Gaius Marius Victorinus

From New World Encyclopedia

Gaius Marius Victorinus (fourth century C.E.), Roman grammarian, rhetorician and Neoplatonic philosopher, was a teacher of rhetoric in Rome until the Roman authorities prohibited him from teaching after he converted to Christianity. He was an influential teacher of Saint Jerome. His conversion and writings, especially those that brought Neoplatonic thought into the Christian debates about trinity, had a strong influence on Saint Augustine.

Although he wrote on a variety of subjects, Victorinus is little-studied, largely because his style is obscure and difficult to decipher. Recently he has been recognized for his contributions to theology and philosophy, and as a potent influence in disseminating Neoplatonism in the West. He retained his Neoplatonic views after becoming a Christian, being particularly influenced by Plotinus and Porphyry. His exposition of the doctrine of Trinity and the soul, employing ideas approximating Porphyry's version of Neoplatonism, influenced the thought of Augustine of Hippo and other early Christian philosophers.


Details about the life of Victorinus come mostly from Jerome, who was one of his pupils, or from Augustine of Hippo, who called him a man of the highest learning and thoroughly skilled in the liberal arts. He came to Rome as a teacher of rhetoric and became so popular that a statue was erected in his honor in the Forum of Trajan in 353 C.E. (Jerome, "Chron." ad an. 2370). Before 361 C.E., at an advanced age, Victorinus converted to Christianity after studying the Bible, according to Augustine. His conversion is said to have greatly influenced that of Augustine. He made up for his initial reluctance to join the Christian community by professing his faith as publicly as possible, and was received with joy by the Christian community of Rome. After becoming a Christian he continued to teach until the emperor Julian the Apostate published an edict forbidding Christians to lecture on "polite literature" in 362 C.E., whereupon Victorinus closed his school and retired. A statue was erected in his honor as a teacher in the Forum Trajanum. Nothing is known about his career after 362 except what is revealed in his own writings.

Thought and Works

Victorinus was a prolific writer. Three of the works he wrote before his conversion still exist, Liber de Definitionibus, a commentary on the De inventione of Cicero, and a treatise on grammar, Ars grammatical. Works from the same period which have been lost are a treatise on logic, De syllogismis hypotheticis, commentaries on the Topica and the Dialogues of Cicero, a translation with commentary of Artistotle's Categories, a translation of Aristotle’s Interpretation, and translations of Porphyry's Isagoge and the works of other Neoplatonists. Scholars believe that the treatise De Definitionibus, formerly attributed to Boethius, is probably by Victorinus. His manual of prosody, in four books—taken almost literally from the work of Aelius Aphthonius—is extant. Most of the works from the period after his conversion to Christianity are lost. His surviving theological writings include commentaries on Saint Paul's epistles to Galatians, Ephesians, and Philippians, De Trinitate contra Arium (a work against Arians, in four books), and an anti-Arian treatise (Liber de generatione divini Verbi), a tract (De Hoimoousio Recipiendo) and Ad Justinum Manichaeum de Vera Came Christi. A tract on The Evening and the Morning were one day and some Christian poems attributed to Victorinus are probably not his. Other works of doubtful authenticity are Liber ad Justinum manichaeum, "De verbis scripturae: Factum est vespere et mane dies unus," and Liber de physicis. References in his own writings indicate that Victorinus authored other works of a theological, exegetical, or polemical character.

Victorinus retained his Neoplatonic worldview after becoming Christian, and was particularly influenced by Plotinus and Porphyry. In Liber de generatione divini Verbi he states that God is above being, and that thus it can even be said that He “is not.”

Since God is the cause of being, it can be said in a certain sense, that God truly is (vere ων), but this expression merely means that being is in God [just] as an effect is in an eminent cause, which contains it though being superior to it.[1]

Victorinus attempted to explain Christian concepts, such as the trinity, in Neoplatonic terms; his exposition of the doctrine of trinity in Adversus Arium 1B, employing ideas approximating Porphyry's version of Neoplatonism, is unprecedented in earlier Christian philosophy. His writings on the trinity and the soul influenced the thought of Augustine of Hippo and other early Christian philosophers.

Help us, Holy Spirit, the bond (copula) of Father and Son,
When you rest you are the Father, when you proceed, the Son;
In binding all in one, you are the Holy Spirit.
—Hymn attributed to Victorinus


  1. E. Gilson. Being and Some Philosophers, 32. Pontifical Institute of Medieval Studies, 1952. cf. Victorinus, "Liber de generatione Verbi divini," in Patrologia Latina Migne, VIII, col. 1022.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • This article incorporates text from the Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition, a publication now in the public domain.
  • Armstrong, A. H., H. J. Blumenthal, and R. A. Markus. Neoplatonism and early Christian thought: Essays in Honour of A.H. Armstrong. London: Variorum Publications, 1981. ISBN 978-0860780854
  • Geiger, Godhard. C. Marius Victorinus Afer, ein neuplatonischer Philosoph. Metten, 1888. (in German)
  • Hadot, Pierre. Porphyre et Victorinus. Paris: Études Augustiniennes, 1968.
  • Harris, R. Baine. The Significance of Neoplatonism. Studies in Neoplatonism, v. 1. SUNY Press, 1976. ISBN 978-0873958004
  • Vergara, Josepho G. La Teologia del Espiritu Santo en Mario Victorino. Mexico: Pontificae Universitatis Gregorianae, 1959. (in Spanish)

External links

All links retrieved May 17, 2017.

General Philosophy Sources


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