5. What snares, think you, is the devil now weaving? What stratagems is he preparing? Perchance, mindful of his old trick,49 he will try to tempt Bonosus with hunger. But he has been answered already: “Man shall not live by bread alone.”50 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 trap51 and temptations,”52 and “For me all glorying is in Christ.”53 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.”54 He will hold out threats of death; but the reply will be: “I desire to depart and to be with Christ.”55 He will brandish his fiery darts, but they will be received on the shield of faith.56 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,57 Thou seest the prophet shut up in the fish’s belly in the midst of the sea.58 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.”59 May he enjoy the crown of virtue, and in return for his daily martyrdoms may he follow the Lamb robed in white raiment!60 For “in my Father’s house are many mansions,”61 and “one star differeth from another star in glory.”62 Give me strength to raise my head to a level with the saints’ heels!63 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.
Letter IV. To Florentius.
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,”64 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,65 fed, clothed, and visited Him. The aid you rendered to our brother Heliodorus66 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 himself67 and is clean, yea, is made white as snow;68 whilst I, stained with every sin, wait day and night with trembling to pay the uttermost farthing.69 But since “the Lord looseth the prisoners,”70 and resteth upon him who is of a contrite spirit, and that trembleth at His words,71 perchance he may say even to me who lie in the grave of sin: “Jerome, come forth.”72
The reverend presbyter, Evagrius, warmly salutes you. We both with united respect salute the brother, Martinianus.73 I desire much to see him, but I am impeded by the chain of sickness. Farewell in Christ.
Letter V. To Florentius.
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.74 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,75 bishop of Augustodunum,76 copied, in which he has so eloquently explained the Song of Songs. A countryman of the aforesaid brother Rufinus, the old man Paul,77 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 list78 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,79 which I copied for him80 at Trêves 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.81
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,82 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,83 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.
Letter VI. 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.”84 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:85
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 sister86 —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 viper87 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:
’Twill fall upon a head which knows not fear.88
Bear in mind, then, I pray you, the apostle’s precept89 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.
Letter VII. To Chromatius, Jovinus, and Eusebius.90
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 (§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.91 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.92 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.93 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.94 As for me who am still foul with my old stains, like the basilisk and the scorpion I haunt the dry places.95 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.96 He can scale already that ladder of which the psalms of degrees97 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.”98 Amid the threatening billows of the world he is sitting in the safe shelter of his island,99 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;100 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.”101 But Bonosus has done more than this. Like the prophet102 he has carried his girdle across the Euphrates (for all the devil’s strength is in the loins103 ), 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.104 Thou hast broken my bonds in sunder. I will offer to thee the sacrifice of thanksgiving.”105 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,106 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.”107 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.108 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.109
You know yourselves how slippery is the path of youth—a path on which I have myself fallen,110 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,”111 —I beg you to get from Pope112 Valerian113 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,114 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.115 Like lips like lettuce, as the saying goes—the only one, as Lucilius tells us,116 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,117 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!118 Fortunate the roof which shelters the martyr-mother of the Maccabees, with her sons around her, each and all wearing the martyr’s crown!119 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.
Letter VIII. 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 Turpilius120 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,121 and letter-writers bark-users,122 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,123 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.
Letter IX. To Chrysogonus, a Monk of Aquileia.
A bantering letter to an indifferent correspondent. Of the same date as the preceding.
Heliodorus,124 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,125 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.