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Rufinus of Aquileia

Wace's Dictionary of Early Christian Biography

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Rufinus (3), Tyrannius , of Aquileia, the translator of Origen and Eusebius, the friend of Jerome and afterwards his adversary; a Latin ecclesiastical writer of some merit, and highly esteemed in his own time; born c. 345 at Concordia in N. Italy; baptized at Aquileia c. 371; lived in Egypt some 8 years and in Palestine about 18 (371–397); ordained at Jerusalem c. 390; in Italy, mostly at Aquileia, 397–408; died in Sicily, 410.

Sources .—The works of Rufinus himself, especially his Apology (otherwise Invectives ), two books, against Jerome; Hieron. Apology against Rufinus , three books; Id. Chronicle , Ol. 289, An. 1, A.D. 378; Id. Epp. 3–5, 51, 57, 80–84, 97, 125, 133; Id. Pref. to Comm. on Ezk. and Jer. bk. i; Paulin. Epp. 28, 40, 46, 47; Aug. Epp. 63, 156; Pallad. Hist. Laus. 118; Gennad. de Script. Eccl. c. 17; Sid. Apoll. lib. iv. Ephesians 3; Gelasius in Concil. Rom. ( Patr. Lat. lix. col. 173).

Literature .—Rufinus's career has usually been treated as an appendage to that of Jerome. There is a full Life of Rufinus by Fontanini (Rome, 1742), reprinted by Migne in his ed. of Rufinus (Patr. Lat. xxi.)—minute and exhaustive in details and in fixing dates; a shorter account by Schoenemann, Bibliotheca Historico-Literaria Patrum Lat. (Lips. 1792) is also reprinted by Migne.

Works .—The genuine original works of Rufinus still extant are: A Dissertation on the Falsification by Heretics of the Works of Origen , prefixed to his trans. of Pamphilus's Apology for Origen; A Commentary on the Benedictions of the Twelve Patriarchs (Genesis 49 ); the Apology for himself against the attacks of Jerome, in two books; a shorter one addressed to pope Anastasius; two books of Eccl. Hist. , being a continuation of Eusebius; a History of the Egyptian Hermits; and an Exposition of the Creed. Besides these there are several prefaces to the translations from Greek authors, on which his chief labour was expended, and which include The Monastic Rule of Basil , and his 8 Homilies; the Apology for Origen , written by Pamphilus and Eusebius; Origen's Περὶ Ἀρχῶν and many of his commentaries; 10 works of Gregory Nazianzen; the Sentences of Sixtus or Xystus; the Sentences of Evagrius, and his book addressed to Virgins; the Recognitions of Clement; the 10 books of Eusebius's History; the Paschal Canon of Anatolius of Alexandria.

Early Life: Concordia and Aquileia .—His parents were probably Christians, since there is no trace of other than Christian associations in his writings. His mother did not die till his sojourn in Rome in 398 (Hieron. Ep. lxxxi. x). He was not baptized till c. 371. That he made the acquaintance of Jerome in early life is shewn by his request to him when about to go into Gaul, c. 368, to copy out for him the works of Hilary upon the Psalms and upon the councils of the church ( Ep. v. 2). Either before or about the time of the return of Jerome from Gaul, Rufinus had gone to Aquileia and embraced a monastic life ("in monasterio positus," Rufin. Apol. i. 4). There, about 30 years before he wrote his Apology against the attacks of his former friend, Rufinus was baptized ( ib. ) by Chromatius and his brother Eusebius (then respectively presbyter and deacon), and Jovinus the archdeacon, all of them ascetic friends, and all subsequently bishops. This must have been at the close of his stay at Aquileia ("Ille modo se lavit," Hieron. Ephesians 4 , A.D. 374).

Life in the East: Egypt .—We do not know how long the company of friends lived together at Aquileia, nor what caused its dissolution. But when the "subitus turbo" drove Jerome to the East, Rufinus left Italy in the company of Melania for Egypt and visited the monasteries of Nitria (Pallad. Hist. Laus. 118; Hieron. Ep. iii. 2 ), where Rufinus apparently intended to remain. But the church of Alexandria was then in a state of trouble. Athanasius died in 372, and his successor, the Arian Lucius, acting with the successive governors of Alexandria, came as a wolf among the sheep (Ruf. H. E. ii. 3; Socr. iv. 21–23; Soz. vi. 19). Rufinus himself was thrown into prison, and afterwards, with many other confessors, banished from Egypt ( H. E. ii. 4; Apol. ad Anastasium , 2, "In carceribus, in exiliis"), but must have returned as soon as the stress of the persecution abated. In Egypt he saw and heard Didymus, who wrote for him a book on the questions suggested by the death of infants (Hieron. Apol. iii. 28), and whom he praises in his Ecclesiastical History (ii. 7). He also was a pupil of Theophilus, afterwards bp. of Alexandria (Hieron. Apol. iii. 18). He saw also the hermits, whose teaching he prized still more—Serapion and Menites and Paulus; Macarius the disciple of Anthony, and the other Macarius, Isidore, and Pambas. On their teachings he says he attended earnestly and frequently; and he afterwards described them in his Historia Monachorum. After 6 years he went to Jerusalem. Whether Melania had been with him in Egypt is not certain, though Palladius implies that he was her companion throughout. Certainly he now settled with her on the Mount of Olives. But it would seem that, "after a short interval," he returned to Egypt again for 2 years ( Apol. ii. 22). Melania's settlement at Jerusalem is placed by Jerome in his Chronicle in 379, i.e. according to the present or Dionysian computation in 377. We may place Rufinus's final settlement there with her in 379. There is, however, some reason to believe they made one more journey to Egypt; for Palladius states, as a fact he had heard from Melania, that she had, been present at the death of Pambas, which occurred after the accession of Theophilus in 385 (Fontanini, Vita Rufini , i. c. ii. § 7).

Palestine .—For 18 or 20 years, reckoning either from 377 or 379 to 397, Rufinus lived on the Mount of Olives. He was ordained either by Cyril or more probably by John (made bishop 383). He built cells at his own expense ("meis cellulis," Apol. ii. 8A) for monks, who occupied themselves in ascetic practices and learned pursuits. Palladius, who was at Jerusalem and Bethlehem for some time before he went to Egypt in 388, says of Rufinus: "He was a man of noble birth and manners, but very strong in following out his own independent resolutions. No one of the male sex was ever gentler, and he had the strength and calmness of one who seems to know everything"; and tells us that, in common with Melania, Rufinus exercised an unbounded hospitality, receiving and aiding with his own funds bishops and monks, virgins and matrons. "So," he says, "they passed their life, offending none, and helping almost the whole world." Jerome also, early in their stay at Jerusalem, spoke of Rufinus with highest praise, mentioning in his Chronicle ( sub ann. 378) that "Bonosus of Italy, and Florentius and Rufinus at Jerusalem, are held in special estimation as monks"; and when he settled in Palestine in 386 had frequent literary intercourse with Rufinus and his monks. Rufinus records that Jerome was once his guest at the Mount of Olives ( ib. ); and Jerome acknowledges (ib. iii. 33) that, to 393, he had been intimate with him.

In 394 Epiphanius, bp. of Salamis, came to Jerusalem, and in the dissension which arose between him and John, bp. of Jerusalem, Rufinus was the leader of the clergy who supported John, Jerome siding with Epiphanius, the consequence being an alienation between Jerome and Rufinus. This estrangement was but temporary. Jerome speaks frequently of their "reconciliatas amicitias" (Ep. lxxxi. 1; Apol. iii. 33). In 397, the year when Rufinus quitted Palestine, they met (probably with many friends on both sides) at a solemn communion service in the Church of the Resurrection, joined hands in renewal of friendship, and, on Rufinus's setting out for Italy with Melania, Jerome accompanied him some little way, perhaps as far as Joppa.

Italy, 397–409.—Melania returned to Italy in order to promote ascetic practices in her family. Rufinus, whom Paulinus speaks of as being to her "in spiritali viâ comitem," returned in her company. His mother was still living, and he wished to see his relations and Christian friends again (Hieron. lxxxi. 1; Apol. ii. 2). After a voyage of 20 days they arrived at Naples in the spring of 397. Thence they went to visit Paulinus at Nola, all the nobles of those parts and their retinues accompanying them in a kind of triumph (Paulin. Ep. xxix. 12). Melania, who was connected, probably, by ties of property with Campania, since Palladius speaks of her successors Pinianus and Melania living there ( Hist. Laus. 119), after staying with Paulinus some time, went on to Rome, where her son Publicola and his wife Albina and her granddaughter Melania with her husband Pinianus were living. Rufinus went to the monastery of Pinetum near Terracina, of which his friend Ursacius or Urseius was the abbat, and there stayed probably for a year, from early spring 397 till after Lent 398.

He had brought many works of the Eastern church writers which were but little known in Italy; and his friends were eager to know their contents. Rufinus, having used Greek more than Latin for some 25 years, at first declared his incompetence (Apol. i. ii), but by degrees accepted the task of translation, which occupied almost all the rest of his life. He began with the Rule of Basil, which Urseius desired for the use of his monks. Next, probably, he translated the Recognitions of Clement. [CLEMENTINE LITERATURE.] Paulinus begged his assistance in the interpretation of the blessing upon Judah in Genesis 49 , and, some months later, of the rest of the blessings on the patriarchs. His reply is extant. Meanwhile he had a scholar named Macarius, who at Pinetum had been much exercised by speculations on Providence and Fate and in controversy with the many Mathematici (astrologists and necromancers) then in Italy. About the time Rufinus arrived he dreamed he saw a ship coming from the East to Italy which would bring him aid, and this he interpreted of Rufinus. He expected help from the speculative works of Origen, and besought Rufinus to translate some of them. Rufinus, though knowing from the recent controversy at Jerusalem that his orthodox reputation would be imperilled by the task, yet undertook it ( Apol. i. 11; prefaces to bks. i. and iii. of the Περὶ Ἀρχῶν ). He began, however, by translating the Apology for Origen written by the martyr Pamphilus in conjunction with Eusebius, adding a treatise on the corruption of Origen's works by heretics, and a profession of his own faith which he held in common with the churches of Aquileia and Jerusalem and the well-known bishops of those sees. Then he translated the Περὶ Ἀρχῶν itself, adding to the first two books, which he finished during Lent 398, a very memorable preface, in which he speaks of the odium excited by the name of Origen, but asserts his conviction that most of the passages which have given him the reputation of heresy were inserted or coloured by the heretics. He therefore felt at liberty to leave out or soften down many expressions which would offend orthodox persons, and also, where anything was obscure, to give a kind of explanatory paraphrase. He pointed out also that he was not the first translator of Origen, but that Jerome, whom he did not name but clearly indicated, and of whom he spoke in high praise, had in the time of Damasus translated many of Origen's works, and in the prefaces (especially that to the Song of Songs) had praised Origen beyond measure. Two questions gave rise to great controversy: First, was this reference to Jerome justifiable? Secondly, was Rufinus's dealing with the book itself legitimate? The reference to Jerome was hardly ingenuous. If the praises he bestows are not, as Jerome called them, "fictae laudes," they are certainly used for a purpose to which Jerome would not have given his sanction, and their use in view of the controversy at Jerusalem, without any allusion to Jerome's altered attitude towards Origen, was ungenerous and misleading. The second point is obscured by the loss of the chief part of the Greek of the Περὶ Αρχῶν , but we have enough upon which to form a judgment. Some passages, vouched for and translated by Jerome (Ep. cxxiv. 13), were, with much that leads up to them, omitted by Rufinus, who also carried the licence of paraphrasing difficult expressions to an extreme length. But the texts of Origen were somewhat uncertain; the standard of literary honesty was not then what is it now; and then Jerome himself had in his letter de Opt. Gen. Interpretandi ( Ep. 57) sanctioned a mode of interpretation almost as loose as that of Rufinus. (See also his words to Vigilantius, Ep. lxi. 2, "Quae bona sunt transtuli, et mala vel amputavi vel correxi vel tacui. Per me Latini bona ejus habent et mala ignorant.") We may acquit Rufinus of more than a too eager desire, unchastened by any critical power, to make the greatest exponent of Oriental Christianity acceptable to Roman ears.

Rome .—The first two books Περὶ Ἀρχῶν , with the preface, were first published probably in the winter of 397-398; the other two, having been translated during Lent 398, were carried by Rufinus to Rome, whither Macarius had already gone, when he went to stay with Melania and her family. During his stay Apronianus, a noble Roman, was converted, partly through Rufinus, who addresses him as "mi fili." The friends of Melania were, no doubt, numerous. Pope Siricius also (elected in 385 when Jerome had himself aspired to the office) was favourable to Rufinus. But the expectations formed by Rufinus in his preface were realized at once. Many were astonished at the book of Origen, some finding even in Rufinus's version the heresies they connected with the name of Origen; some indignant that these heresies had been softened down. Jerome's friends at first were dubious. Eusebius of Cremona, who came to Rome from Bethlehem early in 398 (Hieron. Ap. iii. 24), lived at first on friendly terms with Rufinus and communicated with him (Ruf. Apol. i. 20). But Jerome's friends Pammachius, Oceanus, and Marcella resented the use made of their master's name and suspected Rufinus's sincerity. According to his account, Eusebius, or some one employed by him, stole the translation of the last two books of the Περὶ Ἀρχῶν , which were still unrevised, from his chamber, and in this imperfect state had them copied and circulated, adding in some cases words he had never written (Ap. i. 19; ii. 44). But, being in uncertainty as to the value of the translation, Pammachius and Oceanus sent the books and prefaces to Jerome at Bethlehem, who sat down at once, made a literal translation of the Περὶ Ἀρχῶν , and sent it to his friends with a letter (84) written to refute the insinuations through which, as he considered, Rufinus's preface had associated him with Origenism. He sent them also a letter (81) to Rufinus, protesting against his "fictae laudes," but refraining from any breach of friendship. When these documents arrived in Rome, affairs had changed. Rufinus had gone; pope Siricius had died (date in Fagius Nov. 29, 398); the new pope Anastasius was ready to listen to friends of Jerome; Rufinus the Syrian, Jerome's friend, had arrived in Rome (Hieron. Ap. iii. 24) and with Eusebius of Cremona had gone through the chief cities of Italy (Ruf. Ap. i. 21) pointing out all the heretical passages in Origen. Rufinus, a little before the death of pope Siricius, had obtained from him letters of recommendation ("literae formatae"), to which he appealed afterwards as shewing he was in communion with the Roman church (Hieron. Ap. iii, 21). At Milan he met Eusebius in the presence of the bishop, and confronted him when he read heretical passages from a copy of the Περὶ Ἀρχῶν received from Marcella and purporting to be Rufinus's work (Ruf. Ap. i. 19). He then went to Aquileia, where bp. Chromatius, who had baptized him 27 years before, received him.

Aquileia .—Here he soon heard that Jerome's translation of the Περὶ Ἀρχῶν , though intended only for Pammachius and his friends, had been published, and that Jerome's letter against him was in circulation. Of this letter he received a copy from Apronianus (Apol. i. 1); but Pammachius kept back the more friendly letter addressed to Rufinus himself. This act of treachery, which Jerome subsequently in his anger at Rufinus's Apology brought himself to defend (Hieron. Apol. iii. 28), caused Rufinus and Jerome to assail each other with fierce invectives. For that controversy and for the letters of pope Anastasius to Rufinus and John of Jerusalem, and Rufinus's letter of apology, see JEROME. We pass on to the last decade of Rufinus's life.

His friends at Aquileia were eager as those at Pinetum had been for a knowledge of the Christian writers of the East; and Rufinus's remaining years were almost entirely occupied with translation, though several of his original works belong also to this period. The translations have no great merit, but on the whole are accurate, with no need for omissions and paraphrases as in the Περὶ Ἀρχῶν . They were undertaken in no distinct order, but according to the request of friends. Rufinus wished to translate the Commentaries of Origen on the whole Heptateuch, and only Deuteronomy remained untranslated when he died. The Commentary on the Romans, however (see preface), and several others, besides other works, intervened.

The Exposition of the Creed is of importance, as a testimony to the variations in the creeds of the various churches (that of Aquileia having "Patrum invisibilem et impassibilem ," "in Spiritu Sancto," and "hujus carnis resurrectionem" as distinctive peculiarities), and from its intrinsic merits and as shewing the influence of Eastern theology, harmonized by a sound judgment, on Western theology.

The History is on a par with those of Socrates and Sozomen, exhibiting no conception of the real functions of history nor of the relative proportion of different classes of events, yet dealing honestly with the facts within the writer's view. It was trans. into Greek, and valued in the East, as his trans. of Eusebius, of which it is a continuation, was in the West (Gennad. de Script. Eccl. xvii.).

The History of the Egyptian monks presents many difficulties. It is distinctly attributed to Rufinus by Jerome (Ep. cxxxiii. 3), but not included in the list of his works given by Gennadius, who says that it was commonly attributed to Petronius, bp. of Bologna (Gennad. op. cit. xli.). The preface says it is written in response to repeated requests of the monks on the Mount of Olives. Fontanini ( Vita Rufini, lib. ii. c. xii. § 4) grounds upon this with much reason the theory that Petronius, having been in the East, and having received the request of the Olivetan monks, but having himself, as Gennadius testifies, but little skill in composition, on his return to the West begged Rufinus to write the history. The adventures recorded would thus be those of Petronius, not of Rufinus. The Historia Lausiaca of Palladius is in many of its sections identical with the Historia Monachorum. It is, however, more probable that Palladius, who did not leave the solitary life in, Egypt till 400, and wrote his History for Lausus at Constantinople apparently some time afterwards (he lived till 431), was indebted to Rufinus rather than the contrary.

Rufinus had not, like Jerome, any large range of literary knowledge, and his critical powers were defective. He quotes stories like that of the Phoenix (de Symbolo , ii) without any question. He had no doubt of the Recognitions being the work of Clement, and he translated the sayings of Xystus the Stoic philosopher, stating, without futher remark, that they were said to be those of Sixtus, the Roman bishop, thus laying himself open to Jerome's attack upon his credulity.

The Apology is well composed and more methodical than that of Jerome. Its reasoning is at least as powerful, though its resources of language and illustration are fewer. His efforts for peace and refusal to reply to Jerome's last invectives, though the temptation offered by a violent attack in answer to a peaceful letter was great, shews a high power of self-restraint and a consciousness of a secure position.

Last Years .—The years at Aquileia were uneventful. The letter of Anastasius which told him of the rumours against him at Rome and requested him to come there to clear himself, drew from him the Apologia ad Anastasium , a short document of self-defence not lacking in dignity. He enjoyed the friendship of Chromatius, at whose request he consented to cease his strife with Jerome, though Jerome, adjured by the same bishop, refused to do so (Hieron. Apol. iii. 2). He enjoyed the friendship of the bishops near him, Petronius of Bologna, Gaudentius of Brixia, Laurentius, perhaps of Concordia, for whom he wrote his work upon the Creed. Paulinus of Nola continued his friendship; and Augustine, in his severe reply to Jerome, who had sent him his work against Rufinus, treats the two men as equally esteemed, and writes: "I grieved, when I read your book, that such discord had arisen between persons so dear and so intimate, bound to all the churches by a bond of affection and of renown. Who will not in future mistrust his friend as one who may become his enemy when it has been possible for this lamentable result to come to pass between Jerome and Rufinus?" (Aug. Ep. 73 ad Hieron. ).

Last Journey and Death .—Chromatius had died in 405, and Rufinus's thoughts turned again to Melania and to Palestine. He joined Melania in Rome in 408 or 409, Anastasius having been succeeded in 403 by Innocent, who had no prejudice against him. Owing to Alaric's invasion, they left Rome, with Albina, Pinianus, and Melania the younger (Pallad. Hist. Laus. 119), and resided in Campania and Sicily. Rufinus records that he was in the "coetus religiosus" of Pinianus on the Sicilian coast, witnessing the burning of Rhegium across the straits by the bands of Alaric, when he wrote the preface to the translation of Origen's Commentary on Numbers. Soon after writing this he died.

The cloud on the reputation of Rufinus due to Jerome's attacks has unduly depressed the general estimation of his character. In the list of books to be received in the church promulgated by pope Gelasius at the Roman council, in 494 (Migne's Patr. Lat. lix. col. 175), we read: "Rufinus, a religious man, wrote many books of use to the church, and many commentaries on the Scripture; but, since the most blessed Jerome infamed him in certain points, we take part with him (Jerome) in this and in all cases in which he has pronounced a condemnation." With this official judgment may be contrasted that of Gennadius in his list of ecclesiastical writers (c. 17): "Rufinus, the presbyter of Aquileia, was not the least among the teachers of the church, and in his translations from Greek to Latin shewed an elegant genius. He gave to the Latins a very large part of the library of Greek writers. . . . He also replied in two volumes to him who decried his works, shewing convincingly that he had exercised his powers through the insight given him by God 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." See Ruf. Comm. in Symb. Apost. ed. by Rev. C. Whitaker, Lat. text, notes, and trans. with a short hist. of Ruf. and his times (Bell). A trans. by Dean Fremantle of the works of Rufinus is in the Lib. of Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers.


Bibliography Information
Wace, Henry. Entry for 'Rufinus of Aquileia'. A Dictionary of Early Christian Biography. https://www.studylight.org/​dictionaries/​eng/​hwd/​r/rufinus-of-aquileia.html. 1911.
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