The Life and Times of Marius Victorinus
The Life and Times of Marius Victorinus
Abstract and Keywords
This chapter discusses the ancient testimonia to Victorinus, and reconstructs a probable vita of Victorinus. A professor of rhetoric at Rome who authored important school-treatises, and a translator of Neoplatonic writings (the libri Platonicorum mentioned by Augustine) and Aristotelian works, Victorinus was a significant late Roman academic whose secular works had an influence in his own time and on Boethius, as well as later medieval scholasticism. The events of the Trinitarian Controversy at Rome during the reign of Constantius II are examined to situate Victorinus in this milieu. After converting to Christianity c. 355, Victorinus continued teaching rhetoric until the Emperor Julian’s school-law of 362 interdicted Christians from holding state professorial posts. The anti-Christian initiatives undertaken by Julian, as well as earlier anti-Christian polemics, may have contributed to Victorinus’ agenda as he began to write his commentaries on Paul, probably not earlier than late 363.
The biographical facts about Gaius Marius Victorinus1 that have come down to us provide little more than the barest sketch of his life. Bracketing his literary dossier, the ‘hard facts’ about him tell us only his land of birth and events of his profession and religion in the final decade of his life. Jerome's Chronicon tells us that he received honours in 354 as Rome's professor of rhetoric,2 with a portrait bust in Trajan's Forum.3 To Jerome again we owe the only other sure particulars of time and place: Victorinus was born in Roman Africa, and became a Christian in Rome in extrema senectute, ‘at an advanced old age’.4 This would put his date of birth in the 280s.5 Nothing is known about the date of his decease, except that he died some time before Augustine's encounter with Simplician in 386. Prior to the (p.17) period covered by the few biographical details we possess, his life may have taken a course similar to that of other ambitious Roman Africans, like Augustine, who came to Italy to obtain better teaching posts.6 Given his education, Victorinus would have been from at least a small landholding family.7 The education was expensive; perhaps it was bankrolled in part, as Augustine's was, by a wealthy patron, if his own family's wealth was exceeded by their aspirations for their son. Progressing through the usual curriculum8—the basics of letters and numbers, then grammar, and finally rhetoric—Victorinus was also fortunate and diligent enough to attain a level of fluency in Greek that escaped most educated Latins of his time. This enabled him to obtain an extensive first‐hand knowledge of Greek philosophy, extraordinary for a Latin of the period.9 Like many a Latin academic, he was a transmitter of Greek learning in its Latin adaptation.10 A mark of his enduring success is the fact that his secular works were used throughout the Middle Ages and into the (p.18) Renaissance.11 Victorinus probably taught grammar before becoming an instructor in rhetoric; eventually he obtained a top professorship through which he was awarded senatorial rank. We know him to have been married with children, at least one, through the chance survival of an inscription. His granddaughter's epitaph—commissioned or composed by her grieving husband—proudly mentions a ‘venerated grandfather who incarnated the ideal of classical culture’, as Hadot has nicely put it.12
The exact date and circumstances of Victorinus' move to Rome are unknown. Jerome's notice in De viris illustribus tells us that he taught rhetoric there during the reign of Constantius (337–61).13 At some point during this period he obtained the post of rhetor urbis Romae, official teacher of rhetoric for the old capital. A rhetor at this period was not an orator, but a professor of the subject.14 Victorinus himself defines the term in his commentary on Cicero's youthful textbook of rhetoric thus: a rhetor is ‘one who teaches literature and transmits the skills pertaining to eloquence’.15 In this capacity he obtained public honours, the award of a statue in Trajan's Forum. At Rome, honorific statues were reserved for the dead, unless otherwise decreed by the Senate, but violations of the rule did occur.16 Perhaps it was then, if not previously, that Victorinus was awarded (p.19) the clarissimate.17 The title given him in a tenth‐century manuscript of Adversus Arius, vir clarissimus (the ‘Right Honorable’, as Hanson18 translates it) indicates that Victorinus had been raised to the lowest rank of what had become the multi‐levelled senatorial order. This kind of upward mobility was not at all unusual at that time for an honoured teacher, as we see, for instance, from the fact that his colleague, the grammarian Donatus, may have received the same elevation.19 The statue was awarded to Victorinus—according to Augustine—as a teacher of the Roman aristocracy, for whom literary pursuits were both a badge of their class and a potential source of personal satisfaction. Victorinus' linguistic competence and intellectual interests allowed him to make not only Greek Neoplatonism but also much else in the realm of logic and dialectic available to Latins of his time and thereafter.20 Now Plotinus could feed the hungry minds and spirits of the learned who, like Augustine and his friends, lacked sufficient Greek to attain a first‐hand knowledge of philosophy.21 We cannot fix with any certainty the relation of (p.20) Victorinus' translation project to his engagement with Christian writings that, according to Simplician, led to his increasing sympathy with the new religion. Scholars have generally followed the more probable path in dating the translation of the ‘books of the Platonists’ to a period prior to his growing attraction to Christianity.22 The most likely scenario for the rhetor's intellectual odyssey would seem to involve an initial acquaintance with Christianity through the writings of pagan polemicists like Porphyry, which may have led in turn to a closer engagement with biblical and Christian theological works.23 Whereas Christian reading apparently confirmed Porphyry's hostility to the faith, the same was not true for Victorinus.
If one accepts elements of Augustine's account, Victorinus' social location among the Roman upper classes led to reservations, when he contemplated confessing publicly the Christian truth he claimed privately to have already owned, at least by way of intellectual assent.24 At length a conversion in the full sense of the term did take place, probably shortly after the award of the statue in 354, and not too close to his completion of the first four of his Trinitarian treatises in 359. Hadot gives the plausible range 355–7 for the conversion, ‘perhaps in 356’, he ventures.25 He mentions but rejects (p.21) (rightly to my mind) Courcelle's suggestion that Victorinus could already have been a Christian in 354 when the statue was awarded. Why, asks Courcelle, should we think that Roman pagans would then have refused a statue to a Christian, or that a Christian would have refused to accept such an award?26 Yet the only source that even pretends to describe Victorinus' conversion points in another direction, as J. J. O'Donnell has noted.27 For the key phrase in the Confessions suggests that Victorinus was not a Christian at that time.28 Simplician's report, via Augustine, implies that the rhetor's conversion involved a lengthy process that eventually culminated in a decisive sociological break—i.e. a decision to join a new community signalled by his acceptance of baptism. Thus I find it more plausible that this break would have occurred after the award of the statue. But could the conversion have been as late as 357? While the award of the statue in 354 gives us a terminus post quem, the terminus ante quem is more difficult to establish. All we are really sure of is that the first four Trinitarian treatises reflect the theological dossier drawn up by Basil of Ancyra and others in 358, without any trace of the events at the Council of Ariminum in October of 359. The question is how long it would have taken Victorinus to produce those four treatises (140 pages in the Vienna Corpus edition), which seem to have been finished in 359.29 A conversion date of 357 is obviously not impossible in this light; but I prefer to place the event slightly earlier, leaving more time for study, reception of relevant documents, and writing. The fact that Augustine highlights the role of conscience in Victorinus' eventual move from sympathizer to catechumen suggests the possibility that one of the most dramatic moments of the doctrinal controversy at Rome—the arrest of the pro‐Nicene bishop Liberius30—provoked a crisis of conscience on Victorinus' part. According to Simplician, the old professor of rhetoric, who had already indicated his private approbation of Christianity but declined to join the church, became ‘afraid he would be “denied” by (p.22) Christ “before the holy angels” (Luke 12: 9)’.31 After an unexpected visit to Simplician to inform him of his decision, Victorinus enrolled as a catechumen. Given the opportunity to make his profession privately, he declined, preferring to confess the faith aloud in the church. As Augustine's recital of Simplician's report would have it, Victorinus received baptism in a way that seems to have caused something of a stir: ‘the proud (superbi) looked on and were enraged, but the Lord God was the hope of your servant: Victorinus took no second thought for worthless things and crazy lies.’32
Augustine's depiction of Victorinus as having been deeply embedded in the anti‐Christian pagan aristocracy in Rome has been subjected to an influential critique by Hadot. For this aspect of Augustine's portrait of Victorinus' conversion, Hadot maintains, reflects the late fourth‐century intensification of hostilities between pagans and Christians, not the more pacific period prior to Julian's reign.33 Augustine's characterization of Victorinus as a vocal defender of the traditional cults34 is thus regarded as a retrojection of (p.23) that later period under Theodosius. Unable to appreciate the vicissitudes of an earlier situation, Augustine ‘attempts to reconstruct the psychology’ of Victorinus' conversion, and thus creates what Hadot regards as the implausible motif of the rhetor's hesitation as being due to social pressure.35 Previous scholarship had taken Augustine at face value on this point, substantiating this with the fact that the one reference to Christianity in Victorinus' pre‐Christian work has the appearance of being an anti‐Christian barb.36 Hadot reads this instead as a sign of a Neoplatonic absorption of the New (Platonic) Academy's scepticism, relegating all reality below the moon—including religion—to the realm of opinion. He thus assimilates Victorinus to the type of the sceptical and tolerant philosopher typical of an aspect of fourth‐century Roman paganism. This ties in with Hadot's understanding of the religious situation of mid‐fourth‐century Rome:
Before 357, Roman paganism is not in an open struggle with Christianity. There is rather a kind of symbiosis, even a syncretism between these two religious inclinations. Paganism remains faithful to its traditional form. It is a social and political tradition more than an inner conviction or piety.37
While this reconstruction of Victorinus' via religiosa is not implausible in light of some of his utterances in his commentary on Cicero, which betray an attitude similar to the sceptical‐tolerant views later found in Symmachus' famous Relatio,38 the hypothesis regarding the convert's allegedly easy transition is rendered somewhat weak in light of two factors involved in Hadot's reconstruction.39 One pertains to the biography of the individual in question, the other to the larger social forces. First, there is a basic assumption in the picture of a Victorinus indifferent to matters of public religion. The epistemological waiver we find in his commentary on Cicero concerns the (p.24) demonstrability of absolute truth in the realm of religion; but this does not necessarily entail an annulment of loyalty to the traditional gods. Porphyry certainly did not draw such a consequence: he held a position which admitted the non‐ultimacy of particular religio‐philosophical traditions (see Augustine's quotation from his De regressu animae in City of God 10. 32), was unfavourable to animal sacrifice, yet vigorously defended Hellenism against Christianity. Victorinus may have rejected and opposed Christianity on similar grounds, for reasons, as Hadot himself has argued, of fidelity to the mos maiorum, the ‘ancestral customs’.40 It seems peculiar, on the face of it, to acknowledge Victorinus' reading, borrowing, and translating of Porphyry, and then to assume that he would not have partaken at all of the latter's distinct animus toward Christianity. A congenial opponent is still an opponent, particularly if speaking from the seat of learning. Perhaps we should not so definitively set aside what Augustine says, on the grounds that a counter‐proposal is not improbable, and that Augustine can be shown to have had some reason of his own to tilt his sketch of Victorinus' conversion along the sharp lines of the later pagan–Christian divide.41
Whether Victorinus' avowal of the kind of philosophical scepticism Hadot attributes to him made him an unperturbed pagan in a tide of Christianization is a question independent from whether his conversion caused ripples amongst unbelievers and a painful rift between him and the aristocratic circles whose sons he educated. Presumably Victorinus had attained his position and social elevation (p.25) with the help of patronage, more likely pagan than Christian at this point. Whether the conversion created a break with these families—in so far as we may venture to speak from general considerations—would depend on their religious loyalties and how seriously they were taken. I am convinced by the evidence that T. D. Barnes has presented that we must grant the mid‐fourth century a more substantial Christianization of Roman aristocratic circles than some have maintained.42 None the less, I find it difficult to imagine that in Rome, where the pagan aristocracy was more deeply entrenched than elsewhere in the Empire,43 this was a situation altogether free of tension. That Constantius began preferring Christians—after he ‘inherited’ the West in 352—for appointment to civic offices can scarcely be imagined to have caused no resentment among those accustomed to such prerogatives. If Constantius' anti‐pagan legislation reached Rome in early 356,44 we have additional grounds to suppose that a frictionless coexistence of pagans and Christians was unlikely in that city. Though rhetors were held in higher honour than grammarians,45 they would still have been of somewhat marginal status—and dependent on the good will of those above them— (p.26) in the eyes of the senatorial aristocracy.46 Augustine may indeed have retrojected elements of his own social or autobiographical situation back into this depiction of Victorinus; but the detail that the latter was in a delicate social position because his ‘friends’ were ‘proud demon worshipers’ ill fits Augustine's own context.47 This aspect of the account from Simplician must be appraised quite apart from the question as to whether Victorinus had previously engaged in polemics against Christianity.
The exact date of Victorinus' baptism being unclear, we cannot be sure what bishop was then presiding at Rome.48 Was Victorinus baptized under Pope Liberius in Easter of 355, before his exile on account of the Nicene cause (probably beginning during the summer of 355)?49 Or was the impetus to enter the church—as opposed to continuing on the sidelines as an intellectual sympathizer—provided (p.27) by the spectacle of the arrest of Liberius and his abduction under cover of night to the Emperor at Milan? If Victorinus was baptized in 356 or 357, would it have been under Felix, Liberius' archdeacon, who was ordained to replace the exiled bishop?50 Felix, at any rate, ‘was of a Nicene and anti‐Arian mindset, as were the rest of the whole Roman clergy’51 so no matter who baptized him, Victorinus would have been catechized into a homoousion faith at Rome.52 Our sources give us little in the way of detail as to what happened in Rome while Liberius was in exile. Constantius' action against Liberius was much resented, Ammianus tells us, since the Christian populace of the city ‘was on fire with love for him’.53 The highly partisan Quae gesta sunt inter Liberum et Felicem episcopos records that the Roman clergy had sworn to accept no replacement for Liberius; thus Felix's ordination—apparently unsullied by any (p.28) other irregularity54—did not play well with the laity, who wanted no part of him.55 As the exact date of Victorinus' baptism cannot be determined, it suffices for our purposes to note that he entered the Roman Church during a time of ecclesiastical conflict, both within the city and in the Empire at large, due to the doctrinal disputes and the political machinations which accompanied them.
Whatever the particulars of Victorinus' conversion and baptism may have been, we do know that within a very few years of his entrance into the church, Rome's most prominent teacher of rhetoric took up the pen to serve the Nicene cause in the late 350s.56 Indeed, according to a recent study, it is clear that Victorinus must be considered as ‘standing in the Western category of Neo‐Nicenes who are renewing and reclaiming homoousios as a way of reaching a solution to the problem of the Trinitarian Controversy’.57 Drawing on documents and discussions from that controversy, including recent synodal creeds and party manifestos,58 the professor of rhetoric composed a series of treatises which Jerome described as ‘very obscure books written in dialectical fashion against the Arians, which are understood only by the learned’.59 This does not quite do justice to the cleverly constructed frame of these works, which have none the less been rightly characterized by Jerome in regards to (p.29) their difficulty. In these treatises, Victorinus' Neoplatonic Christianity60 has been harnessed to refute the claims of Christians who would not admit the Nicene Creed's statement that Christ was homoousios—the same in substance—with the Father.61 Despite Victorinus' opposition to anti‐Nicenes62 of several varieties, the portrait of his ‘Arian’ Candidus which emerges from the fictional correspondence is not that of a demonized heretic. Candidus, held by most scholars to be a didactic literary device, is depicted as being enormously learned in a philosophical way and as having genuinely thoughtful objections to the statement that the Son of God was ‘born’, and to attributing ‘generation’ to God. Moreover, Candidus is quite ready to cite Scripture in support of his theological opinion.63 It is also with Scripture that Victorinus met Candidus at the beginning of both the treatises which present the fictional frame. In (p.30) the first of his two replies to Candidus, he opens by warning of the danger of speaking too audaciously when it comes to knowing and relating the things of God. In opening, he quotes Paul's ejaculation in Romans 11:33—‘O the depths of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God’—and continues with the apostle's citation of Isaiah: ‘For who hath known the mind of the Lord? or who hath been his counsellor?’ (Rom. 11:34). Victorinus then poses his ‘Arian’ interlocutor with a rhetorical question: ‘So you see the knowledge about God that this blessed man had? Or are you of the opinion that these your scriptures are meaningless?’64
Both sides of the controversy saw themselves as protecting Scripture and its traditional interpretation; all the parties saw themselves as more scriptural than thou. Thus it is a credit to Victorinus' historical understanding that he would depict Candidus as a sincere Christian, closing his letter with a pious and beautiful doxology: ‘Our savior, a healing for all things: like a servant in working for our welfare, but a lord in the punishing of the sinners and the impious; he is indeed a glory and a crown for the righteous and the holy.’65 The recourse of both sides to the inspired books, and particularly to John and Paul, was a given. All parties to the conflict carved out quotations from the Bible to fling at their opponents. Indeed, proof texting of this sort was identified as a serious problem by another major Latin warrior for the Nicene cause, Victorinus' somewhat younger contemporary, Hilary. The Gallic bishop, in his historical work on the Trinitarian Controversy, complained about how his opponents ‘constructed a convenient arena for their own teaching under the apostle's name by removing a phrase from its apposite context’.66
Victorinus understood that the answer to a problem of scriptural interpretation had to be a better interpretation. Thus his Trinitarian treatises work to establish authoritatively a particular Christian dogma through an integral interpretation of all the biblical utterances pertaining to the question.67 He pursues this method first in one of his earliest Trinitarian treatises, his second missive to Candidus (the final part of the work responding to his fictive Arian (p.31) opponent). This work, conventionally titled Adversus Arium IA, begins by defining the sententiae of the—anachronistically conceived—opposition, Arius and Eusebius of Nicomedia (their translated letters were enclosed in the previous treatise, Candidus' second brief to Victorinus). Whether Christ be ‘born’ from or ‘made’ by God having been established as the crucial point,68 Victorinus takes up his ‘exordium’, as he puts it, from Paul, with the great benediction and doxology of Ephesians 3: 14–21. He then launches into an exposition of relevant verses from John's Gospel and continues to make an inventory of Scripture for what amounts to forty‐five pages of the CSEL edition.69 Despite his extensive use of Neoplatonic terminology and thought in these works,70 Victorinus regarded Scripture as foundational for theological discussion. He himself states this explicitly at the conclusion of this treatise, denying that what he has written ‘is my own teaching’ and claiming: ‘all that I say is said by Holy Scripture and comes from Holy Scripture.’71 While it is an exaggeration to say that for Victorinus exegesis was theology,72 it would be more distorting to minimize the importance of Scripture and theology in his Christianity on account of the Neoplatonic elements which find a place in both his Trinitarian treatises and his exegetical work.73
(p.32) The intensity of the Trinitarian Controversy that animated Christians of the fourth century sprang from a deep conviction on the part of all the parties involved that these were matters pertaining ultimately to salvation. These theological debates were not just questions of words and names, or of mere shadow‐plays for deep political intrigues and ploys for power—aspects whose presence few scholars would deny. Nothing compels us, however, to regard a religious reading and a materialist reading as mutually exclusive (such would, of course, depend on the definition of ‘religion’ employed). All parties to the controversy tried to draw the emperor Constantius to their side. Coercions, recantations, accusations true and false, were all part of the picture.74 The ugliness of some of the events can best be seen perhaps in Constantius' treatment of the centenarian Ossius of Corduba. After evading the Emperor for some time, the aged Spanish bishop was confined at the imperial court in Sirmium, threatened with violence, and probably beaten until he complied with Constantius and entered into communion with Valens and Ursacius, though apparently maintaining steadfast in his refusal to condemn Athanasius.75 The bishops were not blind to the danger of appeal to secular powers, however much they were willing at times to accept help for their side. We can hear the early tones of alarm in a letter preserved by Hilary that Liberius wrote in 353 or 354 to Constantius: ‘So what peace can there be, most serene emperor, if bishops are to be taken and forced, as is now being done in Italy, to submit to the judgments of such [heretical] persons?’76 Hilary bewailed how ‘hastily these things were thrust in our midst: corruption of the Gospels, a distortion of the faith, and a pretended [simulata] confession—a blasphemy!—of the name of Christ’. He recounts how his colleague Paulinus, bishop of Trier, was condemned by the Emperor to exile because he would not ‘mix himself up with the perfidy and phoniness [simulatio]77 of these people’.78 Other Gallic bishops at the Synod of Paris (in 360) wrote to their Greek counterparts and informed them how they had detected ‘the devil's deceit and the clever conspiracies of the heretics against the Lord's church’, and how concerned they were that ‘many who were (p.33) at [the synods of] Ariminum and Nice [in Thrace] were compelled to silence about ousia by the authority of your names’.79 Lines of ‘us and them’ were constantly being drawn and redefined. Allies praised each other ‘for remaining in the same confession and having no truck with the hypocrites’.80 Perceived betrayals brought forth cries of outrage. Hilary's castigation of fellow bishops who had condemned Athanasius was not untypical: ‘O true disciples of Christ! O worthy successors of Peter and Paul! O pious church fathers! O eager envoys between God and the people—you have sold the truth of Christ for human lies!’81
Victorinus' Trinitarian treatises breathe similar tones at places, particularly when he turns against Basil of Ancyra, by no measure a truly villainous fellow. Basil, upset as Hilary was by what the latter called the ‘Blasphemy’82 of Sirmium (the theological manifesto produced by Valens, Ursacius, and Germinius in 357),83 attempted to bring peace to the moderate parties by substituting the term homoiousios (‘like in substance’) for the controverted Nicene homoousios. In this he was very different from Hilary, who, as Chadwick has observed, ‘argued that the term homoiousios is far from being incompatible with the Nicene formula’.84 Victorinus mocks the notion that this term was somehow more traditional:
Where was it hiding, where was it sleeping forty years ago, when the faith was confirmed, shutting out the Arians, in the city of Nicea by more than three hundred bishops? In this gathering of these men were present the leading lights of the church of the entire world. So where had that old doctrine [sc. of homoiousios] fled? If it did not exist, it was not overcome; and it is only now coming into existence. If it existed, either it was silent in the controversy, or it fled when faced with the official statement of the inquiry and of the truth. Perchance you too, O patron of this doctrine, were then not only alive but also a bishop. You held your tongue, both you, your associates, your disciples, and your fellow teachers. And the whole time afterward, through when the emperor was at Rome, you were present and (p.34) heard many things to the contrary [of your doctrine], being a table‐companion85 of these men whom you now anathematize. You became enraged [afterward], either because they composed a statement of the faith without you, or because you were compelled by officials to the defense of treachery.86
During these times of partisan conviction and theological passion, Victorinus was obviously quite moved by the threat to his newly adopted faith. Indeed, it is difficult to imagine that the other dramatic events in Italy pertaining to the Trinitarian Controversy would not have had an impact upon him. Liberius, the bishop of Rome, had initially put up bold resistance to Constantius' demand that he sign the formula condemning Athanasius, a demand the Emperor had pressed upon Liberius' legates at the Council of Milan in 355.87 If Victorinus had been baptized by Liberius in 355, he must have rejoiced when the latter rejected the gifts which the Emperor proffered him through the eunuch Eusebius.88 Whether he had already been baptized or was still lingering on the outside as a sympathizer, whatever satisfaction he might have experienced at the arrest and exile of his bishop, Liberius, would have turned to disappointment and anger when the bishop, desperate to return after two years of exile in Beroe of Thrace, signed the formula demanded by Constantius condemning Athanasius, and broke communion with him.89 If Victorinus did not personally witness it, he certainly would have heard about Constantius' visit to Rome in 357, replete with the festive military parade into that city when the Emperor—in the memorable words of Ammianus—looked like ‘a statue of a man’ (tamquam figmentum hominis).90 Certainly our Christian rhetor of Rome would not have loved this ruler, living proof that a Christian Emperor was not always a good thing for (p.35) Christianity.91 Victorinus' slighting remark in his comments on Ephesians 4: 22 about those who ‘believe the king of the world is a god’ may not have been intended only for pagan emperors.92 All such speculation aside, we can be certain that the events that followed Liberius' return and the set‐backs of the Nicene party at the Council of Rimini (359) outraged Victorinus.93 At the council held in that city, the Western bishops, despite better intentions, were persuaded to sign a homoian creed which proscribed the word ousia.94 In Hilary's words, ‘worn out by the long delay and frightened by the emperor's threats, they condemned the sound faith which they had previously defended and accepted the perfidy they had previously condemned’.95 This was the tone of controversies during which Victorinus composed his Trinitarian treatises, the latest of which was written in 362 or 363.
In these circumstances, it is probably true that the historical complex of the Trinitarian debates which gave birth to Victorinus as a Christian author will also have been, as Wiles has maintained, ‘a major motive for the writing of his commentaries’.96 But this second phase of Victorinus' Christian literary activity has also been linked by scholars to the attempts of the emperor Julian to return the Empire to a renewed version of the traditional paganism which could compete better with Christianity for the loyalty of the Empire's populace. Despite the half‐century of Christian rule under Constantine and his sons, the adoption of Christianity as the official religion of the Roman Empire was not a fait accompli, as was evident in the period following the accession of Constantine's nephew Julian to the throne after the death of Constantius in November of 361.97 (p.36) One of the measures taken to restore the old gods to a new vitality was a rescript issued by the emperor Julian on 17 June 362. This law affected all those who held public chairs of rhetoric or grammar, and mandated that all such appointees be approved by the municipal councils and the Emperor.98 As part of his move to reinstate the religious aspect of classical paideia replete with its civic sensibility, Julian wanted to exclude from the official teaching chairs those who did not endorse the official gods, seeking to inhibit the use of paganism's literary inheritance on the part of those who rejected the religious content of those traditions.99 This decree was felt as illiberal, even by one of Julian's enthusiastic supporters, the pagan soldier and historian Ammianus, who described this order as ‘a harsh thing which ought to be covered over by eternal silence’.100 Among those teachers of literature and rhetoric who had turned against those gods so esteemed by the classical authors was Marius Victorinus. The exact circumstances of his resignation are lost, but we do know that he, like Prohaeresius at Athens,101 stepped down from his professorial position in response to Julian's edict. Thus he preferred, as Augustine put it, to abandon his teaching position (p.37) rather than God's Word.102 Several scholars have ventured that this may have been the occasion which spurred Victorinus to begin commenting on Paul.103 For the emperor Julian, in a letter clarifying his rescript, had made the snide recommendation that Christian teachers ‘betake themselves to the churches of the Galilaeans to expound Matthew and Luke’.104 Whether Victorinus had conceived the idea of writing his commentaries prior to the resignation of his chair is a question to be discussed later.105 We cannot date them more securely than to say that he began writing them not earlier than late 363 and before his death, which cannot have come much after the mid‐360s, though we have no direct information about this.106
Other aspects of Julian's reform contributed to the politics of religion in the period immediately before Victorinus composed his commentaries. The death of Constantius in November of 361 probably first appeared providential to the Nicene party, likewise Julian's order allowing exiled bishops to return to their sees, however much Julian may have been motivated by his desire to have them continue their dissension, as Ammianus states.107 Julian's attempts in the winter of 363 to have the Jewish temple rebuilt in Jerusalem108 would not have been welcomed by Victorinus, wedded as he was to a sharply anti‐Jewish version of his new faith. The born‐again pagan Emperor, motivated by his desire to assert an ethnic theory of religion109 as the surest means to shake the foundations of Christianity and revive the old traditions, was doubtless aware that this initiative of his would have been an affront to Christians. Indeed, it (p.38) was interpreted as a hostile act by Christians of that time and by the Christian historians who recorded the event.110 Despite enthusiasm on the part of some Jews, and a promising beginning of the grand project, the construction was interrupted by an earthquake and the resulting fire, never to be taken up again.111 To judge from the Christian reactions to Julian's attempt to restore the temple at Jerusalem, their hostility to his efforts was matched by their glee at the apparent divine portent which lay waste to whatever had been achieved in the brief period of construction.
Also within the purview of Victorinus' possible concerns may have been Julian's treatise Against the Galilaeans, composed at Antioch during the winter of 362. Here the apostate Emperor followed in the footsteps of other pagan polemicists against Christianity112—most importantly, Porphyry, who worked to equip himself with knowledge of the Christian scriptures. Julian also, because of his Christian upbringing, was armed with a thorough acquaintance with the Bible. Julian began his ‘savage attack’113 by inquiring ‘why they preferred the beliefs of the Jews to ours; and what further, can be the reason why they do not even adhere to the Jewish beliefs but have abandoned them and followed a way of their own’.114 Victorinus, whether or not he was familiar with the Emperor's critique—the same point had been voiced previously by pagan polemicists at least from the time of Celsus115—certainly provided an answer in his Paul commentaries: We do adhere to the laws of the biblical teaching, but (p.39) only as rightly understood by us!116 Such a response was in fact a traditional Christian answer to the kind of question put by Julian: ‘Why is it that after deserting us you do not love the law of the Jews or abide by the sayings of Moses?’117 Julian's question was largely rhetorical and polemical. For it was a foregone conclusion that one of the defining aspects of Christianity was a specific relationship to the Jewish Law defined by a series of hermeneutical moves, largely laid down already in the New Testament, and not least in the Pauline letters. Following Porphyry, one could seize the opportunity for an attack here as well. The apostle Paul, according to Julian, was a man ‘who surpassed all the magicians and charlatans of every place and every time’.118 Victorinus' defence of Paul presents him as both frank and faithful in his rebuke of Peter at Antioch—an incident seized upon by pagan critics119—and not inconsistent with his willingness to abide at times by the Jewish Law.120 Whether or not Victorinus happened upon Julian's treatises Against the Galilaeans while writing his commentaries on Paul, we can be fairly certain that he read Porphyry's anti‐Christian work or works.121 Although the commentaries are not characterized by more than very occasional anti‐pagan polemics, it is not implausible to suggest he may well (p.40) have incorporated into his interpretation of Paul elements designed to provide his audience with means of defending themselves against pagan attacks on Scripture and scriptural authorities.122
(1) Jerome gives the full name in his commentary on Galatians (PL 26, 308A [332 B]). Citation of Jerome's commentaries on Paul will always be given in the column numbers of both the 1845 and the 1884 Migne editions, the latter in square brackets. All ancient testimonia to Victorinus have been gathered and critically discussed by Italo Mariotti in the introduction to his edition of Victorinus' Ars grammatica (Florence: Felice Le Monnier, 1976).
(2) Jerome, Chronicon (354): Victorinus rhetor et Donatus grammaticus praeceptor meus Romae insignes habentur. E quibus Victorinus etiam statuam in foro Traiani meruit (text in Mariotti, Ars grammatica, 4). Jerome's more exact specification of Trajan's Forum is to be preferred to Augustine's vague statuam Romano foro meruerat et acceperat (Conf. 8. 2. 3; O'Donnell, i. 89), according to Pierre Courcelle, since the bishop of Hippo provided a more generalized formulation ‘à l'usage de lecteurs africains’ (‘Du nouveau sur la vie et les oeuvres de Marius Victorinus’, RÉtAug 64 (1962), 127–35, 133). See also Hadot, Marius Victorinus, 31–2, here, 256. On Victorinus' colleague, the grammarian Aelius Donatus, see Louis Holtz, Donat et la tradition de l'enseignement grammatical (Paris: Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, 1981); for a brief account of him in English, see Robert A. Kaster, Guardians of Language (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988), 275–8.
(4) Jerome, De viris illustribus, 101; text cited in Mariotti, Ars grammatica, 4.
(6) Claude Lepelley, ‘Quelques parvenues de la culture de l'Afrique romaine tardive’, in L. Holtz and J.‐C. Fredouille (eds.), De Tertullian aux Mozarabes, i: Mélanges offerts à Jacques Fontaine (Paris: Études Augustiniennes, 1992), 583–4.
(7) William V. Harris's Ancient Literacy (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1989) documents the decline in literacy (based largely on the epigraphic evidence) in the Roman Empire during Late Antiquity (see his ch. 8). During this period, he concludes, ‘much of the elite made sure that its own sons were reasonably well‐educated, but the upper orders made very little or no attempt to assist the education of the masses’ (p. 307). While some people of very humble origins may have risen to high position (see the evidence Harris cites, p. 288), it is safe to assume that these cases were exceptional, and that as a rule those who went through to the rhetorical schools would have been at least at the lower end of the curial class.
(8) See the classic by Henri‐Irénée Marrou, A History of Education in Antiquity, trans. George Lamb (New York: New American Library, 1964). But Harris rightly cautions against an overly rigid conception of the threefold curriculum (Ancient Literacy, 234). A still useful presentation of Roman rhetoric is M. L. Clarke's Rhetoric at Rome (London: Cohen & West, 1953). George Kennedy offers a more comprehensive picture in Classical Rhetoric and Its Christian and Secular Tradition from Ancient to Modern Times (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1980).
(9) R. P. C. Hanson rightly states: ‘He was a late Platonist, and had a far greater understanding of Platonism, at any rate of developed Platonism, than any of his contemporaries in the West known to us’ (The Search for the Christian Doctrine of God (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1988), 532).
(10) See the recent excellent work on Victorinus' De definitionibus (with annotated translation) by Andreas Prosnay, C. Marius Victorinus (Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang, 1997). Prosnay has detected in this opusculum the use of a Greek source (or sources) as well as original traits (ibid. 16, 23–4). He credits both Paul Monceaux and Pierre Hadot with having appreciated the significance of this work. Monceaux characterized it as ‘one of the most important monuments of rhetoric and logic on Roman soil’ (Histoire littéraire de l'Afrique chrétienne, iii: Le iv e siècle, d'Arnobe à Victorin (Paris: E. Leroux 1905; repr. Brussels: Culture et Civilisation, 1963), 385).
(11) This is particularly the case for his commentary on Cicero's De inventione (Hadot, Marius Victorinus, 74). Along with his translation of Porphyry's Introduction to Aristotle's Categories, Victorinus probably also translated the Categories themselves, as well as Aristotle's On Interpretation (ibid. 179–90). These would have been the works by which he exercised, according to Pierre de Labriolle, ‘a leading influence on the logicians of the Middle Ages through the intermediary of Boethius’ (History and Literature of Christianity from Tertullian to Boethius, trans. Herbert Wilson (New York: Knopf, 1925), 261).
(12) For discussion of this inscription (C.I.L. 6. 31. 934), see Hadot, Marius Victorinus, 16–17.
(13) The notice of Jerome (Victorinus, natione Afer, Romae sub Constantio principe rhetoricam docuit (Vir. ill. 101)) does not specify whether Victorinus held that position for the entirety of Constantius' reign or only for the latter part when he was sole ruler of the Empire after the defeat of the Western usurper Magnentius in 353. But since Jerome gives the date of the award of the statue to Victorinus as 354 (Chron. ab Abr. 2370), we may presume that the rhetor had held the official chair at Rome prior to the period of Constantius' sole rule.
(14) Full references to primary sources in Mariotti, Ars grammatica, 13–17.
(15) Dicendum etiam videtur, quae distantia sit inter rhetorem, sophistam et oratorem. Rhetor est, qui docet litteras atque artes tradit eloquentiae: sophista est, apud quem dicendi exercitium discitur: orator est, qui in causis privatis ac publicis plena et perfecta utitur eloquentia (Halm, 156. 19–25). Victorinus distinguishes the rhetor from the sophist, defining the latter as more narrowly focused on the practical part of speaking.
(16) Mariotti thinks the award to Victorinus was an abuse of the rule (Ars grammatica, 15–16).
(17) Michel Tardieu connects this with the award of the statue in 354 (Recherches sur la formation de l'Apocalypse de Zostrien et les sources de Marius Victorinus (Bures‐sur‐Yvette: Collège de France, 1996), 23). Perhaps this is the implication of Jerome's remark (quoted in n. 2) that the insignes were the awards of clarissimate to Rome's renowned teachers, the statue being something extra for Victorinus.
(18) Hanson, Search, 532 n. 3.
(19) Donatus' elevation to the clarissimate (see n. 17 above) has been doubted by Kaster (Guardians of Language, 276–8), because the abbreviation VC in the oldest manuscript of his commentaries on Terence is accompanied by the (largely) unsupported title orator (for the manuscript superscriptions, see Paul Wessner's Teubner edition of these works (Leipzig: 1902; Stuttgart: 1962), pp. vii–ix). The title vir clarissimus is given Victorinus in some of the headings to the manuscripts of Adversus Arium and the hymns, but is absent from his earlier secular works. For discussion and references see Hadot, Marius Victorinus, 31–2. A. H. M. Jones provides basic information on status elevation, including that of rhetors, in The Later Roman Empire 284–602 (Norman, Okla.: University of Oklahoma Press, 1964), i. 545–54. For more recent discussion of the senatorial order in this period, see André Chastagnol, Le Sénat romain à l'époch impériale (Paris: Belles Lettres, 1992), ch. 16.
(20) It is particularly in regard to his secular works that Hadot identifies Victorinus as more of a ‘Boethius before Boethius’ than an ‘Augustine before Augustine’, as Harnack had put it (Hadot, Marius Victorinus, 20). ‘Victorinus was eclipsed by Boethius’, Hadot elsewhere observes, and ‘Boethius sought very intentionally to supplant him’ through his translations (‘Un vocabulaire raisonné de Marius Victorinus Afer’, SP 1 (1957), 194–208, 201).
(21) Conf. 7. 9. 13 and 8. 2. 3; O'Donnell, i. 80, 89 (ET: Chadwick, Confessions, 121, 135). Even if these philosophical writings were intended for elite pagan groups, Christians were also among the interested parties, such as were found in Milanese Platonist circles. One need only think of the excitement Augustine registers in the Cassiciacum Dialogues about his Platonist readings (Contra Acad. 2. 2. 5), primarily those ‘very few books of Plotinus’ (De beata vita 1. 4). I accept Paul Henry's evaluation of the manuscript evidence for this passage (Plotin et l'Occident (Louvain: Spicilegium Sacrum Lovaniense, 1934), 82–5). For a general account, see Peter Brown, Augustine of Hippo (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1967), 88–100. For further discussion of the Milanese circles, see Goulven Madec, ‘Le Milieu milanais: philosophie et christianisme’, Bulletin de littérature ecclésiastique, 88 (1987), 194–205; and Aimé Solignac, ‘Il Circolo neoplatonico milanese al tempo della conversione di Agostino’, in Agostino a Milano (Palermo: Edizioni Augustinus, 1988), 43–56.
(22) An exception to this is Paul Séjourné (‘Victorinus Afer’, in Vacant and Mangenot (eds.), Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, 15. 2 (Paris: Letouzey et Ané, 1950), 2887–2954), who maintains that nothing prevents us from thinking that he could have translated these Neoplatonic writings after his conversion (p. 2890). For general discussion of the libri Platonicorum, see P. F. Beatrice, ‘Quosdam Platonicorum Libros’ VC 43 (1989), 248–81; also Hadot, Marius Victorinus, 201–10; and the classic article by Paul Henry, ‘Augustine and Plotinus’, JTS 38 (1937), 1–23. More recent, focusing on the impact of these books on Augustine, is Thomas O'Loughlin, ‘The Libri Philosophorum and Augustine's Conversion’, in T. Finan and V. Twomey (eds.), The Relationship between Neoplatonism and Christianity (Dublin: Four Courts Press, 1992), 101–25.
(23) Augustine's report that Victorinus took to the study of Christian books should not be discounted: ‘Simplicianus said Victorinus read holy scripture, and all the Christian books he investigated with special care’ (Conf. 8. 2. 4; O'Donnell, i. 89 (ET: Chadwick, Confessions, 136)).
(24) Conf. 8. 2. 3–4; O'Donnell, i. 89–90. Augustine's various reports must be read in a critical light. See Hadot's discussion (Marius Victorinus, 235–52) concerning the Confessions' account of Victorinus.
(25) Hadot, Marius Victorinus, 27–9, 270; previously he had conjectured ‘in 355 or 356’ (Hadot, SC 68, 14).
(26) Courcelle, ‘Du nouveau’, 133–4.
(27) Confessions, ed. O'Donnell, iii. 13. The same point had been made by Werner Karig in his 1924 dissertation (‘Des C. M. Victorinus Kommentare’, 7).
(28) statuam Romano foro meruerat et acceperat, usque ad illam aetatem venerator idolorum (Conf. 8. 2. 3; O'Donnell, i. 89). Jerome's specification of Trajan's Forum (Chron. 354) is to be preferred to Augustine's vague ‘Roman Forum’ on the grounds that Courcelle has argued: viz. that Augustine had read this work of Jerome's (‘Du nouveau’, 133).
(29) Hadot, Marius Victorinus, 278–9.
(30) See Élisabeth Paoli, ‘Liberius’, in Philippe Levillain (ed.), The Papacy (New York: Routledge, 2002), ii. 945–7. Paoli lists all the primary sources relevant to Liberius and the older literature, but does not give the more recent scholarly contributions. Thus she does not take account of the important article by T. D. Barnes mentioned in n. 49 below.
(31) ET: Chadwick, Confessions, 136.
(32) Conf. 8. 2. 4; O'Donnell, i. 90. Augustine's essentially literary depiction of a historical event, or group of events, cannot be taken literally here, as clearly we cannot expect Rome's elite pagans—the superbi—to have viewed the actual baptismal ceremony. Rather, Augustine has given a tableau, compressing, for dramatic effect, Victorinus' baptism and the reaction of the wealthy pagan families into one scene. To those who regard me as too credulous in accepting, at face value, certain elements of Simplician's report as presented by Augustine, I would ask the following question: Should we rather think that Augustine would freely invent or wildly exaggerate the matter which he places in the mouth of Simplician, then bishop of Milan, with whom Augustine did not cease to be in touch during the period of Confessions and Ad Simplicianum? For the general question of ‘The Historicity of the Confessions’, see Plumer's Appendix 3 of that title (Augustine's Commentary on Galatians, 242–8). I had expressed this opinion previously, related to the question of the extent of Augustine's study of Paul prior to his breakthrough of the late 390s in my article, ‘Scripture at Cassiciacum’, AugSt 27 (1996), 21–47.
(33) Hadot, Marius Victorinus, 52–8, 235–52. Hadot admits that the incident as recounted by Simplician to Augustine is tout à fait possible (p. 249). The reconstruction he prefers, however, has been adopted by Robert A. Markus (‘Paganism, Christianity and the Latin Classics in the Fourth Century’, in J. W. Binns (ed.), Latin Literature of the Fourth Century (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1974), 1–21), and is nicely summarized in his The End of Ancient Christianity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990), 29: ‘Augustine, re‐telling it, was unable to comprehend the ease with which the pagan rhetor had passed into the ranks of the Christians. His incomprehension made him represent Victorinus' paganism, anachronistically, in militantly anti‐Christian terms, and his conversion to Christianity as a dramatic renunciation of his pagan past and a painful break with the circle of his aristocratic friends.’
(34) Victorinus defended the traditional gods ‘with a voice terrifying to opponents’ (ore terricrepo: Conf. 8. 2. 3; O'Donnell, i. 89 (ET: Chadwick, Confessions, 135)) and was a tool of the devil: ‘Victorinus' tongue which he [sc. the devil] had used as a mighty and sharp dart to destroy many’ (Victorini lingua, quo telo grandi et acuto multos peremerat: Conf. 8. 4. 9 (ET: Chadwick, Confessions, 139)). Ramsey MacMullen upholds this picture of the pre‐Christian Victorinus as ‘a deeply religious man, even an evangelist for the cult of the gods’ (Christianizing the Roman Empire (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1984)).
(35) Hadot, Marius Victorinus, 56, 249.
(36) See the discussion in Monceaux, Histoire littéraire, iii. 375. I argued previously that the passage in question from his commentary on De inventione (Halm, 232, 30–45) does not have to be read as hostile to Christianity (translation and discussion of the passage in Cooper, Metaphysics and Morals, 8–9).
(37) Hadot, Marius Victorinus, 58.
(38) Relatio ad Theodocium, 3, in Monumenta Germaniae historica, ed. O. Seeck, vi, 1 (Berlin: Weidmann, 1961), 280–3). The philosophical motif that ‘the truth is hidden’ has been traced back to Porphyry by Pierre Courcelle (‘Verissima Philosophia’, in Epektasis (Paris: Beauchesne, 1972), 653–9).
(40) Hadot, Marius Victorinus, 249. This does not entail that we grant Hadot's associated conclusion: ‘So paganism for Victorinus was only a political‐social conformism’ (p. 58). I would not want to assume that reverence for the mos maiorum cannot be part of a genuine religiosity.
(41) Markus points to Augustine's change in attitude toward the Christian philosopher Mallius Theodorus: ‘Theodorus was Augustine's foil to Victorinus: whereas Victorinus had been (in Augustine's view) the sign of contradiction [between Christianity and pagan culture], Theodorus was the philosopher who failed to appreciate the need to take sides in the world which had come into being around both of them’ (End of Ancient Christianity, 30). True: if the speculative reconstruction is accurate, Augustine would indeed have had a motive to fictionalize his account and presumably embroider what Simplician had told him. But nothing prevents Augustine from using such an account as given toward the same literary and polemical purpose. Not all recent scholarship follows Hadot here. Plumer maintains the traditional portrait of Victorinus, noting the similarity between him and Augustine on this point: ‘For both, ambition and honour had gone hand and hand with superstition; indeed their very skills in rhetoric had been used to promote superstition’ (Augustine's Commentary on Galatians, 13). Plumer, like most scholars (including myself), does acknowledge ‘an irreducible tension in the Confessions between incident and interpretation’, but argues that ‘in the case of the material on Victorinus we are fortunate in having a number of safeguards against uncontrolled speculation’ (ibid.).
(42) See his ‘Christians and Pagans in the Reign of Constantius’, in L'Église et L'Empire au iv siècle (Vandœuvres‐Genève: Fondation Hardt, 1989), 301–43; more recently, ‘Statistics and the Conversion of the Roman Aristocracy’, JRS 85 (1995), 137–47. Barnes concludes: ‘It is illegitimate to construe the prominence of pagans in the decade 340–350 as reflecting a situation which also prevailed under Constantine or under Constantius after he obtained control of Italy and Africa in 352 and of the rest of the West in 353: there may still have been a majority of pagans among the nobiles of Rome, but both Constantine and Constantius ensured that the majority of those whom they appointed to the urban prefectures were Christian’ (p. 144).
(43) The consensus of the previous generation, expressed here by A. H. M. Jones, requires modification, at least in the claim about the paganism of the Roman senate: ‘In the West…the old families remained on the whole faithful to their traditional religion down to the end of the fourth century, and since they dominated Roman society, the senate at Rome was strongly pagan’ (‘The Social Background of the Struggle between Paganism and Christianity’, in Arnaldo Momigliano (ed.), The Conflict between Paganism and Christianity in the Fourth Century (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1963), 17–37, 31).
(44) Barnes, ‘Christians and Pagans’, 332. Barnes makes the important point that not only was the aristocracy composed of both pagans and Christians in this period, but even among the former, there were differences in attitude toward the Christian emperors and their new religion: ‘The eastern intelligentsia long continued to boast of outspoken pagans, as did the Roman aristocracy. But both bodies were divided. Many pagan intellectuals could accept the prohibition of sacrifice with equanimity, for Porphyry had argued forcefully that sacrifice was not necessary for worshipping the gods’ (p. 330). For Augustine's description of Victorinus' fears about offending his friends to be true, all one need suppose is that Victorinus' patrons were among those less inclined to view the Christianization of the Empire as irrelevant to their traditional forms of life and prestige.
(45) Robert Kaster's Guardians of Language devotes its third chapter to ‘The Social Status of the Grammarians’, which includes much information about rhetors. Apropos of the careers of Jerome and Augustine, Kaster notes how there were ‘two important characteristics of the literary education[:] a marked geographic mobility and a close conformity to the patterns of upper‐class life’ (p. 21).
(46) Ibid. 208. Salzman characterizes the dynamics of the social relations of this class: ‘Imperial grants of honor and office could bestow senatorial rank but did not necessarily confer the confirmation that peer acceptance and support did. Since aristocrats relied so heavily on one another for recognition, they held the keys to a highly detailed but unwritten code of honorable activity in the circles in which they moved. Thus the status culture of the senatorial aristocracy was a significant unifying system, weaker or stronger depending upon the individual's inclination and position in it’ (Making of a Christian Aristocracy, 43). An interesting protest against the ideology of that class system is found in Ambrosiaster's Quaest. LXXXI. He is responding to a complaint that if Jews are born Jews and pagans pagans, why are not Christians also born thus, ‘for senators beget senators’? ‘But the senators' elevated sense of themselves has no merit in God's eyes (sed senatorum dignitas non habet apud deum meritum), nor does that nature—that is, substance—obtain any benefit. Rather, their sense of self turns only on their reputation and speech (sed in sola fama et sermone dignitas vertitur).…but this achieves nothing besides an opinion about their status (dignitas), just as those who are consuls, or those honored with statues, are rejoicing in something devoid of reality (qui consules aut statuis honestantur, gaudent in vano)’ (CSEL 50, 138, 16–22).
(47) Conf. 8. 2. 4; O'Donnell, i. 90. A number of scholars have suggested that Symmachus' recommendation of Augustine, a Manichee, to the position of rhetor of Milan may have been a deliberate fly in the eye of Ambrose (Brown, Augustine of Hippo, 69–70). As a Manichee, Augustine's conversion to Catholic Christianity would not have been perceived as a betrayal in pagan circles to which he never belonged!
(48) I do not believe that we are entitled to make any inference on this score from Augustine's statement that ‘Simplicianus used to say that the presbyters offered him the opportunity (oblatum esse dicebat Victorino a presbyteris) of affirming the creed in private, as was their custom to offer to people who felt embarrassed and afraid’ (Conf. 8. 2. 5; O'Donnell, i. 90 (ET: Chadwick, Confessions, 136)). This sort of administrative detail would probably have been handled by presbyters, not the bishop.
(49) Barnes's presentation of the evidence has convinced me that we must date the arrest of Liberius to 355 and his return to 357 (‘The Capitulation of Liberius and Hilary of Poitiers’, Phoenix, 46 (1992), 256–65, also in the Variorum collection of Barnes's articles From Eusebius to Augustine (Aldershot: Variorum, 1994), p. 720). With this dating, Barnes also shows that Liberius signed not the so‐called Second Creed of Sirmium (‘The Blasphemy’ of 357) but the First Creed of Sirmium of 351. Hanson had previously discussed this possibility (Search, 357–62), proposed by a number of scholars, ‘perhaps’, he suspects, ‘because the alternative is so distasteful’ (p. 362). Barnes's analysis, however, of the crucial passages from the fragments of Hilary's lost historical work seems decisive (Ser. B VII 8–9; CSEL 65, ed. Feder 169–70). In this light, Hadot's hypothesis (Marius Victorinus, 270) that Liberius brought to Rome, and so to Victorinus' attention, the Basilian dossier from the so‐called Synod of Sirmium of 358—Barnes shows how the evidence does not support the notion that it was an actual synod—must be rejected, if indeed Liberius returned to Rome in 357.
(50) James T. Shotwell and Louise R. Loomis, The See of Peter (New York: Columbia University Press, 1927), 581. For a clear narrative of these events, see Henry Chadwick, The Church in Ancient Society (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001), 267–78.
(51) Thus Theodor Mommsen, who discusses these events with full reference to the primary sources in ‘Die römischen Bischöfe Liberius und Felix II’, in idem, Gesammelte Schriften, vi: Historische Schriften (Berlin: Weidmann, 1910), 570–81. T. D. Barnes (Athanasius and Constantius (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1993), 118) follows Mommsen in preferring the witness of Sozomen (HE 4. 11. 11) and Theodoret (HE 2. 16) on the integrity of Felix to the accusations of Arianism levelled against him by Socrates (HE 2. 37) and Rufinus (HE 10. 23).
(52) This conclusion is mandated by the events surrounding the actions of the Roman see (and key allies like Eusebius of Vercellae) in the council that Constantius called at Milan in 355. See Barnes, Athanasius and Constantius, 115–18. Liberius had already appealed to the Nicene Creed in a letter to Constantius dated 353/4 and preserved in the fragments of Hilary's historical work (A VII 6; CSEL 65, 93.1 ff. (ET: Shotwell and Loomis, See of Peter, 559–63)).
(53) Ammianus Marcellinus, 15. 7. 10; Loeb, i. 164. This fits the picture provided by Theodoret (HE 2. 17) that when Constantius visited Rome in 357, he was met by a delegation of leading ladies who petitioned him for the return of their beloved bishop. The incident is also recorded in the Quae gesta (CSEL 35, 2. 3–8).
(54) This is the conclusion of Mommsen, ‘Die römischen Bischöfe Liberius und Felix II’, 573. Mommsen observes that the report in Quae gesta (see next note) of an oath on the part of the Roman clergy finds confirmation in Jerome's Chronicon (Abr. 2366): ‘The clergy swore that they would accept no other bishop’ (clerici iuraverunt, ut nullum alium acciperent).
(55) CSEL 35/1, 1. 2: ‘But on that day when Liberius set out into exile, the whole clergy—that is, the presbyters, the archdeacon Felix, even the deacon Damasus himself, and all the officers of the church—everyone, in the presence of the Roman laity, took a stand under oath that while Liberius lived they would in no way have any other pope. But the clergy, contrary to what was right (which was their minimal obligation), accepted—through the high crime of perjury—the archdeacon Felix who had been ordained bishop in Liberius' stead. This deed displeased the whole laity, who removed themselves from his following.’
(56) Hadot dates the earliest four treatises (the correspondence with ‘Candidus’) to 359 and the latest to 363 (Marius Victorinus, 278–80). In line with Hadot's earlier view, Hanson dates them to 357 or 358, assuming that Victorinus would have been able to react immediately to the ‘Blasphemy of Sirmium’ the latest of them (Adv. Ar. III & IV, De hom. rec.) he dates to 362 (Search, 532–3).
(58) This includes the letter that Basil of Ancyra and a few other bishops with him wrote in response to the ‘Blasphemy of Sirmium’ of 357 (see n. 49 above), which is discussed by Joseph Lienhard, ‘The Epistle of the Synod of Ancyra, 358: A Reconsideration’, in Robert Gregg (ed.), Arianism (Philadelphia: Philadelphia Patristics Foundation, 1985), 313–19. Lienhard notes the important role in this letter of the co‐ordination of Pauline passages (Col. 1: 15–16; Phil. 2: 7; Rom. 8: 3) with the crux interpretum of the Trinitarian Controversy, Prov. 8: 12–30.
(59) Vir. ill. 101; cited in Mariotti, Ars grammatica, 4.
(60) No normative theological judgement is implied by this phrase. Victorinus became a Christian and retained a number of his previous philosophical convictions—characteristic of Neoplatonism—about the nature of God, reality, and the human person. So too in our day we can speak on a purely descriptive level of Marxist Christians, capitalist Christians, democratic Christians, fascist Christians. The empirical reference in such cases is clear, quite apart from the normative theological issues thereby raised.
(61) For discussion in English, see Mary T. Clark's introduction to her translation of these treatises in the Fathers of the Church series (Marius Victorinus, Theological Treatises on the Trinity (Washington: Catholic University of America Press, 1981)), as well as Robert Markus's contribution, ‘Marius Victorinus’, in A. H. Armstrong (ed.), The Cambridge History of Later Greek and Early Medieval Philosophy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1967), 333–40. Paul Henry's pioneering article is still worth attention, ‘The Adversus Arium of Marius Victorinus’, JTS NS 1 (1950), 42–55. Detailed discussion of Victorinus' Trinitarian treatises, their philosophical and historical context, is found in Hadot's various books and articles (see bibliography). Anton Ziegenaus has studied the treatises in Die trinitarische Ausprägung der göttlichen Seinsfülle nach Marius Victorinus (Munich: Hueber, 1972). Recently, however, has appeared the most important post‐Hadot contribution to this area, by the late Matthias Baltes: Marius Victorinus (Munich and Leipzig: K. G. Saur, 2002). See also his summary presentation, ‘Überlegungen zur Philosophie in den theologischen Schriften des Marius Victorinus’, in T. Kobusch and M. Erler (eds.), Metaphysik und Religion (Munich and Leipzig: K. G. Saur, 2002), 99–120. I am very grateful to Professor Baltes for his kindness in furnishing me his works on Victorinus while at the end of a long struggle with cancer.
(62) This term is preferable to ‘Arian’, since ‘what writers in the patristic era collectively called “Arianism” represents several distinctively different theological viewpoints. The result is that we are completely justified in designating the term Arianism a misnomer’ (Daniel H. Williams, Ambrose of Milan and the End of Nicene–Arian Conflicts (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995), 1). Victorinus' contemporary opponents included not only the authors of the homoian ‘Blasphemy of Sirmium’ of 357 but also those who reacted against it—chiefly Basil of Ancyra—but rejected homoousian language. Cf. Hanson, Search, 343 ff.
(63) Cand. Ep. i. 10–11 (ET: Clark, 55–6); esp. his recourse to Acts 2: 36, Prov. 8: 22, and John 1: 3–4 (CSEL 83/1, 13).
(64) Ad Cand. 1 (CSEL 83/1, 16, l. 17).
(65) Cand. Ep. i. 11 (CSEL 83/1, 14, ll. 19–22). Such a sympathetic portrait of this fictional Arian obviously did not prevent Victorinus from engaging in the kind of polemics typical of the controversy.
(66) sed subtrahentes antecedentem consequentemque sententiam aptam doctrinis suis sub apostoli nomine perstruunt facultatem (CSEL 65, 152, 5). Hilary is disputing his opponents' use of the phrase ‘first‐born of all creation’ (Col. 1: 15).
(67) This is not the procedure of his commentaries, which in my view ought not be conceived primarily as polemical writings pertaining to the Trinitarian disputes (Ch. 5 discusses this issue at length).
(68) A sign of his continuing concern regarding this point is found in his lengthy treatment of the phrase factum sub lege in his treatment of Gal. 4: 4 (see his comments on that verse in the translation).
(69) CSEL 83/1, 56–101 (ET: Clark, 91–133). The biblical quotations appear to be his own translations from the Greek (see Appendix 1 below).
(70) Pierre Hadot, Porphyre et Victorinus (Paris: Études Augustiniennes, 1968). While Hadot has attributed to Porphyry the fragments of a commentary on the Parmenides of Plato found in the Turiner palimpsest, Baltes has concluded that the Neoplatonic doctrine therein contained shows a stage of development to be located between Porphyry and Syrianus (Marius Victorinus, 122–5). The matter is clearly not settled, however, due to the appearance of a book by Gerald Bechtel (The Anonymous Commentary on Plato's ‘Parmenides’ (Bern: Paul Haupt, 1999)) concluding just the opposite: viz. that the doctrine of the Anonymous on Parmenides can be entirely derived from Middle Platonism! See the review by Lloyd Gerson (Bryn Mawr Classical Review, 28 Feb. 2001) of Bechtel's work, which I have not examined.
(71) Adv. Ar. I 46 (ET: Clark, 165); CSEL 83/1, 139, 17–19.
(72) Rightly did the first modern student of his work, Gustavus Koffmane, observe: ‘He just wants to be a biblical theologian’ (De Mario Victorino philosopho christiano (Breslau: H. Lindner, 1880), 12). One needs to make the proviso that being a ‘biblical theologian’ does not entail being uninfluenced by other forms of discourse.
(73) Baltes's work sets out to examine the philosophical elements of Victorinus' Trinitarian writings, not piecemeal but as the work of a Christian theologian. He states in the introduction of his book: ‘What follows is an attempt to bring the entire Marius Victorinus into view, the philosopher and the Christian theologian’ (Marius Victorinus, 3).
(75) Athanasius, HA 42–6 (ET: NPNF 2/4, 284 ff.). The notion that Ossius was coerced into signing has recently been contested by Jörg Ulrich, ‘Einige Bemerkungen zum angeblichen Exil des Ossius’, ZKG 105 (1994), 143–55.
(76) CSEL 65, 92, 5 ff. (ET: Shotwell and Loomis, See of Peter, 562).
(77) Compare Victorinus' comments on Gal. 2: 12–14, where the vocabulary of simulatio and simulare features prominently.
(78) These are Hilary's own remarks, which introduce some of the documents he cites in his lost historical work (CSEL 65, 102, 2–4, 9–11).
(79) CSEL 65, 43, 19 ff.
(80) From a letter of Eusebius of Vercelli to a fellow bishop, c.360 (CSEL 65, 46, 20).
(81) CSEL 65, 142, 5–8.
(82) De synodis 10 (NPNF 2/9, 6).
(83) Here I am following Barnes, who rejects referring to this document as a creed and the small gathering of bishops as a council (See Appendix 10 of his Athanasius and Constantius, esp. 231–2). A full account of the events is offered by Hanson (Search, 343–57), but is treated less comprehensively by Simonetti (La Crisi, 227–32), who, while still calling it a ‘council’, admits that ‘relatively few [ben pochi] bishops were present’ (p. 229).
(84) Chadwick, Church in Ancient Society, 279.
(85) conviva exsistens istorum hominum quos nunc anathematizas. I agree with T. D. Barnes, rather than Hadot, in the translation of conviva here (Barnes, Athanasius and Constantius, 143 n. 56).
(86) Adv. Ar. I 28. 15–29 ff. (CSEL 83/1, 103–4). The events Victorinus refers to here are discussed by Hadot, SC 68, 36, and SC 69, 783–6. His attitude toward Basil of Ancyra seems to have softened after the Council of Rimini in 359, as Hadot has observed (Marius Victorinus, 278–9). A sympathetic account of the theological concerns of the homoiousian party is provided by W. A. Löhr, ‘A Sense of Tradition’, in M. R. Barnes and D. H. Williams (eds.), Arianism after Arius (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1993), 81–100.
(87) For a probably idealized portrait of Liberius in the conversation with the Emperor which led up to his exile, see Theoderet, EH ii. 16 (ET: Shotwell and Loomis, See of Peter, 572–6). Cf. Sozomen, EH 4. 12 (ET: NPNF II. 2, p. 307).
(88) Hanson, Search, 340.
(89) See T. D. Barnes, ‘Capitulation of Liberius and Hilary of Poitiers’ cf. Simonetti, La Crisi, 235.
(90) Ammianus Marcellinus, 16. 10. 10; Loeb, i. 246.
(91) For Christian views of Constantius, see Wolfgang Hagl, ‘Die Religionspolitik der Kaiser Constantin und Constantius II im Spiegel kirchlichen Autoren’, in Gunther Gottlieb and Pedro Barceló (eds.), Christen und Heiden in Staat und Gesellschaft des zweiten bis vierten Jahrhunderts (Munich: Verlag Ernst Vögel, 1992), 103–29.
(92) Gori, 68, 19.
(93) For his reaction to this synod's proscription of the term homoousios, see Adv. Ar. II 3 and 9; Adv. Ar. IV. 4. 11; (CSEL 83/1, 173, 183–5, 228–9 (ET: Clark, 200, 210–12, 257). See Hadot's comments on these passages (SC 69, 902, 916, 986).
(94) Hanson, Search, 376–80.
(95) CSEL 65, 85, 15–17.
(96) Wiles, Divine Apostle, 11. For discussion of the issue, see Ch. 5 below.
(97) For a full discussion of Julian, see Polymnia Athanassiadi, Julian (London: Routledge, 1992; 1st edn. as Julian and Hellenism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1981). For a brief treatment of the events of Julian's reign, readers may consult the contributions of David Hunt in Averil Cameron and Peter Garnsey (eds.), The Cambridge Ancient History, xiii: The Late Empire, A.D. 337–425 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), 44–7. In what follows I draw freely on Hunt's account. See now Chadwick, Church in Ancient Society, 295–313.
(98) Cod. Theod. 13. 3. 5: Magistros studiorum doctoresque excellere oportet moribus primum, deinde facundia. Sed quia singulis civitatibus adesse ipse non possum, iubeo, quisque docere vult, non repente nec temere prosiliat ad hoc munus, sed iudicio ordinis probatus decretum curialium mereatur optimorum conspirante consensu (ed. Mommsen, 741). Despite Barnes's revision of the widely held notion that the Roman aristocracy was still largely pagan by the mid‐fourth century (‘Statistics and the Conversion of the Roman Aristocracy’), Julian obviously expected the municipal councils to do his will in this matter. Alexander Demandt has observed the irony that this decree never lost its force as Roman law, but was taken up by both the Codex Theodocianus and the Codex Justinianus (10. 53. 7), perhaps because ‘the unalloyed legal text did indeed also allow for Christian supervision’ (Die Spätantike (Munich: C. H. Beck, 1989), 102). What is good for the goose is good for the gander!
(99) Thus Ernst Grasmück, ‘Kaiser Julian und der θεòςΛóγoς der Christen’, in H. C. Brennecke, et al. (eds.), Logos: Festschrift für Luise Abramowski zum 8. Juli 1993 (Berlin: de Gruyter, 1993), 297–327, 301.
(100) Ammianus, 22. 10. 7: Illud autem inclemens, obruendum perenni silentio, quod arcebat docere magistros rhetoricos et grammaticos ritus christiani cultores (Loeb, ii. 256). The irony is that Ammianus' failure to hold his own tongue on this matter allows us to see that not all proponents of the revived paganism approved of Julian's instituting a full‐blown culture war.
(101) Thus Jerome, Chron. 363, Julian 2 (ed. Helm, 242–3; PG 19, 564): ‘When the law had been promulgated debarring Christians from being teachers of the liberal arts, the Athenian sophist Prohaeresius left his school voluntarily, although Julian would have granted him a special concession that he, though Christian, might keep teaching’ (Prohaeresius sofista Atheniensis lege data ne christiani liberalium artium doctores essent, cum sibi specialiter Iulianus concederet, ut christianus doceret, scholam sponte deseruit). That the official chairs of rhetoric were held at both Athens and Rome by Christians speaks volumes for the Christian appropriation of classical paideia.
(102) Conf. 8. 5. 10; O'Donnell, i. 92. See Chadwick, Confessions, 139–40.
(103) This suggestion, first made by Koffmane (De Mario Victorino, 4), was taken up by Monceaux (Histoire littéraire, iii. 379) and finally by Hadot (Marius Victorinus, 285–6).
(104) Julian, Ep. 36, 423D [Bidez, Ep. 61] (ET: Wright, Loeb, iii. 121).
(105) Ch. 5 treats the matter at length.
(106) F. F. Bruce gives him a later date of birth (‘c.300’) and consequently a later date of decease (‘c.370’) than most scholars (‘Marius Victorinus and his Works’, Evangelical Quarterly, 18 (1946), 132–53, 133). The late date of birth is not supported by the study of Travis, ‘Marius Victorinus: A Biographical Note’. It is unfortunate that Augustine's statement that he ‘had heard [Victorinus] died a Christian’ (Conf. 8. 2. 3 (ET: Chadwick, Confessions, 135)) has given rise to the notion that Victorinus had died shortly before Augustine's conversion; see the title of an article by Alberto Viciano and Massimo Stefani, ‘Fuentes de la Especulacion de Mario Victorino (†387 ca.): “Un Status Quaestionis” de la Investigacion recente’, in Josep‐Ignasi Saranyana and Eloy Tejero (eds.), Hispania Christiana (Pamplona: Universidad de Navarra, 1988), 111–21.
(107) Ammianus, 22. 5. 3–4; Loeb, ii. 202.
(108) For a fuller discussion of the incident with references to all the sources (pagan, Jewish, and Christian), see F. Blanchetière, ‘Julien philhellène, antichrétien’, Journal of Jewish Studies, 31 (1980), 61–81.
(109) Athanassiadi, Julian and Hellenism, 164–5.
(110) e.g. Theoderet, HE 3. 20; Socrates, HE 3. 20.
(111) Ammianus says nothing of the earthquake, but states that the project was abandoned due to ‘terrifying balls of flame…bursting forth near the foundations of the temple’ (23. 1. 3 (ET: Rolfe, Loeb, ii. 311)). Cf. the passages from the Christian historians cited in the preceding note.
(112) A. Meredith, ‘Porphyry and Julian against the Christians’, ANRW II. 23.2, 1119–49.
(113) So T. D. Barnes, ‘Pagan Perceptions of Christianity’, in idem, From Eusebius to Augustine, 231–43, 240.
(114) Julian, Against the Galilaeans, 43A (ET: Wright, Loeb, iii. 321).
(115) See Origen, Contra Celsum 5. 25, 33 (ET: Chadwick (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1953), 283, 289). The Apocriticus of Macarius Magnes (3. 30) reports a similar charge brought by a pagan critic, identified by Harnack with Porphyry (Kritik des Neuen Testaments, ed. and trans. A. von Harnack (Leipzig: J. C. Hinrichs, 1911), 60, 5–10). These fragments from Macarius' treatise have been translated by R. Joseph Hoffman, Porphyry's Against the Christians (Amherst, NY: Prometheus, 1994), 59. T. D. Barnes rejected the identification of Macarius' critic with Porphyry (‘Porphyry Against the Christians’, JTS 24 (1973), 424–42). Recently Elizabeth Depalma Digeser has argued (or re‐argued the case) that the voice of the pagan critic comes from the anti‐Christian, Truth‐Loving Discourse written by Sossianus Hierokles (reported by Lactantius, Inst. 5. 1. 12), just before Diocletian's edict of persecution in 303 (see her full discussion in ‘Porphyry, Julian, or Hierokles?’, JTS 53 (2002), 466–502).
(116) Victorinus' most succinct formulation of this comes in his comments to Eph. 1: 2 (Gori, 4, ll. 7–9): ‘For it is not the Law, but the understanding adopted by the Jews about how to live, that he would repudiate’ (Non enim legem, sed intelligentiam vivendi acceptam a Iudaeis repudiat). The right understanding of the Law involves knowing when certain of its provisions are no longer in force (see his comments to Gal. 5: 3 in the translation below).
(117) Julian, Against the Galilaeans, 305D (ET: Wright, Loeb, iii. 405; translation slightly altered).
(118) Ibid. 100A (ET: Wright, Loeb, iii. 341).
(119) Jerome in his commentary on Galatians (PL 26, 341AB [366A]) attributes this critique to Porphyry. Gal. 2: 12 was also exploited by the unknown pagan critic of Macarius Magnes's Apocriticus (3. 22; Kritik, Harnack, ed. 56, 25 ff. (ET: Hoffman, Porphyry's Against the Christians, 56)).
(120) See Victorinus' comments to Gal. 2: 4 and 2: 12–13 in the translation below.
(121) See P. F. Beatrice's, ‘Le Traité de Porphyre contre les chrétiens’, Kernos, 4 (1991), 119–38. Beatrice identifies the work supposedly entitled Against the Christians with a sure title by Porphyry, the Philosophy from Oracles, which Augustine was able to quote in a Latin translation in book 10 of the City of God because—according to Beatrice—this was among the works Victorinus translated (p. 137). If this suggestion were rigorously demonstrated, it would definitively eliminate the revisionist reconstruction of the pagan Victorinus as not particularly hostile to Christianity.
(122) This is most clearly the case in his exegesis of Gal. 2: 11 ff. (see the notes on this passage in my translation here). Ralph Hennings has remarked ‘how great the influence of Porphyry on Greek exegesis was’ (Der Briefwechsel zwischen Augustinus und Hieronymus und ihr Streit um den Kanon des Alten Testaments und die Auslegung von Gal. 2,11–14 (Leiden: Brill, 1994), 16). But we ought not to underestimate the influence of Porphyry on Latin exegesis—even prior to Jerome's work on Daniel—through Victorinus' commentaries on Paul, which (as Hennings concludes) ‘must be read against the background of his acquaintance with Porphyry's polemic’ (pp. 244–5). The attempt to respond exegetically to attacks of pagan intellectuals has been well documented in the case of Ambrosiaster by Pierre Courcelle, ‘Critiques exégétiques et arguments antichrétiens rapportés par Ambrosiaster’, VC 13 (1959), 133–69. Traces of Julian's anti‐Christian polemics have been detected in Ambrosiaster by Lorenzo Perrone, ‘Echi della polemica pagana sulla Bibbia negli scritti exegetici fra IV e V secolo’, in Franca Ela Consolino (ed.), Pagani e cristiani da Giuliano l'Apostata al sacco di Roma (Messina: Rubbettino, 1995), 149–72.