In earlier studies, when I was interested in the Book of Revelation for the study of the prophetic, I would often come across the mention of Victorinus, who had completed one of the earliest commentaries on the book. For those who study the reception of the book, he is a must, as he is for those who study what they believe are secret codes buried long beneath John’s visions. Remember, he is writing in the late third or early fourth century, pre-Constantine, and thus with a view towards the past in my opinion. This view is somewhat confirmed by the editor who notes in the section Theology and Method, that some of the more primitive interpretations are evidence in Victorinus. Of course, there are problems, as the editor notes. Victorinus was a chiliastic theologian. This was later edited out by Jerome after chiliasm had fallen into disfavor with the Church hierarchy. The first known proponent of this view was Justin (although Jerome alludes to Papias), and while one could argue that this was due to Justin’ usual misunderstanding of Jewish symbology, and make no mistake – Revelation is still a Jewish book, I do not intend to engage in the origins of such a belief system.
As noted above, Victorinus used primitive interpretations, which is why his commentary is so very important. It brings to light earlier thoughts on the book which were handed down through Tradition, albeit modified as the culture of reception changed. For example, we see the Nero Redivivus legend (see the commentary on chapter 13 and 17) mentioned in Victorinus which should point us to the idea that the earliest communities understand the book not to be about events millenia removed from them, but about their time and social situation. Further, there is the ‘already but not yet eschatology’ of an age inaugurated by Jesus when Victorinus takes to speaking about the opening of the sealed book. Further, as the editors point out, there is no chronological structure in Revelation for Victorinus, only the divine purpose told by “similitudes.” Again, there is enough of the primitive interpretation to off set any modern notion that they have it right, given the vast difference in outcomes.
One of the issues I have with this entire series – and maybe the only real issue, is that the verses aren’t printed with the commentary. No doubt, this would lead to bigger, and more expensive books, so alternatively, if you are reading this as a commentary, have a bible around.
Victorinus doesn’t issue a commentary on every verse or passage, or at least, they are no longer with us. What he does do, however, is still pretty enlightening as to the ancient theologian’s mind. Evident in the beginning is high Christology, untouched by the soon coming Arianism. Christ is God, and was always with the Father. Further, there is evidence of the Trinitarian thought, although the Spirit, and the Son in some aspects, are subordinate to the Father. The Spirit is given to the Son by the Father (1.6). While it seems any advance warning of Arianism is missing, what is present are statements against both the Jews and the Marcionites. While this is true, unlike many theological treatises of the time, there is no evidence that the commentary was issued to combat heresies or counter theological opponents; Victorinus seemed to be just taking the opportunity to set orthodoxy against heterodoxy.
All in all, Victorinus’ commentary should serve to enliven the debate about all sorts of topics, especially the Millennium, but should be taken within a cultural context.