4. As regards the questions which you have thought fit to put to me concerning the faith, I have given to the reverend Cyril324 a written confession which sufficiently answers them. He who does not so believe has nopart 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 us325 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.326 ‘Did not our heart burn within us,’ said the disciples, ‘while he opened to us the Scriptures?’327 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.328 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.329
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.
Letter XIX. From Pope Damasus.
A letter from Damasus to Jerome, in which he asksfor an explanation of the word “Hosanna” (a.d. 383).
Letter XX. 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 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.
Letter XXII. To Eustochium.
Perhaps the most famous of all the letters. In it Jerome lays down at great length (1) the motives which ought to actuate those who devote themselves to a life of virginity, and (2) the rules by which they ought to regulate their daily conduct. The letter contains a vivid picture of Roman society as it then was—the luxury, profligacy, and hypocrisy prevalent among both men and women, besides some graphic autobiographical details (§§7, 30), and concludes with a full account ofthe three kinds of monasticism then practised in Egypt (§§34–36). Thirty years later Jerome wrote a similar letter to Demetrias (CXXX.), with which this ought to be compared. Written at Rome 384 a.d.
1.“Hear, O daughter, and consider, and incline thine ear; forget also thine own people and thy father’s house, and the king shall desire thy beauty.”330 In this forty-fourth331 psalm God speaks to the human soul that, following the example of Abraham,332 it should go out from its own land and from its kindred, and should leave the Chaldeans, that is the demons, and should dwell in the country of the living, for which elsewhere the prophet sighs: “I think to see the good things of the Lord in the land of the living.”333 But it is not enough for you to go out from your own land unless you forget your people and your father’s house; unless you scorn the flesh and cling to the bridegroom in a close embrace. “Look not behind thee,” he says, “neither stay thou in all the plain; escape to the mountain lest thou be consumed.”334 He who has grasped the plough must not look behind him335 or return home from the field, or having Christ’s garment, descend from the roof to fetch other raiment.336 Truly a marvellous thing, a father charges his daughter not to remember her father. “Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father it is your will to do.”337 So it was said to the Jews. And in another place, “He that committeth sin is of the devil.”338 Born, in the first instance, of such parentage we are naturally black, and even when we have repented, so long as we have not scaled the heights of virtue, we may still say: “I am black but comely, O ye daughters of Jerusalem.”339 But you will say to me, “I have left the home of my childhood; I have forgotten my father, I am born anew in Christ. What reward do I receive for this?” The context shows—“The king shall desire thy beauty.” This, then, is the great mystery. “For this cause shall a man leave his father and his mother and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be” not as is there said, “of one flesh,”340 but “of one spirit.” Your bridegroom is not haughty or disdainful; He has“married an Ethiopian woman.”341 When once you desire the wisdom of the true Solomon and come to Him, He will avow all His knowledge to you; He will lead you into His chamber with His royal hand;342 He will miraculously change your complexion so that it shall be said of you, “Who is this that goeth up and hath been made white?”343
2. I write to you thus, Lady Eustochium (I am bound to call my Lord’s bride “lady”), to show yon by my opening words that my object is not to praise the virginity which you follow, and of which you have proved the value, or yet to recount the drawbacks of marriage, such as pregnancy, the crying of infants, the torture caused by a rival, the cares of household management, and all those fancied blessings which death at last cuts short. Not that married women are as such outside the pale; they have their own place, the marriage that is honorable and the bed undefiled.344 My purpose is to show you that you are fleeing from Sodom and should take warning by Lot’s wife.345 There is no flattery, I can tell you, in these pages. A flatterer’s words are fair, but for all that he is an enemy. You need expect no rhetorical flourishes setting you among the angels, and while they extol virginity as blessed, putting the world at your feet.
3. I would have you draw from your monastic vow not pride but fear.346 You walk laden with gold; you must keep out of the robber’s way. To us men this life is a race-course we contend here, we are crowned elsewhere. No man can lay aside fear while serpents and scorpions beset his path. The Lord says: “My sword hath drunk its fill in heaven,”347 and do you expect to find peace on the earth? No, the earth yields only thorns and thistles, and its dust is food for the serpent.348 “For our wrestling is not against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world-rulers of this darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.”349 We are hemmed in by hosts of foes, our enemies are upon every side. The weak flesh will soon be ashes: one against many, it fights against tremendous odds. Not till it has been dissolved, not till the Prince of this world has come and found no sin therein,350 not till then may you safely listen to the prophet’s words: “Thou shall not be afraid for the terror by night nor for the arrow that flieth by day; nor for the trouble which haunteth thee in darkness; nor for the demon and his attacks at noonday. A thousand shall fall at thy side and ten thousand at thy right hand; but it shall not come nigh thee.”351 When the hosts of the enemy distress you, when your frame is fevered and your passions roused, when you say in your heart, “What shall I do?” Elisha’s words shall give you your answer, “Fear not, for they that be with us are more than they that be with them.”352 He shall pray, “Lord, open the eyes of thine handmaid that she may see.” And then when your eyes have been opened you shall see a fiery chariot like Elijah’s waiting to carry you to heaven,353 and shall joyfully sing: “Our soul is escaped as a bird out of the snare of the fowlers: the snare is broken and we are escaped.”354
4. So long as we are held down by this frail body, so long as we have our treasure in earthen vessels;355 so long as the flesh lusteth against the spirit and the spirit against the flesh,356 there can be no sure victory. “Our adversary the devil goeth about as a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour.”357 “Thou makest darkness,” David says, “and it is night: wherein all the beasts of the forest do creep forth. The young lions roar after their prey and seek their meat from God.”358 The devil looks not for unbelievers, for those who are without, whose flesh the Assyrian king roasted in the furnace.359 It is the church of Christ that he “makes haste to spoil.”360 According to Habakkuk, “His food is of the choicest.”361 A Job is the victim of his machinations, and after devouring Judas he seeks power to sift the [other] apostles.362 The Saviour came not to send peace upon the earth but a sword.363 Lucifer fell, Lucifer who used to rise at dawn;364 and be who was bred up in a paradise of delight had the well-earned sentence passed upon him, “Though thou exalt thyself as the eagle, and though thou set thy nest among the stars, thence will I bring thee down, saith the Lord.”365 For he had said in his heart, “I will exalt my throne above the stars of God,” and “I will be like the Most High.”366 Wherefore God says every day to the angels, as they descend the ladder that Jacob saw in his dream,367 “I have said ye are Gods and all of you are children of the Most High. But ye shall die like men and fall like one of the princes.”368 The devil fell first, and since “God standeth in the congregation of the Gods and judgeth among the Gods,”369 the apostle writes to those who are ceasing to be Gods—“Whereas there is among you envying and strife, are ye not carnal and walk as men?”370
5. If, then, the apostle, who was a chosen vessel371 separated unto the gospel of Christ,372 by reason of the pricks of the flesh and the allurements of vice keeps under his body and brings it into subjection, lest when he has preached to others he may himself be a castaway;373 and yet, for all that, sees another law in his members warring against the law of his mind, and bringing him into captivity to the law of sin;374 if after nakedness, fasting. hunger, imprisonment, scourging and other torments, he turns back to himself and cries “Oh, wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death?”375 do you fancy that you ought to lay aside apprehension? See to it that God say not some day of you: “The virgin of Israel is fallen and there is none to raise her up.”376 I will say it boldly, though God can do all things He cannot raise up a virgin when once she has fallen. He may indeed relieve one who is defiled from the penalty of her sin, but He will not give her a crown. Let us fear lest in us also the prophecy be fulfilled, “Good virgins shall faint.”377 Notice that it is good virgins who are spoken of, for there are bad ones as well. “Whosoever looketh on a woman,” the Lord says, “to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.”378 So that virginity may be lost even by a thought. Such are evil virgins, virgins in the flesh, not in the spirit; foolish virgins, who, having no oil, are shut out by the Bridegroom.379
6. But if even real virgins, when they have other failings, are not saved by their physical virginity, what shall become of those who have prostituted the members of Christ, and have changed the temple of the Holy Ghost into a brothel? Straightway shall they hear the words: “Come down and sit in the dust, O virgin daughter of Babylon, sit on the ground; there is no throne, O daughter of the Chaldaeans: for thou shalt no more becalled tender and delicate. Take the millstone and grind meal; uncover thy locks, make bare the legs, pass over the rivers; thy nakedness shall be uncovered, yea, thy shame shall be seen.”380 And shall she come to this after the bridal-chamber of God the Son, after the kisses of Him who is to her both kinsman and spouse?381 Yes, she of whomthe prophetic utterance once sang, “Upon thy right hand did stand the queen in a vesture of gold wrought about with divers col ours,”382 shall be made naked, and her skirts shall be discovered upon her face.383 She shall sit by the waters of loneliness, her pitcher laid aside; and shall open her feet to every one that passeth by, and shall be polluted to the crown of her head.384 Better had it been for her to have submitted to the yoke of marriage, to have walked in level places, than thus, aspiring to loftier heights, to fall into the deep of hell. I pray you, let not Zion the faithful city become a harlot:385 let it not be that where the Trinity has been entertained, there demons shall dance and owls make their nests, and jackals build.386 Let us not loose the belt that binds the breast. When lust tickles the sense mad the soft fire of sensual pleasure sheds over us its pleasing glow, let us immediately break forth and cry: “The Lord is on my side: I will not fear what the flesh can do unto me.”387 When the inner man shows signs for a time of wavering between vice and virtue, say: “Why art thou cast down, O my soul, and why art thou disquieted within me? Hope thou in God, for I shall yet praise Him who is the health of my countenance and my God.”388 You must never let suggestions of evil grow on you, or a babel of disorder win strength in your breast. Slay the enemy while he is small; and, that you may not have a crop of tares, nip the evil in the bud. Bear in mind the warning words of the Psalmist: “Hapless daughter of Babylon, happy shall he be that rewardeth thee as thou hast served us. Happy shall he be that taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the stones.”389 Because natural heat inevitably kindles in a man sensual passion, he is praised and accounted happy who, when foul suggestions arise in his mind, gives them no quarter, but dashes them instantly against the rock. “Now the Rock is Christ.”390
7. How often, when I was living in the desert, in the vast solitude which gives to hermits a savage dwelling-place, parched by a burning sun, how often did I fancy myself among the pleasures of Rome! I used to sit alone because I was filled with bitterness. Sackcloth disfigured my unshapely limbs and my skin from long neglect had become as black as an Ethiopian’s. Tears and groans were every day my portion; and if drowsiness chanced to overcome my struggles against it, my bare bones, which hardly held together, clashed against the ground. Of my food and drink I say nothing: for, even in sickness, the solitaries have nothing but cold water, and to eat one’s food cooked is looked upon as self-indulgence. Now, although in my fear of hell I had consigned myself to this prison, where I had no companions but scorpions and wild beasts, I often found myself amid bevies of girls. My face was pale and my frame chilled with fasting; yet my mind was burning with desire, and the fires of lust kept bubbling up before me when my flesh was as good as dead. Helpless, I cast myself at the feet of Jesus, I watered them with my tears, I wiped them with my hair: and then I subdued my rebellious body with weeks of abstinence. I do not blush to avow my abject misery; rather I lament that I am not now what once I was. I remember how I often cried aloud all night till the break of day and ceased not from beating my breast till tranquillity returned at the chiding of the Lord. I used to dread my very cell as though it knew my thoughts; and, stern and angry with myself, I used to make my way alone into the desert. Wherever I saw hollow valleys, craggy mountains, steep cliffs, there I made my oratory, there the house of correction for my unhappy flesh. There, also—the Lord Himself is my witness—when I had shed copious tears and had strained my eyes towards heaven, I sometimes felt myself among angelic hosts, and for joy and gladness sang: “because of the savour of thy good ointments we will run after thee.”391
8. Now, if such are the temptations of men who, since their bodies are emaciated with fasting, have only evil thoughts to fear, how must it fare with a girl whose surroundings are those of luxury and ease? Surely, to use the apostle’s words, “She is dead while she liveth.”392 Therefore, if experience gives me a right to advise, or clothes my words with credit, I would begin by urging you and warning you as Christ’s spouse to avoid wine as you would avoid poison. For wine is the first weapon used by demons against the young. Greed does not shake, nor pride puff up, nor ambition infatuate so much as this. Other vices we easily escape, but this enemy is shut up within us, and wherever we go we carry him with us. Wine and youth between them kindle the fire of sensual pleasure. Why do we throw oil on the flame—why do we add fresh fuel to a miserable body which is already ablaze. Paul, it is true, says to Timothy “drink no longer water, but use a little wine for thy stomach’s sake, and for thine often infirmities.”393 But notice the reasons for which the permission is given, to cure an aching stomach and a frequent infirmity. And lest we should indulge ourselves too much on the score of our ailments, he commands that but little shall be taken; advising rather as a physician than as an apostle (though, indeed, an apostle is a spiritual physician). He evidently feared that Timothy might succumb to weakness, and might prove unequal to the constant moving to and fro involved in preaching the Gospel. Besides, he remembered that he had spoken of “wine wherein is excess,”394 and had said, “it is good neither to eat flesh nor to drink wine.”395 Noah drank wine and became intoxicated; but living as he did in the rude age after the flood, when the vine was first planted, perhaps he did not know its power of inebriation. And to let you see the hidden meaning of Scripture in all its fulness (for the word of God is a pearl and may be pierced on every side) after his drunkenness came the uncovering of his body; self-indulgence culminated in lust.396 First the belly is crammed; then the other members are roused. Similarly, at a later period, “The people sat down to eat and to drink and rose up to play.”397 Lot also, God’s friend, whom He saved upon the mountain, who was the only one found righteous out of so many thousands, was intoxicated by his daughters. And, although they may have acted as they did more from a desire of offspring than from love of sinful pleasure—for the human race seemed in danger of extinction—yet they were well aware that the righteous man would not abet their design unless intoxicated. In fact he did not know what he was doing, and his sin was not wilful. Still his error was a grave one, for it made him the father of Moab and Ammon,398 Israel’s enemies, of whom it is said: “Even to the fourteenth generation they shall not enter into the congregation of the Lord forever.”399
9. When Elijah, in his flight from Jezebel, lay weary and desolate beneath the oak, there came an angel who raised him up and said, “Arise and eat.” And he looked, and behold there was a cake and a cruse of water at his head.400 Had God willed it, might He not have sent His prophet spiced wines and dainty dishes and flesh basted into tenderness? When Elisha invited the sons of the prophets to dinner, he only gave them field-herbs to eat; and when all cried out with one voice: “There is death in the pot,” the man of God did not storm at the cooks (for he was not used to very sumptuous fare), but caused meal to be brought, and casting it in, sweetened the bitter mess401 with spiritual strength as Moses had once sweetened the waters of Mara.402 Again, when men were sent to arrest the prophet, and were smitten with physical and mental blindness, that he might bring them without their own knowledge to Samaria, notice the food with which Elisha ordered them to be refreshed. “Set bread and water,” he said, “before them, that they may eat and drink and go to their master.”403 And Daniel, who might have had rich food from the king’s table,404 preferred the mower’s breakfast, brought to him by Habakkuk,405 which must have been but country fare. He was called “a man of desires,”406 because he would not eat the bread of desire or drink the wine of concupiscence.
10. There are, in the Scriptures, countless divine answers condemning gluttony and approving simple food. But as fasting is not my present theme and an adequate discussion of it would require a treatise to itself, these few observations must suffice of the many which the subject suggests. By them you will understand why the first man, obeying his belly and not God, was cast down from paradise into this vale of tears;407 and why Satan used hunger to tempt the Lord Himself in the wilderness;408 and why the apostle cries: “Meats for the belly and the belly for meats, but God shall destroy both it and them;”409 and why he speaks of the self-indulgent as men “whose God is their belly.”410 For men invariably worship what they like best. Care must be taken, therefore, that abstinence may bring back to Paradise those whom satiety once drove out.
11. You will tell me, perhaps, that, high-born as you are, reared in luxury and used to lie softly, you cannot do without wine and dainties, and would find a stricter rule of life unendurable. If so, I can only say: “Live, then, by your own rule, since God’s rule is too hard for you.” Not that the Creator and Lord of all takes pleasure in a rumbling and empty stomach, or in fevered lungs; but that these are indispensable as means to the preservation of chastity. Job was dear to God, perfect and upright before Him;411 yet hear what he says of the devil: “His strength is in the loins, and his force is in the navel.”412
The terms are chosen for decency’s sake, but the reproductive organs of the two sexes are meant. Thus, the descendant of David, who, according to the promise is to sit upon his throne, is said to come from his loins.413 And the seventy-five souls descended from Jacob who entered Egypt are said to come out of his thigh.414 So, also, when his thigh shrank after the Lord had wrestled with him,415 he ceased to beget children. The Israelites, again, are told to celebrate the passover with loins girded and mortified.416 God says to Job: “Gird up thy loins as a man.”417 John wears a leathern girdle.418 The apostles must gird their loins to carry the lamps of the Gospel.419 When Ezekiel tells us how Jerusalem is found in the plain of wandering, covered with blood, he uses the words: “Thy navel has not been cut.”420 In his assaults on men, therefore, the devil’s strength is in the loins; in his attacks on women his force is in the navel.