[K:JNWTS 27/3 (2012): 37-43]

Patristic Commentaries on Revelation: An Update

Francis X. Gumerlock

The Need for an Update

In March of 2003, I delivered a paper entitled “Ancient Commentaries on the Book of Revelation: A Bibliographical Guide” in which I provided bibliographical information on thirty commentaries on the Apocalypse written between the third and tenth centuries.[1] At that time, only two of those thirty texts had been translated into English. A revision of that paper published as “Patristic Commentaries on Revelation” in the September 2008 issue of Kerux showed that of the twenty-one commentaries on Revelation written between the third and eighth centuries only three at the time had been translated into English.[2]  In that paper and article, I challenged readers to undertake a translation project focusing on these commentaries.  “If just one of these commentaries were translated and published each year,” I wrote, “this entire patristic treasury of Revelation commentaries could be available to English-speaking scholars within twenty years.”[3]

Wonderful to relate, within just one decade only three of the seventeen commentaries from the third through early eighth century remain without English translation.  They are: the fragments of Hippolytus (c. 235) on the Apocalypse, scattered about in a variety of texts and languages; the large Latin commentary of Primasius of Hadrumetum (540); and the short Brief Explanations on the Apocalypse by Cassiodorus (c. 580) in Latin.

In this update, I shall review the status of entries #1-17 of the article “Patristic Commentaries on Revelation,” provide locations for new editions and translations, and discuss more recent scholarship on the commentaries. This update is meant as a supplement not a replacement for the aforementioned article.  Entries #18-21 in the that article, which treat commentaries from the late eighth century, will be updated in a forthcoming paper/article entitled “Carolingian Apocalypse Commentaries” which will cover those from 750-987 A.D.


ANF Ante-Nicene Fathers of the Church. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, eds. Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature, 1885-1986 with numerous reprints by a variety of publishing companies including T & T Clark, Eerdmans, and Hendrickson. It is also widely available in electronic form on the internet.
CCCM Corpus christianorum, continuatio medievalis. Turnhout, Belgium: Brepols, 1953-present.
CCSL Corpus christianorum, series latina. Turnhout, Belgium: Brepols, 1953-present.
EMAC Early Medieval Apocalypse Commentaries. Francis X. Gumerlock, ed. forthcoming.
FC Fathers of the Church.  New York: Cima Publ. Co., 1947-1949; New York: Fathers of the Church, Inc., 1949-1960; Washington D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 1960-present.
GCR Greek Commentaries on Revelation. William C. Weinrich, trans. Ancient Christian Texts series. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2011.
LCR Latin Commentaries on Revelation. William C. Weinrich, trans.  Ancient Christian Texts series.  Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2011.
OTO Origen, Tyconius and Others. On the Apocalypse. Thomas Schmidt, David C. Robinson, Francis X. Gumerlock, trans. forthcoming.
PL Patrologia cursus completes, series latina, 221 vols. J. P. Migne, ed. Paris: Petit-Montrouge, 1844-1864. Available in reprint from Brepols, and on compact disk as Chadwyk-Healey Patrologia Latin Database.  Bell & Howell Information and Learning Co., 1996-2000.
SSA The Seven Seals of the Apocalypse: Medieval Texts in Translation. Francis X. Gumerlock, trans. Kalamazoo, MI:  Medieval Institute Publications, 2009.

1. Hippolytus of Rome (c. 235)

Recent scholarship tends to doubt the existence of two separate lost works on the Apocalypse (Apology for the Apocalypse and Gospel of John the Apostle and Evangelist and Chapters against Gaius) and tends to think they were one and the same work. 

Fragments of it were found in later Greek, Syriac, and Arabic commentaries on the Apocalypse.  Some scholars think that these later commentaries may not necessarily have had the text of Hippolytus on the Apocalypse before them, but rather a florilegia of Hippolytus’ comments on the Apocalypse gathered from that work and his other works, such as On Christ and Antichrist.

Also, there is some question about the degree to which the fragments of Hippolytus on the Apocalypse accurately represent the original lost work.  For example, the citations may be paraphrases or summaries of Hippolytus or even attributions of their own opinions to Hippolytus.

An article that provides the most recent scholarship on the status of the fragments of Hippolytus on the Apocalypse is Bernard McGinn, “Turning Points in Early Christian Apocalypse Exegesis,” in Robert J. Daly, ed., Apocalyptic Thought in Early Christianity (Grand Rapids, MI:  Baker, 2009), 81-105, esp. 91. According to McGinn, fragments of Hippolytus on the Apocalypse have also been found in Coptic and Old Slavonic texts, and are still being discovered.

Two Arabic commentaries that include citations from Hippolytus on the Apocalypse are those of Paul of Bush and Ibn Katib Qaysar from thirteenth-century Egypt.  The former is translated in Shawqi Najib Talia, “Bulus al-Busi’s Arabic Commentary on the Apocalypse of John:  An English Translation and a Commentary,” Ph.D. diss (Catholic University of America, 1987) available from Proquest Information and Learning. Paul of Bush’s citations of Hippolytus on Rev 12 are on pp. 183 and 189.

The commentary by Qaysar was published in Arabic in Girgis [Jirjis] Filutha’us ‘Awad, Tafsir Sifr al-Ru’ya li-l-Qadis Yuhanna al-Lahuti l-Ibn Katib Qaysar (Cairo, Egypt: al-Qummus Armaniyus Habashi Shatta al-Birmawi, 1939; Reprint:  Cairo:  Maktabat al-Mahabbah, 1994).  Joseph Shehata of Denver, Colorado, a native of Egypt and fluent in Arabic, is planning to translate the commentary beginning in January 2013 with the goal of publishing it in a medieval series of an academic press. Stephen J. Davis of Yale University has done some work with the Qaysar commentary and wrote an informative article “Introducing an Arabic Commentary on the Apocalypse:  Ibn Katib Qaysar on Revelation,” Harvard Theological Review 101/1 (2008): 77-96.

In the summer of 2012, I began a compilation of the extant fragments of Hippolytus on the Apocalypse from the various texts with hope of providing English translations of all of them in a future article.

2. Origen (d. 253) and Others

Thomas Schmidt, formerly of Utica, New York but now a graduate student at the divinity school at Yale University, translated these Scholia on the Apocalypse from Greek to English.  He considered the various corrections that had been written after Harnack’s edition, and wrote a scholarly introduction.  Plans are to publish his introduction and translation in OTO in a patristic commentary series.

3. Victorinus of Pettau (260)

A new translation of the original commentary of Victorinus, not Jerome’s recension of it, is translated into English in LCR.

4. Tyconius of Carthage (380)

A reconstruction of Tyconius’ Latin Exposition of the Apocalypse was completed by Roger Gryson and published in 2011 in CCSL 107A.  I have translated Tyconius’ comments on Chapters 1-5 of Revelation and sent them to an academic publishing company with an introduction by David Robinson of Toronto.  We hope to have the translation finished by the summer of 2013.

David Robinson translated into English the Turin fragments of Tyconius’ Exposition, which cover Rev 2:18-4:1 and 7:17-12:6 in his doctoral dissertation The Mystic Rules of Scripture:  Tyconius of Carthage’s Keys and Windows to the Apocalypse (Toronto: University of Saint Michael’s, 2010) available from Proquest Information and Learning.  An updated English translation of the Turin fragments by Robinson will also appear in the forthcoming OTO.

5. Didymus the Blind (d. 398)

The small fragment of his Apocalypse commentary that appeared as Scholium 1 in Scholia on the Apocalypse by Origen and others was translated by Thomas Schmidt and is slated for publication in OTO.

6. Jerome (398)

Jerome’s recension of Victorinus’ commentary on the Apocalypse was not translated into English and published in LCR, as projected in my article “Patristic Commentaries on Revelation.”  But the translated commentary under the name of Victorinus in ANF 7:344-360 is essentially Jerome’s recension.

7. Ecumenius (or Oecumenius) of Isauria in Asia Minor

Two new English translations of Ecumenius’ Greek commentary appeared recently.  First in 2006 in FC 112 translated by John N. Suggit under the title Oecumenius. Commentary on the Apocalypse; and then by William C. Weinrich in 2011 in GCR who also used the spelling Oecumenius.  Almost no one holds that he is to be confused with the bishop of Tricca who shared the same name. Both translators reviewed the scholarly arguments about the date of the commentary and seem to hold that it was written in the first half of the sixth century.  Eugenia Scarvelis Constantinou, on the other hand, in her recent dissertation entitled “Andrew of Caesarea and the Apocalypse in the Ancient Church of the East: Studies and Translation,” (Québec: Université Laval, 2008), holds that “Oikoumenios” wrote his commentary at the end of the sixth century (pp. 15-17).

8. Caesarius of Arles (d. 542)

Homilies 4-6 were published in English in 2009 in SSA, pp. 41-48.  All of Caesarius’ homilies on the Apocalypse were translated into English by Weinrich in 2011 in LCR. Unfortunately, in Weinrich’s translation the biblical references in Revelation, on which Caesarius is commenting, are not marked by chapter and verse (only by quotation marks), which makes it difficult when looking for Caesarius’ comments on specific passages. 

Roger Gryson, in his introduction in Tyconii Afri Expositio Apocalypseos (Turnhout, Belgium: Brepols, 2011), mentioned that Caesarius wrote the homilies “probablement dans les années 510” or “probably in the year 510” (p. 42).

9. Primasius of Hadrumetum (540)

Primasius’ commentary is one of the few patristic texts on the Apocalypse in Latin which is still unavailable in English translation.  It leans heavily on Tyconius and was influential on many early Latin medieval commentaries.

10. Apringius of Béja (548)

Apringius’ exposition of Rev 5:1-17 was published in English translation in 2009 in SSA, pp. 27-29. The first English translation of the entire extant commentary (which treats only Rev 1:1-5:7 and 18:6-22:20) appeared in LCR.

11. Cassiodorus (580)

This very short summary of the Apocalypse in Latin is also without a published English translation, with the exception of its comments on Rev 5-8 published in SSA, pp. 49-51.

12.Andrew of Caesarea in Cappadocia (d. 614)

Two English translations of Andrew’s Greek commentary on Revelation were published in 2011.  The first was by Eugenia Scarvelis Constantinou in FC 123, the second by Weinrich in GCR.

13.Pseudo-Jerome (7th-8th c.)

The comments on Rev 5 and 6 in this short handbook on the Apocalypse were published in English in SSA, pp. 51-52.  The entire handbook was translated into English by me and is scheduled to appear in the forthcoming EMAC.

14.Pseudo-Alcuin, On the Seven Seals

English translations of the two versions of this short text interpreting the seven seals were published in SSA, pp. 30-32.

15. Gregory the Great (d. 604), Testimonies on the Apocalypse

Paterius, one of Pope Gregory the Great’s disciples, compiled Gregory’s comments on the Apocalypse from his other writings.  That compilation was known to Ambrose Autpert in the eighth century (CCCM 27:5), but it is believed to have been lost. The compilation in PL 79:1107-22 is believed to have been written not by Paterius but by Alufus of Tornaco (d. 1141).  Mark DelCogliano of the University of Saint Thomas in Saint Paul, Minnesota has translated into English the Testimonies on the Apocalypse of Gregory the Great.  It is scheduled for publication in EMAC.

16. Pseudo-Cyril of Alexandria (7th c.)

This commentary on Rev 7-12 (although it briefly comments on Rev 4 in the introduction and on Rev 13-15 in the conclusion) in the Coptic language was translated into Italian by Tito Orlandi in 1981.  In 2011 Francesca Lecci of Milan, Italy translated Orlandi’s Italian version into English; this was edited by Braeden Fallet of Westminster, Colorado and me.  Lecci’s English translation is scheduled for publication in EMAC.

17. Bede (710)

A new translation of Bede’s Apocalypse commentary was published in 2011 by Weinrich in LCR.   Faith Wallis’ translation entitled Bede. Commentary on Revelation, already advertised in a catalogue, is scheduled for publication by Liverpool University Press in November 2012 (ISBN: 978 18463 18450).

Related Works

A Latin fragment entitled De Enoc et Helia [On Enoch and Elijah] from the fifth or sixth century says that when Enoch and Elijah come, they are going to preach the coming of the Lord and the Day of Judgment for forty-two months and that each of the twelve tribes of Israel with the exception of Dan will be sealed and martyred for Christ.[4] Thus it interprets Rev 7:1-7 and Rev 11 in a literal and futurist manner.

Several recent authors who study patristic and early medieval Apocalypse commentaries mention that there was an Apocalypse commentary, dated to the first half of the eighth century or between 700 and 750 AD, that is now lost.[5]  However, it was a source for material in later commentaries including the Apocalypse commentary in the Reference Bible (c. 750) and an anonymous Apocalypse commentary in a tenth century manuscript at Cambridge.  The commentary in the Reference Bible has already been critically edited in CCSL 107:231-295; and the Cambridge commentary will be edited in the forthcoming volume of Corpus Christianorum Series Latina, Volume 108G.  Once this appears, it is very likely that large portions of the lost commentary from the early eighth century can be reconstructed.

English translations of comments of Filastrius of Brixia (4th c.) on the author of the Apocalypse; of Ambrosiaster (c. 385) on Rev 2 and 10; Jerome on Rev 17 from one of his letters; Eucherius of Lyons (d. 449) on the seven spirits of God (Rev 1:4); and Quodvultdeus (c. 450) on the two witnesses (Rev 11) and the resurrection (Rev 20) are set for publication in OTO.  Also included in that volume will be English translations of a sermon by Chromatius of Aquiliea (d. 407) on Saint John the Evangelist and Apostle which comments on Rev 10, and an ancient preface to the Apocalypse pseudonymously attributed to Jerome.  English translations of a few paragraphs harmonizing the last trumpet with the seven trumpets, attributed to Gregory the Great, and a preface to the Apocalypse by Isidore of Seville (d. 636) are scheduled for publication in EMAC.

The Status of Translations and a Suggestion for Further Study

Of the seventeen commentaries on Revelation written between the third and first half of the eighth century, only three remain without English translation.  Of these, the most important is probably the large commentary of Primasius of Hadrumetum which relied heavily on Tyconius and which was very influential on many Apocalypse commentaries of the early Middle Ages.

Now that most of the patristic commentaries on Revelation are in English, one fruitful study would be to search for and isolate any commonalities between the Eastern and Western exegetical traditions on Revelation, and then to investigate the sources of these commonalities, which may most likely be traced back to writers of the earliest centuries of Christianity such as Irenaeus, Hippolytus, and Origen.

[1] Francis X. Gumerlock, “Ancient Commentaries on the Book of Revelation:  A Bibliographical Guide.” Paper delivered at the Southeastern Regional Meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society in Dayton, Tennessee, March 2003.

[2] Gumerlock, “Patristic Commentaries on Revelation.” Kerux 23/2 (Sept 2008): 49-67. http://www.kerux.com/documents/KeruxV23N2A5.htm.

[3] Ibid., 65.

[4] In Monumenta Germaniae Historica, Auctorum Antiquissimorum, Vol 9 (Berlin: Weidmannos, 1892), 63 where it is attributed to Prosper of Aquitaine. On the date of the fragment, see Martine Dulaey, Victorin de Poetovio premier exegete latin,Vol. 2 (Paris: Institut d’Études Augustiniennes, 1993), 42.

[5] Roger Gryson, ed., Commentaria minora in Apocalypsin Johannis. CCSL 107 (Turnhout, Belgium: Brepols, 2003), 142, 238, 239 (in which Gryson says that it used Tyconius abundantly), 242, 300 (in which he says that it is from the first half of the eighth century); Martin McNamara, “The newly-identified Cambridge Apocalypse Commentary and the Reference Bible:  A Preliminary Enquiry,” Peritia 15 (2001): 208-56 at 219-220 in which he says: “The commentary gloss on the Apocalypse on which both the Reference bible and the Cambridge text depend must be older still—from the first half of the eighth century at the latest.”