Arator on the Acts of the Apostles: A Baptismal Commentary

Arator on the Acts of the Apostles: A Baptismal Commentary

Arator on the Acts of the Apostles: A Baptismal Commentary

Arator on the Acts of the Apostles: A Baptismal Commentary


Baptism for the early Christians was a subject of crucial importance, and its symbolism fired the imagination of writers throughout the Christian world. Arator, the Roman sub-deacon who wrote a verse-commentary on the Acts of the Apostles in A.D. 544, was no exception. The Historia Apostolica is a work of historical importance. Written at a time of crisis, politically and theologically, it is of interest as propaganda for a papacy under threat from Constantinople. But Arator's concentration on baptismal themes offers vital evidence of the transmission of exegetical ideas in late antiquity. This book is the first major work on Arator in English and the first ever to study the Historia Apostolica as biblical commentary. Passages of particular baptismal importance are presented both in the original Latin and in a new translation, and are considered in the context of the writings of earlier Christian commentators. Hillier's study is a wide-ranging study of the popularity and potency of baptismal symbolism in the first six centuries A.D.


The Venerable Bede Expositio Actuum Apostolorum et Retractio is permeated with knowledge of and affection for Arator Historia Apostolica. the eleven direct citations are but part of the story: Bede's commentary is influenced on practically every page by Arator's mystical interpretations. 'Hoc pulchre et breviter exponit Arator': the shadowy subdeacon was evidently favoured reading in the monastic foundations of Anglo-Saxon England. It is then perhaps fitting that the bulk of this commentary on the ha should have been written in Durham, where Bede now lies, and no great distance from where he lived and worked at Jarrow, and have reached its final form here in Repton, home of the Christian kings of Mercia from the seventh century to the ninth. Perhaps Arator was read and enjoyed here too.

Arator may have been a name familiar to scholars in Anglo-Saxon times; such is certainly not the case today. It now seems scarcely believable that there was a time when Arator was no more to me than a name in a footnote. He has been many things since: infuriating and obscure, but never boring. There are many to thank but a few names must suffice: John Dexter and Guy Lee, who gave me the grounding in the language which enabled me to make at least some sense from Arator's verse; Gerald Bonner, who supervised my research and gave guidance and encouragement when completion seemed so far off; Michael Lapidge and David Hunt, who examined my thesis and provided valuable comment and advice on its conversion; but most of all my wife Elaine, who witnessed and welcomed Arator's arrival and has offered him unfailing hospitality throughout his stay with us: quid dulcius quam habere quicum omnia audeas sic loqui ut tecum?

Richard hillier

Repton March 1992 . . .

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