Catholic Culture Podcasts
Catholic Culture Podcasts

Fathers of the Church

The Preface to the Books of Recognitions of St. Clement


The preface is addressed to Gaudentius, who had requested Rufinus to undertake this translation. Rufinus comments on his own lack of originality as an author, and on the good he hopes to do by translating the works of others from Greek into Latin. He states that although he has in general produced a literal translation, he has had to choose between two Greek editions that occasionally diverge, and that he has omitted some doctrinally ambiguous passages. He concludes by noting that he has already translated the (pseudo-Clementine) letter of Clement to James, and proposes a solution to an apparent historical inconsistency in that work.


Tiranius Rufinus of Aquileia (c. 345-410) was a contemporary of St. Jerome and, like him, primarily a translator. Betraying his weak critical sense, he considered the pseudo-Clementines (see below) authentic, and possibly in connection with his translation of Eusebius’s Church History, he promised Gaudentius of Brescia that he would translate the pseudo-Clementine Recognitions. He fulfilled this promise in 406. (Jean Gribomont)

The ten books of Recognitions are a spurious autobiography of Pope St. Clement, the third successor of Peter as bishop of Rome. They narrate the attempts of Clement’s family to discover each other’s whereabouts after being separated, and their eventual reunion through Peter’s intervention. The title refers to the various recognition scenes in which the members of the family are reunited. The Recognitions pertain to the pseudo-Clementines, which were a comprehensive didactic novel attributed to their protagonist, Clement of Rome. They cannot be dated accurately, but seem to have grown out of a substantial nucleus originating in Syria in the early third century. The other major part of these writings that is now extant—twenty homilies attributed to St. Peter and supposedly transmitted by Clement—portray Christianity as nothing but a purified Judaism. This element is toned down in the Recognitions, which also include a clear statement of faith in the Trinity. However, the Recognitions are extant only in Rufinus’s translation, and as he generally worked to edify the reader rather than as a scholar, it is not clear whether the orthodoxy of his translation is due to the translator or to the original. (Quasten)

by Rufinus in 406 | translated by William Henry Fremantle

You possess so much vigour of character, my dear Gaudentius, you who are so signal all 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 ill-will 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 be 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 vet 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.

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.

To Fathers of the Church home page