(c. 311-382/383)
   Gothic bishop, missionary, and translator, Ulfilas, which means "little wolf" in the Gothic language, was a key figure in the ongoing Christianization of the Goths. He was hailed as the Moses of his age by the emperor Constantius II, and was compared with the prophet Elijah by others. His reputation came from his missionary activity among Goths who remained loyal to their traditional faith, as well as from his standing as tribal leader of the Goths. He also earned this praise because, like Moses, he brought the word of God to his people with his translation of the Bible into the Gothic language. Like the much later translation of the Bible by Martin Luther, that of Ulfilas had an important influence on the development of a language and culture.
   Born around 311, Ulfilas was a third-generation Danubian Goth whose ancestors on his mother's side, at least, may have come from Cappadocia. But he was a true Goth from birth and, despite his name, was probably not of low social origins. Indeed, his apparent education and later career suggest otherwise. From his early years, Ulfilas seems to have been trilingual, learning Greek and Latin along with his native language. He also probably studied rhetoric; at least his later theological and exegetical works suggest such training. His upper-class social origins are suggested also by his membership in a delegation to Constantinople between 332 and 337 representing the Goths before the imperial government. He may have even lived in Constantinople for a while at that time before returning to his homeland.
   On a second trip into imperial territory, to Antioch in 341, Ulfilas was consecrated "bishop of the Christians in the Getic land" by Eusebius the bishop of Constantinople. It is likely that his ordination was part of a broader Roman initiative to convert all the Goths, but it also suggests recognition of the minority population of Goths and their need for spiritual leadership. His promotion to bishop also suggests the esteem in which the Romans held Ulfilas, who advanced to the episcopal office after holding only the minor church office of lector. As bishop in the 340s, Ulfilas sought to fulfill the task bestowed on him at his consecration; as a result, he was an active missionary. He not only ministered to his flock effectively, but also reached out to non-Christian Goths. His Christianity was the mainstream Christianity of the empire and was influenced by the Arianism of the ruling emperors of the time. Although Ulfilas may not have accepted fully all the tenets of Arianism, he rejected the Nicene Creed and generally held a centrist position between the two extremes. Whatever the exact nature of his belief, Ulfilas was an effective missionary, and his activities among his fellow Goths may have alienated those who maintained belief in the traditional gods. In the first Gothic persecution of Christians in 348, Ulfilas was expelled, perhaps because of his evangelical zeal, and as a result of his expulsion has been known by the honorary title confessor.
   He and his followers, for whom he was both a spiritual and secular leader, were settled within the Roman Empire by the emperor, and Ulfilas again assumed his duties as bishop. As bishop in exile from his native land, Ulfilas sought to continue his evangelical and pastoral work, and even indulged in writing theological treatises. He preached in Gothic, Greek, and Latin, and participated in the council of 360, which supported the Arian faith in the empire. His greatest achievement, however, was his translation of the Bible into the Gothic language, probably after 350. He was faced, first, with the challenge of preparing an alphabet for the Gothic tongue, and only after that could he translate Scripture. He most probably translated his Bible from the Greek version commonly used in the fourth century. His translation and missionary activity were a great inspiration to other Goths who carried on his work, and his Bible provided a single source to unify the Goths in language and faith.
   In his later years it is likely that Ulfilas opposed Athanaric, who persecuted Christians, and supported his fellow Arian and pro-Roman Goth, Fritigern. But when Fritigern revolted against the empire, Ulfilas was more inclined toward Rome than Fritigern. Indeed, Ulfilas spent his last days in the imperial capital at Constantinople, preparing for the start of a church council on the Arian question. Ulfilas remained committed to his Arian faith, declaring on his deathbed: "There is one eternal, unbegotten, and invisible God, who before time existed alone. Within time he created the Son, the only-begotten God."(Wolfram 1997, 84-85) Although the empire was moving toward Catholic Christianity, it allowed the barbarian peoples to follow the Christianity of their ancestors. Ulfilas had inspired numerous disciples who spread his Arianism to other barbarian peoples, including the Ostrogoths, the Vandals, and possibly the Franks.
   See also
 ♦ Heather, Peter. The Goths. Oxford: Blackwell, 1996.
 ♦ Thompson, Edward A. The Visigoths in the Time of Ulfila. Oxford: Clarendon, 1966.
 ♦ Wolfram, Herwig. History of the Goths. Trans. Thomas J. Dunlap. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988.
 ♦ ---. The Roman Empire and Its Germanic Peoples. Trans. Thomas J. Dunlap. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997.

Encyclopedia of Barbarian Europe. 2014.

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