Two Landmarks in Prophetic Interpretation—No.l

REALM OF RESEARCH: Two Landmarks in Prophetic Interpretation—No.l

Graduate Student, S.D.A. Theological Seminary

I. The Deflecting Influence of Tichonius

Looking over the long and fascinating history of prophetic interpretation, with special reference to the interpretation of the Apocalypse, we are impressed by two figures who have influenced the thinking of generations of expositors in a remarkable way. The one is Tichonius; the other, Joachim of Flores. The first flourished at the end of the fourth century in North Africa; the latter lived from about 1130 to 1202 in Italy. In this first study we shall deal only with Tichonius.

Tichonius (also spelled Ticonius, Tyconius, and Thyconius) was an African by nationality and religion. He was a grammarian, famous for his learning and piety, and belonged to the Donatists, a schismatic church formed in North Africa at the beginning of the fourth century. In spite of severe persecutions, this church continued to exist for more than a century. The reason for her break with the official church in Rome was her contention that bishops and presbyters who had shown weakness during the time of Diocletian's persecution should not be reinstated into their offices. The Roman Church did not take such a rigorous attitude. The Donatists therefore assumed that they were the only pure church, whereas the other larger group of religionists, infected by the spirit of laxity, had succumbed to the whisperings of the evil one.

Such ideas can be traced in the writings of Tichonius, although he did not belong to the most rigorous group among the Donatists. He even admitted that among the Catholics there might be those who will be saved—a statement which brought the condemnation of his writings by the Donatist bishop Parmenian at a Synod somewhat before the year 390* while others gave the date at 390. Later Tichonius was highly praised by Augustine, and even referred to as having brought forth weighty arguments against the Donatists.8

THE WORKS OF TICHONIUS.—According to Gennadius, four books of Tichonius were known: De bello intestino libraries, and Expo sitione diversarum causarum (both of which are lost), Liber regularum, and a commentary on the Apocalypse.1 The Liber regularum, or the Book of Rules, has been preserved and is most carefully edited by F. C. Burkitt.5 This work was highly esteemed among the theologians of the Middle Ages and became fundamental for the interpretation of prophetic language both of the Old and New Testaments. It was quoted and criticized by Augustine, but in general he commented on it very favorably and endorsed it.8 This endorsement by Augustine is probably the chief reason why Tichonius, the schismatic, was able to exercise such a profound influence upon the minds of men for nearly a thousand years. We shall consider these rules in greater detail shortly.

A copy of the commentary on the Apocalypse by Tichonius was still in the possession of the monastery of St. Gallen in the ninth century, according to Haussleiter.7 Today nothing of it is preserved, and we are compelled to reconstruct it with the help of the works of Primasius, the Venerable Bede, and best of all by means of the commentary on the Apocalypse by Beatus of Libana. Beatus was a Spanish presbyter, an abbot who wrote his commentary in the year 822, and dedicated it to the bishop Etherius of Osma.8

Primasius of Hadrumentum still felt somewhat hesitant about using Tichonius, the schismatic, and considered it necessary to apologize by saying that a precious pearl, when found in the mud, should not be rejected. His commentary is more or less a rewriting of the Tichonius commentary, purging it from all Donatistic views, and thereby making it acceptable to the Catholic Church.9 The Venerable Bede, on the other hand, is absolutely enthusiastic about Tichonius. He considered him to be a rose among thorns (the heretics), and believed that he was correct and catholic in his interpretations, except in those parts in which he applied certain prophecies to the persecutions of the Donatists by the Catholic Church.10

But, despite the strong reliance placed by Bede upon Tichonius, the most valuable document for reconstructing the lost commentary of Tichonius is that of the Spaniard Beatus. The latter had no intention of furnishing ideas of his own. He was a mere copyist. He mentions in his introduction all those from whom he has copied, and among those used we find Tichonius. This commentary of Beatus was copied frequently, but only in the year 1770 was it published, by Flores in Madrid." With the help of Beatus we are now in a position to reconstruct with fair accuracy the original text of Tichonius' commentary on the Apocalypse.

Principal Teachings of Tichonius

Tichonius was living in a period during which chiliasm was still flourishing. Many strange applications of prophecy were made by the chiliasts at this time. However, a new development had set in. The hope of-an immediate coming of the golden age, the imminent arrival of the glorious thousand-year period, began to wane to a certain extent, because of the change that had been brought about through Constantine. The church became recognized in the world, and began to play a decisive role in the affairs of the world. Tichonius, therefore, felt the need of bringing Biblical exegesis onto a more sound and general foundation and to veer away from chiliasm. He tried to find a number of basic principles which he expressed in his seven rules. Some of them are commendable; others are of less value. He, of course, could not and did not foresee the prominent influence that his rules would exercise upon generations to come, and how far they would lead people away from an exegesis which takes account of historical events. These rules are:

(1) De domino et corpore ejus, (2) De domini corpore bipartitio,(3) De promissis et lege, (4) De specie et genere, (5) De temporibus,(6) De recapitulations,(7) De diabolo et ejus corpore 12

The first rule is about the Lord and His body, that is, Christ and the church. For instance, the stone of Daniel 2135, which smashed the image, is Christ. And when it grew to a mountain, then it is the church.13 The second rule deals with the divided body of the Lord, the body which consists of a right and a left side. For example, in the Song of Solomon (1:5) we read, I am black but comely. Now, it is impossible, for the body of Christ, that is, the church, to be black and beautiful at the same time. Therefore, the first attribute must refer to those who are within the church, but not of the church."14

The third rule deals with the theological problem of the promise and the law—how the church, the true seed of Abraham, born of the Holy Spirit, shall relate herself to the law. Tichonius was a strong defender of the Pauline position of grace.15 The fourth rule dealt with the species and the genus, meaning that it is permissible to use the subordinated idea of a species in order to express the super ordinated idea of a higher category. In other words, the plain and definite idea expressed in a verse has in most cases a deeper spiritual meaning. And some verses of Scripture have only the latter meaning and are related to the church.16

The fifth rule of Tichonius is concerned with "time." Every member in the Bible points toward the aion, the period or age, of the church. Seven, ten, and twelve were considered perfect numbers. They either stand for the whole period or for part of it. The opposite, however, is also possible; a larger number may stand for a shorter actual period. For instance, the thou sand years of Revelation 20 stand for the 350 years during, which the church would exist.17 This was because Tichonius, in spite of his spiritualizing, believed that the end was near, and that the three and a half "days" meant 350 years, which had to be reckoned from the death of Christ in 31, and that therefore the end would come and Antichrist would appear in This false time setting of Tichonius was one of the reasons that Augustine, who is in many respects dependent upon Tichonius, made a radical break with all time calculations.

The sixth rule deals with recapitulations— that, for example, in the book of Revelation the narrative is not continuous but repeats itself and goes over the same ground under new and different symbols.19 And, finally, in the seventh rule we have the devil and his body as the exact analogy of Christ and His body. As Christ is represented in His church, in the elect and righteous, so Satan is represented in the evil doers, in the body of the rejected.20

New Philosophy of History

This idea of the corpus Christi and the corpus diaboli brought about a definite concept of history which dominated men all through the Middle Ages. Through this concept the world became divided into two great camps—the camp of good and the camp of evil; the camp of the church, which developed into the unam sanctum, and the camp outside the church. This led to a kind of dualistic thinking. Tichonius held, of course, that nature in itself remains good, but that Satan having gained power over this world is now reigning over the will of men, who through sin become so closely attached to him that they all are practically one person, or one body with him. Satan is the head of this body, and they are the members. Therefore all sinners form one kingdom, one great nation throughout the world, not bound by the limitations of races or the boundaries of nations. This is the civitas diaboli (der Teufelsstaat) .a This civitas diaboli is like a vast field of corpses. One person goes out to deceive the other, and thereby destroys himself.

In contrast to this terrible picture, the civitas diaboli, of those who are engrossed in evil, is the civitas Dei (der Gottesstaat) which represents the power of good, the power of salvation offered by God. By rebirth through the Holy Spirit man becomes a partaker of this civitas Dei. By the death to sin, by repentance, meta- noya, and by the resurrection through baptism, men become citizens in the civitas Dei, wherein God rules.

Here we have a direct prototype of Augus tine's civitas Dei which gave the death stroke to the chiliasm of the early church, and which gave the church the argument that she is the only and correct fulfillment of God's rule on earth. The golden age, the thousand years, are going to be fulfilled in the reign of the church. This idea of the corpus Dei and the corpus dia- boli was developed into a complete scheme for interpreting all phases of human endeavors. It became the dominant scheme of interpreting 'history during the Middle Ages. Here it is in some detail:

Deus                         diabolus

Christus                  antichristus

angeli                       daemones

Civitas Dei               civitas diaboli 

ecclesia   universitas malorum

Jerusalem   Babylon

apostoli,prophetae,             reges principes malorum

doctores, praedicatores,  

martyres, virgins.

boni    mali

sancti, jwsti,    reprobi, impii, iniqui.


salvandi          damnandi

fideles         haeretici, schismatici, hypocritae,

        falsi Christiani, pagani, Judaei

His Commentary on the Apocalypse

Now let us turn to Tichonius' interpretation of the Apocalypse and see what Gennadius has to say about it.

"He [Tichonius] also expounded the Apocalypse of John entire, regarding nothing in it in a carnal sense, but all in a spiritual sense. In this exposition he maintained the angelic nature to be corporeal, moreover he doubts that there will be a reign of the righteous on earth for a thousand years after the resurrection, or that there will be two resurrections of the dead in the flesh, one of the righteous and the other of the unrighteous, but maintains that there will be one simultaneous resurrection of all, at which shall arise even the aborted and the deformed, lest any living human being, however deformed, should be lost. He makes such distinction to be sure, between the two resurrections as to make the first, which he calls the apocalypse of the righteous, only to take place in the growth of the church where, justified by faith, they are raised from the dead bodies of their sins through baptism to the service of eternal life, but the second, the general resurrection of all men in the flesh." 23

Gennadius has well summed up this point of Tichonius. We see that Tichonius made good use of his rules in his interpretation. But there are some other points of interest in his inter pretation. He believed that the majority of the members of the church are dead, Satan having achieved that fact by making the clerics serve worldly ends. These pseudo priests were not shepherds any longer, but were holding their positions for the sake of power, and were looking constantly for the friendship of the world. They were introducing pagan customs again, and starting a new idolatry.24 They invented the idea of a twofold ethic—a higher one for those who refrain from marriage and become monks, and a lower one for the masses who may indulge in marriage, or in vulgar carnality as they express it. However, the difference between truth and falsehood, light and darkness, church and world, is thereby undermined, because God has only one way to life, the way of repentance, and that is the same way for all. A monk who wants to avoid repentance, and goes into the desert, is serving the devil.25

Tichonius' remarks on Revelation 12 and 13 are rather significant. He understands the beast to be the whole corpus diaboli of heathen and Christians alike. After Satan had failed to sup press the true church by persecution, he completed a masterpiece of deception and added to the seven heads an eighth head, which is the worldly church. She is a simulacrum Christi, a shadow picture of Christ, resembling outwardly the true picture, but in reality leading people away from Him.26

He believed that the last time had come, and that the church of North Africa would be the fulfiller of the angels' messages and arouse the world by her powerful preaching, which would separate the righteous from the wicked, deliver the unbelievers to the judgment of God, and lead to persecution at the hands of the wicked.27 The end will come as soon as the complete number of saints is reached by this last preaching. Satan then will be freed, and the pride of the human heart will appear. Man will sin without restraint. And, finally, the agitation of the false Christians against the true ones will take on fearful dimensions, and will be like a terrible earthquake in which they themselves and all their works will be destroyed.28

Regarding the different time periods mentioned in Revelation, Tichonius left everything indefinite, except the one idea of the 350 years, which he propounded, and which we have mentioned before. He was not interested in the historical events, as such, and did not believe that the different symbols pointed to exactly corresponding events in history. To him they described the attack of the diabolic forces upon the church. He is not interested in details and does not want to give answers upon such questions as: When did it happen? or, How is it going to happen? Rather he would ask: What is the situation of the church in general at any time? From which side are the attacks of the evil one to be expected? For Tichonius the Apocalypse is a presentation of the church in history, but not of church history.

Tichonius thereby gave the lead to the exegesis of the Apocalypse for the next thousand years. All the medieval expositors of the Apocalypse follow Tichonius, in principle, with but slight deviations here and there. The first who reintroduced the historical approach, in order to understand certain apocalyptic symbols, was Anselm, bishop of Havelberg (died 1158); and somewhat later, in a more remarkable degree, we come to Joachim of Flores (died 1202) and his followers. We will next note Joachim. 

(To be continued)



1 Traugott Hahti, Tyconius Studiew in Stadien zur Geschichte der Theologie und der Kirche, vol. 6, part2. p. 5.

2 C. A. Scott, "Donatists," Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics, vol. 4, p. 844.

3 Augustine, Dedoctrina. Christiana, vol. 3, pp. 30, 31 in Migne, PL, vol. 34, cols. 81, 82

4. Jerome and Gennadius, Lives of Illustrious Men, part 3, chap. 18 in NPNF, 26. series, vol. 3, P 389.

5. F. C. Burkitt, The Book of Rules of Tyconius, in Text and Studies, edited by J. Armitage Robinson, vol.3. pp. xii-cxxi, and 1-114.

6. Augustine, op. cit., vol. 3, pp. 30-37, in Migne, PL, vol. 34, cols. 81-90.

7. The oldest catalog of the library of the monastery of St. Gallen contains this item under no. 242: Bxpo- sitio tichonii donatistae in apocalypsim vol. i, vetus ,' compare with: G. Becker, Catalogi bibliothecarum antiqni (Bonn, 1885), p. 48 in art. "Ticonius," by J. Haussleiter in Realencykopadie fiir protestcmtische Theologie und Kirche (3d ed.), vol. 20, p. 853.

8. J. Haussleiter, "Die Kommentare des Victorinus, Tichonius and Hieronymus zur Apocalypse," in Zeit- schrift fuer kirchliche Wissenschaft und kirchliches Leben, vol. 7, part 5, p. 245.

9. Hahn, op. cit., p. 3, and Migne, PL, 68, cols. 793- 936.

10. Bede in Migne, PL, 93, cols. 130-206.

11. Haussleiter, op. cit., p. 245.

12. Burkitt, op. cit., p. i. 

13. Ibid., p. 2. 

14. Ibid., p. 10.

15. Ibid., pp. 12-31.

16. Ibid., pp. 31-54; Hahn, op. cit., p. 7.

17. Burkitt, op. cit., pp. 55-66 ; Hahn, op. cit., p. 7.

18. Alois Dempf , Sacrum Imperium, pp. 121, 122.

19. Burkitt, op. cit., pp. 66-70.

20. Ibid., pp. 70-85.

21. Hahn, op. cit., pp. 24, 25.

22. W. Kamlah, Apokalypse und Geschichtstheologie, in Historische Studien, Heft 285, pp. 56, 58.

23. Jerome and Gennadius, Lives of Illustrious Men, part 3, chap. 18, in NPNF, 2& series, vol. 3, p. 380.

24. Hahn, op. cit., p. 72.

25. Ibid., p. 73

26. lbid., p. 75.

27 Ibid., pp. 89, 90.

28 Ibid., p. 95.



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Graduate Student, S.D.A. Theological Seminary

September 1950

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