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429Preface to Book III. of the Περὶ ᾽Αρχῶν


Rufinus had now come to Rome. The translation of B. III. and IV. had been made probably at Pinetum early in 398. He was already aware of the strong feelings aroused by his Translation of B. I. and II., and he complains that parts of his work were obtained by Jerome’s friends while still uncorrected, and used to his discredit (Apol. i, 18–21, ii, 44); but he continued the work, prefixing to it the following Preface as his justification.

Reader, remember me in your sacred moments of prayer, that I may be a worthy follower of the Spirit. It was you, Macarius, by whose instigation, I might say by whose compulsion, I translated the two first books of the Περὶ ᾽Αρχῶν. I did it during Lent; and at that time your near presence, my Christian brother, and your fuller leisure, forced me also into fuller diligence. But now that you are living at the opposite end of Rome from me, and my taskmaster pays his visits more seldom, I have taken longer in unfolding the sense of the two last books. You will remember that in my former preface I gave you warning that some people would be full of indignation when they found that I had no harm to say of Origen: and this, as I think you have found, has not been long in coming to pass. But if those demons who excite men’s tongues to evil speaking, have been already set on fire by that first part of the work, though in it the author had not yet fully laid bare their devices, what will be the effect of this second part, in which he is going to disclose all the secret labyrinths through which they creep into the hearts of men and deceive the hearts of the weak and the frail? You will see disorder springing up on all sides, and party spirit will be raised, and an outcry will spread all through the town, and Origen will be summoned to the bar and condemned for his attempt to dispel the darkness of ignorance by the light of the Gospel’s lamp. But all this will matter very little to those who are endeavouring to hold fast the sound form of the catholic faith while exercising their minds in the study of divine things.

I think it necessary, however, to remind you of the principle which I acted upon in reference to the former books, and which I have observed in the present case also, namely, not to set down in my translation things evidently contradictory to our belief and to the author’s opinions as elsewhere expressed, but to pass them over as not genuine but inserted by others. On the other hand I have not, either in the former books or in these, omitted the novel opinions which he has expressed about the formation of the reasonable creation, considering that it is not in such things that the faith mainly consists, but that what he is aiming at is merely knowledge and the exercise of the faculties, and that possibly there may be certain heresies which may have to be answered in this way. Only, in cases where he may have chosen to repeat in these later books what he had said before in the earlier, I have thought it expedient to cut out certain portions for the sake of brevity.

Those whose object in reading these books is to gain knowledge, not to disparage their author, would do well to seek the aid of men more skilled than themselves in interpreting them. For it is an absurd thing to get grammarians to explain to us the fictions of the poets’ writings and the laughable stories of the comedians, and yet to think that books which speak of God and the celestial powers, and the whole universe, and which discuss all the errors of pagan philosophy and of heretical pravity are things which any one can understand without a teacher to explain them. In this way it comes to pass that men prefer to remain in ignorance and to pronounce rash judgments on things which are difficult and obscure rather than to gain an understanding of them by diligent study.

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