This is another of the multitude of Vulgate Prologues, but one which is now considered not to belong to Jerome, though it very obviously is intended to seem to be from him. The key interest in this prologue lies in its positive evaluation of the Johannine Comma. It appears in Codex Fuldensis, one of the earliest copies of the Vulgate NT, dating to 547, but curiously enough, the Comma does not! Since we have not a shred of information on Jerome’s opinion of the Comma, we’re left hanging without corroboration on whether this letter is his or is truly a forgery. Currently, as the Comma is considered not to have been included in the earliest editions of the Old Latin and Vulgate, it seems likely, but not absolutely certain, that Jerome would not have known of it. Also, we have no evidence that Jerome did any of the editorial work on the NT books outside of the Gospels, and in fact, evidence in his usage late in life of a contrary text. The decisive elements in this prologue for its inauthenticity are two, I think. Jerome did his work on the Gospels first out of all his Biblical translations/revisions in the Vulgate, in about 382. But here in this letter he addresses only Eustochium and not Paula and Eustochium. Paula, Eustochium’s mother and abbess, died in 404, only at which time did Jerome begin to address letters only to Eustochium. But here, the author, not knowing the chronology of Jerome’s work and life, says he “just now” (dudum) corrected the Evangelists, and yet addresses only Eustochium. At least twenty-two years previous is not “just now.” This dating contradiction is conclusive.
So, to determine the true date of this prologue, we’re left with a terminus ante quem of the publication of the Codex Fuldensis in 547, and we’ll have to work with that. Would perhaps the reference to a Latin tradition of placing Peter’s Epistles first among the Catholic Epistles, him being “first in the order of the Apostles,” indicate a dating after the Leonine period, when Papal Primacy based on Petrine Primacy first came to such prominence? Maybe, maybe not. It seems easier to ask questions about this prologue than to answer them, as is the case in so many of the issues surrounding the history of the Vulgate. Oh, well. Anyhow, enjoy!
The text is from Migne, Patrologia Latina 4.1114A-1114C, where it was, for some reason, only included in a note by Migne among the doubtfully attributed works of Cyprian.
BEGINNING OF THE PROLOGUE TO THE CANONICAL EPISTLES
The order of the seven Epistles, which are named Canonical, as is found in Latin books is not thus among the Greeks who believe rightly and follow the correct faith. For as Peter is first in the order of the Apostles, first also are his Epistles in the order of the others. But as we have just now corrected the Evangelists to the line of truth, so we have restored, with God helping, these to their proper order. For the first of them is one of James, two of Peter, three of John, and one of Jude. Which, if they were arranged by them and thus were faithfully turned into Latin speech by interpreters, they would have neither made ambiguity for readers nor would they have attacked the variety of words themselves, especially in that place where we read what is put down about the oneness of the Trinity in the First Epistle of John. In which we find many things to be mistaken of the truth of the faith by the unfaithful translators, who put down in their own edition only three words, that is, Water, Blood, and Spirit, and who omit1 the witness of the Father and Word and Spirit, by which both the Catholic faith is greatly strengthened and also the one substance of the Divinity of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit is proved. Indeed, in the other Epistles, I leave to the judgment of the reader how much the edition of the others differs from ours. But you, O virgin of Christ Eustochium, while you zealously seek from me the truth of Scripture, you expose my old age, as it were, to the devouring teeth of the envious, who call me a falsifier and corruptor of the Holy Scriptures. But I, in such a work, am afraid of neither the envy of my rivals, nor will I refuse those requesting the truth of Holy Scripture.
END OF PROLOGUE
1 Or “include.” Numerous manuscripts read here “committentes” rather than “omittentes”. Several manuscripts shows erasures, with “committentes” as the original reading. However, “committentes” is contextually inappropriate, connoting that the author objects that with its inclusion “the Catholic faith is greatly strengthened” etc. Thus “committentes” must be considered an early scribal error. See here for a discussion and a presentation of relevant manuscript images.