THE LETTERS OF ST. JEROME – I a XXI
Not only the first of the letters but probably the earliest extant composition of Jerome (c. 370 A. D.). Innocent, to whom it is addressed, was one of the little band of enthusiasts whom Jerome gathered round him in Aquileia. He followed his friend to Syria, where he died in 374 A.D. (See Letter III., 3.)
1. You have frequently asked me, dearest Innocent, not to pass over in silence the marvellous event which has happened in our own day. I have declined the task from modesty and, as I now feel, with justice, believing myself to be incapable of it, at once because bureau language is inadequate to the divine praise, and because inactivity, acting like rust upon the intellect, has dried up any little power of expression that I have ever had. You in reply urge that in the things of God we must look not at the work which we are able to accomplish, but at the spirit in which it is undertaken, and that he can never be at a loss for words who has believed on the Word.
2. What, then, must I do? The task is beyond me, and yet I dare not decline it. I am a mere unskilled passenger, and I find myself placed in charge of a freighted ship. I have not so much as handled a rowboat on a lake, and now I have to trust myself to the noise and turmoil of the Euxine. I see the shores sinking beneath the horizon, “sky and sea on every side”;(1) darkness lowers over the water, the clouds are black as night, the waves only are white with foam. You urge me to hoist the swelling sails, to loosen the sheets, and to take the helm. At last I obey your commands, and as charity can do all things, I will trust in the Holy Ghost to guide my course, and I shall console myself, whatever the event. For, if our ship is wafted by the surf into the wished-for haven, I shall be content to be told that the pilotage was poor. But, if through my unpolished diction we run aground amid the rough cross-currents of language, you may blame my lack of power, but you will at least recognize my good intentions.
3. To begin, then: Vercellae is a Ligurian town, situated not far from the base of the Alps, once important, but now sparsely peopled and fallen into decay. When the consular(1) was holding his visitation there, a poor woman and her paramour were brought before him–the charge of adultery had been fastened upon them by the husband–and were both consigned to the penal horrors of a prison. Shortly after an attempt was made to elicit the truth by torture, and when the blood-stained hook smote the young man’s livid flesh and tore furrows in his side, the unhappy wretch sought to avoid prolonged pain by a speedy death. Falsely accusing his own passions, he involved another in the charge; and it appeared that he was of all men the most miserable, and that his execution was just inasmuch as he had left to an innocent woman no means of self-defence. But the woman, stronger in virtue if weaker in sex, though her frame was stretched upon the rack, and though her hands, stained with the filth of the prison, were tied behind her, looked up to heaven with her eyes, which alone the torturer had been unable to bind, and while the tears rolled down her face, said: “Thou art witness, Lord Jesus, to whom nothing is hid, who triest the reins and the heart.(2) Thou art witness that it is not to save my life that I deny this charge. I refuse to lie because to lie is sin. And as for you, unhappy man, if you are bent on hastening your death, why must you destroy not one innocent person, but two? I also, myself, desire to die. I desire to put off this hated body, but not as an adulteress. I offer my neck; I welcome the shining sword without fear; yet I will take my innocence with me. He does not die who is slain while purposing so to live.”
4. The consular, who had been feasting his eyes upon the bloody spectacle, now, like a wild beast, which after once tasting blood always thirsts for it, ordered the torture to be doubled, and cruelly gnashing his teeth, threatened the executioner with like punishment if he failed to extort from the weaker sex a confession which a man’s strength had not been able to keep back.
5. Send help, Lord Jesus. For this one creature of Thine every species of torture is devised. She is bound by the hair to a stake, her whole body is fixed more firmly than ever on the rack; fire is brought and applied to her feet; her sides quiver beneath the executioner’s probe; even her breasts do not escape. Still the woman remains unshaken; and, triumphing in spirit over the pain of the body, enjoys the happiness of a good conscience, round which the tortures rage in vain.(1) The cruel judge rises, overcome with passion. She still prays to God. Her limbs are wrenched from their sockets she only turns her eyes to heaven. Another confesses what is thought their common guilt. She, for the confessor’s sake, denies the confession, and, in peril of her own life, clears one who is in peril of his.
6. Meantime she has but one thing to say “Beat me, burn me, tear me, if you will; I have not done it. If you will not believe my words, a day will come when this charge shall be carefully sifted. I have One who will judge me.” Wearied out at last, the torturer sighed in response to her groans; nor could he find a spot on which to inflict a fresh wound. His cruelty overcome, he shuddered to see the body he had torn. Immediately the consular cried, in a fit of passion, “Why does it surprise you, bystanders, that a woman prefers torture to death? It takes two people, most assuredly, to commit adultery; and I think it more credible that a guilty woman should deny a sin than that an innocent young man should confess one.”
7. Like sentence, accordingly, was passed on both, and the condemned pair were dragged to execution. The entire people poured out to see the sight; indeed, so closely were the gates thronged by the out-rushing crowd, that you might have fancied the city itself to be migrating. At the very first stroke of the sword the head of the hapless youth was cut off, and the headless trunk rolled over in its blood. Then came the woman’s turn. She knelt down upon the ground, and the shining sword was lifted over her quivering neck. But though the headsman summoned all his strength into his bared arm, the moment it touched her flesh the fatal blade stopped short, and, lightly glancing over the skin, merely grazed it sufficiently to draw blood. The striker saw, with terror, his hand unnerved, and, amazed at his defeated skill and at his drooping sword, he whirled it aloft for another stroke. Again the blade fell forceless on the woman, sinking harmlessly on her neck, as though the steel feared to touch her. The enraged and panting officer, who had thrown open his cloak at the neck to give his full strength to the blow, shook to the ground the brooch which clasped the edges of his mantle, and not noticing this, began to poise his sword for a fresh stroke. “See,” cried the woman, “a jewel has fallen from your shoulder. Pick up what you have earned by hard toil, that you may not lose it.”
8. What, I ask, is the secret of such confidence as this? Death draws near, but it has no terrors for her. When smitten she exults, and the executioner turns pale. Her eyes see the brooch, they fail to see the sword. And, as if intrepidity in the presence of death were not enough, she confers a favor upon her cruel foe. And now the mysterious Power of the Trinity rendered even a third blow vain. The terrified soldier, no longer trusting the blade, proceeded to apply the point to her throat, in the idea that though it might not cut, the pressure of his hand might plunge it into her flesh. Marvel unheard of through all the ages! The sword bent back to the hilt, and in its defeat looked to its master, as if confessing its inability to slay.
9. Let me call to my aid the example of the three children,(1) who, amid the cool, encircling fire, sang hymns,(2) instead of weeping, and around whose turbans and holy hair the flames played harmlessly. Let me recall, too, the story of the blessed Daniel,(3) in whose presence, though he was their natural prey, the lions crouched, with fawning tails and frightened mouths. Let Susannah also rise in the nobility of her faith before the thoughts of all; who, after she had been condemned by an unjust sentence, was saved through a youth inspired by the Holy Ghost.(4) In both cases the Lord’s mercy was alike shewn; for while Susannah was set free by the judge, so as not to die by the sword, this woman, though condemned by the judge, was acquitted by the sword.
10. Now at length the populace rise in arms to defend the woman. Men and women of every age join in driving away the executioner, shouting round him in a surging crowd. Hardly a man dares trust his own eyes. The disquieting news reaches the city close at hand, and the entire force of constables is mustered. The officer who is responsible for the execution of criminals bursts from among his men, and,
Staining his hoary hair with soiling dust, exclaims: “What! citizens, do you mean to seek my life? Do you intend to make me a substitute for her? However much your minds are set on mercy, and however much you wish to save a condemned woman, yet assuredly I–I who am innocent–ought not to perish.” His tearful appeal tells upon the crowd, they are all benumbed by the influence of sorrow, and an extraordinary change of feeling is manifested. Before it had seemed a duty to plead for the woman’s life, now it seemed a duty to allow her to be executed.
11. Accordingly a new sword is fetched, a new headsman appointed. The victim takes her place, once more strengthened only with the favor of Christ. The first blow makes her quiver, beneath the second she sways to and fro, by the third she falls wounded to the ground. Oh, majesty of the divine power highly to be extolled! She who previously had received four strokes without injury, now, a few moments later, seems to die that an innocent man may not perish in her stead.
12. Those of the clergy whose duty it is to wrap the blood-stained corpse in a winding-sheet, dig out the earth and, heaping together stones, form the customary tomb. The sunset comes on quickly, and by God’s mercy the night of nature arrives more swiftly than is its wont. Suddenly the woman’s bosom heaves, her eyes seek the light, her body is quickened into new life. A moment after she sighs, she looks round, she gets up and speaks. At last she is able to cry: “The Lord is on my side; I will not fear. What can man do unto me?”(2)
13. Meantime an aged woman, supported out of the funds of the church, gave back her spirit to heaven from which it came.(3) It seemed as if the course of events had been thus purposely ordered, for her body took the place of the other beneath the mound. In the gray dawn the devil comes on the scene in the form of a constable,(1) asks for the corpse of her who had been slain, and desires to have her grave pointed out to him. Surprised that she could have died, he fancies her to be still alive. The clergy show him the fresh turf, and meet his demands by pointing to the earth lately heaped up, taunting him with such words as these: “Yes, of course, tear up the bones which have been buried! Declare war anew against the tomb, and if even that does not satisfy you, pluck her limb from limb for birds and beasts to mangle! Mere dying is too good for one whom it took seven strokes to kill.”
14. Before such opprobrious words the executioner retires in confusion, while the woman is secretly revived at home. Then, lest the frequency of the doctor’s visits to the church might give occasion for suspicion, they cut her hair short and send her in the company of some virgins to a sequestered country house. There she changes her dress for that of a man, and scars form over her wounds. Yet even after the great miracles worked on her behalf, the laws still rage against her. So true is it that, where there is most law, there, there is also most injustice.(2)
15. But now see whither the progress of my story has brought me; we come upon the name of our friend Evagrius.(3) So great have his exertions been in the cause of Christ that, were I to suppose it possible adequately to describe them, I should only show my own folly; and were I minded deliberately to pass them by, I still could not prevent my voice from breaking out into cries of joy. Who can fittingly praise the vigilance which enabled him to bury, if I may so say, before his death Auxentius(4) of Milan, that curse brooding over the church? Or who can sufficiently extol the discretion with which he rescued the Roman bishop(5) from the toils of the net in which he was fairly entangled, and showed him the means at once of overcoming his opponents and of sparing them in their discomfiture? But
Such topics I must leave to other bards,
Shut out by envious straits of time and space.(6)
I am satisfied now to record the conclusion of my tale. Evagrius seeks a special audience of the Emperor;(1) importunes him with his entreaties, wins his favor by his services, and finally gains his cause through his earnestness. The Emperor restored to liberty the woman whom God had restored to life.
TO THEODOSIUS AND THE REST OF THE ANCHORITES.
Written from Antioch, 374 A.D., while Jerome was still in doubt as to his future course. Theodosius appears to have been the head of the solitaries in the Syrian Desert.
How I long to be a member of your company, and with uplifting of all my powers to embrace your admirable community! Though, indeed, these poor eyes are not worthy to look upon it. Oh! that I could behold the desert, lovelier to me than any city! Oh! that I could see those lonely spots made into a paradise by the saints that throng them! But since my sins prevent me from thrusting into your blessed company a head laden with every transgression, I adjure you (and I know that you can do it) by your prayers to deliver me from the darkness of this world. I spoke of this when I was with you, and now in writing to you I repeat anew the same request; for all the energy of my mind is devoted to this one object. It rests with you to give effect to my resolve. I have the will but not the power; this last can only come in answer to your prayers. For my part, I am like a sick sheep astray from the flock. Unless the good Shepherd shall place me on his shoulders and carry me back to the fold,(2) my steps will totter, and in the very effort of rising I shall find my feet give way. I am the prodigal son(3) who although I have squandered all the portion entrusted to me by my father, have not yet bowed the knee in submission to him; not yet have I commenced to put away from me the allurements of my former excesses. And because it is only a little while since I have begun not so much to abandon my vices as to desire to abandon them, the devil now ensnares me in new toils, he puts new stumbling-blocks in my path, be encompasses me on every side.
The seas around, and all around the main.(4)
I find myself in mid-ocean, unwilling to retreat and unable to advance. It only remains that your prayers should win for me the gale of the Holy Spirit to waft me to the haven upon the desired shore.
TO RUFINUS THE MONK.(1)
Written from Antioch, 374 A.D., to Rufinus in Egypt. Jerome narrates his travels and the events which have taken place since his arrival in Syria, particularly the deaths of Innocent and Hylas ( 3). He also describes the life of Bonosus, who was now a hermit on an island in the Adriatic ( 4). The main object of the letter is to induce Rufinus to come to Syria.
1. That God gives more than we ask Him for,(2) and that He often grants us things which “eye hath not seen nor ear heard, neither have they entered into the heart of man,”(3) I knew indeed before from the mystic declaration of the sacred volumes; but now, dearest Rufinus, I have had proof of it in my own case. For I who fancied it too bold a wish to be allowed by an exchange of letters to counterfeit to myself your presence in the flesh, hear that you are penetrating the remotest parts of Egypt, visiting the monks and going round God’s family upon earth. Oh, if only the Lord Jesus Christ would suddenly transport me to you as Philip was transported to the eunuch,(4) and Habakkuk to Daniel,(5) with what a close embrace would I clasp your neck, how fondly would I press kisses upon that mouth which has so often joined with me of old in error or in wisdom. But as I am unworthy (not that you should so come to me but) that I should so come to you, and because my poor body, weak even when well, has been shattered by frequent illnesses; I send this letter to meet you instead of coming myself, in the hope that it may bring you hither to me caught in the meshes of love’s net.
2. My first joy at such unexpected good tidings was due to our brother, Heliodorus. I desired to be sure of it, but did not dare to feel sure, especially as he told me that he had only heard it from some one else, and as the strangeness of the news impaired the credit of the story. Once more my wishes hovered in uncertainty and my mind wavered, till an Alexandrian monk who had some time previously been sent over by the dutiful zeal of the people to the Egyptian confessors (in will already martyrs(6)), impelled me by his presence to believe the tidings. Even then, I must admit I still hesitated. For on the one hand he knew nothing either of your name or country: yet on the other what he said seemed likely to be true, agreeing as it did with the hint which had already reached me. At last the truth broke upon me in all its fulness, for a constant stream of persons passing through brought the report: “Rufinus is at Nitria, and has reached the abode of the blessed Macarius.”(1) At this point I cast away all that restrained my belief, and then first really grieved to find myself ill. Had it not been that my wasted and enfeebled frame lettered my movements, neither the summer heat nor the dangerous voyage should have had power to retard the rapid steps of affection. Believe me, brother, I look forward to seeing you more than the storm-tossed mariner looks for his haven, more than the thirsty fields long for the showers, more than the anxious mother sitting on the curving shore expects her son.
3. After that sudden whirlwind(2) dragged me from your side, severing with its impious wrench the bonds of affection in which we were knit together,
The dark blue raincloud lowered o’er my head:
On all sides were the seas, on all the sky.(3)
I wandered about, uncertain where to go. Thrace, Pontus, Bithynia, the whole of Galatia and Cappadocia, Cilicia also with its burning heat, one after another shattered my energies. At last Syria presented itself to me as a most secure harbor to a shipwrecked man. Here, after undergoing every possible kind of sickness, I lost one of my two eyes; for Innocent,(4) the half of my soul, (5) was taken away from me by a sudden attack of fever. The one eye which I now enjoy, and which is all in all to me, is our Evagrius,(6) upon whom I with my constant infirmities have come as an additional burden. We had with us also Hylas,(7) the servant of the holy Melanium,(8) who by his stainless conduct had wiped out the taint of his previous servitude. His death opened afresh the wound which had not yet healed. But as the apostle’s words forbid us to mourn for those who sleep,(9) and as my excess of grief has been tempered by the joyful news that has since come to me, I recount this last, that, if you have not heard it, you may learn it; and that, if you know it already, you may rejoice over it with me.
4. Bonosus,(1) your friend, or, to speak more truly, mine as well as yours, is now climbing the ladder foreshown in Jacob’s dream.(2) He is bearing his cross, neither taking thought for the morrow(3) nor looking back at what he has left.(4) He is sowing in tears that he may reap in joy.(5) As Moses in a type so he in reality is lifting up the serpent in the wilderness.(6) This is a true story, and it may well put to shame the lying marvels described by Greek and Roman pens. For here you have a youth educated with us in the refining accomplishments of the world, with abundance of wealth, and in rank inferior to none of his associates; yet he forsakes his mother, his sisters, and his dearly loved brother, and settles like a new tiller of Eden on a dangerous island, with the sea roaring round its reefs; while its rough crags, bare rocks, and desolate aspect make it more terrible still. No peasant or monk is to be found there. Even the little Onesimus(7) you know of, in whose kisses he used to rejoice as in those of a brother, in this tremendous solitude no longer remains at his side. Alone upon the island–or rather not alone, for Christ is with him–he sees the glory of God, which even the apostles saw not save in the desert. He beholds, it is true, no embattled towns, but he has enrolled his name in the new city.(8) Garments of sackcloth disfigure his limbs, yet so clad he will be the sooner caught up to meet Christ in the clouds.(9) No watercourse pleasant to the view supplies his wants, but from the Lord’s side he drinks the water of life.(10) Place all this before your eyes, dear friend, and with all the faculties of your mind picture to yourself the scene. When you realize the effort of the fighter then you will be able to praise his victory. Round the entire island roars the frenzied sea, while the beetling crags along its winding shores resound as the billows beat against them. No grass makes the ground green; there are no shady copses and no fertile fields. Precipitous cliffs surround his dreadful abode as if it were a prison. But he, careless, fearless, and armed from head to foot with the apostle’s armor,(11) now listens to God by reading the Scriptures, now speaks to God as he prays to the Lord; and it may be that, while he lingers in the island, he sees some vision such as that once seen by John.(1)
5. What snares, think you, is the devil now weaving? What stratagems is he preparing? Perchance, mindful of his old trick,(2) he will try to tempt Bonosus with hunger. But he has been answered already: “Man shall not live by bread alone.”(3) Perchance he will lay before him wealth and fame. But it shall be said to him: “They that desire to be rich fall into a trap(4) and temptations,”(5) and “For me all glorying is in Christ.”(6) He will come, it may be, when the limbs are weary with fasting, and rack them with the pangs of disease; but the cry of the apostle will repel him: “When I am weak, then am I strong,” and “My strength is made perfect in weakness.”(7) He will hold out threats of death; but the reply will be: “I desire to depart and to be with Christ.”(8) He will brandish his fiery darts, but they will be received on the shield of faith.(9) In a word, Satan will assail him, but Christ will defend. Thanks be to Thee, Lord Jesus, that in Thy day I have one able to pray to Thee for me. To Thee all hearts are open, Thou searchest the secrets of the heart,(10) Thou seest the prophet shut up in the fish’s belly in the midst of the sea.(11) Thou knowest then how he and I grew up together from tender infancy to vigorous manhood, how we were fostered in the bosoms of the same nurses, and carried in the arms of the same bearers; and how after studying together at Rome we lodged in the same house and shared the same food by the half savage banks of the Rhine. Thou knowest, too, that it was I who first began to seek to serve Thee. Remember, I beseech Thee, that this warrior of Thine was once a raw recruit with me. I have before me the declaration of Thy majesty: “Whosoever shall teach and not do shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven.”(12) May he enjoy the crown of virtue, and in return for his daily martyrdoms may he follow the Lamb robed in white raiment!(13) For” in my Father’s house are many mansions,”(14) and “one star differeth from another star in glory.”(15) Give me strength to raise my head to a level with the saints’ heels!(16) I willed, but he performed. Do Thou therefore pardon me that I failed to keep my resolve, and reward him with the guerdon of his deserts.
I may perhaps have been tedious, and have said more than the short compass of a letter usually allows; but this, I find, is always the case with me when I have to say anything in praise of our dear Bonosus.
6. However, to return to the point from which I set out, I beseech you do not let me pass wholly out of sight and out of mind. A friend is long sought, hardly found, and with difficulty kept. Let those who will, allow gold to dazzle them and be borne along in splendor, their very baggage glittering with gold and silver. Love is not to be purchased, and affection has no price. The friendship which can cease has never been real. Farewell in Christ.
Sent to Florentius along with the preceding letter, which jerome requests him to deliver to Rufinus. This Florentius was a rich Italian who had retired to Jerusalem to pursue the monastic life. Jerome subsequently speaks of him as “a distinguished monk so pitiful to the needy that he was generally known as the father of the poor.” (Chron. ad A.D. 381.)
1. How much your name and sanctity are on the lips of the most different peoples you may gather from the fact that I commence to love you before I know you. For as, according to the apostle, “Some men’s sins are evident going before unto judgment,”(1) so contrariwise the report of your charity is so widespread that it is considered not so much praiseworthy to love you as criminal to refuse to do so. I pass over the countless instances in which you have supported Christ,(2) fed, clothed, and visited Him. The aid you rendered to our brother Heliodorus(3) in his need may well loose the utterance of the dumb. With what gratitude, with what commendation, does he speak of the kindness with which you smoothed a pilgrim’s path. I am, it is true, the most sluggish of men, consumed by an unendurable sickness; yet keen affection and desire have winged my feet, and I have come forward to salute and embrace you. I wish you every good thing, and pray that the Lord may establish our nascent friendship.
2. Our brother, Rufinus, is said to have come from Egypt to Jerusalem with the devout lady, Melanium. He is inseparably bound to me in brotherly love; and I beg you to oblige me by delivering to him the annexed letter. You must not, however, judge of me by the virtues that you find in him. For in him you will see the clearest tokens of holiness, whilst I am but dust and vile dirt, and even now, while still living, nothing but ashes. It is enough for me if my weak eyes can bear the brightness of his excellence. He has but now washed himself(1) and is clean, yea, is made white as snow;(2) whilst I, stained with every sin, wait day and night with trembling to pay the uttermost farthing.(3) But since “the Lord looseth the prisoners,”(4) and resteth upon him who is of a contrite spirit, and that trembleth at His words,(5) perchance he may say even to me who lie in the grave of sin: “Jerome, come forth.”(6)
The reverend presbyter, Evagrius, warmly salutes you. We both with united respect salute the brother, Martinianus.(7) I desire much to see him, but I am impeded by the chain of sickness. Farewell in Christ.
Written a few months after the preceding (about the end of 374 A.D.) from the Syrian Desert. After dilating on his friendship for Florentius, and making a passing allusion to Rufinus, Jerome mentions certain books copies of which he desires to be sent to him. He also speaks of a runaway slave about whom Florentius had written to him.
1. Your letter, dear friend, finds me dwelling in that quarter of the desert which is nearest to Syria and the Saracens. And the reading of it rekindles in my mind so keen a desire to set out for Jerusalem that I am almost ready to violate my monastic vow in order to gratify my affection. Wishing to do the best I can, as I cannot come in person I send you a letter instead; and thus, though absent in the body, I come to you in love and in spirit.(8) For my earnest prayer is that our infant friendship, firmly cemented as it is in Christ, may never be rent asunder by time or distance. We ought rather to strengthen the bond by an interchange of letters. Let these pass between us, meet each other on the way, and converse with us. Affection will not lose much if it keeps up an intercourse of this kind.
2. You write that our brother, Rufinus, has not yet come to you. Even if he does come it will do little to satisfy my longing, for I shall not now be able to see him. He is too far away to come hither, and the conditions of the lonely life that I have adopted forbid me to go to him. For I am no longer free to follow my own wishes. I entreat you, therefore, to ask him to allow you to have the commentaries of the reverend Rhetitius,(1) bishop of Augustodunum,(2) copied, in which he has so eloquently explained the Song of Songs. A countryman of the aforesaid brother Rufinus, the old man Paul,(3) writes that Rufinus has his copy of Tertullian, and urgently requests that this may be returned. Next I have to ask you to get written on paper by a copyist certain books which the subjoined list(4) will show you that I do not possess. I beg also that you will send me the explanation of the Psalms of David, and the copious work on Synods of the reverend Hilary,(5) which I copied for him(6) at Treves with my own hand. Such books, you know, must be the food of the Christian soul if it is to meditate in the law of the Lord day and night.(7)
Others you welcome beneath your roof, you cherish and comfort, you help out of your own purse; but so far as I am concerned, you have given me everything when once you have granted my request. And since, through the Lord’s bounty, I am rich in volumes of the sacred library,(8) you may command me in turn. I will send you what you please; and do not suppose that an order from you will give me trouble. I have pupils devoted to the art of copying. Nor do I merely promise a favor because I am asking one. Our brother, Heliodorus,(9) tells me that there are many parts of the Scriptures which you seek and cannot find. But even if you have them all, affection is sure to assert its rights and to seek for itself more than it already has.
3. As regards the present master of your slave–of whom you have done me the honor to write–I have no doubt but that he is his kidnapper. While I was still at Antioch the presbyter, Evagrius, often reproved him in my presence. To whom he made this answer: “I have nothing to fear.” He declares that his master has dismissed him. If you both want him, he is here; send him whither you will. I think I am not wrong in refusing to allow a runaway to stray farther. Here in the wilderness I cannot myself execute your orders; and therefore I have asked my dear friend Evagrius to push the affair vigorously, both for your sake and for mine. I desire your welfare in Christ.
TO JULIAN, A DEACON OF ANTIOCH.
This letter, written in 374 A.D., is chiefly interesting for its mention of Jerome’s sister. It would seem that she had fallen into sin and had been restored to a life of virtue by the deacon, Julian. Jerome speaks of her again in the next letter ( 4).
It is an old saying, “Liars are disbelieved even when they speak the truth.”(1) And from the way in which you reproach me for not having written, I perceive that this has been my lot with you. Shall I say, “I wrote often, but the bearers of my letters were negligent”? You will reply, “Your excuse is the old one of all who fail to write.” Shall I say, “I could not find any one to take my letters”? You will say that numbers of persons have gone from my part of the world to yours. Shall I contend that I have actually given them letters? They not having delivered them, will deny that they have received them. Moreover, so great a distance separates us that it will be hard to come at the truth. What shall I do then? Though really not to blame, I ask your forgiveness, for I think it better to fall back and make overtures for peace than to keep my ground and offer battle. The truth is that constant sickness of body and vexation of mind have so weakened me that with death so close at hand I have not been as collected as usual. And lest you should account this plea a false one, now that I have stated my case, I shall, like a pleader, call witnesses to prove it. Our reverend brother, Heliodorus, has been here; but in spite of his wish to dwell in the desert with me, he has been frightened away by my crimes. But my present wordiness will atone for my past remissness; for, as Horace says in his satire:(2)
All singers have one fault among their friends:
They never sing when asked, unasked they never cease.
Henceforth I shall overwhelm you with such bundles of letters that you will take the opposite line and beg me not to write·
I rejoice that my sister(1)–to you a daughter in Christ–remains steadfast in her purpose, a piece of news which I owe in the first instance to you. For here where I now am I am ignorant not only as to what goes on in my native land, but even as to its continued existence. Even though the Iberian viper(2) shall rend me with his baneful fangs, I will not fear men’s judgment, seeing that I shall have God to judge me. As one puts it:
Shatter the world to fragments if you will:
It will fall upon a head which knows not fear.(3)
Bear in mind, then, I pray you, the apostle’s precept(4) that we should make our work abiding; prepare for yourself a reward from the Lord in my sister’s salvation; and by frequent letters increase my joy in that glory in Christ which we share together.
TO CHROMATIUS, JOVINUS, AND EUSEBIUS.(6)
This letter (written like the preceding in 374 A.D.) is addressed by Jerome to three of his former companions in the religious life. It commends Bonosus ( 3), asks guidance for the writer’s sister (on 4), and attacks the conduct of Lupicinus, Bishop of Stridon ( 5).
1. Those whom mutual affection has joined together, a written page ought not to sunder. I must not, therefore, distribute my words some to one and some to another. For so strong is the love that binds you together that affection unites all three of you in a bond no less close than that which naturally connects two of your number.(6) Indeed, if the conditions of writing would only admit of it, I should amalgamate your names and express them under a single symbol. The very letter which I have received from you challenges me in each of you to see all three, and in all three to recognize each. When the reverend Evagrius transmitted it to me in the corner of the desert which stretches between the Syrians and the Saracens, my joy was intense. It wholly surpassed the rejoicings felt at Rome when the defeat of Cannae was retrieved, and Marcellus at Nola cut to pieces the forces of Hannibal. Evagrius frequently comes to see me, and cherishes me in Christ as his own bowels.(7) Yet as he is separated from me by a long distance, his departure has generally left me as much regret as his arrival has brought me joy.
2. I converse with your letter, I embrace it, it talks to me; it alone of those here speaks Latin. For hereabout you must either learn a barbarous jargon or else hold your tongue. As often as the lines–traced in a well-known hand–bring back to me the faces which I hold so dear, either I am no longer here, or else you are here with me. If you will credit the sincerity of affection, I seem to see you all as I write this.
Now at the outset I should like to ask you one petulant question. Why is it that, when we are separated by so great an interval of land and sea, you have sent me so short a letter? Is it that I have deserved no better treatment, not having first written to you? I cannot believe that paper can have failed you while Egypt continues to supply its wares. Even if a Ptolemy had closed the seas, King Attalus would still have sent you parchments from Pergamum, and so by his skins you could have made up for the want of paper. The very name parchment is derived from a historical incident of the kind which occurred generations ago.(1) What then? Am I to suppose the messenger to have been in haste? No matter how long a letter may be, it can be written in the course of a night. Or had you some business to attend to which prevented you from writing? No claim is prior to that of affection. Two suppositions remain, either that you felt disinclined to write or else that I did not deserve a letter. Of the two I prefer to charge you with sloth than to condemn myself as undeserving. For it is easier to mend neglect than to quicken love.
3. You tell me that Bonosus, like a true son of the Fish, has taken to the water.(2) As for me who am still foul with my old stains, like the basilisk and the scorpion I haunt the dry places.(3) Bonosus has his heel already on the serpent’s head, whilst I am still as food to the same serpent which by divine appointment devours the earth.(4) He can scale already that ladder of which the psalms of degrees(5) are a type; whilst I, still weeping on its first step, hardly know whether I shall ever be able to say: “I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help.”(1) Amid the threatening billows of the world he is sitting in the safe shelter of his island,(2) that is, of the church’s pale, and it may be that even now, like John, he is being called to eat God’s book;(3) whilst I, still lying in the sepulchre of my sins and bound with the chains of my iniquities, wait for the Lord’s command in the Gospel: “Jerome, come forth.”(4) But Bonosus has done more than this. Like the prophet(5) he has carried his girdle across the Euphrates (for all the devil’s strength is in the loins(6)), and has hidden it there in a hole of the rock. Then, afterwards finding it rent, he has sung: “O Lord, thou hast possessed my reins.(7) Thou hast broken my bonds in sunder. I will offer to thee the sacrifice of thanksgiving.”(8) But as for me, Nebuchadnezzar has brought me in chains to Babylon, to the babel that is of a distracted mind. There he has laid upon me the yoke of captivity; there inserting in my nostrils a ring of iron,(9) he has commanded me to sing one of the songs of Zion. To whom I have said, “The Lord looseth the prisoners; the Lord openeth the eyes of the blind.”(10) To complete my contrast in a single sentence, whilst I pray for mercy Bonosus looks for a crown.
4. My sister’s conversion is the fruit of the efforts of the saintly Julian. He has planted, it is for you to water, and the Lord will give the increase.(11) Jesus Christ has given her to me to console me for the wound which the devil has inflicted on her. He has restored her from death to life. But in the words of the pagan poet, for her
There is no safety that I do not fear.(12)
You know yourselves how slippery is the path of youth–a path on which I have myself fallen,(13) and which you are now traversing not without fear. She, as she enters upon it, must have the advice and the encouragement of all, she must be aided by frequent letters from you, my reverend brothers. And–for “charity endureth all things,”(14)–I beg you to get from Pope(15) Valerian(16) a letter to confirm her resolution. A girl’s courage, as you know, is strengthened when she realizes that persons in high place are interested in her.
5. The fact is that my native land is a prey to barbarism, that in it men’s only God is their belly,(1) that they live only for the present, and that the richer a man is the holier he is held to be. Moreover, to use a well-worn proverb, the dish has a cover worthy of it; for Lupicinus is their priest.(2) Like lips like lettuce, as the saying goes–the only one, as Lucilius tells us,(3) at which Crassus ever laughed–the reference being to a donkey eating thistles. What I mean is that an unstable pilot steers a leaking ship, and that the blind is leading the blind straight to the pit. The ruler is like the ruled.
6. I salute your mother and mine with the respect which, as you know, I feel towards her. Associated with you as she is in a holy life, she has the start of you, her holy children, in that she is your mother. Her womb may thus be truly called golden. With her I salute your sisters, who ought all to be welcomed wherever they go, for they have triumphed over their sex and the world, and await the Bridegroom’s coming,(4) their lamps replenished with oil. O happy the house which is a home of a widowed Anna, of virgins that are prophetesses, and of twin Samuels bred in the Temple!(6) Fortunate the roof which shelters the martyr-mother of the Maccabees, with her sons around her, each and all wearing the martyr’s crown!(5) For although you confess Christ every day by keeping His commandments, yet to this private glory you have added the public one of an open confession; for it was through you that the poison of the Arian heresy was formerly banished from your city.
You are surprised perhaps at my thus making a fresh beginning quite at the close of my letter. But what am I to do? I cannot refuse expression to my feelings. The brief limits of a letter compel me to be silent; my affection for you urges me to speak. I write in haste, my language is confused and ill-arranged; but love knows nothing of order.
TO NICEAS, SUB-DEACON OF AQUILEIA.
Niceas, the sub-deacon, had accompanied Jerome to the East but had now returned home. In after-years he became bishop of Aquileia in succession to Chromatius. The date of the letter is 374 A.D.
The comic poet Turpilius(1) says of the exchange of letters that it alone makes the absent present. The remark, though occurring in a work of fiction, is not untrue. For what more real presence–if I may so speak–can there be between absent friends than speaking to those whom they love in letters, and in letters hearing their reply? Even those Italian savages, the Cascans of Ennius, who–as Cicero tells us in his books on rhetoric–hunted their food like beasts of prey, were wont, before paper and parchment came into use, to exchange letters written on tablets of wood roughly planed, or on strips of bark torn from the trees. For this reason men called letter-carriers tablet-bearers,(2) and letter-writers bark-users,(3) because they used the bark of trees. How much more then are we, who live in a civilized age, bound not to omit a social duty performed by men who lived in a state of gross savagery, and were in some respects entirely ignorant of the refinements of life. The saintly Chromatius, look you, and the reverend Eusebius, brothers as much by compatibility of disposition as by the ties of nature, have challenged me to diligence by the letters which they have showered upon me. You, however, who have but just left me, have not merely unknit our new-made friendship; you have torn it asunder–a process which Laelius, in Cicero’s treatise,(4) wisely forbids. Can it be that the East is so hateful to you that you dread the thought of even your letters coming hither? Wake up, wake up, arouse yourself from sleep, give to affection at least one sheet of paper. Amid the pleasures of life at home sometimes heave a sigh over the journeys which we have made together. If you love me, write in answer to my prayer. If you are angry with me, though angry still write. I find my longing soul much comforted when I receive a letter from a friend, even though that friend be out of temper with me.
TO CHRYSOGONUS, A MONK OF AQUILEIA.
A bantering letter to an indifferent correspondent. Of the same date as the preceding.
Heliodorus,(5) who is so dear to us both, and who loves you with an affection no less deep than my own, may have given you a faithful account of my feelings towards you; how your name is always on my lips, and how in every conversation which I have with him I begin by recalling my pleasant intercourse with you, and go on to marvel at your lowliness, to extol your virtue, and to proclaim your holy love.
Lynxes, they say, when they look behind them, forget what they have just seen, and lose all thought of what their eyes have ceased to behold. And so it seems to be with you. For so entirely have you forgotten our joint attachment that you have not merely blurred but erased the writing of that epistle which, as the apostle tells us,(1) is written in the hearts of Christians. The creatures that I have mentioned lurk on branches of leafy trees and pounce on fleet roes or frightened stags. In vain their victims fly, for they carry their tormentors with them, and these rend their flesh as they run. Lynxes, however, only hunt when an empty belly makes their mouths dry. When they have satisfied their thirst for blood, and have filled their stomachs with food, satiety induces forgetfulness, and they bestow no thought on future prey till hunger recalls them to a sense of their need.
Now in your case it cannot be that you have already had enough of me. Why then do you bring to a premature close a friendship which is but just begun? Why do you let slip what you have hardly as yet fully grasped? But as such remissness as yours is never at a loss for an excuse, you will perhaps declare that you had nothing to write. Had this been so, you should still have written to inform me of the fact.
TO PAUL, AN OLD MAN OF CONCORDIA.
Jerome writes to Paul of Concordia, a centenarian ( 2), and the owner of a good theological library (3), to lend him some commentaries. In return he sends him his life (newly written) of Paul the hermit.(2) The date of the letter is 374 A. D.
1. The shortness of man’s life is the punishment for man’s sin; and the fact that even on the very threshold of the light death constantly overtakes the new-born child proves that the times are continually sinking into deeper depravity. For when the first tiller of paradise had been entangled by the serpent in his snaky coils, and had been forced in consequence to migrate earthwards, although his deathless state was changed for a mortal one, yet the sentence(1) of man’s curse was put off for nine hundred years, or even more, a period so long that it may be called a second immortality. Afterwards sin gradually grew more and more virulent, till the ungodliness of the giants(2) brought in its train the shipwreck of the whole world. Then when the world had been cleansed by the baptism–if I may so call it–of the deluge, human life was contracted to a short span. Yet even this we have almost altogether wasted, so continually do our iniquities fight against the divine purposes. For how few there are, either who go beyond their hundredth year, or who, going beyond it, do not regret that they have done so; according to that which the Scripture witnesses in the book of Psalms: “the days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yetis their strength labor and sorrow.”(3)
2. Why, say you, these opening reflections so remote and so far fetched that one might use against them the Horatian witticism: Back to the eggs which Leda laid for Zeus, The bard is fain to trace the war of Troy?(4)
Simply that I may describe in fitting terms your great age and hoary head as white as Christ’s.(5) For see, the hundredth circling year is already passing over you, and yet, always keeping the commandments of the Lord, amid the circumstances of your present life you think over the blessedness of that which is to come. Your eyes are bright and keen, your steps steady, your hearing good, your teeth are white, your voice musical, your flesh firm and full of sap; your ruddy cheeks belie your white hairs, your strength is not that of your age. Advancing years have not, as we too often see them do, impaired the tenacity of your memory; the coldness of your blood has not blunted an intellect at once warm and wary.(6) Your face is not wrinkled nor your brow furrowed. Lastly, no tremors palsy your hand or cause it to travel in crooked pathways over the wax on which you write. The Lord shows us in you the bloom of the resurrection that is to he ours; so that whereas in others who die by inches whilst yet living, we recognize the results of sin, in your case we ascribe it to righteousness that you still simulate youth at an age to which it is foreign. And although we see the like haleness of body in many even of those who are sinners, in their case it is a grant of the devil to lead them into sin, whilst in yours it is a gift of God to make you rejoice.
3. Tully in his brilliant speech on behalf of Flaccus(1) describes the learning of the Greeks as “innate frivolity and accomplished vanity.”
Certainly their ablest literary men used to receive money for pronouncing eulogies upon their kings or princes. Following their example, I set a price upon my praise. Nor must you suppose my demand a small one. You are asked to give me the pearl of the Gospel,(2) “the words of the Lord,” “pure words, even as the silver which from the earth is tried, and purified seven times in the fire,”(3) I mean the commentaries of Fortunatian(4) and–for its account of the persecutors–the History of Aurelius Victor,(5) and with these the Letters of Novatian;(6) so that, learning the poison set forth by this schismatic, we may the more gladly drink of the antidote supplied by the holy martyr Cyprian. In the mean time I have sent to you, that is to say, to Paul the aged, a Paul that is older still.(7) I have taken great pains to bring my language down to the level of the simpler sort. But, somehow or other, though you fill it with water, the jar retains the odor which it acquired when first used.(8) If my little gift should please you, I have others also in store which (if the Holy Spirit shall breathe favorably), shall sail across the sea to you with all kinds of eastern merchandise.
TO THE VIRGINS OF AEMONA.
AEmona was a Roman colony not far from Stridon, Jerome’s birthplace. The virgins to whom the note is addressed had omitted to answer his letters, and he now writes to upbraid them for their remissness. The date of the letter is 374 A. D.
This scanty sheet of paper shows in what a wilderness I live, and because of it I have to say much in few words. For, desirous though I am to speak to you more fully, this miserable scrap compels me to leave much unsaid. Still ingenuity make up for lack of means, and by writing small I can say a great deal. Observe, I beseech you, how I love you, even in the midst of my difficulties, since even the want of materials does not stop me from writing to you.
Pardon, I beseech you, an aggrieved man: if I speak in tears and in anger it is because I have been injured. For in return for my regular letters you have not sent me a single syllable. Light, I know, has no communion with darkness,(1) and God’s handmaidens no fellowship with a sinner, yet a harlot was allowed to wash the Lord’s feet with her tears,(2) and dogs are permitted to eat of their masters’ crumbs.(3) It was the Saviour’s mission to call sinners and not the righteous; for, as He said Himself, “they that be whole need not a physician.(4) He wills the repentance of a sinner rather than his death,(6) and carries home the poor stray sheep on His own shoulders.(6) So, too, when the prodigal son returns, his father receives him with joy.(7) Nay more, the apostle says: “Judge nothing before the time.”(8) For “who art thou that judgest another man’s servant? To his own master he standeth or falleth.”(9) And “let him that standeth take heed lest he fall.”(10) “Bear ye one another’s burdens.”(11)
Dear sisters, man’s envy judges in one way, Christ in another; and the whisper of a corner is not the same as the sentence of His tribunal. Many ways seem right to men which are afterwards found to be wrong.(12) And a treasure is often stowed in earthen vessels.(13) Peter thrice denied his Lord, yet his bitter tears restored him to his place. “To whom much is forgiven, the same loveth much.”(14) No word is said of the flock as a whole, yet the angels joy in heaven over the safety of one sick ewe.(15) And if any one demurs to this reasoning, the Lord Himself has said: “Friend, is thine eye evil because I am good?”(16)
TO ANTONY, MONK.
The subject of this letter is similar to that of the preceding. Of Antony nothing is known except that some MSS. describe him as “of AEmona.” The date of the letter is 374 A.D.
While the disciples were disputing concerning precedence our Lord, the teacher of humility, took a little child and said: “Except ye be converted and become as little children ye cannot enter the kingdom of heaven.”(1) And lest He should seem to preach more than he practised, He fulfilled His own precept in His life. For He washed His disciples’ feet,(2) he received the traitor with a kiss,(3) He conversed with the woman of Samaria,(4) He spoke of the kingdom of heaven with Mary at His feet,(5) and when He rose again from the dead He showed Himself first to some poor women.(6) Pride is opposed to humility, and through it Satan lost his eminence as an archangel. The Jewish people perished in their pride, for while they claimed the chief seats and salutations in the market place,(7) they were superseded by the Gentiles, who had before been counted as “a drop of a bucket.”(8) Two poor fishermen, Peter and James, were sent to confute the sophists and the wise men of the world. As the Scripture says: “God resisteth the proud and giveth grace to the humble.”(9) Think, brother, what a sin it must be which has God for its opponent. In the Gospel the Pharisee is rejected because of his pride, and the publican is accepted because of his humility.(10)
Now, unless I am mistaken, I have already sent you ten letters, affectionate and earnest, whilst you have not deigned to give me even a single line. The Lord speaks to His servants, but you, my brother servant, refuse to speak to me. Believe me, if reserve did not check my pen, I could show my annoyance in such invective that you would have to reply–even though it might be in anger. But since anger is human, and a Christian must not act injuriously, I fall back once more on entreaty, and beg you to love one who loves you, and to write to him as a servant should to his fellow-servant. Farewell in the Lord.
TO CASTORINA, HIS MATERNAL AUNT.
An interesting letter, as throwing some light on Jerome’s family relations. Castorina, his maternal aunt, had, for some reason, become estranged from him, and he now writes to her to effect a reconciliation. Whether he succeeded in doing so, we do not know. The date of the letter is 374 A. D.
The apostle and evangelist John rightly says, in his first epistle, that “whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer.”(1) For, since murder often springs from hate, the hater, even though he has not yet slain his victim, is at heart a murderer. Why, you ask, do I begin in this style? Simply that you and I may both lay aside past ill feeling and cleanse our hearts to be a habitation for God. “Be ye angry,” David says, “and sin not,” or, as the apostle more fully expresses it, “let not the sun go down upon your wrath.”(2) What then shall we do in the day of judgment, upon whose wrath the sun has gone down not one day but many years? The Lord says in the Gospel: “If thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath aught against thee; leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.”(3) Woe to me, wretch that I am; woe, I had almost said, to you also. This long time past we have either offered no gift at the altar or have offered it whilst cherishing anger “without a cause.” How have we been able in our daily prayers to say “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors,”(4) whilst our feelings have been at variance with our words, and our petition inconsistent with our conduct? Therefore I renew the prayer which I made a year ago in a previous letter,(5) that the Lord’s legacy of peace(6) may be indeed ours, and that my desires and your feelings may find favor in His sight. Soon we shall stand before His judgment seat to receive the reward of harmony restored or to pay the penalty for harmony broken. In case you shall prove unwilling–I hope that it may not be so–to accept my advances, I for my part shall be free. For this letter, when it is read, will insure my acquittal.
TO HELlODORUS, MONK.
Heliodorus, originally a soldier, but now a presbyter of the Church, had accompanied Jerome to the East, but, not feeling called to the solitary life of the desert, had returned to Aquileia. Here be resumed his clerical duties, and in course of time was raised to the episcopate as bishop of Altinum.
The letter was written in the first bitterness of separation and reproaches Heliodorus for having gone back from the perfect way of the ascetic life. The description given of this is highly colored and seems to have produced a great impression in the West. Fabiola was so much enchanted by it that she learned the letter by heart.(7) The date is 373 or 374 A.D.
1. SO conscious are you of the affection which exists between us that you cannot but recognize the love and passion with which I strove to prolong our common sojourn in the desert. This very letter–blotted, as you see, with tears–gives evidence of the lamentation and weeping with which I accompanied your departure. With the pretty ways of a child you then softened your refusal by soothing words, and I, being off my guard, knew not what to do. Was I to hold my peace? I could not conceal my eagerness by a show of indifference. Or was I to entreat you yet more earnestly? You would have refused to listen, for your love was not like mine. Despised affection has taken the one course open to it. Unable to keep you when present, it goes in search of you when absent. You asked me yourself, when you were going away, to invite you to the desert when I took up my quarters there, and I for my part promised to do so. Accordingly I invite you now; come, and come quickly. Do not call to mind old ties; the desert is for those who have left all. Nor let the hardships of our former travels deter you. You believe in Christ, believe also in His words: “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and all these things shall be added unto you.”(1) Take neither scrip nor staff. He is rich enough who is poor–with Christ.
2. But what is this, and why do I foolishly importune you again? Away with entreaties, an end to coaxing words. Offended love does well to be angry. You have spurned my petition; perhaps you will listen to my remonstrance. What keeps you, effeminate soldier, in your father’s house? Where are your ramparts and trenches? When have you spent a winter in the field? Lo, the trumpet sounds from heaven! Lo, the Leader comes with clouds!(2) He is armed to subdue the world, and out of His mouth proceeds a two-edged sword(3) to mow down all that encounters it. But as for you, what will you do? Pass straight from your chamber to the battle-field, and from the cool shade into the burning sun? Nay, a body used to a tunic cannot endure a buckler; a head that has worn a cap refuses a helmet; a hand made tender by disuse is galled by a sword-hilt.(4) Hear the proclamation of your King: “He that is not with me is against me, and he that gathereth not with me scattereth.”(5) Remember the day on which you enlisted, when, buried with Christ in baptism, you swore fealty to Him, declaring that for His sake you would spare neither father nor mother. Lo, the enemy is striving to slay Christ in your breast. Lo, the ranks of the foe sigh over that bounty which you received when you entered His service. Should your little nephew(1) hang on your neck, pay no regard to him; should your mother with ashes on her hair and garments rent show you the breasts at which she nursed you, heed her not; should your father prostrate himself on the threshold, trample him under foot and go your way. With dry eyes fly to the standard of the cross. In such cases cruelty is the only true affection.
3. Hereafter there shall come–yes, there shall come–a day when you will return a victor to your true country, and will walk through the heavenly Jerusalem crowned with the crown of valor. Then will you receive the citizenship thereof with Paul.(2) Then will you seek the like privilege for your parents. Then will you intercede for me who have urged you forward on the path of victory.
I am not ignorant of the fetters which you may plead as hindrances. My breast is not of iron nor my heart of stone. I was not born of flint or suckled by a tigress.(3) I have passed through troubles like yours myself. Now it is a widowed sister who throws her caressing arms around you. Now it is the slaves, your foster-brothers, who cry, “To what master are you leaving us?” Now it is a nurse bowed with age, and a body-servant loved only less than a father, who exclaim: “Only wait till we die and follow us to our graves.” Perhaps, too, an aged mother, with sunken bosom and furrowed brow, recalling the lullaby(4) with which she once soothed you, adds her entreaties to theirs. The learned may call you, if they please.
The sole support and pillar of your house.(5) The love of God and the fear of hell will easily break such bonds.
Scripture, you will argue, bids us obey our parents.(6) Yes, but whoso loves them more than Christ loses his own soul.(7) The enemy takes sword in hand to slay me, and shall I think of a mother’s tears? Or shall I desert the service of Christ for the sake of a father to whom, if I am Christ’s servant, I owe no rites of burial,(8) albeit if I am Christ’s true servant I owe these to all? Peter with his cowardly advice was an offence to the Lord on the eve of His passion;(9) and to the brethren who strove to restrain him from going up to Jerusalem, Paul’s one answer was: “What mean ye to weep and to break my heart? For I am ready not to be bound only, but also to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.”(1) The battering-ram of natural affection which so often shatters faith must recoil powerless from the wall of the Gospel. “My mother and my brethren are these whosoever do the will of my Father which is in heaven.”(2) If they believe in Christ let them bid me God-speed, for I go to fight in His name. And if they do not believe, “let the dead bury their dead.”(3)
4. But all this, you argue, only touches the case of martyrs. Ah! my brother, you are mistaken, you are mistaken, if you suppose that there is ever a time when the Christian does not suffer persecution. Then are you most hardly beset when you know not that you are beset at all. “Our adversary as a roaring lion walketh about seeking whom he may devour,”(4) and do you think of peace? “He sitteth in the lurking-places of the villages: in the secret places doth he murder the innocent; his eyes are privily set against the poor. He lieth in wait secretly as a lion in his den; he lieth in wait to catch the poor;”(5) and do you slumber under a shady tree, so as to fall an easy prey? On one side self-indulgence presses me hard; on another covetousness strives to make an inroad; my belly wishes to be a God to me, in place of Christ,(6) and lust would fain drive away the Holy Spirit that dwells in me and defile His temple.(7) I am pursued, I say, by an enemy whose name is Legion and his wiles untold;(8) and, hapless wretch that I am, how shall I hold myself a victor when I am being led away a captive?
5. My dear brother, weigh well the various forms of transgression, and think not that the sins which I have mentioned are less flagrant than that of idolatry. Nay, hear the apostle’s view of the matter. “For this ye know,” he writes, “that no whore-monger or unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.”(9) In a general way all that is of the devil savors of enmity to God, and what is of the devil is idolatry, since all idols are subject to him. Yet Paul elsewhere lays down the law in express and unmistakable terms, saying: “Mortify your members, which are upon the earth, laying aside fornication, uncleanness, evil concupiscence and covetousness, which are(1) idolatry, for which things’ sake the wrath of God cometh.”(2)
Idolatry is not confined to casting incense upon an altar with finger and thumb, or to pouring libations of wine out of a cup into a bowl. Covetousness is idolatry, or else the selling of the Lord for thirty pieces of silver was a righteous act.(3) Lust involves profanation, or else men may defile with common harlots(4) those members of Christ which should be “a living sacrifice acceptable to God.”(5) Fraud is idolatry, or else they are worthy of imitation who, in the Acts of the Apostles, sold their inheritance, and because they kept back part of the price, perished by an instant doom.(6) Consider well, my brother; nothing is yours to keep. “Whosoever he be of you,” the Lord says, “that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple.”(7) Why are you such a half-hearted Christian?
6. See how Peter left his net;(8) see how the publican rose from the receipt of custom.(9) In a moment he became an apostle. “The Son of man hath not where to lay his head,”(10) and do you plan wide porticos and spacious halls? If you look to inherit the good things of the world you can no longer be a joint-heir with Christ.(11) You are called a monk, and has the name no meaning? What brings you, a solitary, into the throng of men? The advice that I give is that of no inexperienced mariner who has never lost either ship or cargo, and has never known a gale. Lately shipwrecked as I have been myself, my warnings to other voyagers spring from my own fears. On one side, like Charybdis, self-indulgence sucks into its vortex the soul’s salvation. On the other, like Scylla, lust, with a smile on her girl’s face, lures it on to wreck its chastity. The coast is savage, and the devil with a crew of pirates carries irons to fetter his captives. Be not credulous, be not over-confident. The sea may be as smooth and smiling as a pond, its quiet surface may be scarcely ruffled by a breath of air, yet sometimes its waves are as high as mountains. There is danger in its depths, the foe is lurking there. Ease your sheets, spread your sails, fasten the cross as an ensign on your prow. The calm that you speak of is itself a tempest. “Why so?” you will perhaps argue; “are not all my fellow-townsmen Christians?” Your case, I reply, is not that of others. Listen to the words of the Lord: “If thou wilt be perfect go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and come and follow me.”(1) You have already promised to be perfect. For when you forsook the army and made yourself an eunuch for the kingdom of heaven’s sake,(2) you did so that you might follow the perfect life. Now the perfect servant of Christ has nothing beside Christ. Or if he have anything beside Christ he is not perfect. And if he be not perfect when he has promised God to be so, his profession is a lie. But “the mouth that lieth slayeth the soul.”(3) To conclude, then, if you are perfect you will not set your heart on your father’s goods; and if you are not perfect you have deceived the Lord. The Gospel thunders forth its divine warning: “Ye cannot serve two masters,”(4) and does any one dare to make Christ a liar by serving at once both God and Mammon? Repeatedly does He proclaim, “If any one will come after me let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”(5) If I load myself with gold can I think that I am following Christ? Surely not. “He that saith he abideth in Him ought himself also so to walk even as He walked.”(6)
7. I know you will rejoin that you possess nothing. Why, then, if you are so well prepared for battle, do you not take the field? Perhaps you think that you can wage war in your own country, although the Lord could do no signs in His?(7) Why not? you ask. Take the answer which comes to you with his authority: “No prophet is accepted in his own country.”(8) But, you will say, I do not seek honor; the approval of my conscience is enough for me. Neither did the Lord seek it; for when the multitudes would have made Him a king he fled from them.(9) But where there is no honor there is contempt; and where there is contempt there is frequent rudeness; and where there is rudeness there is vexation; and where there is vexation there is no rest; and where there is no rest the mind is apt to be diverted from its purpose. Again, where, through restlessness, earnestness loses any of its force, it is lessened by what it loses, and that which is lessened cannot be called perfect. The upshot of all which is that a monk cannot be perfect in his own country. Now, not to aim at perfection is itself a sin.
8. Driven from this line of defence you will appeal to the example of the clergy. These, you will say, remain in their cities, and yet they are surely above criticism. Far be it from me to censure the successors of the apostles, who with holy words consecrate the body of Christ, and who make us Christians.(1) Having the keys of the kingdom of heaven, they judge men to some extent before the day of judgment, and guard the chastity of the bride of Christ. But, as I have before hinted, the case of monks is different from that of the clergy. The clergy feed Christ’s sheep; I as a monk am fed by them. They live of the altar:(2) I, if I bring no gift to it, have the axe laid to my root as to that of a barren tree.(3) Nor can I plead poverty as an excuse, for the Lord in the gospel has praised an aged widow for casting into the treasury the last two coins that she had.(4) I may not sit in the presence of a presbyter;(5) he, if I sin, may deliver me to Satan, “for the destruction of the flesh that the spirit may be saved.”(6) Under the old law he who disobeyed the priests was put outside the camp and stoned by the people, or else he was beheaded and expiated his contempt with his blood.(7) But now the disobedient person is cut down with the spiritual sword, or he is expelled from the church and torn to pieces by ravening demons. Should the entreaties of your brethren induce you to take orders, I shall rejoice that you are lifted up, and fear lest you may be cast down. You will say: “If a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work.”(8) I know that; but you should add what follows: such an one “must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, chaste, of good behavior, given to hospitality, apt to teach, not given to wine, no striker but patient.”(9) After fully explaining the qualifications of a bishop the apostle speaks of ministers of the third degree with equal care. “Likewise must the deacons be grave,” he writes, “not double-tongued, not given to much wine, not greedy of filthy lucre, holding the mystery of the faith in a pure conscience. And let these also first be proved; then, let them minister, being found blameless.”(10) Woe to the man who goes in to the supper without a wedding garment. Nothing remains for him but the stern question, “Friend, how camest thou in hither?” And when he is speechless the order will be given, “Bind him hand and foot, and take him away, and cast him into outer darkness; there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”(1) Woe to him who, when he has received a talent, has bound it in a napkin; and, whilst others make profits, only preserves what he has received. His angry lord shall rebuke him in a moment. “Thou wicked servant,” he will say, “wherefore gavest thou not my money into the bank that at my coming I might have required mine own with usury?”(2) That is to say, you should have laid before the altar what you were not able to bear. For whilst you, a slothful trader, keep a penny in your hands, you occupy the place of another who might double the money. Wherefore, as he who ministers well purchases to himself a good degree,(3) so he who approaches the cup of the Lord unworthily shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. (4)
9. Not all bishops are bishops indeed. You consider Peter; mark Judas as well. You notice Stephen; look also on Nicolas, sentenced in the Apocalypse by the Lord’s own lips,(5) whose shameful imaginations gave rise to the heresy of the Nicolaitans. “Let a man examine himself and so let him come.”(6) For it is not ecclesiastical rank that makes a man a Christian. The centurion Cornelius was still a heathen when he was cleansed by the gift of the Holy Spirit. Daniel was but a child when he judged the elders.(7) Amos was stripping mulberry bushes when, in a moment, he was made a prophet.(8) David was only a shepherd when he was chosen to be king.(9) And the least of His disciples was the one whom Jesus loved the most. My brother, sit down in the lower room, that when one less honorable comes you may be bidden to go up higher.(10) Upon whom does the Lord rest but upon him that is lowly and of a contrite spirit, and that trembleth at His word?(11) To whom God has committed much, of him He will ask the more.(12) “Mighty men shall be mightily tormented.”(13) No man need pride himself in the day of judgment on merely physical chastity, for then shall men give account for every idle word,(14) and the reviling of a brother shall be counted as the sin of murder.(15) Paul and Peter now reign with Christ, and it is not easy to take the place of the one or to hold the office of the other. There may come an angel to rend the veil of your temple,(1) and to remove your candlestick out of its place.(2) If you intend to build the tower, first count the cost.(3) Salt that has lost its savor is good for nothing but to be cast out and to be trodden under foot of swine.(4) If a monk fall, a priest shall intercede for him; but who shall intercede for a fallen priest?
10. At last my discourse is clear of the reefs: at last this frail bark has passed from the breakers into deep water. I may now spread my sails to the breeze; and, as I leave the rocks of controversy astern, my epilogue will be like the joyful shout of mariners. O desert, bright with the flowers of Christ! O solitude whence come the stones of which, in the Apocalypse, the city of the great king is built!(5) O wilderness, gladdened with God’s especial presence! What keeps you in the world, my brother, yon who are above the world?(6) How long shall gloomy roofs oppress you? How long shall smoky cities immure you? Believe me, I have more light than you. Sweet it is to lay aside the weight of the body and to soar into the pure bright ether. Do you dread poverty? Christ calls the poor blessed.(7) Does toil frighten you? No athlete is crowned but in the sweat of his brow. Are you anxious as regards food? Faith fears no famine. Do you dread the bare ground for limbs wasted with fasting? The Lord lies there beside you. Do you recoil from an unwashed head and uncombed hair? Christ is your true head.(8) Does the boundless solitude of the desert terrify you? In the spirit you may walk always in paradise. Do but turn your thoughts thither and you will be no more in the desert. Is your skin rough and scaly because you no longer bathe? He that is once washed in Christ needeth not to wash again.(9) To all your objections the apostle gives this one brief answer: “The sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory” which shall come after them, “which shall be revealed in us.”(10) You are too greedy of enjoyment, my brother, if you wish to rejoice with the world here, and to reign with Christ hereafter.
11. it shall come, it shall come, that day when this corruptible shall put on incorruption, and this mortal shall put on immortality.(1) Then shall that servant be blessed whom the Lord shall find watching.(2) Then at the sound of the trumpet(3) the earth and its peoples shall tremble, but you shall rejoice. The world shall howl at the Lord who comes to judge it, and the tribes of the earth shall smite the breast. Once mighty kings shall tremble in their nakedness. Venus shall be exposed, and her son too Jupiter with his fiery bolts will be brought to trial; and Plato, with his disciples, will be but a fool. Aristotle’s arguments shall be of no avail. You may seem a poor man and country bred, but then you shall exult and laugh, and say: Behold my crucified Lord behold my judge. This is He who was once an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and crying in a manger.(4) This is He whose parents were a workingman and a working-woman.(5) This is He, who, carried into Egypt in His mother’s bosom, though He was God, fled before the face of man. This is He who was clothed in a scarlet robe and crowned with thorns.(6) This is He who was called a sorcerer and a man with a devil and a Samaritan.(7) Jew, behold the hands which you nailed to the cross. Roman, behold the side which you pierced with the spear. See both of you whether it was this body that the disciples stole secretly and by night.(8) For this you profess to believe.
My brother, it is affection which has urged me to speak thus; that you who now find the Christian life so hard may have your reward in that day.
TO POPE DAMASUS.
This letter, written in 376 or 377 A.D., illustrates Jerome’s attitude towards the see of Rome at this time held by Damasus, afterwards his warm friend and admirer. Referring lo Rome as the scene of his own baptism and as a church where the true faith has remained unimpaired ( 1), and laying down the strict doctrine of salvation only within the pale of the church ( 2), Jerome asks “the successor of the fisherman” two questions, viz.:(1) who is the true bishop of the three claimants of the see of Antioch, and(2) which is the correct terminology, to speak of three “hypostases” in the Godhead, or of one? On the latter question he expresses fully his own opinion.
1. Since the East, shattered as it is by the long-standing feuds, subsisting between its peoples, is bit by bit tearing into shreds the seamless vest of the Lord, “woven from the top throughout,”(1) since the foxes are destroying the vineyard of Christ,(2) and since among the broken cisterns that hold no water it is hard to discover “the sealed fountain” and “the garden inclosed,”(3) I think it my duty to consult the chair of Peter, and to turn to a church whose faith has been praised by Paul.(4) I appeal for spiritual food to the church whence I have received the garb of Christ.(5) The wide space of sea and land that lies between us cannot deter me from searching for “the pearl of great price.”(6) “Wheresoever the body is, there will the eagles be gathered together.”(7) Evil children have squandered their patrimony; you alone keep your heritage intact. The fruitful soil of Rome, when it receives the pure seed of the Lord, bears fruit an hundredfold; but here the seed corn is choked in the furrows and nothing grows but darnel or oats.(8) In the West the Sun of righteousness(9) is even now rising; in the East, Lucifer, who fell from heaven,(10) has once more set his throne above the stars.(11) “Ye are the light of the world,”(12) “ye are the salt of the earth,”(13) ye are “vessels of gold and of silver.” Here are vessels of wood or of earth,(14) which wait for the rod of iron,(15) and eternal fire.
2. Yet, though your greatness terrifies me, your kindness attracts me. From the priest I demand the safe-keeping of the victim, from the shepherd the protection due to the sheep. Away with all that is overweening; let the state of Roman majesty withdraw. My words are spoken to the successor of the fisherman, to the disciple of the cross. As I follow no leader save Christ, so I communicate with none but your blessedness, that is with the chair of Peter. For this, I know, is the rock on which the church is built!(16) This is the house where alone the paschal lamb can be rightly eaten.(17) This is the ark of Noah, and he who is not found in it shall perish when the flood prevails.(18) But since by reason of my sins I have betaken myself to this desert which lies between Syria and the uncivilized waste, I cannot, owing to the great distance between us, always ask of your sanctity the holy thing of the Lord.(19) Consequently I here follow the Egyptian confessors(1) who share your faith, and anchor my frail craft under the shadow of their great argosies. I know nothing of Vitalis; I reject Meletius; I have nothing to do with Paulinus.(2) He that gathers not with you scatters;(3) he that is not of Christ is of Antichrist.
3. Just now, I am sorry to say, those Arians, the Campenses,(4) are trying to extort from me, a Roman Christian, their unheard-of formula of three hypostases.(5) And this, too, after the definition of Nicaea(6) and the decree of Alexandria,(7) in which the West has joined. Where, I should like to know, are the apostles of these doctrines? Where is their Paul, their new doctor of the Gentiles? I ask them what three hypostases are supposed to mean. They reply three persons subsisting. I rejoin that this is my belief. They are not satisfied with the meaning, they demand the term. Surely some secret venom lurks in the words. “If any man refuse,” I cry, “to acknowledge three hypostases in the sense of three things hypostatized, that is three persons subsisting, let him be anathema.” Yet, because I do not learn their words, I am counted a heretic. “But, if any one, understanding by hypostasis essence,(8) deny that in the three persons there is one hypostasis, he has no part in Christ.” Because this is my confession I, like you, am branded with the stigma of Sabellianism.(9)
4. If you think fit enact a decree; and then I shall not hesitate to speak of three hypostases. Order a new creed to supersede the Nicene; and then, whether we are Arians or orthodox, one confession will do for us all. In the whole range of secular learning hypostasis never means anything but essence. And can any one, I ask, be so profane as to speak of three essences or substances in the Godhead? There is one nature of God and one only; and this, and this alone, truly is. For absolute being is derived from no other source but is all its own. All things besides, that is all things created, although they appear to be, are not. For there was a time when they were not, and that which once was not may again cease to be. God alone who is eternal, that is to say, who has no beginning, really deserves to be called an essence. Therefore also He says to Moses from the bush, “I am that I am,” and Moses says of Him, “I am hath sent me.”(1) As the angels, the sky, the earth, the seas, all existed at the time, it must have been as the absolute being that God claimed for himself that name of essence, which apparently was common to all. But because His nature alone is perfect, and because in the three persons there subsists but one Godhead, which truly is and is one nature; whosoever in the name of religion declares that there are in the Godhead three elements, three hypostases, that is, or essences, is striving really to predicate three natures of God. And if this is true, why are we severed by walls from Arius, when in dishonesty we are one with him? Let Ursicinus be made the colleague of your blessedness; let Auxentius be associated with Ambrose.(2) But may the faith of Rome never come to such a pass! May the devout hearts of your people never be infected with such unholy doctrines! Let us be satisfied to speak of one substance and of three subsisting persons–perfect, equal, coeternal. Let us keep to one hypostasis, if such be your pleasure, and say nothing of three. It is a bad sign when those who mean the same thing use different words. Let us be satisfied with the form of creed which we have hitherto used. Or, if you think it right that I should speak of three hypostases, explaining what I mean by them, I am ready to submit. But, believe me, there is poison hidden under their honey; the angel of Satan has transformed himself into an angel of light.(3) They give a plausible explanation of the term hypostasis; yet when I profess to hold it in the same sense they count me a heretic. Why are they so tenacious of a word? Why do they shelter themselves under ambiguous language? If their belief corresponds to their explanation of it, I do not condemn them for keeping it. On the other hand, if my belief corresponds to their expressed opinions, they should allow me to set forth their meaning in my own words.
5. I implore your blessedness, therefore, by the crucified Saviour of the world, and by the consubstantial trinity, to authorize me by letter either to use or to refuse this formula of three hypostases. And test the obscurity of my present abode may baffle the bearers of your letter, I pray you to address it to Evagrius, the presbyter, with whom you are well acquainted. I beg you also to signify with whom I am to communicate at Antioch. Not, I hope, with the Campenses;(1) for they–with their allies the heretics of Tarsus(2)–only desire communion with you to preach with greater authority their traditional doctrine of three hypostases.
TO POPE DAMASUS.
This letter, written a few months after the preceding, is another appeal to Damasus to solve the writer’s doubts. Jerome once more refers to his baptism at Rome, and declares that his one answer to the factions at Antioch is, “He who clings to the chair of Peter is accepted by me.” Written from the desert in the year 377 or 378.
1. By her importunity the widow in the gospel at last gained a hearing,(3) and by the same means one friend induced another to give him bread at midnight, when his door was shut and his servants were in bed.(4) The publican’s prayers overcame God,(5) although God is invincible. Nineveh was saved by its tears from the impending ruin caused by its sin.(6) To what end, you ask, these far-fetched references? To this end, I make answer; that you in your greatness should look upon me in my littleness; that you, the rich shepherd, should not despise me, the ailing sheep. Christ Himself brought the robber from the cross to paradise,(7) and, to show that repentance is never too late, He turned a murderer’s death into a martyrdom. Gladly does Christ embrace the prodigal son when he returns to Him;(8) and, leaving the ninety and nine, the good shepherd carries home on His shoulders the one poor sheep that is left.(9) From a persecutor Paul becomes a preacher. His bodily eyes are blinded to clear the eyes of his soul,(10) and he who once haled Christ’s servants in chains before the council of the Jews,(1) lives afterwards to glory in the bonds of Christ.(2)
2. As I have already written to you,(3) I, who have received Christ’s garb in Rome, am now detained in the waste that borders Syria. No sentence of banishment, however, has been passed upon me; the punishment which I am undergoing is self-inflicted. But, as the heathen poet says:
They change not mind but sky who cross the sea.(4) The untiring foe follows me closely, and the assaults that I suffer in the desert are severer than ever. For the Arian frenzy raves, and the powers of the world support it. The church is rent into three factions, and each of these is eager to seize me for its own. The influence of the monks is of long standing, and it is directed against me. I meantime keep crying: “He who clings to the chair of Peter is accepted by me.” Meletius, Vitalis, and Paulinus(6) all profess to cleave to you, and I could believe the assertion if it were made by one of them only. As it is, either two of them or else all three are guilty of falsehood. Therefore I implore your blessedness, by our Lord’s cross and passion, those necessary glories of our faith, as you hold an apostolic office, to give an apostolic decision. Only tell me by letter with whom I am to communicate in Syria, and I will pray for you that you may sit in judgment enthroned with the twelve;(6) that when you grow old, like Peter, you may be girded not by yourself but by another,(7) and that, like Paul, you may be made a citizen of the heavenly kingdom.(8) Do not despise a soul for which Christ died.
TO THE PRESBYTER MARCUS.
In this letter, addressed to one who seems to have had some pre-eminence among the monks of the Chalcidian desert, Jerome complains of the hard treatment meted out to him because of his refusal to take any part Z in the great theological dispute then raging in Syria. He protests his own orthodoxy, and begs permission to remain where he is until the return of spring, when he will retire from “the inhospitable desert,” Written in A.D. 378 or 379.
1. I had made up my mind to use the words of the psalmist: “While the wicked was before me I was dumb with silence; I was humbled, and I held my peace even from good:”(1) and “I, as a deaf man, heard not; and I was as a dumb man that openeth not his mouth. Thus I was as a man that heareth not.”(2) But charity overcomes all things,(3) and my regard for you defeats my determination. I am, indeed, less careful to retaliate upon my assailants than to comply with your request. For among Christians, as one has said,(4) not he who endures an outrage is unhappy, but he who commits it.
2. And first, before I speak to you of my belief (which you know full well), I am forced to cry out against the inhumanity of this country. A hackneyed quotation best expresses my meaning:
What savages are these who will not grant
A rest to strangers, even on their sands!
They threaten war and drive us from their coasts.(5)
I take this from a Gentile poet that one who disregards the peace of Christ may at least learn its meaning from a heathen. I am called a heretic, although I preach the consubstantial trinity. I am accused of the Sabellian impiety, although I proclaim with unwearied voice that in the Godhead there are three distinct,(6) real, whole, and perfect persons. The Arians do right to accuse me, but the orthodox forfeit their orthodoxy when they assail a faith like mine. They may, if they like, condemn me as a heretic; but if they do they must also condemn Egypt and the West, Damasus and Peter.(7) Why do they fasten the guilt on one and leave his companions uncensured? If there is but little water in the stream, it is the fault, not of the channel, but of the source. I blush to say it, but from the caves which serve us for cells we monks of the desert condemn the world. Rolling in sack-cloth and ashes,(8) we pass sentence on bishops. What use is the robe of a penitent if it covers the pride of a king? Chains, squalor, and long hair are by right tokens of sorrow, and not ensigns of royalty. I merely ask leave to remain silent. Why do they torment a man who does not deserve their ill-will? I am a heretic, you say. What is it to you if I am? Stay quiet, and all is said. You are afraid, I suppose, that, with my fluent knowledge of Syriac and Greek, I shall make a tour of the churches, lead the people into error, and form a schism! I have robbed no man of anything; neither have I taken what I have not earned. With my own hand(1) daily and in the sweat of my brow(2) I labor for my food, knowing that it is written by the apostle: “If any will not work, neither shall he eat.”(3)
3. Reverend and holy father, Jesus is my witness with what groans and tears I have written all this. “I have kept silence, saith the Lord, but shall I always keep silence? Surely not.”(4) I cannot have so much as a corner of the desert. Every day I am asked for my confession of faith; as though when I was regenerated in baptism I had made none. I accept their formulas, but they are still dissatisfied. I sign my name to them, but they still refuse to believe me. One thing only will content them, that I should leave the country. I am on the point of departure. They have already torn away from me my dear brothers, who are a part of my very life. They are, as you see, anxious to depart–nay, they are actually departing; it is preferable, they say, to live among wild beasts rather than with Christians such as these. I myself, too, would be at this moment a fugitive were I not withheld by physical infirmity and by the severity of the winter. I ask to be allowed the shelter of the desert for a few months till spring returns; or if this seems too long a delay, I am ready to depart now. “The earth is the Lord’ s and the fulness thereof.”(5) Let them climb up to heaven alone;(6) for them alone Christ died; they possess all things and glory in all. Be it so. “But God forbid that I should glory save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me and I unto the world.”(7)
4. As regards the questions which you have thought fit to put to me concerning the faith, I have given to the reverend Cyril(8) a written confession which sufficiently answers them. He who does not so believe has no part in Christ. My faith is attested both by your ears and by those of your blessed brother, Zenobius, to whom, as well as to yourself, we all of us here send our best greeting.
LETTER XVIII. TO POPE DAMASUS.
This (written from Constantinople in A.D. 381) is the earliest of Jerome’s expository letters. In it he explains at length the vision recorded in the sixth chapter of Isaiah, and enlarges upon its mystical meaning. “Some of my predecessors,” he writes, “make ‘the Lord sitting upon a throne’ God the Father, and suppose the seraphim to represent the Son and the Holy Spirit. I do not agree with them, for John expressly tells us(1) that it was Christ and not the Father whom the prophet saw.” And again, “The word seraphim means either ‘ glow ‘ or ‘ beginning of speech,’ and the two seraphim thus stand for the Old and New Testaments.(2) ‘Did not our heart burn within us,’ said the disciples, ‘while he opened to us the Scriptures?'(3) Moreover, the Old Testament is written in Hebrew, and this unquestionably was man’s original language.” Jerome then speaks of the unity of the sacred books. “Whatever,” he asserts, “we read in the Old Testament we find also in the Gospel; and what we red in the Gospel is deduced from the Old Testament.(4) There is no discord between them, no disagreement. In both Testaments the Trinity is preached.”
The letter is noticeable for the evidence it affords of the thoroughness of Jerome’s studies. Not only does he cite the several Greek versions of Isaiah in support of his argument, but he also reverts to the Hebrew original. So far as the West was concerned be may be said to have discovered this anew. Even educated men like Augustine had ceased to look beyond the LXX., and were more or less aghast at the boldness with which Jerome rejected its time-honored but inaccurate renderings.(6)
The letter also shows that independence of judgment which always marked Jerome’s work. At the time when he wrote it he was much under the sway of Origen. But great as was his admiration for the master, he was not afraid to discard his exegesis when, as in the case of the seraphim, he believed it to be erroneous.
FROM POPE DAMASUS.
A letter from Damasus to Jerome, in which he asks for an explanation of the word “Hosanna” (A.D. 383).
TO POPE DAMASUS.
Jerome’s reply to the foregoing. Exposing the error of Hilary of Poitiers, who supposed the expression to signify “redemption of the house of David,” he goes on to show that in the gospels it is a quotation from Ps. cxviii. 25 and that its true meaning is “save now” (so A.V.). “Let us,” he writes, “leave the streamlets of conjecture and return to the fountain-head. It is from the Hebrew writings that the truth is to be drawn.” Written at Rome A.D. 383.
LETTER XXI. TO DAMASUS.
In this letter Jerome, at the request of Damasus, gives a minutely detailed explanation of the parable of the prodigal son.