One of the greatest contributions to the academic mind of the Church these last few years has been the publication of the Ancient Christian Commentary and Texts series by IVP-Academic. In this latest resurrection of ancient writings, William C. Weinrich, a Lutheran professor with international experience, brings to us ancient Latin commentaries, which have been neatly translated into English, on the Book of Revelation. Included in this volume are commentaries from the 4th century Victorinus of Petovium, Apringius of Beja, Caesarius of Arles, and Bede the Venerable, an Old English monk of the 8th century. For those who are interested in the reception of this book, it provides a string of thought which follows from those situated still within the Roman Empire to those looking at the ruins of the Great Babylon. For those interested in examining the so-called prophetic traditions often associated with John’s book, you will find long buried primitive interpretations which should serve to correct some of the more outlandish violence done to the Apocalypse.
One of the most important, to be personal, theologians in this volume is Victorinus of Petovium who has written the oldest surviving Latin commentary. 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. There is also 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.
The others are equally important, but I will not spend much time reviewing them as I should leave something for you to read. Apringius of Beja, a Spanish Bishop, wrote during the time of the Visigoths. His commentary is not wholly original, but supplements itself with work from previous theologians. It is also supposed that he wrote his work due to the large role which Revelation had in the liturgy of his native land. Caesarius is also important in understanding the reception of this book and how it was used during Christian times. Born in 470, he was writing shortly after the sack of Rome which would lead to its final decline. His commentary is homiletic and thus could serve modern preachers who wish to bring to their congregations the book of Revelation. The Venerable Bede who is the first Anglo-Saxon scholar and an English Monk wrote many works throughout his long career, but this one was written near 716. He seems to follow the heretical Donatists in proclaiming that the book was about the near future.
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.
So, is this a volume you should pick up? Yes. Simply, we have forgotten the great minds who have struggled in the past to write these commentaries or to, as in the case of one of our subjects, preached the Text. We have forgotten their methods and focuses, often times, allowing only the academic work to shine forth. Reading these volumes helps us to connect back to the earlier writers, to maybe judge how far we are removed from them, to either lengthen our chain or take away our license.