“The love of money is the root of all evil,”592 and the apostle speaks of covetousness as being idolatry.593 “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and all these things shall be added unto you.”594 The Lord will never allow a righteous soul to perish of hunger. “I have been young,” the psalmist says, “and now am old, yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken nor his seed begging bread.”595 Elijah is fed by ministering ravens.596 The widow of Zarephath, who with her sons expected to die the same night, went without food herself that she might feed the prophet. He who had come to be fed then turned feeder, for, by a miracle, he filled the empty barrel.597 The apostle Peter says: “Silver and gold have I none, but such as I have give I thee. In the name of Jesus Christ rise up and walk.”598 But now many, while they do not say it in words, by their deeds declare: “Faith and pity have I none; but such as I have, silver and gold, these I will not give thee.” “Having food and raiment let us be therewith content.”599 Hear the prayer of Jacob: “If God will be with me and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat and raiment to put on, then shall the Lord be my God.”600 He prayed only for things necessary; yet, twenty years afterwards, he returned to the land of Canaan rich in substance. and richer still in children.601 Numberless are the instances in Scripture which teach men to “Beware of covetousness.”602
33. As I have been led to touch to the subject—it shall have a treatise to itself if Christ permit—I will relate what took place not very many years ago at Nitria. A brother, more thrifty than covetous, and ignorant that the Lord had been sold for thirty pieces of silver,603 left behind him at his death a hundred pieces of money which he had earned by weaving linen. As there were about five thousand monks in the neighborhood, living in as many separate cells, a council was held as to what should be done. Some said that the coins should be distributed among the poor; others that they should be given to the church, while others were for sending them hack to the relatives of the deceased. However, Macarius, Pambo, Isidore and the rest of those called fathers, speaking by the Spirit, decided that they should be interred with their owner, with the words: “Thy money perish with thee.”604 Nor was this too harsh a decision; for so great fear has fallen upon all throughout Egypt, that it is now a crime to leave after one a single shilling.
34. As I have mentioned the monks, and know that you like to hear about holy things, lend an ear to me for a few moments. There are in Egypt three classes of monks. First, there are the coenobites,605 called in their Gentile language Sauses,606 or, as we should say, men living in a community.607 Secondly, there are the anchorites,608 who live in the desert, each man by himself, and are so called because they have withdrawn from human society. Thirdly, there is the class called Remoboth,609 a very inferior and little regarded type, peculiar to my own province,610 or, at least, originating there. These live together in twos and threes, but seldom in larger numbers, and are bound by no rule; but do exactly as they choose. A portion of their earnings they contribute to a common fund, out of which food is provided for all. In most cases they reside in cities and strongholds; and, as though it were their workmanship which is holy, and not their life, all that they sell is extremely dear. They often quarrel because they are unwilling, while supplying their own food, to be subordinate to others. It is true that they compete with each other in fasting; they make what should be a private concern an occasion for a triumph. In everything they study effect: their sleeves are loose, their boots bulge, their garb is of the coarsest. They are always sighing, or visiting virgins, or sneering at the clergy; yet when a holiday comes, they make themselves sick—they eat so much.
35. Having then rid ourselves of these as of so many plagues, let us come to that more numerous class who live together, and who are, as we have said, called Coenobites. Among these the first principle of union is to obey superiors and to do whatever they command. They are divided into bodies of ten and of a hundred, so that each tenth man has authority over nine others, while the hundredth has ten of these officers under him. They live apart from each other, in separate cells. According to their rule, no monk may visit another before the ninth hour;611 except the deans612 above mentioned, whose office is to comfort, with soothing words, those whose thoughts disquiet them. After the ninth hour they meet together to sing psalms and read the Scriptures according to usage. Then when the prayers have ended and all have sat down, one called the father stands up among them and begins to expound the portion of the day. While he is speaking the silence is profound; no man ventures to look at his neighbor or to clear his throat. The speaker’s praise is in the weeping of his hearers.613 Silent tears roll down their cheeks, but not a sob escapes from their lips. Yet when he begins to speak of Christ’s kingdom, and of future bliss, and of the glory which is to come, every one may be noticed saying to himself, with a gentle sigh and uplifted eyes: “Oh, that I had wings like a dove! For then would I fly away and be at rest.”614 After this the meeting breaks up and each company of ten goes with its father to its own table. This they take in turns to serve each for a week at a time. No noise is made over the food; no one talks while eating. Bread, pulse and greens form their fare, and the only seasoning that they use is salt. Wine is given only to the old, who with the children often have a special meal prepared for them to repair the ravages of age and to save the young from premature decay. When the meal is over they all rise together, and, after singing a hymn, return to their dwellings. There each one talks till evening with his comrade thus: “Have you noticed so-and-so? What grace he has How silent he is! How soberly he walks!” If any one is weak they comfort him; or if he is fervent in love to God, they encourage him to fresh earnestness. And because at night, besides the public prayers, each man keeps vigil in his own chamber, they go round all the cells one by one, and putting their ears to the doors, carefully ascertain what their occupants are doing. If they find a monk slothful, they do not scold him; but, dissembling what they know, they visit him more frequently, and at first exhort rather than compel him to pray more. Each day has its allotted task, and this being given in to the dean, is by him brought to the steward. This latter, once a month, gives a scrupulous account to their common father. He also tastes the dishes when they are cooked, and, as no one is allowed to say, “I am without a tunic or a cloak or a couch of rushes,” he so arranges that no one need ask for or go without what he wants. In case a monk falls ill, he is moved to a more spacious chamber, and there so attentively nursed by the old men, that he misses neither the luxury of cities nor a mother’s kindness. Every Lord’s day they spend their whole time in prayer and reading; indeed, when they have finished their tasks, these are their usual occupations. Every day they learn by heart a portion of Scripture. They keep the same fasts all the year round, but in Lent they are allowed to live more strictly. After Whitsuntide they exchange their evening meal for a midday one; both to satisfy the tradition of the church and to avoid overloading their stomachs with a double supply of food.
A similar description is given of the Essenes by Philo,615 Plato’s imitator; also by Josephus,616 the Greek Livy, in his narrative of the Jewish captivity.
36. As my present subject is virgins, I have said rather too much about monks. I will pass on, therefore, to the third class, called anchorites, who go from the monasteries into the deserts, with nothing but bread and salt. Paul617 introduced this way of life; Antony made it famous, and—to go farther back still—John the Baptist set the first example of it. The prophet Jeremiah describes one such in the words: “It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth. He sitteth alone and keepeth silence, because he hath borne it upon him. He giveth his cheek to him that smiteth him, he is filled full with reproach. For the Lord will not east off forever.”618 The struggle of the anchorites and their life—in the flesh, yet not of the flesh—I will, if you wish, explain to you at some other time. I must now return to the subject of covetousness, which I left to speak of the monks. With them before your eyes you will despise, not only gold and silver in general, but earth itself and heaven. United to Christ, you will sing, “The Lord is my portion.”619
37. Farther, although the apostle bids us to “pray without ceasing,”620 and although to the saints their very sleep is a supplication, we ought to have fixed hours of prayer, that if we are detained by work, the time may remind us of our duty. Prayers, as every one knows, ought to be said at the third, sixth and ninth hours, at dawn and at evening.621 No meal should be begun without prayer, land before leaving table thanks should be returned to the Creator. We should rise two or three times in the night, and go over the parts of Scripture which we know by heart. When we leave the roof which shelters us, prayer should be our armor; and when we return from the street we should pray before we sit down, and not give the frail body rest until the soul is fed. In every act we do, in every step we take, let our hand trace the Lord’s cross. Speak against nobody, and do not slander your mother’s son.622 “Who art thou that judgest the servant of another? To his own lord he standeth or falleth; yea, he shall be made to stand, for the Lord hath power to make him stand.”623 If you have fasted two or three days, do not think yourself better than others who do not fast. You fast and are angry; another eats and wears a smiling face. You work off your irritation and hunger in quarrels. He uses food in moderation and gives God thanks.624 Daily Isaiah cries: “Is it such a fast that I have chosen, saith the Lord?”625 and again: “In the day of your fast ye find your own pleasure, and oppress all your laborers. Behold ye fast for strife and contention, and to smite with the fist of wickedness. How fast ye unto me?”626 What kind of fast can his be whose wrath is such that not only does the night go down upon it, but that even the moon’s changes leave it unchanged?
38. Look to yourself and glory in your own success and not in others’ failure. Some women care for the flesh and reckon up their income and daily expenditure: such are no fit models for you. Judas was a traitor, but the eleven apostles did not waver. Phygellus and Alexander made shipwreck; but the rest continued to run the race of faith.627 Say not: “So-and-so enjoys her own property, she is honored of men, her brothers and sisters come to see her. Has she then ceased to be a virgin?” In the first place, it is doubtful if she is a virgin. For “the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh upon the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart.”628 Again, she may be a virgin in body and not in spirit. According to the apostle, a true virgin is “holy both in body and in spirit.”629 Lastly, let her glory in her own way. Let her override Paul’s opinion and live in the enjoyment of her good things But you and I must follow better examples.
Set before you the blessed Mary, whose surpassing purity made her meet to be the mother of the Lord. When the angel Gabriel came down to her, in the form of a man, and said: “Hail, thou that art highly favored; the Lord is with thee,”630 she was terror-stricken and unable to reply, for she had never been saluted by a man before. But, on learning who he was, she spoke, and one who had been afraid of a man conversed fearlessly with an angel. Now you, too, may be the Lord’s mother. “Take thee a great roll and write in it with a man’s pen Maher-shalal-hash-baz.”631 And when you have gone to the prophetess, and have conceived in the womb, and have brought forth a son,632 say: “Lord, we have been with child by thy fear, we have been in pain, we have brought forth the spirit of thy salvation, which we have wrought upon the earth.”633 Then shall your Son reply: “Behold my mother and my brethren.”634 And He whose name you have so recently inscribed upon the table of your heart, and have written with a pen upon its renewed surface635 —He, after He has recovered the spoil from the enemy, and has spoiled principalities and powers, nailing them to His cross636 —having been miraculously conceived, grows up to manhood; and, as He becomes older, regards you no longer as His mother, but as His bride. To be as the martyrs, or as the apostles, or as Christ, involves a hard struggle, but brings with it a great reward.
All such efforts are only of use when they are made within the church’s pale;637 we must celebrate the passover in the one house,638 we must enter the ark with Noah,639 we must take refuge from the fall of Jericho with the justified harlot, Rahab.640 Such virgins as there are said to be among the heretics and among the followers of the infamous Manes641 must be considered, not virgins, but prostitutes. For if—as they allege—the devil is the author of the body, how can they honor that which is fashioned by their foe? No; it is because they know that the name virgin brings glory with it, that they go about as wolves in sheep’s clothing.642 As antichrist pretends to be Christ, such virginsassume an honorable name, that they may the better cloak a discreditable life. Rejoice, my sister; rejoice, my daughter; rejoice, my virgin; for you have resolved to be, in reality, that which others insincerely feign.
39. The things that I have here set forth will seem hard to her who loves not Christ. But one who has come to regard all the splendor of the world as off-scourings, and to hold all things under the sun as vain, that he may win Christ;643 one who has died with his Lord and risen again, and has crucified the flesh with its affections and lusts;644 he will boldly cry out: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?” and again: “I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels, nor principalities nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus, our Lord.”645
For our salvation the Son of God is made the Son of Man.646 Nine months He awaits His birth in the womb, undergoes the most revolting conditions,647 and comes forth covered with blood, to be swathed in rags and covered with caresses. He who shuts up the world in His fist648 is contained in the narrow l limits of a manger. I say nothing of thethirty years during which he lives in obscurity, satisfied with the poverty of his parents.649 When He is scourged He holds His peace; when He is crucified, He prays for His crucifiers. “What shall I render unto the Lord for all His benefits towards me? I will take the cup of salvation and call upon the name of the Lord. Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints.”650 The only fitting return that we can make to Him is to give blood for blood; and, as we are redeemed by the blood of Christ, gladly to lay down our lives for our Redeemer. What saint has ever won his crown without first contending for it? Righteous Abel is murdered. Abraham is in danger of losing his wife. And, as I must not enlarge my book unduly, seek for yourself: you will find that all holy men have suffered adversity. Solomon alone lived in luxury and perhaps it was for this reason that he fell. For “whom the Lord loveth, He chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom He receiveth.”651 Which is best—for a short time to do battle, to carry stakes for the palisades, to bear arms, to faint under heavy bucklers, that ever afterwards we may rejoice as victors? or to become slaves forever, just because we cannot endure for a single hour?652
40. Love finds nothing hard; no task is difficult to the eager. Think of all that Jacob bore for Rachel, the wife who had been promised to him. “Jacob,” the Scripture says, “served seven years for Rachel. And they seemed unto him but a few days for the love he had to her.”653 Afterwards he himself tells us what he had to undergo. “In the day the drought consumed me and the frost by night.”654 So we must love Christ and always seek His embraces. Then everything difficult will seem easy; all things long we shall account short; and smitten with His arrows,655 we shall say every moment: “Woe is me that I have prolonged my pilgrimage.”656 For “the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.”657 For “tribulation worketh patience, and patience experience, and experience hope; and hope maketh not ashamed.”658 When your lot seems hard to bear read Paul’s second epistle to the Corinthians: “In labors more abundant; in stripes above measure; in prisons more frequent; in deaths oft. Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one; thrice was I beaten with rods; once was I stoned; thrice I suffered shipwreck; a night and a day I have been in the deep; in journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren, in weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness.”659 Which of us can claim the veriest fraction of the virtues here enumerated? Yet it was these which afterwards made him bold to say: “I have finished my course, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness which the Lord, the righteous Judge, shall give me at that day.”660
But we, if our food is less appetizing than usual, get sullen, and fancy that we do God a favor by drinking watered wine. And if the water brought to us is a trifle too warm, we break the cup and overturn the table and scourge the servant in fault until blood comes. “The kingdom of heaven suffereth violence and the violent take it by force.”661 Still, unless you use force you will never seize the kingdom of heaven. Unless you knock importunately you will never receive the sacramental bread.662 Is it not truly violence, think you, when the flesh desires to be as God and ascends to the place whence angels have fallen663 to judge angels?
41. Emerge, I pray you, for a while from your prison-house, and paint before your eyes the reward of your present toil, a reward which “eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither hath it entered into the heart of man.”664 What will be the glory of that day when Mary, the mother of the Lord, shall come to meet you, accompanied by her virgin choirs! When, the Red Sea past and Pharaoh drowned with his host, Miriam, Aaron’s sister, her timbrel in her hand, shall chant to the answering women: “Sing ye unto the Lord, for he hath triumphed gloriously; the horse and his rider hath he thrown into the sea.”665 Then shall Thecla666 fly with joy to embrace you. Then shall your Spouse himself come forward and say: “Rise up, my love, my fair one, and come away, for lo! the winter is past, the rain is over and gone.”667 Then shall the angels say with wonder: “Who is she that looketh forth as the morning, fair as the moon, clear as the sun?”668 “The daughters shall see you and bless you; yea, the queens shall proclaim and the concubines shall praise you.”669 And, after these, yet another company of chaste women will meet you. Sarah will come with the wedded; Anna, the I daughter of Phanuel, with the widows. In the one band you will find your natural mother and in the other your spiritual.670 The one will rejoice in having borne, the other will exult in having taught you. Then truly will the Lord ride upon his ass,671 and thus enter the heavenly Jerusalem. Then the little ones (of whom, in Isaiah, the Saviour says: “Behold, I and the children whom the Lord hath given me”672 ) shall lift up palms of victory and shall sing with one voice: “Hosanna in the highest, blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord, hosanna in the highest.”673 Then shall the “hundred and forty and four thousand” hold their harps before the throne and before the elders and shall sing the new song. And no man shall have power to learn that song save those for whom it is appointed. “These are they which were not defiled with women; for they are virgins. These are they which follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth.”674 As often as this life’s idle show tries to charm you; as often as you see in the world some vain pomp, transport yourself in mind to Paradise, essay to be now what you will be hereafter, and you will hear your Spouse say: “Set me as a sunshade in thine heart and as a seal upon thine arm.”675 And then, strengthened in body as well as in mind, you, too, will cry aloud and say: “Many waters cannot quench love, neither can the floods drown it.”676
Letter XXIII. To Marcella.
Jerome writes to Marcella to console her for the loss of a friend who, like herself, was the head of a religious society at Rome. The news of Lea’s death had first reached Marcella when she was engaged with Jerome in the study of the 73d psalm. Later in the day he writes this letter in which, after extolling Lea, he contrasts her end with that of the consul-elect, Vettius Agorius Praetextatus,a man of great ability and integrity, whom he declares to be now “in Tartarus.” Written at Rome in 384 a.d.
1. To-day, about the third hour, just as I was beginning to read with you the seventy-second psalm677 —the first, that is, of the third books-and to explain that its title belonged partly to the second book and partly to the third—the previous book, I mean, concluding with the words “the prayers of David the son of Jesse are ended,”678 and the next commencing with the words “a psalm of Asaph”679 —and just as I had come on the passage in which the righteous man declares: “If I say, I will speak thus; behold I should offend against the generation of thy children,”680 a verse which is differently rendered in our Latin version:681 —suddenly the news came that our most saintly friend Lea had departed from the body. As was only natural, you turned deadly pale; for there are few persons, if any, who do not burst into tears when the earthen vessel breaks.682 But if you wept it was not from doubt as to her futurelot, but only because you had not rendered to her the last sad offices which are due to the dead. Finally, as we were still conversing together, a second message informed us that her remains had been already conveyed to Ostia.
2. You may ask what is the use of repeating all this. I will reply in the apostle’s words, “much every way.”683 First, it shows that all must hail with joy the release of a soul which has trampled Satan under foot, and won for itself, at last, a crown of tranquillity. Secondly, it gives me an opportunity of briefly describing her life. Thirdly, it enables me to assure you that the consul-elect,684 that detractor of his age,685 is now in Tartarus.686