(ca. 311 - ca 383)

Theology on the Web helps over 2.5 million people every year to find high quality theological resources that will help to equip them to serve God and to know Him better (2 Timothy 2:15). Like other websites that provide free services, it is dependent on donations to enable it to grow and develop and only 0.004% of visitors currently do so. If you would like to support this site, please use one of the options to the right of this message.


ULPHILAS, the Apostle of the Goths (313-383). According to the Arian church historian, Philostorgius (Hist. Eccl., 2, 5), whose statement is corroborated by other Greek church historians, he belonged to a Cappadocian family which was carried away from its homestead as prisoners of war by the Goths, but which soon found itself so well installed among the captors, and so closely allied to them, that the son received a Gothic name, Wûlfila ("Little Wolf"). He was educated in Christianity and in Greek learning, and on account of his great natural gifts he was destined for the church. The Goths, at that time settled on the northern bank of the Danube, just outside the pale of the Roman Empire, were rank heathens; but they were converted by Ulphilas. His missionary labor among them must have begun very early; for in 343 he was ordained their bishop, probably by an Arian bishop, since he himself afterwards declared that Arianism had always been his faith. How successful his work was may be inferred from the fact that the Gothic chief Athanaric became frightened, and instituted a violent persecution in 350. But Ulphilas obtained permission from the Emperor Constantius to immigrate with his flock of converts to the Roman Empire, and to settle in Moesia near Nicopolis, at the foot of Mount Haemus. Meanwhile the mission among the Goths north of the Danube did not stop its work; and in 370 a new persecution brought a new flock of Gothic converts into the Roman Empire under the protection of the Emperor Valens. Shortly after, a Gothic chief, Frithigern, embraced Christianity, his whole tribe following his example; and finally Athanaric himself was won for the new faith, which simply meant that the conversion of the whole Gothic nation was completed. They were Arians; and on Jan. 17, 383, a council was opened in Constantinople for the purpose of bringing about a reconciliation between the Arian Goths and the Orthodox Greek Church. It is probable that Ulphilas was present at that council. Its purpose, however, was not accomplished. See the art. GOTHS.

In his missionary work, Ulphilas had use, not only for his natural gifts, but also for the accomplishments of his education. One of his most effective means of success was, no doubt, his translation of the Bible into the vernacular tongue of the Goths, for which he had to invent a new alphabet, a combination of Greek and Runic letters: it is the oldest existing monument of any Teutonic language. Whether he translated the whole Bible, or only portions, is doubtful: only fragments have come down to us. Seven codices have been discovered, - Codex Argenteus, written on purple vellum in gold and silver letters, dating from the sixth century, discovered in 1597 in the Benedictine abbey of Werden, now preserved in the library of Upsala, and published with diplomatic accuracy by Uppstrom (1854); Codex Carolinus, discovered in the library of Wolfenbuttel in 1756, and published in 1762-63; finally, palimpsest fragments of five codices discovered in the Ambrosian library at Milan by Angelo Mai, and published 1819-38. The best collected editions of these fragments are those by Von der G abelentz and Loebe, Leip., 1836-46, with Latin version, grammar, and lexicon; E. Bernhardt, Halle, 1875, with full critical notes; and Stamm, Paderborn, 1878 (7th ed. by M. Heyne), the most convenient manual edition. Compare also The Gothic and Anglo-Saxon Gospels in Parallel Columns with the Versions of Wycljffè and Tyndale, by Jos. BOSWORTH, London, 1874, 2d ed.; and SKEAT: The Gospel of St. Mark in Gothic, Oxford, 1882, with glossary, grammar, and notes.

"ULPHILAS," Philip Schaff, ed., A Religious Encyclopaedia or Dictionary of Biblical, Historical, Doctrinal, and Practical Theology, 3rd edn, Vol. 4. Toronto, New York & London: Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1894. p.2416.

Primary Sources

Book or monograph Philosturgius, Church History 2.5.
Book or monograph Socrates, Church History 2.41; 4.33-34.
Book or monograph Sozomen, Church History 4.24; 6.37.
Book or monograph Theodoret, Church History 4.33

Secondary Sources

Article in Journal or Book T.D. Barnes, "The Consecration of Ulfila," Journal of Theological Studies 41.2 (1990): 541-545.
Book or monograph G.W.S. Friedrichsen, The Gothic Version of the Gospels: A Study of Its Style and Textual History. London: Oxford University Press, 1926.
Book or monograph G.W.S. Friedrichsen, The Gothic Version of the Epistles: A Study of Its Style and Textual History. London: Oxford University Press, 1939.
Article in Journal or Book M.J. Hunter, "The Gothic Bible," G.W.H. Lampe, ed. The Cambridge History of the Bible, Vol. 2. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1969. pp.338-362.
Book or monograph John F. Matthews, The Goths in the Fourth Century. Translated Texts for Historians, 11. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 1991. Pbk. ISBN: 0853234264. pp.205.
  Tucker: From Jerusalem to Irian JayaRuth A. Tucker, From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya: A Biographical History of Christian Missions, 2nd edn. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2004. Hbk. ISBN-13: 978-0310239376. pp.34-37.
Article in Journal or Book Hagith Sivan, "Ulfila's Own Conversion," Harvard Theological Review 89.4 (1996): 373-386.
Book or monograph Edward Arthur Thompson, The Visigoths in the Time of Ulfila. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1966. Hbk. ISBN: 0198142544. pp.198.


On-line Resource Ulfilas (Patrick J. Healy)

Related Subjects

Alexander of Alexandria | Ambrose | Aristides | Arnobius | Athanasius | Athenagoras | Augustine | Basil | Boethius | John Cassian | Celsus | Clement of Alexandria | Clement of Rome | Constantine | Cyprian | Cyril of Alexandria | Cyril of Jerusalem | Dionysius the Areopagite | Ephraem the Syrian | Epiphanius | Eusebius of Caesarea | Gregory of Nazianzus | Gregory of Nyssa | Gregory Thaumaturgus | Hermas | Hilary of Poitiers | Hippolytus | Ignatius of Antioch | Irenaeus of Lyons | Julius Africanus | Jerome | John Chrysostom | Josephus | Justin Martyr | Justinian I | Lactantius | Leo the Great | Marcellus | Macarius | Martin of Tours | Melito | Methodius | Minucius Felix | Novatian | Origen | Pachomius | Papias | Philo | Polycarp | Synesius of Cyrene | Tatian | Tertullian | Theodore of Mopsuestia | Theodoret | Theophilus | Tyconius | Ulfilas | Victorinus | Marius Victorinus

Become a Patron!Buy Me a Coffee! Support this siteSponsored Ad: Biblemesh ActivEreader