Who can sufficiently eulogize our dear Lea’s mode of living? So complete was her conversion to the Lord that, becoming the head of a monastery, she showed herself a true mother687 to the virgins in it, wore coarse sackcloth instead of soft raiment, passed sleepless nights in prayer, and instructed her companions even more by example than by precept. So great was her humility that she, who had once been the mistress of many, was accounted the servant of all; and certainly, the less she was reckoned an earthly mistress the more she became a servant of Christ. She was careless of her dress, neglected her hair, and ate only the coarsest food. Still, in all that she did, she avoided ostentation that she might not have her reward in this world.688
3. Now, therefore, in return for her short toil, Lea enjoys everlasting felicity; she is welcomed into the choirs of the angels; she is comforted in Abraham’s bosom. And, as once the beggar Lazarus saw the rich man, for all his purple, lying in torment, so does Lea see the consul, not now in his triumphal robe but clothed in mourning, and asking for a drop of water from her little finger.689 How great a change have we here! A few days ago the highest dignitaries of the city walked before him as he ascended the ramparts of the capitol like a general celebrating a triumph; the Roman people leapt up to welcome and applaud him, and at the news of his death the whole city was moved. Now he is desolate and naked, a prisoner in the foulest darkness, and not, as his unhappy wife690 falsely asserts, set in the royal abode of the milky way.691 On the other hand Lea, who was always shut up in her one closet, who seemed poor and of little worth, and whose life was accounted madness,692 now follows Christ and sings, “Like as we have heard, so have we seen in the city of our God.”693
4. And now for the moral of all this, which, with tears and groans, I conjure you to remember. While we run the way of this world, we must not clothe ourselves with two coats, that is, with a twofold faith, or burthen ourselves with leathern shoes, that is, with dead works; we must not allow scrips filled with money to weigh us down, or lean upon the staff of worldly power.694 We must not seek to possess both Christ and the world. No; things eternal must take the place of things transitory;695 and since, physically speaking, we daily anticipate death, if we wish for immortality we must realize that we are but mortal.
Letter XXIV. To Marcella.
Concerning the virgin Asella. Dedicated to God before her birth, Marcella’s sister had been made a church-virgin at the age of ten. From that time she had lived a life of the severest asceticism, first as a member and then as the head of Marcella’s community upon the Aventine. Jerome, who subsequently wrote her a letter (XLV) on his departure from Rome, now holds her up as a model to be admired and imitated. Written at Rome a.d. 384.
1. Let no one blame my letters for the eulogies and censures which are contained in them. To arraign sinners is to admonish those in like case, and to praise the virtuous is to quicken the zeal of those who wish to do right. The day before yesterday I spoke to you concerning Lea of blessed memory,696 and I had hardly done so, when I was pricked in my conscience. It would be wrong for me, I thought, to ignore a virgin after speaking of one who, as a widow, held a lower place. Accordingly, in my present letter, I mean to give you a brief sketch of the life of our dear Asella. Please do not read it to her; for she is sure to be displeased with eulogies of which she is herself the object. Show it rather to the young girls of your acquaintance, that they may guide themselves by her example, and may take her behavior as the pattern of a perfect life.
2. I pass over the facts that, before her birth, she was blessed while still in her mother’s womb, and that, virgin-like, she was delivered to her father in a dream in a bowl of shining glass brighter than a mirror. And I say nothing of her consecration to the blessed life of virginity, a ceremony which took place when she was hardly more than ten years old, a mere babe still wrapped in swaddling clothes. For all that comes before works should be counted of grace;697 although, doubtless, God foreknew the future when He sanctitled Jeremiah as yet unborn,698 when He made John to leap in his mother’s womb,699 and when, before the foundation of the world, He set apart Paul to preach the gospel of His son.700
3. I come now to the life which after her twelfth year she, by her own exertion, chose, laid hold of, held fast to, entered upon, and fulfilled. Shut up in her narrow cell she roamed through paradise. Fasting was her recreation and hunger her refreshment. If she took food it was not from love of eating, but because of bodily exhaustion; and the bread and salt and cold water to which she restricted herself sharpened her appetite more than they appeased it.
But I have almost forgotten to mention that of which I should have spoken first. When her resolution was still fresh she took her gold necklace made in the lamprey pattern (so called because bars of metal are linked together so as to form a flexible chain), and sold it without her parents’ knowledge. Then putting on a dark dress such as her mother had never been willing that she should wear, she concluded her pious enterprise by consecrating herself forthwith to the Lord. She thus showed her relatives that they need hope to wring no farther concessions from one who, by her very dress, had condemned the world.
4. To go on with my story, her ways were quiet and she lived in great privacy. In fact, she rarely went abroad or spoke to a man. More wonderful still, much as she loved her virgin sister,701 she did not care to see her. She worked with her own hands, for she knew that it was written: “If any will not work neither shall he eat.”702 To the Bridegroom she spoke constantly in prayer and psalmody. She hurried to the martyrs’ shrines unnoticed. Such visits gave her pleasure, and the more so because she was never recognized. All the year round she observed a continual fast, remaining without food for two or three days! at a time; but when Lent came she hoisted—if I may so speak—every stitch of canvas and fasted well-nigh from week’s end to week’s end with “a cheerful countenance.”703 Whatwould perhaps be incredible, were it not that “with God all things are possible,”704 is that she lived this life until her fiftieth year without weakening her digestion or bringing on herself the pain of colic. Lying on the dry ground did not affect her limbs, and the rough sackcloth that she wore failed to make her skin either foul or rough. With a sound body and a still sounder soul705 she sought all her delight in solitude, and found for herself a monkish hermitage in the centre of busy Rome.
5. You are better acquainted with all this than I am, and the few details that I have given I have learned from you. So intimate are you with Asella that you have seen, with your own eyes, her holy knees hardened like those of a camel from the frequency of her prayers. I merely set forth what I can glean from you. She is alike pleasant in her serious moods and serious in her pleasant ones: her manner, while winning, is always grave, and while grave is always winning. Her pale face indicates continence but does not betoken ostentation. Her speech is silent and her silence is speech. Her pace is neither too fast nor too slow. Her demeanor is always the same. She disregards refinement and is careless about her dress. When she does attend to it it is without attending. So entirely consistent has her life been that here in Rome. the centre of vain shows, wanton license, and idle pleasure, where to be humble is to be held spiritless, the good praise her conduct and the bad do not venture to impugn it. Let widows and virgins imitate her, let wedded wives make much of her, let sinful women fear her, and let bishops706 look up to her.
Letter XXV. To Marcella.
An explanation of the ten names given to God in the Hebrew Scriptures. The ten names are El, Elohim, Sabaoth, Elion, Asher yeheyeh (Ex. iii. 14), Adonai, Jah, the tetragram Jhvh, and Shaddai. Written at Rome 384 a.d.
Letter XXVI. To Marcella.
An explanation of certain Hebrew words which have been left untranslated in the versions. The words are Alleluia, Amen, Maran atha. Written at Rome 384 a.d.
Letter XXVII. To Marcella.
In this letter Jerome defends himself against the charge of having altered the text of Scripture, and shows that he has merely brought the Latin Version of the N.T. into agreement with the Greek original. Written at Rome 384 a.d.
1. After I had written my former letter,707 containing a few remarks on some Hebrew words, a report suddenly reached me that certain contemptible creatures were deliberately assailing me with the charge that I had endeavored to correct passages in the gospels, against the authority of the ancients and the opinion of the whole world. Now, though I might—as far as strict right goes—treat these persons with contempt (it is idle to play the lyre for an ass708 ), yet, lest they should follow their usual habit and reproach me with superciliousness, let them take my answer as follows: I am not so dull-wilted nor so coarsely ignorant (qualities which they take for holiness, calling themselves the disciples of fishermen as if men were made holy by knowing nothing)—I am not, I repeat, so ignorant as to suppose that any of the Lord’s words is either in need of correction or is not divinely inspired; but the Latin manuscripts of the Scriptures are proved to be faulty by the variations which all of them exhibit, and my object has been to restore them to the form of the Greek original, from which my detractors do not deny that they have been translated. If they dislike water drawn from the clear spring, let them drink of the muddy streamlet, and when they come to read the Scriptures. let them lay aside709 the keen eye which they turn on woods frequented by game-birds and waters abounding in shellfish. Easily satisfied in this instance alone, let them, if they will, regard the words of Christ as rude sayings, albeit that over these so many great intellects have labored for so many ages rather to divine than to expound the meaning of each single word. Let them charge the great apostle with want of literary skill, although it is said of him that much learning made him mad.710
2. I know that as you read these words you will knit your brows, and fear that my freedom of speech is sowing the seeds of fresh quarrels; and that, if you could, you would gladly put your finger on my mouth to prevent me from even speaking of things which others do not blush to do. But, I ask you, wherein have I used too great license? Have I ever embellished my dinner plates with engravings of idols? Have I ever, at a Christian banquet, set before the eyes of virgins the polluting spectacle of Satyrs embracing bacchanals? or have I ever assailed any one in too bitter terms? Have I ever complained of beggars turned millionaires? Have I ever censured heirs for the funerals which they have given to their benefactors?711 The one thing that I have unfortunately said has been that virgins ought to live more in the company of women than of men,712 and by this I have made the whole city look scandalized and caused every one to point at me the finger of scorn. “They that hate me without a cause are more than the hairs of mine head,”713 and I am become “a proverb to them.”714 Do you suppose after this that I will now say anything rash?
3. But “when I set the wheel rolling I began to form a wine flagon; how comes it that a waterpot is the result?”715 Lest Horace laugh at me I come back to my two-legged asses, and din into their ears, not the music of the lute, but the blare of the trumpet.716 They may say if they will, “rejoicing in hope; serving the time,” but we will say“rejoicing in hope; serving the Lord.”717 They may see fit to receive an accusation against a presbyter unconditionally; but we will say in the words of Scripture, “Against an eider718 receive not an accusation, but before two or three witnesses. Them that sin rebuke before all.”719 They may choose to read, “It is a man’s saying, and worthy of all acceptation;” we are content to err with the Greeks, that is to say with the apostle himself, who spoke Greek. Our version, therefore, is, it is “a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation.”720 Lastly, let them take as much pleasure as they please in their Gallican “geldings;”721 we will be satisfied with the simple “ass” of Zechariah, loosed from its halter and made ready for the Saviour’s service, which received the Lord on its back, and so fulfilled Isaiah’s prediction: “Blessed is he that soweth beside all waters, where the ox and the ass tread under foot.”722
Letter XXVIII. To Marcella.
An explanation of the Hebrew word Selah. This word, rendered by the LXX. diavyalma and by Aquila ajeiv, was as much a crux in Jerome’s day as it is in ours. “Some,” he writes, “make it a ‘change of metre,’ others ‘a pause for breath,’ others ‘the beginning of a new subject.’ According to yet others it has something to do with rhythm or marks a burst of instrumental music.” Jerome himself inclines to follow Aquila and Origen, who make the word mean “forever,” and suggests that it betokens completion, like the “explicit” or “feliciter” in contemporary Latin mss. Written at Rome a.d. 384.
Letter XXIX. To Marcella.
An explanation of the Hebrew words Ephod bad (1 Sam. ii. 18) and Teraphim (Judges xvii. 5).Written at Rome to Marcella, also at Rome a.d. 384.
Letter XXX. To Paula
Some account of the so-called alphabetical psalms (XXXVII., CXI., CXII., CXIX., CXLV.). After explaining the mystical meaning of the alphabet, Jerome goes on thus: “What honey is sweeter than to know the wisdom of God? nothers, if they will, may possess riches, drink from a jewelled cup, shine in silks, and try in vain to exhaust their wealth in the most varied pleasures. Our riches are to meditate in the law of the Lord day and night,723 to knock at the closed door,724 to receive the ‘three loaves’ of the Trinity,725 and, when the Lord goes before us, to walk upon the water of the world.”726 Written at Rome a.d. 384.
Letter XXXI. To Eustochium.
Jerome writes to thank Eustochium for some presents sent to him by her on the festival of St. Peter. He also moralizes on the mystical meaning of the articles sent. The letter should be compared with Letter XLIV., of which the theme is similar. Written at Rome in 384 a.d. (on St. Peter’s Day).
1. Doves, bracelets, and a letter are outwardly but small gifts to receive from a virgin, but the action which has prompted them enhances their value. And since honey may not be offered in sacrifice to God,727 you have shown skill in taking off their overmuch sweetness and making them pungent—if I may so say—with a dash of pepper. For nothing that is simply pleasurable or merely sweet can please God. Everything must have in it a sharp seasoning of truth. Christ’s passover must be eaten with bitter herbs.728
2. It is true that a festival such as the birthday729 of Saint Peter should be seasoned with more gladness than usual; still our merriment must not forget the limit set by Scripture, and we must not stray too far from the boundary of our wrestling-ground. Your presents, indeed, remind me of the sacred volume, for in it Ezekiel decks Jerusalem with bracelets,730 Baruch receives letters from Jeremiah,731 and the Holy Spirit descends in the form of a dove at the baptism of Christ.732 But to give you, too, a sprinkling of pepper and to remind you of my former letter,733 I send you to-day this three-fold warning. Cease not to adorn yourself with good works—the true bracelets of a Christian woman.734 Rend not the letter written on your heart735 as the profane king cut with his penknife that delivered to him by Baruch.736 Let not Hosea say to you as to Ephraim, “Thou art like a silly dove.”737
My words are too harsh, you will say, and hardly suitable to a festival like the present. If so, you have provoked me to it by the nature of your own gifts. So long as you put bitter with sweet, you must expect the same from me, sharp words that is, as well as praise.
3. However, I do not wish to make light of your gifts, least of all the basket of fine cherries, blushing with such a virgin modesty that I can fancy them freshly gathered by Lucullus738 himself. For it was he who first introduced the fruit at Rome after his conquest of Pontus and Armenia; and the cherry tree is so called because he brought it from Cerasus. Now as the Scriptures do not mention cherries, but do speak of a basket of figs,739 I will use these instead to point my moral. May you be made of fruits such as those which grow before God’s temple and of which He says,“Behold they are good, very good.”740 The Saviour likes nothing that is half and half, and, while he welcomes the hot and does not shun the cold, he tells us in the Apocalypse that he will spew the lukewarm out of his mouth.741 Wherefore we must be careful to celebrate our holy day not so much with abundance of food as with exultation of spirit. For it is altogether unreasonable to wish to honor a martyr by excess who himself, as you know, pleased God by fasting. When you take food always recollect that eating should be followed byreading, and also by prayer. And if, by taking this course, you displease some, repeat to yourself the words of the Apostle: “If I yet pleased men I should not be the servant of Christ”742
Letter XXXII. To Marcella.
Jerome writes that he is busy collating Aquila’s Greek version of the Old Testament with the Hebrew, inquires after Marcella’s mother, and forwards the two preceding letters (XXX., XXXI.). Written at Rome in 384 a.d.
1. There are two reasons for the shortness of this letter, one that its bearer is impatient to start, and the other that I am too busy to waste time on trifles. You ask what business can be so urgent as to stop me from a chat on paper. Let me tell you, then, that for some time past I have been comparing Aquila’s version743 of the Old Testament with the scrolls of the Hebrew, to see if from hatred to Christ the synagogue has changed the text; and—to speak frankly to a friend—I have found several variations which confirm our faith. After having exactly revised the prophets, Solomon,744 the psalter, and the books of Kings, I am now engaged on Exodus (called by the Jews, from its opening words, Eleh shemôth745 ), and when I have finished this I shall go on to Leviticus. Now you see why I can let no claim for a letter withdraw me from my work. However, as I do not wish my friend Currentius746 to run altogether in vain, I have tacked on to this little talk two letters747 which I am sending to your sister Paula, and to her dear child Eustochium. Read these, and if you find them instructive or pleasant, take what I have said to them as meant for you also.
2. I hope that Albina, your mother and mine, is well. In bodily health, I mean, for I doubt not of her spiritual welfare. Pray salute her for me, and cherish her with double affection, both as a Christian and as a mother.
Letter XXXIII. To Paula.
A fragment of a letter in which Jerome institutes a comparison between the industry as writers of M. T. Varro and Origen. It is noteworthy as passing an unqualified eulogium upon Origen, which contrasts strongly with the tone adopted by the writer in subsequent years (see, e.g., Letter LXXXIV.). Its date is probably 384 a.d.
1. Antiquity marvels at Marcus Terentius Varro,748 because of the countless books which he wrote for Latin readers; and Greek writers are extravagant in their praise of their man of brass,749 because he has written more works than one of us could so much as copy. But since Latin ears would find a list of Greek writings tiresome, I shall confine myself to the Latin Varro. I shall try to show that we of to-day are sleeping the sleep of Epimenides,750 and devoting to the amassing of riches the energy which our predecessors gave to sound, if secular, learning.
2. Varro’s writings include forty-five books of antiquities, four concerning the life of the Roman people.
3. But why, you ask me, have I thus mentioned Varro and the man of brass? Simply to bring to your notice our Christian man of brass, or, rather, man of adamant751 —Origen, I mean—whose zeal for the study of Scripture has fairly earned for him this latter name. Would you learn what monuments of his genius he has left us? The following list exhibits them. His writings comprise thirteen books on Genesis, two books of Mystical Homilies, notes on Exodus, notes on Leviticus, * * * * also single books,752 four books on First Principles, two books on the Resurrection, two dialogues on the same subject.753
4. So, you see, the labors of this one man have surpassed those of all previous writers, Greek and Latin. Who has ever managed to read all that he has written? Yet what reward have his exertions brought him? He stands condemned by his bishop, Demetrius,754 only the bishops of Palestine, Arabia, Phenicia, and Achaia dissenting. Imperial Rome consents to his condemnation, and even convenes a senate to censure him,755 not—as the rabid hounds who now pursue him cry—because of the novelty or heterodoxy of his doctrines, but because men could not tolerate the incomparable eloquence and knowledge which, when once he opened his lips, made others seem dumb.
5. I have written the above quickly and incautiously, by the light of a poor lantern. You will see why, if you think of those who to-day represent Epicurus and Aristippus.756
Letter XXXIV. To Marcella.
In reply to a request from Marcella for information concerning two phrases in Ps. cxxvii. (“bread of sorrow,” v. 2, and “children of the shaken off,” A.V. “of the youth,” v. 4). Jerome, after lamenting that Origen’s notes on the psalm are no longer extant, gives the following explanations:
The Hebrew phrase “bread of sorrow” is rendered by the LXX. “bread of idols”; by Aquila, “bread of troubles”; by Symmachus, “bread of misery.” Theodotion follows the LXX. So does Origen’s Fifth Version, The Sixth renders “bread of error.” In support of the LXX. the word used here is in Ps. cxv. 4, translated “idols.” Either the troubles of life are meant or else the tenets of heresy.
With the second phrase he deals at greater length. After showing that Hilary of Poitiers’s view (viz. that the persons meant are the apostles, who were told to shake the dust off their feet, Matt. x. 14) is untenable and would require “shakers off” to be substituted for “shaken off,” Jerome reverts to the Hebrew as before and declares that the true rendering is that of Symmachus and Theodotion, viz. “children of youth.” He points out that the LXX. (by whom the Latin translators had been misled) fall into the same mistake at Neh. iv. 16. Finally he corrects a slip of Hilary as to Ps. cxxviii. 2, where, through a misunderstanding of the LXX., the latter had substituted “the labors of thy fruits” for “the labors of thy hands.” He speaks throughout with high respect of Hilary, and says that it was not the bishop’s fault that he was ignorant of Hebrew. The date of the letter is probably a.d. 384.