Rufus was bishop of Shotep, known in Greek as Hypsele, a town located about seven kilomenters southeast of Assiut (Lycopolis) in Upper Egypt, in the last part of the sixth century. References to Rufus apart from the manuscripts containing his homilies make him a contemporary of Constantine of Assiut, who is known to have been ordained bishop by the Patriarch Damian (578-604). Rufus is also mentioned in the History of the Patriarchs of Alexandria.
These previously unpublished works consist of two sets of homilies on the Gospels of Matthew and Luke respectively. Of these only 126 pages or fragments thereof are known to survive. They belong to four principal manuscripts, all of which come from the White Monastery in Upper Egypt. The manuscripts, now scattered in eight different libraries, date probably from the ninth to the eleventh centuries. The surviving text represents a small portion of the original sets of homilies, which may have extended to more than two thousand pages. The portions of the Gospels commented on in these surviving fragments are Matt 1–5 and Luke 1:1-46.
The writings by Rufus belong to the genre of the text-based homily as opposed to the festal sermon or encomium of which there are numerous examples in Coptic as well as in Greek. They are the only surviving examples of this genre in Coptic. They are not stricly speaking “commentaries” because the homilist was not expected to explain the whole text, but only selected portions.
An analysis of the Greek exegetical terminology and of the exegetical rules employed by Rufus, as well as of specific interpetations, reveals that he stands unambiguously in the Alexandrian tradition of allegorical exegesis represented by Origen, Didymus and Cyril. Moreover, the fact that a number of specific examples of his exegesis have close parallels in the works of Origen suggests that he may have had direct access to some of the works of Origen. This is particularly interesting in view of the polemic against Origen found in Coptic literature and in view of the condemnation of Origen, Didymus and Evagrius by the Council of Constantinople in 553. Notable also is the fact that these homilies represent original literary production in a period when such sets of running homilies were no longer being produced in the Greek speaking world.
These homilies contribute significantly to our knowledge of Coptic literary and religious culture in the last part of the sixth century, the period immediately before the Arab invasion of Egypt. The period of the Patriarch Damian, whose long reign of over twenty-five years seems to have been conducive to the stability and consolidation of the non-Chalcedonian church in Egypt, was also a time of renewed literary activity in which Damian perhaps led the way. A passage from the History of the Patriarchs states: “And Damian, the blessed patriarch, remained all his days composing letters and homilies and treatises, in which he refuted the heretics.”
Since the publication of these homilies in 1998, a number of additional fragments have come to light. Their publication and additional studies regarding Rufus’ homilies are in preparation.
You can download the book here: J. Mark SHERIDAN, Rufus of Shotep: Homilies on the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. Introduction, text, translation, commentary, Roma, CIM, 1998, 360 p., ISBN 88-85354-05-X
Father Sheridan, O.S.B., (b. 1938) was Rector of the Pontificio Ateneo Sant’Anselmo, Rome. He received his PhD in 1990 from Catholic University of America. He is a monk of the Dormition Abbey in Jerusalem and professor emeritus in the Faculty of Theology of the Pontificio Ateneo Sant’Anselmo. Short list of publications (until 2001). His latest book is From the Nile to the Rhone and Beyond. Studies in Early Monastic Literature and Scriptural Interpretation (Studia Anselmiana, 156), Rome, 2012.