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Letter LXXX. From Rufinus to Macarius.

Rufinus on his return from Bethlehem to Rome published a Latin version of Origen’s treatise περι ᾽Αρχῶν, On First Principles. To this he prefixed the preface which is here printed among Jerome’s letters. Professing to take as his model Jerome’s own translations of Origen’s commentaries which he greatly praises, he declares that, following his example, he has paraphrased the obscure passages of the treatise and has paraphrased the obscure passages of the treatise and has omitted as due to interpolators such parts as seem heretical. This preface with its insincere praise of Jerome (whose name, however, is not mentioned) and its avowed manipulation of Origen’s text caused much perplexity at Rome (see Letters LXXXI., LXXXIII., and LXXXIV.), and gave rise to the controversy between Rufinus and Jerome described in the Prolegomena, and given at length in vol. iii. of this Series. The date is 398 a.d.

1. Large numbers of the brethren have, I know, in their zeal for the knowledge of the scriptures begged learned men skilled in Greek literature to make Origen a Roman by bringing home his teaching to Latin ears. One of these scholars, a dear brother and associate,24782478    i.e. Jerome. at the request of bishop Damasus 169translated from Greek into Latin his two homilies on the Song of Songs and prefaced the work with an eloquent and eulogistic introduction such as could not fail to arouse in all an ardent desire to read and to study Origen. To the soul of that just man—so he declared—the words of the Song were applicable: “the king hath brought me into his chambers;”24792479    Cant. i. 4. See the Preface to Origen on the Canticles translated in this volume. and he went on to speak thus: “while in his other books Origen surpasses all former writers, in dealing with the Song of Songs he surpasses himself.” In his preface he pledges himself to give to Roman ears these homilies of Origen and as many of his other works as he can. His style is certainly attractive but I can see that he aims at a more ambitious task than that of a mere translator. Not content with rendering the words of Origen he desires to be himself the teacher.24802480    Rem maioris gloriæ sequitur ut pater verbi sit potius quam interpres. I for my part do but follow up an enterprise which he has sanctioned and commenced, but I lack his vigorous eloquence with which to adorn the sayings of this great man. I am even afraid lest my deficiencies and inadequate command of Latin may detract seriously from the reputation of one whom this writer has deservedly termed second only to the apostles as a teacher of the Church in knowledge and in wisdom.

2. Often turning this over in my mind I held my peace and refused to listen to the brethren when—as frequently happened—they urged me to undertake the work. But your persistence, most faithful brother Macarius, is so great that even want of ability cannot resist it. Thus, to escape the constant importunings to which you subject me, I have given way contrary to my resolution; yet only on these terms that, so far as is possible, I am to be free to follow the rules of translation laid down by my predecessors, and particularly those acted upon by the writer whom I have just mentioned. He has rendered into Latin more than seventy of Origen’s homiletical treatises and a few also of his commentaries upon the apostle;24812481    i.e. St. Paul. and in these wherever the Greek text presents a stumbling block, he has smoothed it down in his version and has so emended the language used that a Latin writer can find no word that is at variance with our faith. In his steps, therefore, I propose to walk, if not displaying the same vigorous eloquence at least observing the same rules. I shall not reproduce passages in Origen’s books which disagree with or contradict his own statements elsewhere. The reason of these inconsistencies I have put more fully before you in the defence of Origen’s writings composed by Pamphilianus24822482    Or Pamphilus. which I have supplemented by a short treatise of my own. I have given what I consider plain proofs that his books have been corrupted in numbers of places by heretics and ill-disposed persons, and particularly those which you now urge me to translate. The books περὶ ᾽Αρχῶν, that is of Principles or of Powers, are in fact in other respects extremely obscure and difficult. For they treat of subjects on which the philosophers have spent all their days and yet have been able to discover nothing. In dealing with these themes Origen has done his best to make belief in a Creator and a rational account of things created subservient to religion and not, as with the philosophers, to irreligion. Wherever then in his books I have found a statement concerning the Trinity contrary to those which in other places he has faithfully made on the same subject, I have either omitted the passage as garbled and misleading or have substituted that view of the matter which I find him to have frequently asserted. Again, wherever—in haste to get on with his theme—he is brief or obscure relying on the skill and intelligence of his readers, I, to make the passage clearer, have sought to explain it by adding any plainer statements that I have read on the point in his other books. But I have added nothing of my own. The words used may be found in other parts of his writings: they are his, not mine. I mention this here to take from cavillers all pretext for once more24832483    See this treatise in vol. iii. of this series. Rufinus with John of Jerusalem had been already accused of Origenism. See Letter LI. 6. finding fault. But let such perverse and contentious persons look well to what they are themselves doing.

3. Meantime I have taken up this great task—if so be that God will grant your prayers—not to stop the mouths of slanderers (an impossible feat except perhaps to God) but to give to those who desire it the means of making progress in knowledge.

In the sight of God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost,24842484    For this adjuration comp. Rev. xxii. 18, 19, and Stieren’s Irenæus i. 821. I adjure and require everyone who shall either read or copy these books of mine, by his belief in a kingdom to come, by the mystery of the resurrection from the dead, by the eternal fire which is “prepared for the devil and his angels;”24852485    Matt. xxv. 41. as he hopes not to inherit eternally that place where “there is weeping and gnashing of teeth,”24862486    Matt. xxii. 13. and where “their worm dieth not and the fire is not quenched,”24872487    Mark ix. 44. let him add nothing to what is written, let him subtract nothing, let him insert nothing, let him alter nothing, but let him 170compare his transcript with the copies from which it is made, let him correct it to the letter, and let him punctuate it aright. Every manuscript that is not properly corrected and punctuated he must reject: for otherwise the difficulties in the text arising from the want of punctuation will make obscure arguments still more obscure to those who read them.


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