November 15, 2023
Episode 178: Stephen A. Cooper on Marius Victorinus and Latinate Christian Platonism
We are delighted to discuss Marius Victorinus, an extraordinary Christian Platonist of the third-fourth centuries writing in Latin, with Stephen A. Cooper.
We discuss the basics of what we know of Victorinus’ life, and his extraordinary conversion to Christianity, through which he imported the ensemble of his previous intellectual commitment – to a Plotinian or Porphyrian type of Late Platonism, with the extra religious dimension which comes from engagement with the Chaldæan Oracles – into his Christianity. We then survey his surviving (and otherwise) literary works, from the rhetorical, grammatical, and logical works of his trad period to the Christian works, which include a number of philosophic defences of Nicene trinitarianism on philosophic, Platonising grounds, and a series of in-depth commentaries on the letters of Paul of Tarsus, the earliest such known in Latin. He also made some crucial, lost translations from ‘the Platonists’ – Plotinus and Porphyry – into Latin.
We get into some of the theological and political background of the ‘Arian controversy’ in which Victorinus played a major rôle on the trinitarian side.
In the end we discuss Victorinus’ Nachleben, but the discussion is interwoven with discussion of his thought. What emerges is a truly, but subtly, esoteric Christian/Platonist synthesis wherein Plotinus and the Chaldæan Oracles are sensible texts to cite to make doctrinal points, and, alongside revelation, the Christian has another potential avenue for acquiring divine knowledge, namely noetic ascent.
Works Cited in this Episode:
Augustine on Victorinus: Conf. 7.9.13 (that MV translated libri Platonicorum); Conf. 8.2.3–8.4.9 gives the whole story from Simplicianus, mixed with some of Augustine’s reflections. Also Conf. 8.5.10 tells how MV resigned his chair after Julian’s “school law” (Cod. theod. 13.3.5) of 17 June 362 CE.
Jerome on Victorinus: in his On Famous Men, Jerome adds the detail that he was born in Roman Africa (“natione Afer”) and that he became a Christian “in extreme old age” (“in extrema senectute” (Vir. ill. 101). The same passage also says that he had written “adversus Arium libros valde obscuros” (“very incomprehensible books against Arius”)
Jerome’s states (in Ruf. 1.16) that as a student he read a commentary by Victorinus “on Cicero’s dialogues”; this probably refers to his work on his Topics, which in ancient discourse was lumped with Cicero’s philosophical dialogues.
Victorinus’ grandaughter’s tombstone: CIL 6.31934. The inscription indicates she had married a “vir clarissimus” (a man of the lowest level of the senatorial order). For the inscription, translation, and discussion, see Pierre Hadot. Marius Victorinus: Recherches sur sa vie et ses oeuvres. Études Augustiniennes, Paris, 1971, pp. 16–17.
Timothy D. Barnes. Athanasius and Constantius: Theology and Politics in the Constantinian Empire. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA, 1993.
J. Bidez. Vie de Porphyre. Teubner, 1913.
Nello, Cipriani. La presenza di Mario Vittorino nella riessione trinitaria di S. Agostino. Augustinianum, 42:261-313, 2002.
Carsten Colpe. Die religionsgeschichtliche Schule: Darstellung und Kritik ihres Bildes vom gnostischen Erlösermythus. Vandenhoeck and Ruprecht, Göttingen, 1961.
Stephen A. Cooper. Christianity in Marius Victorinus’ Commentary on Cicero’s De inventione. In Stephen A. Cooper and Václav Němec, editors, The Philosophy, Theology, and Rhetoric of Marius Victorinus, Writings from the Greco-Roman World, Supplement Series, pages 89-140. Society for Biblical Literature, Atlanta, GA, 2022.
Stephen A. Cooper and Václav Němec, editors. The Philosophy, Theology, and Rhetoric of Marius Victorinus. Number 20 in Writings from the Greco-Roman World Supplement Series. Society for Biblical Literature, Atlanta, GA, 2022.
Pierre Hadot. L’image de la Trinité dans l’âme chez Victorinus et chez saint Augustin. StPatr, 6:40942, 1962.
Idem. Marius Victorinus: Recherches sur sa vie et ses oeuvres. Études Augustiniennes, Paris, 1971.
Harnack, Rudolph von. History of Dogma. Little, Brown, Boston, MA, 1898-1907.
Paul Henry. Marius Victorinus, a-t-il lu les Ennéades de Plotin? Recherches de science religieuse, 24:43249, 1934.
Paul Henry. La vision d’Ostie: Sa place dans la Vie et l’Oeuvre de saint Augustin. Vrin, 1938.
Laurens J. van der Lof. De invloed van marius victorinus rhetor op augustinus. NedTT, 5:287307, 1950-1951.
Italo Mariotti, editor. Marius Victorinus. Ars grammatica: Introduzione, testo critico e commento. Le Monnier, Florence, 1967 [we cite pp. 36, 47-50].
Reinhold Schmid. Marius Victorinus Rhetor und seine Beziehungen zu Augustin. Übermuth, Kiel, 1895.
Alexander Souter. A Glossary of Later Latin to 600 A.D. Clarendon, Oxford, 1949.
Michel Tardieu. Recherches sur la formation de l’Apocalypse de Zostrien et les sources de Marius Victorinus. In Res Orientales IX, page 7-114. Groupe pour l’Étude de la Civilisation du Moyen-Orient, Bures-sur-Yvette, 1996.
Willy Theiler. Die Chaldäischen Orakel und die Hymnen des Synesios. Schriften der Königsberger Gelehrten Gesellschaft, 18:141, 1942.
Edwin M. Yamauchi. Pre-Christian Gnosticism: A Survey of the Proposed Evidences. Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, MI, 2nd edition, 1983.
Prof Cooper has provided us with a superb catalogue raisonné, which you can download here: Marius Victorinus Bibliography for SHWEPe.