Victorinus: In Apocalypsin (4.1-7)

[4.1] He says an open door in heaven: the preaching of the New Testament was seen by John, and it was said to him: Come up here. When it is depicted opened, it is obvious that it had previously been closed to men. But it was sufficiently and fully opened, when Christ ascended bodily to the Father. And the voice which he heard, when it said that he was talking with him: without contradiction it reproves the stubborn. He who is coming is He who spoke through the Prophets. For John was of the circumcision, and all that People which heard the preaching of the Old Testament was edified by that Voice. He says, For that voice which I heard, it said to me: Come up here: that is Jesus Christ whom he shows seen as a little before as a son of man among the golden lampstands. And now henceforth he recalls those things which were predicted in similitudes through the Law, and by these scriptures he connects all the earlier Prophets, and opens up the Scriptures. And because afterward our Lord invited to heaven all believing in His name, He immediately poured out the Holy Spirit, who brings men to heaven, he says: Immediately I was in the Spirit. And when the mind of the faithful is opened by the Holy Spirit, he makes obvious to them what also was predicted to those before.

[4.2] Plainly a throne placed is the seat of a judge and a king; upon which throne he says he saw the resemblance of jasper and sardis, which jasper is the color of water, and sardis of fire: this shows the two Testaments are placed, until the end of the world, upon the judgment-throne of God; of which two judgments one is already accomplished in the destruction by water, but the other will be accomplished by fire. And a rainbow around the throne has a burning color; for the rainbow is called a bow, of which indeed God spoke to Noah and his sons, no longer to fear inundation by water. He says I will set my bow in the clouds, may you no longer fear the water, but the fire. And Before the throne was something like a sea of glass like crystal: is the gift of baptism, which He pours out by His Son in a time of repentance before He brings the Judgment. Therefore, before the throne, that is, before the judgment. And when it says a sea of glass like crystal, it depicts calm water, not moved by the wind, not flowing down, but given to be as immovable as the gift of God.

[4.3] The four animals are the four Gospels. He says The first is like a lion, the second is like a bull, the third is like a man, the fourth is like a flying eagle; having six wings around them, eyes both inside and outside, and, he says, never ceasing to say αγιος, αγιος, αγιος, Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty.

Twenty-four elders sitting, having twenty-four judgment-seats: are the books of the Prophets and the Law, relating the witness of the Judge. For the twenty-four fathers are the twelve Apostles and the twelve Patriarchs. Therefore, the animals which are different faces, have them for this reason.

[4.4] The animal like a lion is the Gospel according to John, which, while all the other Evangelists announced that Christ was made man, it was for him to announce that He was God before He descended and took on flesh, The Word was God, and because he proclaims like a roaring lion, his preaching bears the face of a lion. Like a man. Matthew made an effort to announce to us the family of Mary, through which Christ received flesh. Therefore, when he recounts from Abraham up to David, and from David up to Joseph, as though spoken of a man, thus his preaching receives the image of a man. Luke also, when he recounts from the priest Zacharias offering a sacrifice for the people and the angel appears to him, because of the priesthood and the sacrifice, this writing bore the image of the bull. Mark, the interpreter of Peter, wrote a record of those things which he generally taught, but not in order, and begins with the word of prophecy announced by Isaiah.

Therefore, they begin thus, saying: John: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God; this is the face of a lion. And Matthew: The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, son of God, son of David, son of Abraham; this is the face of a man. And Luke thus: There was a priest of the name Zacharias, of the course of Abia, and his wife was of the daughters of Aaron; this is the image of a bull. Mark begins thus: The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, as it is written in Isaiah; it begins with the Spirit flying, therefore, it also has the image of a flying eagle.

And not only the prophetic Spirit, but also the Word of God the Father Almighty, Who is His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, bears the same images in the time of His appearance to us. For when it was predicted like a lion, and like the cub of a lion, because for the salvation of men, He was made man, conquering death and freeing all; because He offered Himself as a sacrifice to God the Father for us, He is called a bull; and because He conquered death, ascended to heaven, extending His wings and protecting His people, He is called a flying eagle. Therefore these announcements, which are four, are actually one announcement, which came out of one mouth, like the river in paradise, from one source dividing into four parts.

And these animals have eyes inside and outside, that is the preaching of the New Testament; it shows Spiritual providence, which both looks into the secrets of the heart, and also sees things yet to come, which are inside and outside. The wings are the witnesses of the books of the Old Testament, and therefore they are twenty-four, which is also the same number of elders on the judgment-seats. As an animal is not able to fly without having wings, so neither does the preaching of the New Testament have faith without having the previously announced witnesses of the Old Testament, by which it takes off from earth and flies. For always, when what was said before is found to have happened later, this makes an undoubting faith. For again, if wings are not attached to animals, they have no way to prolong (?) life. For without those things previously announced by the prophets being accomplished in Christ, their preaching will have been made worthless. The Catholic Church holds both the previously announced and also the later accomplished, and it truly flies and takes off from the earth, a living animal. And with the heretics who don’t use the prophetic witness, living creatures are present for them, but which are only earthly. And for the Jews, who do not accept the preaching of the New Testament, wings are present for them, but they are not living; that is, they bring a worthless prophecy to men, not hearing (obeying), not uniting what is said to what happens.

For the books of the Old Testament are twenty-four, as we see in the Epitome of Theodore. But also, as we have said, the twenty-four are the Fathers and Apostles: it is necessary to judge His people. For when the Apostles asked and said: We have left everything of ours to follow you; what will there be for us? Our Lord responded: When the Son of Man sits upon the throne of His glory, you will also sit upon twelve judgment-seats, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And also of the Fathers who are to be judging, the Patriarch Jacob says: And he himself shall judge his people among his brothers as one of the tribes of Israel.

[4.6] And lightning and voices and thunder came out of the throne of God, and seven torches : it signifies the announcements and promises of God, and the warnings. For lightning signifies the coming of the Lord, and voices the announcements of the New Testament; and thunder, that the words are heavenly; torches burning with fire, truly the gift of the Holy Spirit, because when by wood the first man was lost, by the wood of the Passion is he returned.

[4.7] And while this was happening, all the elder born fell down and worshipped the Lord, while the animals gave glory and honor: that is, while the Gospel, namely the actions and teachings of the Lord, accomplished the word previously announced by them, they worthily and rightly exult, knowing they themselves have properly served the Word of God. Finally, because He came Who would conquer death, the only One worthy to take up the crown of immortality, all of them had, for the glory of His great accomplishment, crowns, throwing them under His feet, that is, because of the eminent victory of Christ, (throwing) all their victories under His feet. This is what the Holy Spirit fulfilled in the Gospel by showing, for when He was finally about to suffer, the Lord came to Jerusalem, and the people went out to meet Him, some covered the road with cut branches of palm trees, others threw down their tunics, namely showing two peoples, one, of the Fathers and the Prophets, of great men, who have palm branches for any of their victories against sins, casting them to Christ, under His feet. For the palm branches signify the same, which are not given to anyone but a conqueror.


  1. Many thanks for doing this, Kevin.

    I’ve got a question for you, though: In 4.4 concerning Mark, why do you translate “in munere” as “generally.” Is there some idiom I’m not aware of, because it looks like it should be “in his duty/office/service” or something like that. Dulaey renders it as “dans sa mission”, which I think is in this same vein.

    (NB: The connection between this bit on Mark and what Eusebius preserved by Papias on Mark has been noticed before [e.g. Chapman]. In that case, it appears that “in munere” is an attempt to render “pros tas creias”.


  2. Right, Stephen, that one gave me trouble, and it being around midnight and my new contacts being less than comfortable, I might have just fudged it a little. I think a dictionary of ecclesiastical Latin I have suggested “freely,” which is how I ended up with this. I was certainly thinking of the Papias via Eusebius quotation when I rendered it that way, though, in the sense of προς τας χρειας = “as was necessary,” thus the “generally.” It seemed to make more sense thus, at least to my late-night brain. But I’ll look into it more, and leave a note here if/when I change it. And you’re welcome! I’m enjoying this one a lot!

  3. I’ve looked some more into it now that I’m back home. The Dictionary of Ecclesiastical Latin I mentioned is by Leo F. Stelten (Hendrickson, 1995), and lists for munus: gift, bounty, present, offering; duty, office, employment, responsibility, service; bribe. Maybe I’ll change it to “for a bribe.” Just kidding. I settled on “generally” (by gift/bounty > bountifully/generally) because of that definition. “In office” for this ablative just doesn’t seem at all appropriate there, though maybe I’ll switch it to “as was necessary” in the second round. I’ve got it on a list of stuff to go back over, since I’m not happy with a number of other renderings, too. Thanks for catching that!

  4. Oh, and I guess you noticed that I’m not really following Dulaey so much, whose translation is quite paraphrastic, though it’s very helpful when I’m really puzzling over something. I’m aiming for something much more literal, reflecting the extremely terse, almost note-like nature of Victorinus’ original, which at times seems nearly as obscure as the Apocalypse! The pronouns are especially tricky, as Victorinus changes number and referents sometimes. Jerome’s edition smoothed out alot of those problems, but also drastically altered much of what Victorinus said. Even this chapter 4 is entirely different from the Jerome edition. Anyhow, time to move on! I’ve got another chapter to do!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *