Support Site Improvements

Fathers Of The Church, Catholic Edition



You possess so much vigour of character, my dear Gaudentius, you who are so signal an ornament of our teachers, or as I would rather say, you have the grace of the Spirit in so large a measure, that even what you say in the way of daily conversation, or of addresses that you preach in church, ought to be consigned in writing and handed down for the instruction of posterity. But I am far less quick, my native talent being but slender, and old age is already making me sluggish and slow; and this work is nothing but the payment of a debt due to the command laid upon me by the virgin Sylvia whose memory I revere. She it was who demanded of me, as you have now done by the right of heirship, to translate Clement into our language. The debt is paid at last, though after many delays. It is a part of the booty, and in my opinion no small one, which I have carried off from the libraries of the Greeks, and which I am collecting for the use and advantage of our countrymen. I have no food of my own to bring them, and I must import their nourishment from abroad. However, foreign goods are apt to appear sweeter; and sometimes they are really more useful. Moreover, almost anything which brings healing to our bodies or is a defence against disease or an antidote to poison comes from abroad. Judaea sends us the distillation of the balsam tree, Crete the leaf of the dictamnus, Arabia her aromatic flowers, and India the crop of the spikenard. These goods come to us, no doubt, in a less perfect condition than those which our own fields produce, but they preserve intact their pleasant scent and their healing power. Therefore, my friend who are as my own soul, I present to you Clement returning to Rome. I present him dressed in a Latin garb. Do not think it strange if the aspect which his eloquence presents is less bright than it might be. It makes no difference if only the meaning is felt to be the same.

These are foreign wares, then, which I am importing at a great expense of labour; and I have still to see whether our countrymen will regard with gratitude one who is bringing them the spoils (spolia) of his warfare, and who is unlocking with the key of our language a treasure house hitherto concealed, though he does it with the utmost good will. I only trust that God may look favourably on your good wishes, so that my present may not be met in any quarter by evil eyes and envious looks; and that we may not witness that extremely monstrous phenomenon, expressions of illwill on the part of those on whom the gift is conferred, while those from whom it is taken part with it ungrudgingly. It is but right that you, who have read this work in the Greek should point out to others the design of my translation—unless indeed, you feel that in some respects I have not observed the right method of rendering the original. You are, I believe well aware that there are two Greek editions of this work of Clement, his Recognitions; that there are two sets of books, which in some few cases differ from each other though the bulk of the narrative is the same. For instance, the last part of the work, that which gives an account of the transformation of Simon Magus, exists in one of these, while in the other it is entirely absent. On the other hand there are some things, such as the dissertation on the unbegotten and the begotten God, and a few others, which, though they are found in both editions, are, to say the least of them, beyond my understanding; and these I have preferred to leave others to deal with rather than to present them in an inadequate manner. As to the rest, I have taken pains not to swerve, even in the slightest degree from either the sense or the diction; and this, though it makes the expression less ornate, renders it more faithful.

There is a letter in which this same Clement writing to James the Lord’s brother, gives an account of the death of Peter, and says that he has left him as his successor, as ruler and teacher of the church; and further incorporates a whole scheme of ecclesiastical government. This I have not prefixed to the work, both because it is later in point of time, and because it has been previously translated and published by me. Nevertheless, there is a point which would perhaps seem inconsistent with facts were I to place the translation of it in this work, but which I do not consider to involve an impossibility. It is this. Linus and Cletus were Bishops of the city of Rome before Clement. How then, some men ask, can Clement in his letter to James say that Peter passed over to him his position as a church-teacher. The explanation of this point, as I understand, is as follows. Linus and Cletus were, no doubt, Bishops in the city of Rome before Clement, but this was in Peter’s life-time; that is, they took charge of the episcopal work, while he discharged the duties of the apostolate. He is known to have done the same thing at Caesarea; for there, though he was himself on the spot, yet he had at his side Zacchaeus whom he had ordained as Bishop. Thus we may see how both things may be true; namely how they stand as predecessors of Clement in the list of Bishops, and yet how Clement after the death of Peter became his successor in the teacher’s chair. But it is time that we should pay attention to the beginning of Clement’s own narrative, which he addresses to James the Lord’s brother.



Rufinus to Apronianus, his own friend.

I know that, just as the sheep come gladly when their own shepherd calls them, so in matters of religion men attend most gladly to the admonitions of a teacher who speaks their own language: and therefore, my very dear Apronianus, when that pious lady who is my daughter but now your sister in Christ, had laid her commands on me to compose for her a treatise of such a nature that its understanding should not require any great effort, I translated into Latin in a very open and plain style the work of Xystus, who is said to be the same man who at Rome is called Sixtus, and who gained the glory of being both bishop and martyr. I think that, when she reads this, she will find it expressed with such brevity that a vast meaning is unfolded in each several line, with such power that a sentence only a line long would suffice for a whole life’s training, and yet with such simplicity that one who looked over the shoulder of a girl as she read it might question whether I were not quite weak in intellect. And the whole work is so concise that it would be possible for her never to let go of it. The entire book would hardly be bigger than the finger ring of one of our ancestors. And indeed it seems but right that one who has learnt through the word of God to count as dross the ornaments of the world should now receive at my hands by way of ornament a necklace of the word and of wisdom. For the present let this little book serve for a ring and be kept constantly in the hands: but it will not be long before it will penetrate into the treasure house and be wholly laid up in the heart, and bring forth from its innermost chamber the germs of instruction and of a participation in all good works. I have added further a few choice sayings addressed by a pious father to his son, but all so succinct that the whole of this little work may rightly be called in Greek the Enchiridion or in Latin the Annulus.



It is the custom, they say, of skilful physicians, when they perceive that some epidemic disease is near at hand in one of our cities, to provide some kind of medicine, whether solid or liquid, which men may use as a preventative to defend themselves from the destruction which is hanging over them. You have imitated this method of the doctors, my venerable Father, Chromatius, at the moment when the gates of Italy were broken through by Alaric the commander of the Goths, and thus a disease and plague poured in upon us, which made havoc of the fields and cattle and men throughout the land. You then sought a remedy against the cruelty and destruction, so that the minds of men which were languishing might be drawn away from the contagion of the prevailing malady, and might preserve their balance through an interest in better pursuits. This you have done by enjoining on me the task of translating into Latin the ecclesiastical history which was written in the Greek language by that most learned man, Eusebius of Caesarea. You thought that the mind of those who heard it read to them might be so held fast by it that, in its eager desire for the knowledge of past events, it might to some extent become oblivious of their actual sufferings. I tried to excuse myself from the task, as being, through my weakness unequal to it, and as having in the lapse of years lost the use of the Latin tongue. But I reflected that your commands were not to be divaricated from your position in the Apostolic order. For, at the time when the multitude in the desert were hungering, and the Lord said to his Apostles, “Give ye them to eat,” Philip who was one of them instead of bringing out the loaves which were hid in the wallet of the Apostles, said that there was a little lad there who had five loaves and two fishes. He knew that the exhibition of the divine virtue would be none the less brilliant if the ministry of some of the little ones were used in its fulfilment. He modestly excused his action by adding, “What are these among so many?” So that the divine power might be more conspicuous through the difficult and desperate circumstances in which it acted. I felt that, since you were a scion of the Apostolic order, you had possibly acted in remembrance of Philip’s example, and that, when you saw that the time was come for the multitudes to be fed, you had engaged the services of a little lad who might be able to contribute, twice told, the five loaves which he had received, but who further, to fulfil the Gospel type, might add two small fishes which he had captured by his own efforts. I have therefore made the attempt to execute what you had ordered, having the assurance that the deficiency of my inexperience would be excused on account of the authority of him who gave the command.

I must point out the course I have taken in reference to the tenth book of this work. As it stands in the Greek, it has little to do with the process of events. All but a small part of it is taken up with discussions tending to the praise of particular Bishops, and adds nothing to our knowledge of facts. I have therefore left out all this superfluous matter; and, whatever in it belonged to genuine history I have added to the ninth book, with which I have made his history close. The tenth and eleventh books I have myself compiled, partly from the traditions of the former generation, partly from facts within my own memory; and these I have added to the previous books, like the two fishes to the loaves. If you bestow your approval and benediction upon them, I shall have a sure confidence that they will suffice for the multitude. The work as now completed contains the events from the Ascension of the Saviour to the present time; my own two books those from the days of Constantine when the persecution came to an end on to the death of the Emperor Theodosius.

The following note occurs at the end of the ninth book of Rufinus’ Latin Version of Eusebius.

Thus far Eusebius has given us the record of the history. As to the subsequent events, as they have followed on up to the present time, as I have found them recorded in the writings of the last generation, or so far as they are covered by my own knowledge, I will add them, obeying, as best I may, in this point also the commands of our father in God.


The whole exposition of the thirty-sixth, thirty-seventh and thirty-eighth Psalms is ethical in its character, being designed to enforce more correct methods of life; and teaches at one time the way of conversion and repentance, at another that of purification and of progress. I have therefore thought it well to translate it into Latin for you, my dearest son Apronianus, having first arranged it in nine of the short sermons which are called in Greek Homilies, and incorporated it into one whole; and thus this discourse which in all its parts aims at the correction and the advancement of the moral life, is collected into a single volume. My translation will at all events be of use so far as to put the reader without effort in possession of the meaning of the author, which is here fully laid open, and to bring home to him the simplicity of life which he enjoins with clearness of thought and in simple words; and thus the voice of prophecy may reach not men alone but also god-fearing women, and lend subtlety to the minds of the simple. Yet I fear that pious lady, who is my daughter but your sister in Christ, may think that she owes me no thanks for my work if it brings her nothing but puzzling thoughts and thorny questions: for the human body could hardly hold together if divine providence had formed it of bones and muscles alone without blending with them the ease and grace of the softer tissues.


My intention was to press the shore of the quiet land in the little bark in which I was sailing, and to draw out a few little fishes from the pools of Greece: but you have compelled me, brother Heraclius, to give my sails to the wind and go forth into the deep sea; you persuade me to leave the work which lay before me in the translation of the homilies written by the Man of Adamant in his old age, and to open to you the fifteen volumes in which he discussed the Epistle of Paul to the Romans. In these books, while he aims at representing the Apostle’s thoughts, he is carried away into a sea of such depth that one who follows him into it may well be afraid of being drowned in the greatness of his thoughts as in the vastness of the waves. Then also you do not consider this, that my breath is but scanty for filling a grand trumpet of eloquence like his. And beyond all these difficulties is this, that the books themselves have been interpolated. In almost all the libraries (I grant that no one can tell how it happened) some of the volumes are absent from the body of the work; and to supply these, and to restore the continuity of the work in the Latin version is beyond my talent, but would be, as you must know when you make your demand, a special gift of God. You add, however, so that nothing may be wanting to the labour I am undertaking, that I had better abbreviate this whole body of fifteen volumes, which in the Greek reaches to the length of forty thousand lines or more, and bring it within moderate compass. Your injunctions are hard indeed, and might be thought to be imposed by one who did not care to consider what the burden of such a work must be. I will, however, attempt it, hoping that through your prayers, and the favour of the Lord, what seems impossible to man may become possible. But we will now, if you please, listen to the Preface which Origen himself prefixes to the work on which he was entering.


A satisfactory conclusion has now, I trust, been reached of the Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans, the writing of which has been a work of very great labour and time. I confess, my most loving brother Heraclius, that in the attempt to respond to your request I have almost forgotten the precept; “Do not lift a burden above your strength.” Even in the other translations of Origen’s works into Latin, which were made because you earnestly requested it, or rather exacted it as a journeyman’s task, the labour was very great; for I made it my object to supplement what Origen spoke extempore in the lecture room of the church; for his aim there was the application of the subject for the sake of edification rather than the exposition of the text. This I have done in the case of the Homilies, and the short lectures on Genesis and Exodus, and especially in those on the book of Leviticus, where he spoke in a hortatory manner, whereas my translation takes the form of an exposition. This duty of supplying what was wanted I took up because I thought that the practice of agitating questions and then leaving them unsolved, which he frequently adopts in his homiletic mode of speaking, might prove distasteful to the Latin reader. The works upon Jesus Nave and the book of Judges and the thirty-sixth, thirty-seventh and thirty-eighth Psalms, I translated simply as I found them, with no great labour. While then in the other cases which I have mentioned above, I employed much labour in supplying what Origen had omitted, in this work on the Epistle to the Romans the labour that fell on me for the causes described in the Preface was immense and full of complexity. But there will have been nothing but pleasure in these labours, provided only that my experience in other cases, of ill-disposed minds requiting my toils and vigils with contumely, be not repeated and that I do not gain for my studies the reward of detraction and for my labour a conspiracy to ruin me. For in dealing with these men I have to undergo a new form of accusation. They say to me; When you write these things, in which are found many pieces the composition of which is due to yourself, you should place your own name in the title, and let it run thus: The books of Rufinus’ commentary on (for instance) the Epistle to the Romans;’ for so, they say, in the case of profane writers, the name in the title is not that of the Greek author who is translated but of the Latin author who translates him. But all this complaisance, by which the works are ascribed to me, is caused not by love to me but by hatred to the author. I am much more observant of my conscience than of my reputation; it may be apparent that I have added some things to supply what was wanting; and that I have abbreviated what was too lengthy; but to steal the title from the man who laid the foundations on which the building has been reared is what I cannot think right. It must be, I grant, in the discretion of the reader, when he has examined the work, to ascribe the work to any one he thinks right; but my intention has been not to seek the applause of students but the good of those who wish to be edified.

I shall turn next to the work which was long ago imposed upon me but now is demanded with still greater vehemence by the Bishop Gaudentius, namely to turn into Latin the books called the Recognition of Clement the Bishop of Rome, the successor and companion of the Apostles. In this work I well know that, to judge by the ordinary rule, I shall have labour upon labour. In this case I will do what my friends desire, I will put my own name in the title of the work, though I shall have that of the author also. It shall be called Rufinus’s Clement. If the Lord enable me to fulfil this task, I shall afterwards return to that which you desire, and say something, God willing, on the books of Numbers or of Deuteronomy (for this alone is wanting to my whole work on the Heptateuch): or else I shall write what I can, the Lord being my guide, on the remaining epistles of the Apostle Paul.


My dear brother, I might rightly address you in the words of the blessed master, “You do well, dearest Donatus, in reminding me of this;” for I well remember my promise that I would collect all that Adamantius wrote in his old age on the Law of Moses, and translate it into Latin for the use of our people. But, as he says, the season was not seasonable for the fulfilment of my promise, but was full of storm and confusion. How can the pen move freely when a man is in fear of the missiles of the enemy, when he has before his eyes the devastation of cities and country, when he has to fly from dangers of the sea, and there is no safety even in exile? As you yourself saw, the Barbarian was within sight of us; he had set fire to the city of Rhegium, and our only protection against him was the very narrow sea which separates the soil of Italy from Sicily. In such a position, what leisure could there be for writing, and especially for translating, a work in which one’s duty is not to develop one’s own opinions but to express those of another? However, when there was a quiet night, and our minds were relieved from the fear of an attack by the enemy, and we got at least some little leisure for thought, I set to work, as a solace from our troubles, and to relieve the burden of our pilgrimage, to gather into one and arrange all that Origen had written on the book of Numbers, whether in the way of homilies or in writings such as are called Excerpts, and to translate them into the Roman tongue. You urged me to do this, Ursacius, and aided me with all your might, indeed, so eager were you, that you thought the youth who acted as secretary too slow in the execution of his office. I wish, however, to point out to you, my brother, that the object of this method of studying scripture is not to deal with each clause separately, as you find done in commentaries, but to open up a path for the understanding, so that the reader may not be made negligent, but as it is written may “stir up his own spirit” and draw out the meaning, and, when he has heard the good word, may add to it by his own wisdom. In this way I have tried to give all the expositions which you desired; and now of all the writings that I have found upon the Law the short comments upon Deuteronomy alone are wanting; these, if God so will, and if he restores my eye-sight, I hope to add to the body of the work. Indeed, my very loving son Pinianus, whose truly Christian company I have joined in their flight because of my delight in their chaste conversation, requires yet other tasks from me. But do you and he join your prayers that the Lord may be present with us, and may give peace in our time, and shew mercy to those who are in trouble, and make our work fruitful for the edification of the reader.

Copyright ©1999-2023 Wildfire Fellowship, Inc all rights reserved