RUFINUS (c. 345-410)

Rufinus Tyrannius was born at Concordia in North Italy about 345 and in 371 was baptized at Aquileia, where he lived until he began his travels in the Middle East. He lived in Egypt for six years before going to for two years, after which he returned to Egypt for two more years. Part of his time in Egypt was spent in Alexandria, but most of it was with the Coptic monks in the monasteries of Wadi al-Natrun. Rufinus then went to the Holy Land, where he stayed for eighteen years. During that time he became fully conversant with the Eastern churches and collected much material that he used in his writings. Back in Italy in 397, he spent most of his life at Aquileia until his death in 410.

Rufinus is best known in the West as the main translator of many works of Origen from Greek into Latin, but he also wrote treatises of his own, based mainly on his Eastern experiences. He is one of the four contemporaries who continued writing after EUSEBIUS, the others being SOCRATES, SOZOMEN, and THEODORET.

His translations include the Apology for Origen of Pamphilus and Eusebius, the Historia ecclesiastica of Eusebius, the Monastic Rule of Saint Basil, the De principiis of Origen, the Recognitions of Clement, the Sentences of Xystus, the Sentences of Evagrius, the Paschal canons of of Alexandria, and ten works by GREGORY OF NAZIANZUS.

Rufinus’ own works include two historical works: an Ecclesiastical History continuing the work of Eusebius, and the HISTORIA MONACHORUM, which is a history of the Coptic based on his experience among the monks of Wadi Habib in the Eastern Desert. A great admirer of Origen, he also wrote “A Dissertation on the Falsifications by Heretics of the Works of Origen.” Later in life, when he fell out with Jerome, he wrote a special “apology” in two books, in which he tried to vindicate himself from the attacks launched against him by his old friend. The Apology was addressed to the Roman pope Anastasius. Rufinus also a commentary on the Apostles’ Creed. This fourth-century version remains as that accepted by the Roman church.

It has been said that Rufinus’ Ecclesiastical History was based on an original treatise by Gelasius, bishop of Caesarea (d. 393), but there is no solid basis for this assumption, and Rufinus must be accepted as its independent author. Although the work of Rufinus is sometimes described as uncritical, it is valuable as a source of after Eusebius in the fourth century.


  • Murphy, F. X. Rufinus of Aquileia, 345-411. Washington, D.C., 1945.
  • Smith, W., and H. Wace. Dictionary of Christian Biography, Vol. 4, pp. 555-56. New York, 1974.