Does Victor of Vita quote from the Three Heavenly Witnesses?

Victor of Vita lived in Roman Africa after its conquest by the Vandals.  The Vandals were Arians, and their kings persecuted the Catholic clergy.  In 484 Victor wrote an account of the persecutions, which has come down to us in a number of manuscripts.  These I list from C. Halms 1878 edition in the Monumenta Germanica Historiae, series: Auctores Antiq., vol. 3.1. Online here.  There is also the CSEL 7 edition by Petschenig (1881).

  • A = Laon, Codex Laudunensis 113 (9th c.)  Contains only book 2, and a list of Catholic bishops at the synod of 484, which alone is preserved in this copy.  Another used by an early editor no longer seems to exist.
  • B = Bamberg, Codex Bambergensis signatus E, 3, 4. (9th c.)
  • C = Upper Austria, Codex monasterii Cremifanensis, sign. 36 (12th c.)
  • L = Berlin, Codex Berolinensis lat. quart. 1. (12th c.)
  • M = Munich, Codex Monacensis 2545 (previously cod. Alderspacensis) (12th c.)
  • P = Paris latinus 2015 (once Colbertinus 905)(10th c.)
  • R = Brussels, Codex Bruxellensis 1794. (10th c.)
  • V = Vienna, Codex Vindobonensis 583 (previously “Univ. 239”)(10th c.)
  • W = Vienna, Codex Vindobonensis 408 (formerly Admontensis from the abbey of Admont) (11th c.).  Contains some crude interpolations.  Derived from V.
  • a = Codex Abrincensis 162 (12th c.) Both mutilated and interpolated.
  • b = Berne, Codex Bernensis 48. (Once Floriacensis)(11th c.)  Similar to R but inferior.
  • s = Admont, Codex Admontensis 739 (12th c.).  Derived from V.

Analysis of the readings means that the manuscripts fall into two families, both derived from O, the original now manuscript (manuscripts in Greek letters are lost ancestor manuscripts of one family or another).  The tree of which manuscript was copied from what (the stemma) looks like this:

The editio princeps, the first edition is actually “Parisiis ab Iano Parvo (=Jehan Petit) Ludovico XII. regnante impressa”.  This undated edition was unknown to editors who generally thought that this was the edition of Beatus Rhenanus at Basle in 1535.

There is a modern English translation in the Liverpool University Press series: Victor of Vita: History of the Vandal Persecution, tr. John Moorhead, Liverpool (1992); series: Translated Texts for Historians 10.

The passage that refers to the Comma Johanneum, the interpolated passage in 1 John 5:7 which discusses the Trinity, is in book 2, chapter 11 (section 82; p.34 of the edition).  Halms’ edition (which Moorhead translated) reads:

82. Vnde nullus ambiguitatis relinquitur locus, quin clareat spiritum sanctum et deum esse et suae voluntatis auctorem, qui cuncta operari et secundum propriae voluntatis arbitrium divinae dispensationis dona largiri apertissime demonstratur, quia ubi voluntaria gratiarum distributio praedicatur, non potest videri condicio servitutis: in creatura enim servitus intellegenda est, in trinitate vero dominatio ac libertas. Et ut adhuc luce clarius unius divinitatis esse cum patre et filio spiritum sanctum doceamus, Iohannis evangelistae testimonio conprobatur.  Ait namque: tres sunt qui testimonium perhibent in caelo, pater, verbum et spiritus sanctus, et hi tres unum sunt. Numquid ait: tres in differenti aequalitate seiuneti aut quibuslibet diversitatum gradibus longo separationis intervallo divisi? sed, tres, inquit, unum sunt.

The CSEL text is the same, and the apparatus contains only trivial variants.

This is rendered by Moorhead (p.56):

82 And so, no occasion for uncertainty is left. It is clear that the Holy Spirit is also God and the author of his own will, he who is most clearly shown to be at work in all things and to bestow the gifts of the divine dispensation according to the judgment of his own will, because where it is proclaimed that he distributes graces where he wills, servile condition cannot exist, for servitude is to be understood in what is created, but power and freedom in the Trinity. And so that we may teach the Holy Spirit to be of one divinity with the Father and the Son still more clearly than the light, here is proof from the testimony of John the evangelist. For he says: ‘There are three who bear witness in heaven, the Father, the Word and the Holy Spirit, and these three are one.’ Surely he does he not say ‘three separated by a difference in quality’ or ‘divided by grades which differentiate, so that there is a great distance between them?’ No, he says that the ‘three are one.’

That’s that, pretty much; this 5th century Latin text definitely mentions the Three Heavenly Witnesses as part of the text of 1 John.

Moorhead adds a comment on the text of scripture used by Victor (p.xix ff.):

To avoid a multiplication of footnotes I have supplied references to biblical quotations and allusions in parentheses, without troubling to register minor ways, whether due to the text which Victor or the authors of the Book of the catholic faith were familiar with, faulty memory, or some other cause, in which they differ from modern printed versions of the Bible. The chapter and verse numbers of the psalms are those of the Vulgate, but the names of books of the Bible are those by which they are generally known in English. Where ‘Vulg’ is added, the text Victor cites is similar to the Vulgate and differs significantly from the modem translations readers may have at their disposal; where ‘cf’ is added, Victor’s text is significantly different from both the Vulgate and modem versions.[23]

The footnote:

23. It must be said that some of the variants which occur in the Book of the catholic faith constitute amendments in a Trinitarian direction.

It is perhaps inevitable in the circumstances, if undesirable, that the most useful reading was preferred.

What the heck is the “Synopsis Scripturae Sacrae” of ps.Athanasius??

Enthusiasts for the authenticity of the “Three Heavenly Witnesses” passage in 1 John 5:7 are well aware that no Greek manuscript contains it.  But as I remarked in a previous post, they point to a work by Athanasius, the Synposis Scripturae Sacrae (“Summary of the Holy Scriptures”) as evidence that it was part of the text in his day.  But what on earth is this work?  And how has it reached us, and what scholarship has been done upon it?

Let’s look at how we got this text, and then we can talk about what it contains.

The work is listed in the Clavis Patrum Graecorum under CPG 2249.  It has reached us in a single manuscript, which remained unknown until 1895, hidden in the prestigious surroundings of Eton College, where it has the shelfmark Codex Etonensis 144 (formerly B. l. 5. 13).  J. Armitage Robinson published it in that year in Texts and Studies 3, “Euthaliana”, p.106-120, with a collation of the manuscript against the PG text.[1]  The manuscript was written by Ducas the Notary, among others, at the end of the 14th or start of the 15th century.

Other manuscripts seem to exist. The Pinakes database gives a list, which contains four manuscripts that look like full-length texts: Tübingen Mb 10 (16th c.), Vienna theol. gr. 249 (16th c.) and two 18th century Greek manuscripts – but I am not aware of any publication that deals with them.

The work was first published by P. Felckmann in Operum sancti patris nostri Athanasii archiepiscopi Alexandrini, t. II, Heidelberg 1600, p. 61-136, with a Latin translation by Wolfgang Musculus.[2]  Regular readers will remember Musculus from my post Apocryphal and then some: The so-called “Synopsis” of so-called Dorotheus of Tyre.  The Eton manuscript bears the marks of use as an exemplar for this edition.  But the manuscript then disappeared, and all subsequent editions based themselves on Felckmann.  Here’s the start of Felckmann’s text:

Synopsis Scripturae Sacrae in Felkmann’s edition of Athanasius (1600).

The text was edited again by Montfaucon, and reprinted by J.-P. Migne in the Patrologia Graeca vol. 28, cols. 281-438.  There is no critical edition of the text, and the only translation is that of Musculus into Latin.  The opening section of the work has been translated into English by Michael D. Marlowe and placed online here.

Studies of the work have been few.  The only serious study, until a decade ago, was undertaken by Theodor Zahn in Geschichte des neutestamentlichen Kanons, 1890, Band 2, Hälfte 1, p.302-318.[3]

Zahn established that the work is not an original literary composition.  Rather it is a collection of materials about the books of the bible and their contents, assembled from pre-existing sources in a pretty raw manner.  The work contradicts itself; at one time it describes the Old Testament apocrypha as useful for reading; at another it states that they are not to be read.

The work has always been recognised as spurious.  Montfaucon in his preface listed some reasons why:

  •  No work of this title is attributed to Athanasius in any ancient or medieval source.  We have detailed lists of his work in Jerome (de viris illustribus 87) and Photius (codd. 32, 139, 140).
  •  It is not found with any other work of Athanasius in the manuscript.
  •  It contradicts what Athanasius says about the canon in his 39th Festal Letter, and ignores the Shepherd of Hermas, so dear to Athanasius’ heart.

The Synopsis takes material from the genuine Festal Letter 39.  A section on the translation of the Old Testament is taken word-for-word from Epiphanius.  Another section belongs to the strange book of Josephus Christianus.  The content for Leviticus, Paralip., Esra, Prov., Job, Esther, Judith, Tobit, Sapientia Sal. is almost literally identical with corresponding sections of the Synopsis Scripturae Sacrae of ps.Chrysostom, another confused text of the same genre, which appears to be older than the ps.Athanasius.

Zahn concludes:

We cannot give be more precise on the period when the Athanasian Synopsis was written. For the time being there is nothing to be found in the relation to Josephus Christianus; for 1) the original affiliation with the parallel section on synopsis is highly doubtful, 2) that Josephus, whose work is nothing more than a compilation of very different books, may as well have drawn this passage from our synopsis, but conversely, 3) the time of Josephus is a very unknown or at least uncertain thing.

The dependence of our synopsis on that of Chrysostom, on the 39th festal letter of Athanasius, on a fifth-century Palestinian canon, and probably also on Epiphanius, places us in a monastery or church library in which these diverse spirits were united as equally venerable authorities.

The compilation certainly did not come into existence before the sixth century, perhaps even later.[4]

Zahn wrote more than a century ago, and nobody has ventured to touch the work since.  The only subsequent work is by Gilles Dorival in 2005, but this I have not seen and know only from a review.[5]

Work has been done on the related ps.Chrysostom Synopsis.  But that’s another story.

The text is related in some way to the Euthalian materials which appear in the margins and between books in medieval Greek bible manuscripts.  So we are dealing with a mass of non-literary material about the bible, changed by every hand that touched it, incarnate in a variety of versions, and attributed to a variety of authors, none of them genuine.  It’s really very like the Vitae Prophetarum Fabulosa that we encountered in ps.Dorotheus.

  1. [1]Online here.
  2. [2]Online here.
  3. [3]Online here.
  4. [4]Genauere Bestimmungen über die Abfassungszeit der athanasianischen Synopsis wage ich nicht zu geben. Auf das Verhältnis derselben zu Josephus Christianus ist vorläufig nichts zu gründen; denn 1) ist die ursprüngliche Zugehörigkeit des mit diesem parallelen Abschnitts zur Synopsis höchst zweifelhaft, 2) kann jener Josephus, dessen Arbeit nichts als eine Compilation aus sehr verschiedenen Büchern ist, diesen Abschnitt ebensogut aus unserer Synopsis geschöpft haben, als umgekehrt, 3) ist die Zeit jenes Josephus eine sehr unbekannte oder doch unsichere Sache. Die Abhängigkeit unserer Synopsis von derjenigen des Chrysostomus, vom 39. Festbrief des Athanasius, ferner von einem palästinensischen Kanon vielleicht des 5. Jahrhunderts und wahrscheinlich auch von Epiphanius versetzt uns in eine Kloster- oder Kirchenbibliothek, in welcher diese verschiedenartigen Geister als gleich ehrwürdige Auktoritäten vereinigt waren. Vor dem 6. Jahrhundert ist die Compilation gewiß nicht entstanden, vielleicht noch später.
  5. [5]Gilles Dorival, “L’apport des Synopses transmises sous le nom d’Athanase et de Jean Chrysostome à la question du Corpus Littéraire de la Bible?”, In : Gilles Dorival (ed.), Qu’est-ce qu’un Corpus Littéraire ? Recherches sur le corpus biblique et les corpus patristiques, Paris-Louvain-Dudley, 2005, p. 53-93; and a further article 94-108. Reviews on Persee here, which reads “G. Dorival (pp. 53-93), dans un texte très dense, fouillé même, dont notre résumé ne rend qu’imparfaitement compte, traite de l’apport des «synopses» de la Bible transmises sous les noms d’Athanase et de Jean Chrysostome à la connaissance de la constitution des corpus néo- et vétéro-testamentaires. La première est connue par quatre manuscrits divergents entre eux ; G.D. en nie l’authenticité, contre Montfaucon, pour en situer la rédaction entre le début du Ve siècle et la fin du vie ; le classement y est fait selon trois « genres » : historique, exhortatif et prophétique. La seconde, rédigée entre 500 et 600 et faussement attribuée à Athanase, n’est plus conservée que dans un seul manuscrit (cod. Eton. B 1 5 13) ; elle distingue entre les livres canoniques et les livres lus (άναγιγνωσκόμενα), et propose une liste des livres contestés (αντιλεγόμενα) et des apocryphes (απόκρυφα) qui ne correspond pas à la distinction précédemment établie. Dans une seconde étude (p. 95-108), G. Dorival s’intéresse à la synopse contenue dans le codex Barberinianus gr. 317, qui dépend en grande partie des deux synopses étudiées plus haut, mais qui offrent aussi quelques traits originaux, qui font regretter qu’elle n’ait pas été étudiée pour elle-même par les canonistes.”

1 John 5:7 in the fourth century? Theodore, Diodorus, the Suda, and Byzantine punctuation

From 1 John chapter 5 (KJV):

This is he that came by water and blood, even Jesus Christ; not by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit that beareth witness, because the Spirit is truth.

For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one.

And there are three that bear witness in earth, the Spirit, and the water, and the blood: and these three agree in one.

1 John 5:7, the Comma Johanneum, has disappeared from our modern bibles, and probably rightly.  It is not found in any Greek manuscript prior to 1500, and it seems to be a marginal comment that found its way into the Latin bible.  This text critical evidence tells us that it formed no part of the original Greek text[1].  Theologically it is usually assumed or presumed that any additions or changes to the original Greek text are the work of men, rather than God, and are therefore not legitimately part of the divinely inspired text.  So on neither count should it appear in our bibles.

Incidentally let us never forget that text critical arguments and theological arguments are not the same thing.

However 1 John 5:7 still has its defenders today, and one of them wrote to me recently with an interesting query.  Michael Hollner had come across a defence of the authenticity of the passage written by a certain Ben David in 1825.  In this appears the claim that Theodore of Mopsuestia referenced 1 John 5:7.  Being an honest man, he wanted to know if this was actually true.

The pamphlet of 70 pages was entitled Three Letters Addressed to the Editor of The Quarterly Review, in which is Demonstrated the Genuineness of the Three Heavenly Witnesses – I John v. 7, and published in London.  “Ben David” was actually a unitarian minister named John Jones.[2] No doubt he felt that the high churchmen of the Quarterly Review might suspect a prank from a unitarian minister.

My correspondent’s quotation was itself corrupt and confusing.  It is always good policy to go to the original source, and so doing clarified much.

There is a digitised version of David’s pamphlet at, and I have placed it here.  I think it is on Google Books; but I have not been able to locate it.  Here’s the passage:

Theodorus, the master of Chrysostom and a contemporary of the emperor Julian, as we learn from Suidas, wrote “A Treatise on one God in the Trinity, from the Epistle of John the Evangelist” Eis ten Epistolen Ioannou tou Euaggelistou peri tou eis Theos en Triadi. This is a remarkable testimony, as it implies the existence and notoriety of the verse about the middle of the fourth century. At that period, a writer of celebrity erects upon it the doctrine of a trinity in unity; which surely he would hardly have done, if any suspicion of its authenticity had been entertained by him, or by any other person of that age. Besides, the turn of the expression, as it supposes what was grounded on the verse to be grounded also on the whole Epistle, supposes the Epistle and the verse, in respect to their purport and authenticity, to stand exactly on the same foundation. (See Suidas on the word Diodoros.)

A quick look at the Suda online (we do not refer to “Suidas” these days) shows that Ben David made an error; it is not “Theodorus”, i.e. Theodore of Mopsuestia, but Diodorus of Tarsus who is in question here.

Diodorus is a shadowy figure to us today, because all of his immense output has perished.  Fragments exist, and attempts have been made to collect them, with limited success.  But a list of works exists in the Suda, as Ben David rightly says, in section delta 1149.

Ben David’s claim, therefore, is that Diodorus of Tarsus wrote a work entitled On the epistle of the evangelist John concerning one God in three, which is listed under that title in the Suda  (The subsidiary claim, that this must then refer to 1 John 5:7 is not our concern here).  But did he?

Here is the entry from the Suda online, based on the Adler edition of the 1930s which is sadly inaccessible to me:

Διόδωρος, μονάζων, ἐν τοῖς χρόνοις Ἰουλιανοῦ καὶ Οὐάλεντος ἐπισκοπήσας Ταρσῶν τῆς Κιλικίας. οὗτος ἔγραψεν, ὥς φησι Θεόδωρος Ἀναγνώστης ἐν τῇ ἐκκλησιαστικῇ ἱστορίᾳ, διάφορα. εἰσὶ δὲ τάδε: Ἑρμηνεῖαι εἰς τὴν παλαιὰν πᾶσαν: Γένεσιν, Ἔξοδον καὶ ἐφεξῆς: καὶ Εἰς Ψαλμούς: Εἰς τὰς δ# Βασιλείας: Εἰς τὰ ζητούμενα τῶν Παραλειπομένων, Εἰς τὰς Παροιμίας, Τίς διαφορὰ θεωρίας καὶ ἀλληγορίας, Εἰς τὸν Ἐκκλησιαστήν, Εἰς τὸ ᾆσμα τῶν ᾀσμάτων, Εἰς τοὺς προφήτας, Χρονικόν, διορθούμενον τὸ σφάλμα Εὐσεβίου τοῦ Παμφίλου περὶ τῶν χρόνων, Εἰς τὰ δ# Εὐαγγέλια, Εἰς τὰς πράξεις τῶν Ἀποστόλων, Εἰς τὴν ἐπιστολὴν Ἰωάννου τοῦ Εὐαγγελιστοῦ, Περὶ τοῦ, εἷς θεὸς ἐν τριάδι, Κατὰ Μελχισεδεκιτῶν, Κατὰ Ἰουδαίων, Περὶ νεκρῶν ἀναστάσεως, Περὶ ψυχῆς κατὰ διαφόρων περὶ αὐτῆς αἱρέσεων, Πρὸς Γρατιανὸν κεφάλαια, Κατὰ ἀστρονόμων καὶ ἀστρολόγων καὶ εἱμαρμένης, Περὶ σφαίρας καὶ τῶν ζ# ζωνῶν καὶ τῆς ἐναντίας τῶν ἀστέρων πορείας, Περὶ τῆς Ἱππάρχου σφαίρας, Περὶ προνοίας, Κατὰ Πλάτωνος περὶ θεοῦ καὶ θεῶν, Περὶ φύσεως καὶ ὕλης, ἐν ᾧ, τί τὸ δίκαιόν ἐστι, Περὶ θεοῦ καὶ ὕλης Ἑλληνικῆς πεπλασμένης, Ὅτι αἱ ἀόρατοι φύσεις οὐκ ἐκ τῶν στοιχείων, ἀλλ’ ἐκ μηδενὸς μετὰ τῶν στοιχείων ἐδημιουργήθησαν, Πρὸς Εὐφρόνιον φιλόσοφον κατὰ πεῦσιν καὶ ἀπόκρισιν, Κατὰ Ἀριστοτέλους περὶ σώματος οὐρανίου, Πῶς θερμὸς ὁ ἥλιος, Κατὰ τῶν λεγόντων ζῷον τὸν οὐρανόν, Περὶ τοῦ πῶς ἀεὶ μὲν ὁ δημιουργός, οὐκ ἀεὶ δὲ τὰ δημιουργήματα, Πῶς τὸ θέλειν καὶ τὸ μὴ θέλειν ἐπὶ θεοῦ ἀϊδίου ὄντος, Κατὰ Πορφυρίου περὶ ζῴων καὶ θυσιῶν.

[sc. At first] a monk, [sc. but later] in the times of Julian and Valens[1] bishop of Tarsus of Cilicia. He wrote a variety of things, as Theodore Lector[2] says in his Ecclesiastical History. They are as follows: Interpretations on the entire Old Testament: Genesis, Exodus, and so forth; and On the Psalms; On the Four Books of the Kingdoms;[3] On Inquiries into the Books of Chronicles, On the Proverbs, What is the Difference between Exposition[4] and Allegory, On Ecclesiastes, On the Song of Songs, On the Prophets, Chronology, straightening out the error of Eusebius [the spiritual son] of Pamphilos[5] about the times, On the Four Gospels, On the Acts of the Apostles, On the Epistle of John the Evangelist, About the One God in Three, Against the Melchisedekites,[6] Against the Jews, About the Resurrection of the Dead, About the Soul against the Various Heresies Concerning It, Chapters to Gratian,[7] Against Astronomers and Astrologers and Fate, About the Sphere and the Seven Zones and of the Contrary Motion of the Stars, About Hipparchus'[8] Sphere, About Providence, Against Plato on God and the Gods, On Nature and Matter, in which is “What is the Just,” Concerning God and the Falsely Imagined Matter of the Greeks, That the Unseen Natures are not from the Elements but Were Made from Nothing along with the Elements, To the Philosopher Euphronius[9] by way of Question and Answer, Against Aristotle concerning Celestial Body, How Hot is the Sun, Against Those Who Say the Heaven is a Living Being, Concerning the Question of How the Creator is Forever but the Created is Not, How is there the Capacity to Will and to be Unwilling in the God who is Eternal, Against Porphyry[10] about Animals and Sacrifices.

But as we can instantly see, the Suda online edition introduces a comma, making two works where Ben David reads one.

Ben David is not making this up.  On the contrary, he is using a contemporary edition.  The Latin side of that does the same, as this image sent in by my correspondent makes plain: “In Epistolam Joannis evangelistae, de hoc quod unus est Deus in Trinitate”; but the Greek, note, has punctuation between the two.  It’s hard to say what edition Ben David used, of course – this is the Patrologia Graeca, reprinting an earlier edition.The Greek text is punctuated.  So the question then becomes… are the manuscripts punctuated?

Fortunately a 15th century manuscript is online, British Library Additional 11892.  The headwords are indicated by an initial red letter, although curiously the “diodoros” is not clear in the image – look at the left margin, line 2.  The relevant section is on folio 202r:

So we see… again it is punctuated.  These are two titles, not one.

The use of a single point as a divison mark is older than the 10th century, when the Suda was composed.  So there is little doubt that the author so punctuated his text.

Sadly for my friend, therefore, this particular argument fails.  The Suda does NOT say that Diodorus wrote a work on the epistle of John on one God in Trinity.

UPDATE: A kind gentleman has sent in the page of Adler’s edition.  Our bit is lines 10-11.

  1. [1]General article <a href=>here</a>.
  2. [2]Wikipedia article on this interesting man here.