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(Jerome), The Vulgate Preface to Paul's Letters (2006)

[Translated by Kevin P. Edgecomb]


First is asked, for what reason after the Gospels, which are a supplement of the Law and in which are collected for us examples and precepts of living abundantly, the Apostle wanted to send these letters to individual churches. And it was seen to have been for this reason, that, as is known, he strengthened the firstborn of the Church from new arising heresies, so that he cut off present and arising errors and also afterward excluded future questions by the example of the Prophets, who after the publishing of the Law of Moses, in which were collected all the commandments of God, nevertheless still by its revived teaching the people always restrained (their) sins, and because of the example in the books they indeed also left a memorial for us.

Then is asked, for what reason did he not write more than ten letters to churches. For there are ten with that one which is called "To the Hebrews," for the remaining four are sent particularly to disciples. So that he showed the New not to differ from the Old Testament, and himself not to do (anything) against the Law of Moses, he arranged his letters (according) to the number of the first Ten Words (decalogi) of the commandments, as many precepts as that one ordered those freed from Pharaoh, the same number this one taught those purchased from servitude of the devil and idolatry. And also the most learned men have handed down (the tradition of) the two stone tablets to have been a figure of the two Testaments.

Truly, some have contended the letter which is written to the Hebrews not to be of Paul because it is not titled with his name, and because of the distance of language and style, but rather either of Barnabas according to Tertullian, or of Luke according to some others, or in fact of Clement the disciple of the Apostles and ordained Bishop of the Roman Church after the apostles. To which one should respond: if, accordingly, it cannot be of Paul because it does not have his name, therefore it cannot be of anyone because it is titled with no name. But if that is absurd, it is better to be believing it of him who shines with such eloquence of his teaching. But because among the churches of the Hebrews he was considered, with a false suspicion, as a destroyer of the Law, he was willing, with name unspoken, to render account of the figures of the Law and the truth of Christ, so hatred of (his) boldly displayed name would not exclude the usefulness of the reading. It is truly not a wonder, if he is seen more eloquent in his own (language), that is in Hebrew, rather than in a foreign one, that is in Greek, in which language the other letters are written.

It certainly disturbs some that for some reason the letter to the Romans is placed first, when reason reveals it not written first. For this is shown by him to have written travelling to Jerusalem, when he was exhorting the Corinthians and others before now by letters, as they collected the ministry which was carried with him. For which reason some want all the epistles to be understood arranged thus: that the first is set down which was sent later, (and) that through each letter by steps he came to the more perfect. For the majority of the Romans were so ignorant, that they did not understand themselves to be saved by the grace of God and not by their merits, and on account of this duo, the people struggled among themselves. Therefore, he asserted them to need to be strengthened, recalling the former vices of the gentiles (lit. "of gentileness"; gentilitatis). And now he says the gift of knowledge to be granted to the Corinthians, for he does not so much rebuke all, as he censures how they did not rebuke the sinners, as he says, "It is heard that there is fornication among you," and again, "You are gathered together with my spirit to deliver such a one to Satan." In the second (letter) they are truly praised and are admonished to advance more and more. Now the Galatians show no other crimes except they had most fervently believed in false apostles. The Ephesians are truly worthy of no rebuke but much praise, because they kept the Apostolic Faith. And the Philippians are much more greatly praised, who were not willing even to hear false apostles. And the Colossians were of such a kind that, when they had not been bodily seen by the Apostle, they were considered worthy of this praise: "And if in the body I am absent, I am with you in the Spirit, rejoicing and seeing your order." The Thessalonians were yet honored with all praise, to the extent that not only did they keep the unshaken faith of the Truth, but were indeed found standing together in the persecution of members. Truly something must be said of the Hebrews, of whom the Thessalonians, who are so highly praised, are said to have been imitators, as he says: "And you, brothers, have become imitators of the churches of God which are in Judea, for you have also suffered the same from your own countrymen as they have from the Judeans." Among them he also recalls the same Hebrews, saying, "For you both had compassion for the prisoners and you also received with joy the plundering of your goods, knowing yourselves to have a greater and lasting substance."


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This text was translated by Kevin P. Edgecomb, Berkeley, California, 2006, published here and released by him into the public domain.  All material on this page is in the public domain - copy freely.  Greek text is rendered using unicode.

Kevin introduces his translation as follows: 

I have a few articles to look up regarding the authorship of this letter, so I'll end up posting more on that at a later date. Essentially, there are three contenders: St Jerome, the British heretic Pelagius, and some unknown author. Since patristic scholarship in the early part of the twentieth century had an unfortunate tendency to pin the names of heretics to many various works not otherwise demonstrably theirs or even heretical, I don't, at this point, consider Pelagius a likely candidate, but rather a faddish suggestion given rather too much attention. These days some idiot would likely suggest St Mary Magdalene. Also, having just worked through seventeen authentic prologues of St Jerome, it is definite that this prologue to Paul's letters are from someone else, judging by the style and even the vocabulary. It's not as rambling as St Jerome's own letters, which are constructed in a much more oral manner (likely because he was actually simply dictating to a scribe most of the time), and certain words of the vocabulary require meanings that are later than the more classical, antiquarian usage of St Jerome. So I opt for an unknown author. Nevertheless, it is a very interesting preface, especially his description of why the letters of Paul are arranged as they are: they are addressed to progressively more accomplished Christians, and apparently in reverse chronological order. How interesting!

I hope everyone has enjoyed my translation of these Vulgate prefaces. I certainly enjoyed the discovery involved in learning what they say, having not read most of them before, and the definite education in Latin they provide. I hope they're found to be useful. This is the last preface included in Weber's Biblia Sacra Vulgata, Fourth Edition, which means this first stage of my translation of the Vulgate Prefaces is done with this. Now that I have them all finished in a first draft, I'll be editing them for consistency, style, etc, and post them all on a single web page. So if anyone wants to use them in a convenient form, with notes and such things, just wait about a week or so. In the meantime, I'll post links to the blog posts with all the prefaces, which I'm rather surprised to have finished in only three weeks, even with some breaks. Enjoy!

Early Church Fathers - Additional Texts