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.217 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:218 I, if I bring no gift to it, have the axe laid to my root as to that of a barren tree.219 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.220 I may not sit in the presence of a presbyter;221 he, if I sin, may deliver me to Satan, “for the destruction of the flesh that the spirit may be saved.”222 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.223 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.”224 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.”225 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.”226 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.”227 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?”228 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,229 so he who approaches the cup of the Lord unworthily shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord.230
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,231 whose shameful imaginations gave rise to the heresy of the Nicolaitans. “Let a man examine himself and so let him come.”232 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.233 Amos was stripping mulberry bushes when, in a moment, he was made a prophet.234 David was only a shepherd when he was chosen to be king.235 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.236 Upon whom does the Lord rest but upon him that is lowly and of a contrite spirit, and that trembleth at His word?237 To whom God has committed much, of him He will ask the more.238 “Mighty men shall be mightily tormented.”239 No man need pride himself in the day of judgment on merely physical chastity, for then shall men give account for every idle word,240 and the reviling of a brother shall be counted as the sin of murder.241 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,242 and to remove your candlestick out of its place.243 If you intend to build the tower, first count the cost.244 Salt that has lost its savor is good for nothing but to be cast out and to be trodden under foot of swine.245 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!246 O wilderness, gladdened with God’s especial presence! What keeps you in the world, my brother, yon who are above the world?247 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.248 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.249 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.250 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.”251 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.252 Then shall that servant be blessed whom the Lord shall find watching.253 Then at the sound of the trumpet254 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.255 This is He whose parents were a workingman and a working-woman.256 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.257 This is He who was called a sorcerer and a man with a devil and a Samaritan.258 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.259 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.
Letter XV. 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,”260 since the foxes are destroying the vineyard of Christ,261 and since among the broken cisterns that hold no water it is hard to discover “the sealed fountain” and “the garden inclosed,”262 I think it my duty to consult the chair of Peter, and to turn to a church whose faith has been praised by Paul.263 I appeal for spiritual food to the church whence I have received the garb of Christ.264 The wide space of sea and land that lies between us cannot deter me from searching for “the pearl of great price.”265 “Wheresoever the body is, there will the eagles be gathered together.”266 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.267 In the West the Sun of righteousness268 is even now rising; in the East, Lucifer, who fell from heaven,269 has once more set his throne above the stars.270 “Ye are the light of the world,”271 “ye are the salt of the earth,”272 ye are “vessels of gold and of silver.” Here are vessels of wood or of earth,273 which wait for the rod of iron,274 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!275 This is the house where alone the paschal lamb can be rightly eaten.276 This is the ark of Noah, and he who is not found in it shall perish when the flood prevails.277 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.278 Consequently I here follow the Egyptian confessors279 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.280 He that gathers not with you scatters;281 he that is not of Christ is of Antichrist.
3. Just now, I am sorry to say, those Arians, the Campenses,282 are trying to extort from me, a Roman Christian, their unheard-of formula of three hypostases.283 And this, too, after the definition of Nicaea284 and the decree of Alexandria,285 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,286 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.287
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.”288 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.289 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.290 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 lest 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;291 for they—with their allies the heretics of Tarsus292 —only desire communion with you to preach with greater authority their traditional doctrine of three hypostases.
Letter XVI. 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,293 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.294 The publican’s prayers overcame God,295 although God is invincible. Nineveh was saved by its tears from the impending ruin caused by its sin.296 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,297 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;298 and, leaving the ninety and nine, the good shepherd carries home on His shoulders the one poor sheep that is left.299 From a persecutor Paul becomes a preacher. His bodily eyes are blinded to clear the eyes of his soul,300 and he who once haled Christ’s servants in chains before the council of the Jews,301 lives afterwards to glory in the bonds of Christ.302
2. As I have already written to you,303 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.304
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 Paulinus305 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;306 that when you grow old, like Peter, you may be girded not by yourself but by another,307 and that, like Paul, you may be made a citizen of the heavenly kingdom.308 Do not despise a soul for which Christ died.
Letter XVII. 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 ”309 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.”310 But charity overcomes all things,311 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,312 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.313
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,314 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.315 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,316 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 hand317 daily and in the sweat of my brow318 I labor for my food, knowing that it is written by the apostle: “If any will not work, neither shall he eat.”319
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.”320 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’ ? and the fulness thereof.”321 Let them climb up to heaven alone;322 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.”323