Wulfila or Ulfilas (perhaps meaning "little wolf") (c. 310-383), bishop, missionary, and translator, was a Goth or half-Goth who had spent time inside the Byzantine Empire at a time when Arianism was dominant. Despite his heretical beliefs, he is sometimes referred to as the "Apostle of the Goths."
Of Cappadocian ancestry, Wulfila was entirely one with the Goths (among whom he had been born) in both language and sympathy. Most of his early life was spent in Constantinople. He was ordained a bishop (c. 341) by the Arian Eusebius of Nicomedia (then bishop of Constantinople). He returned soon afterward to his people to work as a missionary, first beyond the Imperial boundaries and then among the Goths who had settled in Moesia II.
Wulfila made the first translation of the Bible from Greek into the Gothic language, omitting, according to Philostorgius, the Books of Kings, which might provoke the already war-like Goths to be negatively inspired by the martial actions contained in those texts. For his translation he established a Gothic alphabet writing system. Fragments have survived and are known as the Codex Argenteus, in the University Library of Uppsala.
Wulfila converted many among the Visigoths and Ostrogoths, preaching an Arian Christianity, which when they reached the western Mediterranean, set them apart from their overwhelmingly Orthodox neighbors and subjects. Many believe that it was the ongoing Arianism of Gothic Christianity that eventually led to the addition of the Filioque to the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed at the Council of Toledo, Spain in 447, in a creedal attempt to bolster the divinity of the Son of God.
Arian Creed of Wulfila
The creed of Wulfila, as appended to a letter praising him written by his foster-son and pupil, the Scythian Auxentius of Durostorum (modern Silistra) on the Danube, who became bishop of Milan, is a clear statement of central Arian tenets, which separated God the Father ("unbegotten") from the second, lesser God, the Christ ("only-begotten"), who was born before time and who created the world, and the Holy Spirit, created by the Father through the Son:
- I believe that there is only one God the Father, alone unbegotten and invisible, and in His only-begotten Son, our Lord and God, creator and maker of all things, not having any like unto Him. Therefore there is one God of all, who is also God of our God, And I believe in one Holy Spirit, an enlightening and sanctifying power. As Christ says after the resurrection to his Apostles: "Behold I send the promise of my Father upon you; but tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem until ye be clothed with power from on high." (Luke 24:49) And again: "And ye shall receive power coming upon you by the Holy Spirit." (Acts 1:8) Neither God nor Lord, but the faithful minister of Christ; not equal, but subject and obedient in all things to the Son. And I believe the Son to be subject and obedient in all things to God the Father.
The letter of Auxentius, emphatically denying that Wulfila was a heretic, was preserved in a copy of St. Ambrose of Milan's De Fide.
- The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (3rd ed.), p. 1654
- Jim Marchand's translation on Auxentius' letter on Ulfilas' career and beliefs, with Latin text
- Project Wulfila
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