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Ulfilas and the Gothic Bible

The Gothic language, now dead, has been preserved in written records of the 4th-6th c. The Goths were the first of the Germans to become Christian. The process of christianization is closely associated with the name of Ulfilas (Wufila).

Ulfilas was not the first missionary on Gothic soil since as early as 325 there existed a diocese of Gothia under an Orthodox bishop by the name of Theophilus. This was clearly the area of the Goths who settled in the Crimea and who, in keeping with their geographical position, were the first to come under Christian and specifically Catholic influence. However, the efforts of Ulfilas were incomparably more successful. Not everything is known about the life of this famous missionary bishop and translator of the Bible. His father was certainly a Goth, and his mother was of Greek-speaking Cappadocian stock. Born about 310, he received a sound education, probably outside Gothic territory. Between 335 and 337, he was a member of a delegation which was sent by the Goths to the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great. He now came under the influence of the Patriarch Eusebius of Constantinople, who must have been primarily responsible for Ulfilas’ adoption of Arianism. He was consecrated evangelist bishop of the land of the Goths by the same patriarch, probably in 341.

Up to 348, Ulfilas carried out his mission in the area north of the Danube. The principal achievement of Ulfilas, who died in 383, was not so much his work as a missionary but his translation of the Bible from Greek into Gothic, for which he had to start from the very beginning by creating an alphabet. The Gothic alphabet created by Ulfilas was based on the Latin and Greek alphabets but used runic letters too.

Ulfilas’ translation included the whole of the Old and New Testaments, with the exception of Kings 1 and 2, as “he did not wish to incite the passion for war already too strong in the Gothic race”. Ulfilas was a West Gothic bishop but his translation was copied more than once by Ostrogothic scribes in the 6th and 7th centuries.

Ulfilas preached Arianism /'εәriәֽnizәm/, according to which Christ, i.e. the Son, was not co-equal or co-eternal with the Father, but only the first and highest of all finite beings, created out of nothing by an act of God’s free will. Ulfilas obviously knew how to forge a link between Arianism and the religious ideas of the still pagan Goths. Unlike the Catholic doctrine of the Holy Trinity, Christ in the Arian doctrine was Lord and God only for mankind but He was still dependent on the Father. The Goths could understand it, as it was a reflection of the Germanic status of the king’s sons who ranked above all the members of the tribe but still owed obedience and service to their father. The acceptance of the idea of Holy Ghost was incomparably more difficult for the Germanic imagination, and for this reason He was regarded as the true servant of Christ and not as a god.

Arianism as heresy was at last virtually suppressed in the Roman Empire in the second half of the 4th century. Among the Germanic nations, however, it continued to spread through missionary efforts up to the 8th c.



Later, when the Goths converted to Roman Catholic faith, the use of the Gothic alphabet, as well as the runic one, was forbidden by the Church (1018) and most of the Gothic manuscripts were burnt. The Gothic Bible was lost and buried in oblivion. A thousand years passed. Then among the dust and rubbish of the Abbey of Werden (Germany) one copy of the book was found. The text of this book had been written on a purple parchment, in gold and silver letters.

In 1648, the Gothic Bible (the Codex Argenteus, or Silver Codex) was taken to Sweden, where it is kept now in the University Library in Uppsala. But it is not complete. In 1818, some leaves of this manuscript were discovered in North Italy; some parts were later found in Germany. So the greater part of the New Testament is extant now. The Gothic Bible is one of the earliest texts in the languages of the Germanic group. It represents a form of language very close to Proto-Germanic and therefore throws light on the pre-written stages of history of all the languages of the Germanic group, including English.

Cappadocia. Ancient region of Asia Minor (now central Turkey). It was annexed as a province of the Roman Empire AD 17.

Arianism.System of Christian theology that denied the complete divinity of Jesus. It was founded about 310 by Arius, and condemned as heretical in 325.

Kings.Two books of the Old Testament, describing the kings and prophets of Judah and Israel and wars they waged on other peoples.

Unit 9


Date: 2014-12-22; view: 1001


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