« Prev Life of Rufinus. Next »


on the

Life and Works of Rufinus.


Note.—The References (where a simple number is given) are to the pages in this Volume.

Tyrannius Rufinus is chiefly known from his relation to Jerome, first as an intimate friend and afterwards as a bitter enemy. The immense influence of Jerome, through all the ages in which criticism was asleep, has unduly lowered his adversary. But he has some solid claims of his own on our recognition. His work on the Creed, besides its intrinsic merits, must always be an authority as a witness to the state of the creed as held in the Italian churches in the beginning of the 5th century, as also to the state of the Canon and the Apocrypha at that time. And it is to his translations that we are indebted for our knowledge of many of the works of Origen, including the greatest of them all, the Περὶ ᾽Αρχῶν. We are the more grateful for his services because they were so opportune. The works of Origen, which had been neglected in the West for a century and to such an extent that the Pope Anastasius says (433) that he neither knows who he was nor what he wrote, came suddenly into notice in the last quarter of a century before Alaric’s sack of Rome a.d. 385–410: and it was at this moment that Rufinus appeared, according to his friend Macarius’ dream (439) like a ship laden with the merchandize of the East, an Italian who had lived some 25 years in Greek lands, and sufficiently equipped for the work of a translator. Through his labours during the last 13 years of that eventful time a considerable part of the works of the great Alexandrian have floated down across the ocean of the Dark Ages, and, while lost in their native Greek, have in their Latin garb come to enrich the later civilization of the West.

a.d. 344–5: Rufinus was born at Concordia (Jer. Ep. v. 2. comp. with Ep. x. and De Vir. Ill. §53) between Aquileia and Altinum, a place of some importance, which was destroyed by the Huns in 452 but afterwards rebuilt. His birth was about the year 344 or 345, he being slightly older than Jerome. Nothing is known of his education or the events of his youth; but that he was early acquainted with Jerome and was interested in sacred literature is seen from the fact that in 368 when Jerome went with Bonosus to Gaul, Rufinus begged him to copy for him the works of Hilary on the Psalms and on the Councils of the Church (Jer. Ep. v. 2).

a.d. 372–3: His mother did not die till the year 397, as is seen from Jerome’s mention of her (Letter LXXXI, 1), and it would appear that both his parents were Christians. But he was not baptized till about his 28th year. He was at that time living at Aquileia, where he had embraced the monastic state, and was a member of the company of young ascetics to which Jerome and Bonosus belonged. The presence among them of Hylas (Jerome Letter III, 3) the freedman of Melania, the wealthy and ascetic Roman matron, shows that that relation had already begun which was afterwards of such importance in the life of Rufinus. It must have been just before the breaking up of that company that he was baptized, for Jerome, writing of him (Ep. iv. 2) in 374 from Antioch says “He has but lately been washed and is as white as snow.” He himself gives a full account of his baptism in his Apology (436).

a.d. 373: When this company of friends was scattered, Rufinus joined the noble Roman lady, Melania, in her pilgrimage to the East (Jer. Letter iv. 2). He visited the monasteries of Egypt, and apparently desired to remain there; but a persecution arose against the orthodox monks from Lucius the Arian bishop of Alexandria, seconded by the governor, both being prompted by the Arian Emperor Valens: the monasteries were in many cases broken up (Sozomen, vi, 19, Socrates iv, 21–3, Rufinus Eccl. 406Hist. ii, 3), and Rufinus himself for a while suffered imprisonment and was then banished from Egypt (430 Eccl. Hist. ii, 4). Rufinus probably on coming out of prison joined Melania who had then settled at Diocæsarea (Pallad. Hist. Laus. §117) on the coast of Palestine for the purpose of making a home for the Egyptian exiles on their way to their various destinations. He states in his Apology (466) that he was 6 years in Egypt, and that he returned there again, after an interval, for two years more. He was a pupil both of Didymus, then head of the catechetical school, who wrote for him a treatise on the death of infants (534), and of Theophilus, afterward Bishop of Alexandria (528), and that he saw many of the well-known hermits (466), such as Serapion and Macarius, whom he describes in his History of the Monks. Whether Melania returned with him to Egypt, or whether she went to Jerusalem, we do not know: it is also uncertain whether a journey which he made (Eccl. Hist. ii. 8) to Edessa was undertaken at this time. The date of the settlement of Melania on the Mount of Olives according to Jerome’s Chronicle is 379, or, according to our present reckoning of dates, 377. We may suppose that Rufinus joined her in 379. This was his home for eighteen years, till the year 397.

a.d. 386: Rufinus was ordained at Jerusalem, probably about the time when John, with whom he was closely connected, succeeded Cyril in the Bishopric. The great resources of Melania were added to his own which seem to have been not inconsiderable. He built habitations for monks on the Mount of Olives, and employed them in learned pursuits, and in copying manuscripts. On the arrival of Jerome at Bethlehem, the old friendship was renewed, though not apparently with all its former warmth. Jerome certainly at times visited Rufinus and once at least stayed with him (465), and he and his friends brought mss. to be copied by the monks of the Mount of Olives (465). He gave lectures on Christian writers and doctrine, of which a satirical account is given at a later period by Jerome27562756    “He came in with a slow and stately step; he spoke with a broken utterance, sometimes with a kind of disjointed sobs rather than words. He had a pile of tomes upon the table; and then, with a frown and a contraction of the nostrils, and his forehead wrinkled up, he snapped his fingers to call the attention of his audience. What he said had no depth in it; but he criticized others, and pointed out their defects, as though he would exclude them from the Senate of Christian teachers. He was rich, and entertained freely, and many flocked round him in his public appearances. He was as luxurious as Nero at home, as stern as Cato abroad; as full of contradictions as the Chimæra.” in his letter to Rusticus (cxxv, §18). The nick-name Grunnius which he there gives him was probably caused by some trick of the voice. But we may gather from Jerome that he read the Greek church writers diligently and lectured upon them, a study which enabled him to do much good work at a later time. It is probable that he lectured in Greek, since he says in 397 that his Latin was weak through disuse (439). We may set against Jerome’s depreciatory description the account given by Palladius (Hist. Laus. §118). “Rufinus, who lived with Melania, was a man of congenial spirit, and of great nobility and strength of character. No man has ever been known of greater learning or of gentler disposition.” Palladius also speaks of the princely hospitality of Melania and Rufinus: “They received,” he says, “bishops and monks, virgins and matrons and helped them out of their own funds: They passed their life offending none and being helpers of the whole world.” It is said by Palladius that he had heard from Melania that she had been present at the death of Pambas in Egypt which took place in the year 385, and it is probable that Rufinus accompanied her on this occasion. He himself records27572757    Hist. Eccl. ii. 8. a journey which he made to Edessa and Charrhoe, when he saw settlements of the monks like those which he had previously seen in Egypt. But the date of this journey does not appear. It may have been undertaken in order to visit some of the exiles from Egypt before his establishment on the Mt. of Olives. He records also the visits of the remarkable men who were entertained by him; Bacurius, who had been king of the Ubii, and afterwards count of the Domestics under Theodosius, and was governor or duke of Palestine when Rufinus settled there; and Ædesius the companion of Frumentius the Missionary to the tribes in the N. W. of India. But his chief interest and occupation throughout seems to have been with his monks at Mt. Olivet with perhaps some connection with the diocesan work of his friend John, the Bp. of Jerusalem. Palladius records that Rufinus and Melania were the means of restoring to the communion of the church 400 monks. What was this schism, which Palladius describes as being “on account of Paulinus”? It is probable that the words relate to the monks of Bethlehem whose alienation from the Church of Jerusalem had been due to the ordination of Paulinian, Jerome’s brother, by Epiphanius. We know that Rufinus before leaving Palestine was reconciled to Jerome (Jer. Ap. iii. 26, 33); and we know also that Jerome’s book against John, Bishop of Jerusalem, which describes the schism was suddenly broken off;27582758    For the date of this work, see the Note prefixed to it in the translation of Jerome’s works, Vol. vi. of this series. 407and that he remained from that time forward at one with his Bishop. We may be allowed to believe that the influence of Melania as well as Rufinus had been exerted for some time previously to bring about this happy result.

a.d. 382: Rufinus’ part in the controversy thus terminated is partly known and partly the subject of inference. The original source of discord is not known. It is possible that Rufinus, who had been mentioned by Jerome in his Chronicle (a.d. 378) as being, together with Florentius and Bonosus, a specially distinguished monk, did not find himself included in his friend’s Catalogue of Church writers (De Vir. III.) published at Bethlehem.

a.d. 392: When Aterbius began the Origenist troubles at Jerusalem, Rufinus, who treated him with merited scorn (Jer. Ap. iii, 33) probably felt some resentment at Jerome who, by “giving satisfaction” to the heresy hunter, had countenanced his proceedings. Rufinus appears as Bishop John’s adviser during the visit of Epiphanius (Jer. Letter li, 2, 6), as the chief of a chorus of presbyters who applauded their own bishop and derided Epiphanius as a “silly old man;”27592759    See Jerome’s expressions in his book “Against John of Jerusalem” c. 11, which evidently refer to Rufinus: “grinning like a dog and turning up his nose.” and as present when Epiphanius remonstrated with his brother-bishop. He is also mentioned by Epiphanius in his letter to John (Jer. Letter li. 6) as holding an important place in the Church, “May God free you and all about you, especially the presbyter Rufinus, from the heresy of Origen, and all others.” This sentence will suggest to all who are familiar with church-controversies a whole series of scenes in the schism which continued between Bethlehem and Jerusalem during the next five years. Jerome believed Rufinus to have injured him at every turn, to have procured the abstraction of a Manuscript of his from the house occupied by Fabiola on her visit to Bethlehem (Apol. iii, 4) perhaps to have been in league with Vigilantius (Comp. Jer. Ep. lxi, 3 with Apol. iii, 4, 19). But such insinuations have the appearance rather of the suspicions prompted by anger than of actual fact. In any case they were condoned when the two old companions who had been so long parted by ecclesiastical strife met together at the Church of the Resurrection at a solemn eucharistic feast, and joined hands in token of reconciliation, and when Jerome accompanied his friend some way on his journey before their final parting (Jer. Vol. iii, 24).

a.d. 397: He arrived in Italy, in company with Melania, early in the spring of 397. They were there received by Paulinus of Nola with great honour.27602760    Paulinus Ep. xxix, 12. Melania went on at once to Rome; but Rufinus stopped at the monastery of Pinetum near Terracina. His welcome by the Abbot Urseius and the philosopher Macarius, and their request to him to translate various Greek books, amongst others the Περὶ ᾽Αρχῶν of Origen, are described in his Prefaces to the Benedictions of the Patriarchs, the Apology of Pamphilus and the translations of Origen (417, 418, 420, 439). The preface to Origen’s chief work (427) had the worst and most lasting results. He says that, being aware of the odium attaching to the name of Origen, he had feared to translate the work: but that the example of Jerome (whom he does not name but whose great ability he extols) in translating Origen encourages him to follow in his steps. This Preface, with this translation of the Περὶ ᾽Αρχῶν, was published in Rome early in the year 398, Rufinus having moved there to stay with Melania.

a.d. 400–403: At Rome he lived in the circle of Melania, her son Publicola and his wife Albina, with their daughter the younger Melania and her husband Pinianus, to whom we may probably add the Pope Siricius, and certainly Apronianus, a young noble whom he speaks of as his son in the faith (435, 564). Jerome’s friend Eusebius of Cremona was also in Rome, and on friendly terms with him (445). But on the appearance of the work of Origen with Rufinus’ Preface, a great ferment arose leading to the violent controversy between Rufinus and Jerome which is described in the Preface to their Apologies (434, 482).

a.d. 398: Meanwhile, Rufinus had left Rome probably in 398, having obtained the usual Literæ Formatæ from the Pope Siricius, who died that year, to introduce him to other churches.27612761    Jer. Ep. cxxvii, 9 Ap. iii. 21. We hear of him at Milan, where in the presence of the Bishop, Simplicianus,27622762    Successor of Ambrose, and Bishop a.d. 397–400. See the Letter of Anastasius to him. Jer. Ep. xcv. he met Eusebius of Cremona, and heard him read out a letter of Theophilus containing some passages from the Περὶ ᾽Αρχῶν, against which he vehemently protested (490).

a.d. 399–408: He then, having probably visited his native city of Concordia, where his mother,27632763    She died soon after. See Jerome Ep. lxxxi, 1. possibly his father also (430, 502) was still living, took up his abode at Aquileia. There he was welcomed by the bishop, Chromatius, by whom he had been baptized some 26 or 27 years before. Rufinus probably arrived at Aquileia in the beginning of 399, and remained 408there 9 or 10 years. It was during this period that all his principal works except the Commentary on the Benedictions of the patriarchs, the translation of the Περὶ ᾽Αρχῶν and Pamphilus’ Apology, and the book on adulterations of Origen were composed. It was soon after his settlement at Aquileia that he heard from Apronianus of the letter of Jerome to Pammachius and Oceanus27642764    Jer. Ep. lxxxiv. expressing his anger against him for the mention he had made of Jerome in the Preface to the Περὶ ᾽Αρχῶν. The conciliatory letter to Rufinus which accompanied this and which was an answer to a friendly one from Rufinus27652765    See Jer. Ep. lxxxi, 1. was not sent on by Jerome’s friends (489); and Rufinus, thinking that his old friend had completely turned against him, composed his Apology (434–482) which drew forth Jerome’s reply (482–541). This controversy is placed in full before the reader of this volume in an English translation, with prefatory notes. It may therefore be treated very shortly here.

Rufinus’ Apology is an answer to Jerome’s letter to Pammachius and Oceanus. It is addressed to Apronianus of Rome. He makes a profession of his Christian standing and faith, especially on the points raised by the Origenistic controversy; he describes the circumstances which had led him to translate the books of Origen, and defends his method of translation, which, he says, has been misrepresented by men sent from the East to lay snares for him. His method, he declares, was the same which had been used by Jerome, who boasted that through him the Latins knew all that was good in Origen and nothing of the bad. Where he found passages in Origen’s writings, in flagrant contradiction to the orthodox opinion he had maintained elsewhere, he concluded that the passage had been falsified by heretics, and restored the more orthodox statement which he believed to have been originally there. He then turns round upon Jerome and points out that, in his Commentaries on the Ephesians, written some 10 years before, to which he specially referred in his Letter as showing his freedom from heresy, he had practically adopted the opinions now imputed to Origen as heretical, such as the fall of souls from a previous state into the prison house of earthly bodies, and the universal restoration of spiritual beings.

In the second book he clears himself from the imputation of following Origen and Plato in believing in the lawfulness of using occasional falsehood in the government and training of men. But he imputes to his adversary a systematic use of falsehood in reference to his reading heathen authors, while he professed in his letter to Eustochium (Jer. Ep. xxii) to have solemnly promised never even to possess them. He then takes a wider view of Jerome’s writings, showing how, in this Letter to Eustochium, his books against Jovinian, etc., he had by his satirical pictures held up to ridicule the various classes of Christians, clergy, monks, virgins: how he had praised Origen indiscriminately as a teacher second only to the Apostles: how he had defamed men like Ambrose, and therefore his present accusations were little worth: how he boasted of having taken as his teachers not only Origenists like Didymus or heretics like Apollinarius, but heathen like Porphyry, and had made his translation of the Old Testament under the influence of the Jew Baranina (whose name Rufinus perverts into Barabbas). He concludes by summarizing his accusations and calling upon the reader to choose between him and his opponent.

This Apology was only sent to a few friends of Rufinus (530); but portions of it became known to Jerome’s friends and his brother Paulinian (493) carried them to Bethlehem, together with Rufinus’ Apology addressed to Pope Anastasius. Jerome had also before him the letter of Anastasius to John Bishop of Jerusalem (509) showing his dislike of Rufinus’ proceedings. On these he grounds his own Apology, which was originally in two books and was addressed to Pammachius and Marcella a.d. 402.

In the first book he blames Rufinus’ breach of friendship after the reconciliation which had taken place at Jerusalem; he then shows that he was compelled to translate the Περὶ ᾽Αρχῶν in order to show what it really was. He declares that the Apology of Origen translated by Rufinus as the work of Pamphilus was really written by Eusebius; that Origen had been condemned by Theophilus and Anastasius, by East and West alike, and by the decree of the Emperors. He defends himself for having used heathen and heretical teachers, and help of a Jewish scholar in translating the Old Testament. As to his Commentaries on the Ephesians he declares that he merely put side by side the opinions of various commentators, indicating at times his knowledge that some were heretical: and as to his anti-Ciceronian dream, he ridicules the idea that a man can be bound by his night visions.

In the second book he criticizes Rufinus’ Apology addressed to Anastasius as to both its style and its matter, and blames him for his treatment of Epiphanius, and endeavours to implicate him in the imputation of heresy. He then defends his translation of the Old Testament, showing by copious quotations from the Prefaces to the Books that he had done nothing condemnatory of the Septuagint, whose version he had himself translated into Latin and constantly used in familiar expositions.

This Apology was brought to Rufinus at Aquileia by a merchant who was leaving again in two days (522). Chromatius no doubt urged him, as he urged Jerome (520) not to continue the controversy and he yielded. He wrote, however, a private letter to Jerome, which has been lost, sending him an accurate copy of his Apology, and while declining public controversy, yet declaring that he could have said even more than before, and divulged things which would have been worse to Jerome than death. Jerome in his answer written a.d. 403, which forms B. iii of his Apology, declares that the controversy is Rufinus’ fault, and defends his friends for their conduct towards him, even in holding back the conciliatory letter written in 399; but shows how a way might still be open for friendship. He touches again upon most of the points dwelt on in the previous books, defending himself and accusing Rufinus, and ends by declaring that his bitter reply was necessitated first by Rufinus’ threats, and secondly by his abhorrence of heresy, from all complicity with which he must at any price clear himself.

409This book closed the controversy. Rufinus did not reply, Jerome did not relent. Nothing in Rufinus’ subsequent writings reflects on Jerome; but Jerome is never weary of expressing his hatred of Rufinus, speaking of him after his death as “the Scorpion”27662766    Jer. Ep. cxxvii. 10. and writing malignant satirical descriptions of him like that in his letter to Rusticus.27672767    Jer. Ep. cxxv.

It may be observed, however, that notwithstanding the violent words used on both sides, it was possible for eminent churchmen to esteem and befriend both parties. Augustine, on receiving Jerome’s Apology, laments, in words which must have been felt by Jerome as a severe reproach, that two such men, so loved by the churches, should thus tear each other to pieces. Chromatius, while he kept up communications with Jerome, and supplied him with funds for his literary work, was also the friend and adviser of Rufinus.

Rufinus’ friends at Aquileia, like those at the Pinetum and at Rome, were anxious to gain from him a knowledge of the great church-writers of the East, and especially of Origen. No one at Aquileia seems to have known Greek. He makes excuses in his Prefaces (430, 563, 565, etc.) for the difficulty of the task and his own short-comings which seem to be partly conventional, partly genuine. But he did a work which he alone or almost alone at that period was qualified to do. His translations of Origen and Pamphilus were already known. We learn from Jerome (536) that Rufinus had translated parts of the LXX. He now translated Eusebius’ Church History, and added to it two books of his own; he translated the so-called Recognitions of Clement, which till then were almost unknown in Italy. He wrote a History of the Monks of the East, partly from personal knowledge, partly from what he had heard or read of them. And he translated the Commentaries of Origen upon the Heptateuch or 1st seven books of Scripture, except Numbers and Deuteronomy; and those on the Epistle to the Romans. He also wrote his exposition of the Creed (541–563), and probably some other works which have not come down to us.

a.d. 400–402: The first part of his stay at Aquileia was troubled by the controversy with Jerome. He also received from his friends at Rome the intelligence that his Preface and translation of the Περὶ ᾽Αρχῶν had been brought to the notice of the Pope Anastasius, by Pammachius and Marcella (430); and probably the letter of the Pope to Venerius Bishop of Milan, which is quoted in Anastasius’ letter to John of Jerusalem (433) was also brought to his knowledge.

a.d. 400: Though there is no reason to suppose, as has been often done, that the Pope passed sentence upon him, still less that he summoned him to Rome. Rufinus was so far affected by what he heard of the adverse feeling excited in the Pope’s mind toward him that he thought it desirable to write an explanation or apology (430–2) vindicating his action in the translation of Origen, and giving an exposition of his own belief on some of the principal points dealt with in the Περὶ ᾽Αρχῶν. From the letter of Anastasius to John of Jerusalem we gather that John had written to him in the interest of Rufinus, and had blamed Jerome’s friends at Rome, perhaps also Jerome himself, for the part they had taken in reference to him. It is a curious fact that this letter was known to Jerome but not to Rufinus during the controversy (509); but it can hardly be inferred with any certainty from this that John had changed sides and favoured Jerome at Rufinus’ expense.

a.d. 408: After 8 or 9 years at Aquileia Rufinus returned to Rome. His friend Chromatius of Aquileia had died in 405. Anastasius of Rome had also passed away (a.d. 402), and his successor Innocentius was without prejudice against Rufinus. Melania was either there or with Paulinus at Nola. Her son Publicola had died in 406, but his widow Albina was with her, and her granddaughter the younger Melania with her husband Pinianus. The siege of Rome by Alaric was impending, and the whole party were starting by way of Sicily and Africa, in both of which Melania had property, intending eventually to reach Palestine. He joined their “religious company” as he tells us in the Preface to Origen on Numbers (568) which, according to Palladius (Hist. Laus. 119) formed a vast caravan with slaves, virgins and eunuchs; and he was with them in Sicily when Alaric burned Rhegium (568) the flames of which they saw across the straits.

This translation of Numbers was his last work. He was at that time suffering in his eyes; and he died soon afterwards in Sicily, as we learn from Jerome’s malicious words “The Scorpion now lies underground between Enceladus and Porphyrion.”27682768    Jer. Pref. to Comm. on Ezek. B. I. The undying hatred of Jerome towards him has unduly lowered him in the estimation of the Church. He was far below Jerome in literary ability, but in their great controversy he displayed more magnanimity than his rival, being willing to forego a public answer to his provoking 410apology. He was highly esteemed by the eminent churchmen of his time and the Bishops near whom he lived. Chromatius of Aquileia was his friend; for Petronius of Bologna he wrote his monastic history, for Gaudentius of Brixia he translated the Clementine Recognitions, for Laurentius (perhaps of his native Concordia) he composed his work on the Creed. Paulinus of Nola continued his friendship for him to the end. Above all Augustine speaks of him as the object of love and of honour; and, in his reply to Jerome27692769    Aug. Letter 73 (In Jerome’s Letters No. 110). who had sent him his Apology, says: “I grieved, when I had read your book, that such discord should have arisen between persons so dear and so intimate, bound to all the churches by a bond of affection and of renown.”

We may conclude this notice by two quotations from writers who lived shortly after the death of Rufinus; the first of which shows how unfairly the fame of Jerome has pressed on the memory of his antagonist, while the second may be taken as the verdict of unprejudiced history. Pope Gelasius, at a Council at Rome in 494, drew up a list of books to be received in the church, in which he says of Rufinus: “He was a religious man, and wrote many books of use to the Church, and many commentaries on the Scripture; but, since the most blessed Jerome infamed him on certain points, we take part with him (Jerome) in this and in all cases in which he has pronounced a condemnation.” (Migne’s Patrologia vol. lix. col. 175). On the other hand Gennadius, in his list of Ecclesiastical writers (c. 17) says: “Rufinus, the presbyter, of Aquileia, was not the least of the church-teachers, and showed an elegant genius in his translations from Greek into Latin;” and, after giving a list of his writings, he continues: “He also replied in two volumes to him who decried his works, showing convincingly that he had exercised his powers through the might which God had given him, and for the good of the church, and that it was through a spirit of rivalry that his adversary had employed his pen in defaming him.”

« Prev Life of Rufinus. Next »
VIEWNAME is workSection