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Ulfilas

Ulfilas

Ulfilas (ca. 311-ca. 382), Arian bishop of the Visigoths, or West Goths, translated at least part of the Bible into Gothic. He developed the Gothic alphabet on the basis of the Greek and Roman alphabets and enriched the Gothic, or East Germanic, language.

Ulfilas was probably descended on his mother's side from Christian captives displaced from Cappadocia in Asia Minor in the 3d century. They converted some of the Goths to their faith and settled with them north of the Danube. Not yet 30, Ulfilas, already a leader of his people, was sent on a mission to Constantine I, the first Christian emperor of Rome, and in the same year was consecrated bishop of the Christian Goths by Eusebius of Nicomedia. For seven years he performed episcopal duties among his people north of the Danube and, persecuted by non-Christian Goths, settled his followers in Moesia (Bulgaria). He also assumed duties as judge and intellectual leader. In 381 he was summoned by the emperor Theodosius to Constantinople for conferences. He died there soon after.

The Arianism of Ulfilas led to a break between Goths and Romans which was not healed by his compromise with Nicene orthodoxy. He was one of the founders of the Arian Gothic Church, which spread with missionary intensity to other East Germanic tribes in the Mediterranean Basin, the Ostrogoths (East Goths), Vandals, and Burgundians.

It cannot be determined how much of the Bible Ulfilas translated. The ecclesiastical historian Philostorgios claims Ulfilas translated all of it except the too warlike Books of Kings; others deny this. Much of the Gospels and the Epistles of Paul, as well as fragments from Nehemiah, Ezra, and Genesis and one psalm, are preserved in later forms. He used the Septuagint for the Old Testament and a Greek text for the New Testament, translating faithfully but not slavishly, enriching his native Gothic with neologisms and syntactic constructions. Philologically this translation— practically all that exists of Gothic—is of inestimable value. Most of what remains is in the Codex Argenteus (Silver Codex) in Uppsala, Sweden. Treatises and exegetical writings in Gothic, Greek, and Latin are also ascribed to Ulfilas. The chief primary sources about him are chapters by early ecclesiastical historians and a letter by his pupil Auxentius.

Further Reading

A full-length work on Ulfilas is Charles A. A. Scott, Ulfilas: Apostle of the Goths (1885). Recommended for historical background is Edward A. Thompson, The Visigoths in the Time of Ulfila (1966). □

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Ulfilas

Ulfilas (ŭl´fĬləs) or Wulfila (wŏŏl´fĬlə) [Gothic,=little wolf], c.311–383, Gothic bishop, translator of the Bible into Gothic. He was converted to Christianity at Constantinople and was consecrated bishop (341) by the Arian bishop Eusebius of Nicomedia. Ulfilas then returned to the Visigoths as a missionary; it was partly as a result of Ulfilas's work that the Goths became and remained Arians for so long in the face of triumphant Catholicism. Of Ulfilas's Bible only fragments remain—parts of Genesis, Nehemiah, most of the Gospels, and the whole of Second Corinthians, with several more fragments. Ulfilas is said to have invented the alphabet that he used.

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Ulfilas

Ulfilas (c.311–c.381), bishop and translator. Believed to be of Cappadocian descent, he became bishop of the Visigoths in 341. His translation of the Bible from Greek into Gothic (of which fragments survive) is the earliest known translation of the Bible into a Germanic language. Ulfilas is traditionally held to have invented the Gothic alphabet, based on Latin and Greek characters. Also called Wulfila.

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Ulfilas

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Ulfilas

ULFILAS

Fourth-century bishop and apostle of the Goths; b. probably Cappadocia, c. 311; d. Constantinople, 382 or 383. Of a Cappadocian Christian family captured by the goths, Ulfilas (Gothic, Wulfila) was a lector in a Gothic community, and in 337 was sent as part of an embassy to Constantinople, where eusebius of nicomedia consecrated him as a missionary bishop. After seven years of activity north of the Danube (c. 341348), he found refuge in the Roman Empire when a persecution of the Christians was inaugurated by the chieftain Athanaric. On his return to the Balkan mountain country, he served as both spiritual and civil leader for 30 years, exercising his missionary zeal on both sides of the imperial borders. He translated the Bible (probably only the New Testament) into the Gothic language. However, he had signed the Homoiousian (the Son is similar to the Father) symbol of Constantinople (360), and as his Confession of Faith (preserved by his biographer Auxentius of Dorostorum) indicates, he adhered to the Arian Creed and was thus a primary source of the Arian faith that characterized the Germanic and Gothic Christian peoples. He died during a synod to which he had been summoned by Theodosius I.

Bibliography: auxentius of dorostorum, "Epistola de Fide, vita et obitu Ulfilae," Patrologiae cursus completus, series latina; suppl., ed. a. hamman, 1:703727. g. friedrichsen, The Gothic Version of the Gospels (London 1926). a. wilmart, "Les Évangiles gothiques," Revue Biblique 36 (1927) 4661. j. mansion, "Les Origines du christianisme chez les Gots," Analecta Bollandiana 33 (1914) 530. e. stein, Histoire du Bas-Empire, tr. j. r. palanque, 2 v. in 3 (Paris 194959) 1:186. k. d. schmidt, Die Bekehrung der Ostgermanen zum Christentum (Göttingen 1939). e. a. thompson, "The Date of the Conversion of the Visigoths," Journal of Ecclesiastical History 7 (1956) 111. p. wackwitz, Die Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart, 7 v. (3rd ed. Tübingen 195765) 6:1831.

[f. x. murphy]

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