Letter X. To Paul, an Old Man of Concordia.
Jerome writes to Paul of Concordia, a centenarian (§2), and the owner of a good theological library (§, to lend him some commentaries. In return he sends him his life (newly written) of Paul the hermit.126 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 sentence127 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 giants128 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, yet is their strength labor and sorrow.”129
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?130
Simply that I may describe in fitting terms your great age and hoary head as white as Christ’s.131 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.132 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 Flaccus133 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,134 “the words of the Lord,” “pure words, even as the silver which from the earth is tried, and purified seven times in the fire,”135 I mean the commentaries of Fortunatian136 and—for its account of the persecutors—the History of Aurelius Victor,137 and with these the Letters of Novatian;138 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.139 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.140 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.
Letter XI. 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 makes 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,141 and God’s handmaidens no fellowship with a sinner, yet a harlot was allowed to wash the Lord’s feet with her tears,142 and dogs are permitted to eat of their masters’ crumbs.143 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.144 He wills the repentance of a sinner rather than his death,145 and carries home the poor stray sheep on His own shoulders.146 So, too, when the prodigal son returns, his father receives him with joy.147 Nay more, the apostle says: “Judge nothing before the time.”148 For “who art thou that judgest another man’s servant? To his own master he standeth or falleth.”149 And “let him that standeth take heed lest he fall.”150 “Bear ye one another’s burdens.”151
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.152 And a treasure is often stowed in earthen vessels.153 Peter thrice denied his Lord, yet his bitter tears restored him to his place. “To whom much is forgiven, the same loveth much.”154 No word is said of the flock as a whole, yet the angels joy in heaven over the safety of one sick ewe.155 And if any one demurs to this reasoning, the Lord Himself has said: “Friend, is thine eye evil because I am good?”156
Letter XII. 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.”157 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,158 he received the traitor with a kiss,159 He conversed with the woman of Samaria,160 He spoke of the kingdom of heaven with Mary at His feet,161 and when He rose again from the dead He showed Himself first to some poor women.162 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,163 they were superseded by the Gentiles, who had before been counted as “a drop of a bucket.”164 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.”165 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.166
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.
Letter XIII. 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.”167 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.”168 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.”169 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,”170 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,171 that the Lord’s legacy of peace172 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.
Letter XIV. To Heliodorus, 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.173 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.”174 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!175 He is armed to subdue the world, and out of His mouth proceeds a two-edged sword176 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.177 Hear the proclamation of your King: “He that is not with me is against me, and he that gathereth not with me scattereth.”178 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 nephew179 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.180 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.181 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 lullaby182 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.183
The love of God and the fear of hell will easily break such bonds.
Scripture, you will argue, bids us obey our parents.184 Yes, but whoso loves them more than Christ loses his own soul.185 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,186 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;187 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.”188 The batteringram 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.”189 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.”190
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,”191 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;”192 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,193 and lust would fain drive away the Holy Spirit that dwells in me and defile His temple.194 I am pursued, I say, by an enemy
Whose name is Legion and his wiles untold;195
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.”196 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 are197 idolatry, for which things’ sake the wrath of God cometh.”198
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.199 Lust involves profanation, or else men may defile with common harlots200 those members of Christ which should be “a living sacrifice acceptable to God.”201 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.202 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.”203 Why are you such a half-hearted Christian?
6. See how Peter left his net;204 see how the publican rose from the receipt of custom.205 In a moment he became an apostle. “The Son of man hath not where to lay his head,”206 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.207 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.”208 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,209 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.”210 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,”211 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.”212 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.”213
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?214 Why not? you ask. Take the answer which comes to you with his authority: “No prophet is accepted in his own country.”215 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.216 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.