Fathers of the Church

Preface and Epilogue to the Translation of Origen's Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans

Description

In his preface to Origen’s great commentary on the letter to the Romans, Rufinus describes his other translations as fishing for little fish, deprived of all risks, compared to the departure for the high seas which Heraclius imposed on him by involving him with Origen’s commentary on Romans, and indeed his translation and compression of this commentary would indeed present a fundamental contribution to Latin exegesis. The epilogue speaks of the lively problems involved in the translation of such an ambitious work, but also of his pleasure in tackling them. He remarks how such translations easily circulated under the name of their Latin editor in Hilary, Ambrose, and Jerome, and while admitting that in translating Origen he has often found it necessary to supplement, or in this case to simplify, the original text, he declines to put his own name on the result. (Quasten)

Provenance

Tiranius Rufinus of Aquileia (c. 345-410) was a contemporary of St. Jerome and, like him, primarily a translator. Despite the controversy surrounding Origen’s thought, Rufinus was convinced of the basic orthodoxy and the importance for subsequent generations of the great Alexandrian theologian. He began translating Origen’s writings into Latin in 398 and continued this work until his death. He undertook the fifteen books of commentary on Romans in 405-406 at the request of a friend.

by Rufinus in 405-406 | translated by William Henry Fremantle

PREFACE

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.

EPILOGUE

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 compassion 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.

Taken from "The Early Church Fathers and Other Works" originally published by Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co. in English in Edinburgh, Scotland, beginning in 1867. (NPNF II/III, Schaff and Wace). The digital version is by The Electronic Bible Society, P.O. Box 701356, Dallas, TX 75370, 214-407-WORD.