. The commentary was composed not long after the Valerian Persecution, so about 260. St Jerome actually found his writings to be of great value, not just for the reason that he produced the earliest Biblical exegetical writings in Latin, but that he considered Victorinus a fine exegete in the tradition of Hippolytus and Origen.

This is a complicated work. Victorinus was of a chiliastic/millennialistic bent, a position which was later decided to be mistaken by the Church at large. Because this chiliasm/millennialism appears especially prominently in the latter chapters of the commentary, Jerome took it upon himself to edit those chapters, including a more orthodox interpretation and introducing some other changes throughout the commentary. So, essentially there are two different versions of the complete work, which are only widely divergent in the material covering chapters 20 and 21 of the Apocalypse, and a short prologue by Jerome. I’ll provide here a full translation of Victorinus’ original, then of Jerome’s chapters 20-21, and then Jerome’s prologue. Jerome’s full version is given a rather old (and not very good, I think) English translation in the widely available Nicene & Post-Nicene Fathers collection. So far as I know, this will be the first English translation of Victorinus’ original.

The text I’m using is that of Martine Dulaey, Sources Chrétiennes no. 423 (Les Éditions du Cerf, 1997). I had originally started out (in 1999!) on a translation of In Apocalypsin, not knowing of the textual difficulties, using the Patrologia Latina text, which provides Jerome’s version. Once I learned of those textual difficulties, I started to correct my earlier translation from the Haussleiter edition of Victorinus’ original, but only managed to create a hopeless mess of red ink and scribbles on formerly legible pages. So, I’m starting from scratch. Citations and allusions as indicated by Dulaey in the Latin by bolding will be italic in my translation. Please note that these Biblical quotations are somewhat loose on the part of Victorinus, and also represent a Latin translation similar to the Vetus Latina, a pre-Vulgate version, of the Apocalypse, but not identical. At this stage, I’m not providing the references of the citations, or doing any pretty formatting and whatnot. I’ll do that later.

Here we go!


[1.1] The beginning of the book promises blessing to who reads, who hears, and who obeys so that in studying the reading, he therefore learns works and keeps those which are commanded. Grace to you and peace, from God Who is and Who was and Who is coming. Is, Who endures; was, Who with the Father made all, and Who did not begin from the Virgin; is coming, indeed, to judge. Of the sevenfold Spirit: in Isaiah we read: A spirit of wisdom and intellect, of counsel and strength, of knowledge and piety, the spirit of fear of the Lord. These seven spirits are of one; namely, they are given by the Holy Spirit. And from Jesus Christ, Who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead. In becoming human, He gave witness to the world, suffering in which, He freed us from sins by His blood, and having defeated Hell, first rose up from the dead, and death no longer has dominion over Him, but by His reign, the kingdom of the world is destroyed. And made us a kingdom and priests, that is, the Church of all believers, as the Apostle Peter said: a holy people, a royal priesthood. Behold, He is coming with the clouds, and all peoples see Him. He who first, in becoming human, came in secret, will in a little while come openly, in majesty and glory, to judge.

[1.2] For it says that in the midst of the golden lampstands was walking one like a son of man. Like a son of man it says. After victory over death, when He ascended into the heavens, His body having been united with the Spirit of glory which He received from the Father, He is now able to be called like a Son of God, not (only) like a son of man. Walking in the midst of the golden lampstands, that is, in the midst of the churches, as was said by Solomon: In the ways of the just ones I walk.

His antiquity and immortality, the source of majesty, are shown by with a white head. For the Head of Christ is God. And with white hair are the multitude of wearers of white (the newly baptized), like wool, because of the sheep, like snow, because of the innumerable crowd of candidates (catechumens) given by Heaven. Eyes like a flame of fire. These are the commandments of God, giving light to those who believe, (but) burning the unbelievers.

[1.3] And a face with the brightness of the sun. His face is His coming in which He spoke to man face to face. For the sun is of less glory than the glory of the Lord. But because of rising, and setting, and again rising—for He was born, and suffered, and rose up—for this reason Scripture gives the comparison of His face to the glory of the sun.

[1.4] In a priestly garment, which is the flesh not corrupted by death, and by suffering He has been given an eternal priesthood, most obviously. Breasts are the two Testaments, and a golden sash, the chorus of saints, like gold tried by the fire; alternately, the gold sash binding the chest: the enkindled conscience and pure spiritual sense given to the churches.

By a sharp double-edged sword coming out of His mouth, He is shown to be Who brought knowledge to the whole world both now, of the good things of the Gospel, and, previously, of the Law of Moses. But from which same Word, Old or New Testament, is the whole race of humans indeed judged, thus it is called a sharp double-edged sword. For the sword arms the soldier; the sword slays the enemy; the sword punishes the deserter. And in order to show the Apostles He announced judgment, He said: I did not come to bring peace, but the sword. And after He had finished the parables, He said to them: Have you understood everything? They said: Even so. He added: Therefore, every scribe trained in the Kingdom of Heaven is like the father of a family, bringing out from his treasury new and old; “new:” the word of the Gospel; “old:” the Law and the Prophets. These come out of His mouth, He said to Peter: Go to the sea and cast a hook, and the first fish that comes up, opening its mouth you will find a stater (coin), which is two denarii, give for Me and for you. And David similarly said by the Spirit: Once, is God speaking; twice, have we heard Him, for God has determined “once” what will happen, from the beginning to the end. These are the “two” Testaments, which at a particular time are called either two denarii, or New and Old, or a sharp double-edged sword. Finally, with His being appointed Judge by the Father, wanting to show that men will be judged by the word of preaching, He says: Do you think that I will judge you in the last day? The word which I speak to you, it will judge (you) in the last day. And Paul says to the Thessalonians against the Antichrist: whom the Lord will slay with the breath (spiritus) of His mouth. Therefore, this is the sharp double-edged sword coming out of His mouth.


  1. Since a “chiliastic/millennialistic bent” describes my belief, I will be following this closely. You’ve already solved one criticism of chiliasm: that it is a relatively recent innovation.

    Thanks, again, for the fresh translations you are sharing with us of both biblilcal and related items.

  2. You’re very welcome. I enjoy it all, too.

    Do stay tuned, Robert. It’ll get to the best passages on the chiliasm subject near the end, with chapters 20 and 21.

    Whoever told you chiliasm was “relatively recent” was flat wrong. The “dispensational” eschatology scheme is modern, but not the chiliasm incorporated in it.

    For those interested in the subject, who aren’t too familiar with this issue, I recommend two books:
    The Bible and the Future, by Anthony A. Hoekema. This book explains the various types of Christian eschatology, with a bit of history on each of the various schema and how they relate to one another. This book was recommended to me quite a while ago, and I definitely concur with the person who recommended it that it’s a perfect introduction to Christian eschatology.

    Regnum Caelorum: Patterns of Millennial Thought in Early Christianity (2nd revised edition, 2001). He analyzes the Biblical and Patristic evidence, coming to some surprising conclusions. Here’s a summary article by Hill, entitled Why the Early Church Finally Rejected Premillennialism.

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