Roman rhetorician, whose conversion to Christianity influenced St. Augustine; b. Caius Marius Victorinus (the surname "Afer" seems to be a Renaissance addition) c. the end of the third century; d. after 363. He had published many works on grammar and rhetoric, as well as translations of Aristotle's tracts on logic and Neoplatonic books before his conversion (c. 354).
In his Confessions (bk. 8), Augustine gives a moving account of the intellectual evolution and conversion of Victorinus, based on information he received from the priest Simplician. Between 357 and 363, in his old age, Victorinus composed several theological essays in refutation of arianism. He opposed successively the Anomoean doctrine of Ursacius and Valens expressed in the symbol of Sirmium (357); the Homoiousian doctrine of Basil of Ancyra, expressed in a memoir published during the summer of 358 at Sirmium; and finally the Homoean doctrine of the Credo of Sirmium (May 22, 359) and Rimini (July–November 359).
Together with the traditional theological arguments against Arianism, Victorinus employed Neoplatonic notions probably taken from Porphyry to present a systematic explanation of the Trinity. The Father is identified with the first Neoplatonic hypostasis wherein, according to Porphyry, the One and Being is the first term of the triad Being-Life-Thought. The Son is identified with the second hypostasis, which, according to the Porphyrian schema, is constituted by the dyad Life-Thought. In this dyad, Life is identified with Christ, and Thought with the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit leads toward the Father, through a process of conversion, those souls to whom Christ has given life in a movement of emanation and procession.
The Holy Spirit is "of the Father" in the Son, although Victorinus does not have a real theory concerning His procession. The consubstantiality of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is assured in two ways; originally the Son and the Holy Spirit were identified with the Father in the same fashion as Life and Thought preexist in the state of potency in the core of Being. At the same time the three divine hypostases, Being, Life, and Thought, are mutually identified—the three are in the three, and are distinguished only by a predominance of particular aspects in the total Being.
This attempt at a systematic explanation of the Trinity had no influence on the history of theology. St. Augustine either was unaware of its existence or ignored it. However, there are traces of it in alcuin. In fact, Victorinus's synthesis oscillates between subordinationism (the Son is a second hypostasis inferior to the Father) and modalism (the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are distinguished only by predominance).
Victorinus composed the first Latin commentaries on the Epistles of St. Paul: Galatians, Philippians, and Ephesians. In referring to Victorinus as "an Augustine before Augustine," Harnack had in mind particularly his doctrine on predestination, which has received considerable attention in recent studies.
Bibliography: marius victorinus, Traités théologiques sur la Trinité, ed. p. henry, tr. p. hadot, 2 v. (Sources Chrétiennes 68, 69; 1960). p. sÉjournÉ, Dictionnaire de théologie catholique 15.2:2887–2954. p. monceaux, Histoire littéraire de l'Afrique chrétienne, 7 v. (Paris 1901–23) 3: 377–422. e. benz, Marius Victorinus (Stuttgart 1932). a. souter, The Earliest Latin Commentaries on the Epistles of St. Paul (Oxford 1927). r. schmid, Marius Victorinus Rhetor und seine Beziehungen zu Augustin (Kiel 1895). p. hadot, "Marius Victorinus et Alcuin," Archives d'histoire doctrinale et littéraire du moyen-âge 29 (1954) 5–19; "Les Hymnes de Victorinus." ibid., 35 (1960) 7–16; "L'Image de la Trinité dans l'éme," Studia Patristica 6 (Texte und Untersuchungen zur Geschichte der altchristlichen Literatur 81; 1962) 409–442. g. huber, Das Sein und das Absolute (Basel 1955).