Commentary on the Apocalypse

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The 6th seal from the Morgan Beatus

Commentary on the Apocalypse (Commentaria In Apocalypsin) is a book written in the eighth century by the Spanish monk and theologian Beatus of Liébana. It is a commentary on the New Testament Apocalypse of John or Book of Revelation. It also refers to any manuscript copy of this work, especially any of the 26 illuminated copies that have survived. It is often referred to simply as the Beatus. The historical significance of the Commentary is made even more pronounced since it included a world map, which offers a rare insight into the geographical understanding of the post-Roman world. Well-known copies include the Morgan, the Saint-Sever, the Gerona, the Osma and the Madrid (Vitr 14-1) Beatus codices.

Considered together, the Beatus codices are among the most important Spanish medieval manuscripts and have been the subject of extensive scholarly and antiquarian enquiry. The illuminated versions now represent the best known works of Mozarabic art, and had some influence on the medieval art of the rest of Europe.

The Commentary on the Apocalypse (Commentaria In Apocalypsin)[edit]

The work consists of several prologues (which differ among the manuscripts) and one long summary section (the "Summa Dicendum") before the first book, an introduction to the second book, and 12 books of commentary, some long and some very short. Beatus states in its dedication to his friend Bishop Etherius that it is meant to educate his brother monks.

The work is structured around selections from previous Apocalypse commentaries and references by Tyconius (now mostly lost), St. Primasius of Hadrumentum, St. Caesarius of Arles, St. Apringius of Beja, and many others. There are also long extracts from the texts of the Fathers of the Church and Doctors of the Church, especially Augustine of Hippo (Saint Augustine), Ambrose of Milan (Saint Ambrose), Irenaeus of Lyons (Saint Irenaeus), [Pope Gregory I] (Pope St. Gregory the Great), Saint Jerome (Jerome of Stridon), and Isidore of Seville (Saint Isidore), as well as others. Some manuscripts add commentaries on the books of Ezekiel and Daniel by other authors, genealogical tables, and the like, but these are not strictly part of the Beatus.

The creative character of the Commentary comes from Beatus' writing of a wide-ranging catena of verses from nearly every book of the Bible, quotes of patristic commentary from many little known sources, and interstitial original comments by Beatus. His attitude is one of realism about church politics and human pettiness, hope and love towards everyday life even when it is difficult, and many homely similes from his own time and place. (For example, he compares evangelization to lighting fires for survival when caught far from home by a sudden mountain blizzard, and the Church to a Visigothic army with both generals and muleskinners.) His work is also a fruitful source for Spanish linguistics, as Beatus often alters words in his African Latin sources to the preferred synonyms in Hispanic Latin.[1] [3] [4] [5]

The message[edit]

Vision of the Lamb, the four cherubim and the 24 elders from the Facundus-Beatus (f. 117v)

After 711 AD, Spanish Christians found themselves being persecuted by Muslims.[citation needed] They could no longer practice their religion openly; bells and processions were forbidden; churches and monasteries were destroyed and were not reconstructed; persecutions often lead to bloody outcomes.[citation needed] The Apocalypse and the symbolism in it took on a different meaning. The beast, which had previously been believed to represent the Roman Empire, now became the Caliphate, and Babylon was no longer Rome, but Córdoba.

In continuity with previous commentaries written in the Tyconian tradition, and in continuity with St. Isidore of Seville and St. Apringius of Beja from just a few centuries before him, Beatus' Commentary on the Apocalypse focuses on the sinless beauty of the eternal Church, and on the tares growing among the wheat in the Church on Earth. Persecution from outside forces like pagan kings and heretics is mentioned, but it is persecution from fellow members of the Church that Beatus spends hundreds of pages. Anything critical of the Jews in the Bible is specifically said to have contemporary effect as a criticism of Christians, and particularly of monks and other religious; and a good deal of what is said about pagans is stated as meant as a criticism of Christians who worship their own interests more than God. Muslims are barely mentioned, except as references to Christian heresies include them. Revelation is a book about the Church's problems throughout all ages, not about history per se. In the middle of Book 4 of 12, Beatus does state his guess about the end-date of the world (801 AD, from the number of the Holy Spirit plus Alpha, as well as a few other calculations) although he warns people that it is folly to try to guess a date that even Jesus in the Bible claimed not to know.[1][2][3][4][5]

Copies of the manuscript[edit]

Principal copies[edit]

The more notable among the 31 Beatus manuscripts are :

Later copies[edit]

  • Rylands Beatus [R]: Manchester, John Rylands Library Latin MS 8), ca. 1175.[14]
  • Cardeña Beatus [Pc]: ca. 1180 and the folios are dispersed between collections in Madrid, Museo Arqueológico Nacional (127ff) and a private collection Francisco de Zabálburu y Basabe (2), New York Metropolitan Museum of Art (15) and Girona (Museu d’Art de Girona (1). A facsimile edition by M. Moleiro Editor has gathered them all to recreate the original volume as it was.[15]
  • Beatus of Lorvão (pt) [L] written in 1189 in the monastery of St Mammas in Lorvão (Portugal); Arquivo Nacional da Torre do Tombo in Lisbon.
  • Arroyo Beatus [Ar] written in the 1st half of the 13th century in the region of Burgos, perhaps in the monastery of San Pedro de Cardeña. Paris (Bibliothèque nationale) and New York (Bernard H. Breslauer Collection).
  • Castile, 1220, Morgan Library (New York), MS 429 (not the Morgan Beatus, see above).[16]



  1. ^ In Apocalypsin. Ed. Florez, Madrid, 1770. The first known printed edition of the commentary. Latin.
  2. ^ Commentarius in Apocalypsin. (2 Vols.) Ed. E. Romero-Pose. Rome, 1985. The second critical edition of the commentary. Latin.
  3. ^ Tractatus in Apocalypsin. Ed. Gryson. (Vols. 107B and 107C, Corpus Christianorum Series Latina.) Brepols, 2012. The third critical edition of the commentary. Latin, with French introductory material. Also available in a French translation by Gryson, as part of the Sources Chretiennes series, but I've never seen it myself.
  4. ^ Beato de Liebana: Obras Completas y Complementarias, Vol. I. BAC, 2004. The commentary translated by Alberto del Campo Hernandez and Joaquin Gonzalez Echegaray. Side by side Spanish and Latin.
  5. ^ Forbes, Andrew ; Henley, David (2012). Apocalypse: The Illustrated Book of Revelation. No exegesis, but extensive full colour images from five different versions of the Beatus and the Bamberg Apocalypse.Chiang Mai: Cognoscenti Books. ASIN: B008WAK9SS.
  6. ^ New York, #81
  7. ^ New York, #78
  8. ^ New York, #79
  9. ^ New York, #80
  10. ^ New York, #143
  11. ^ "Beato of Liébana: The Codex of Fernando I and Doña Sancha". World Digital Library (in Latin and Spanish). Retrieved 2014-03-01. 
  12. ^ New York, #82
  13. ^ New York, #145
  14. ^ New York, #154
  15. ^ New York, #153
  16. ^ New York, #147


  • "New York": The Art of medieval Spain, A.D. 500-1200, an exhibition catalog from The Metropolitan Museum of Art Libraries (fully available online as PDF)
  • The Illustrated Beatus: a corpus of the illustrations of the commentary on the Apocalypse by John Williams. 5 Volumes. Harvey Miller and Brepols, 1994, 1998, 2000. Art books attempting to document all the Beatus illustrations in all surviving manuscripts. Due to expense, most illustrations are reproduced in black and white. Unfortunately, Williams was uninterested in Beatus' text, and thus spread some misconceptions about it; but his art scholarship and tenacity is amazing. His books' influence on most of this Wikipedia article is strong.

Further reading[edit]

  • Commentarius in Apocalypsin. Ed. Henry A. Sanders. Papers and monographs of the American Academy in Rome 7 (Rome: American Academy in Rome, 1930). The first critical edition of the commentary. Latin.
  • Beati Liebanensis Tractatus de Apocalipsin. Ed. Roger Gryson. Corpus Christianorum: Series Latina 107 B-C (Turnhout: Brepols, 2012). Two volumes of a new, improved and up-to-date critical edition of the commentary's text. Latin and French.
  • Commentary on the Apocalypse - Part I. Trans. M.S. O'Brien. (2013). English translation of Books I and II. Includes many sources and quotes not noted in Gryson.

External links[edit]