Jerome - Letters 23
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
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.
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 Jn 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.
An explanation of the ten names given to God in the Hebrew Scriptures. The ten names are El, Elohim, Sabaoth, Elion, Asher yeheyeh (Ex 3,14), Adonai, Jah, the tetragram Jhvh, and Shaddai. Written at Rome 384 a.d.
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.
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
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).
An explanation of the Hebrew words Ephod bad (1S 2,18) and Teraphim (Judges 17,5).Written at Rome to Marcella, also at Rome a.d. 384.
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.
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
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.
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
In reply to a request from Marcella for information concerning two phrases in Ps cxxvii. (“bread of sorrow,” 5,2, 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 115,4, 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, Mt 10,14) 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 Ne 4,16. 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.
Damasus addresses live questions to Jerome with a request for information concerning them. They are:
1. What is the meaning of the words “Whosoever slayeth Cain vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold”? (Gn 4,5).
2. If God has made all things good, how comes it that He gives charge to Noah concerning unclean animals, and says to Peter, “What God hath cleansed that call not thou common”? (Ac 10,15).
3. How is Gn 15,16, “in the fourth generation they shall come hither again,” to be reconciled with Ex 13,18, Ex xiii LXX, “in the fifth generation the children of Israel went up out of the land of Egypt”?
4. Why did Abraham receive circumcision as a seal of his faith? (Rm 4,11).
5. Why was Isaac, a righteous man and dear God, allowed by God to become the dupe of Jacob? (Gn xxvii). Written at Rome 384 a.d.
Jerome’s reply to the foregoing. For the second and fourth questions he refers Damasus to the writings of Tertullian, Novatian, and Origen. The remaining three he deals with in detail.
(Gn 4,15, he understands to mean “the slayer of Cain shall complete the sevenfold vengeance which is to be wreaked upon him.”Exodus 13,is, he proposes to reconcile with Gn 15,16, by supposing that in the one place the tribe of Levi is referred to, in the other the tribe of Judah. He suggests, however, that the words rendered by the LXX. “in the fifth generation” more probably mean “harnessed” (so A.V). or “laden.” In reply to the question about Isaac he says: “No man save Him who for our salvation has deigned to put on flesh has full knowledge and a complete grasp of the truth. Paul, Samuel, David, Elisha, all make mistakes, and holy men only know what God reveals to them.” He then goes on to give a mystical interpretation of the passage suggested by the martyr Hippolytus. Written the day after the previous letter.
Marcella had asked Jerome to lend her a copy of a commentary by Rhetitius, bishop of Augustodunum (Autun), on the Song of Songs. He now refuses to do so on the ground that the work abounds with errors, of which the two following are samples: (1) Rhetitius identifies Tharshish with Tarsus, and (2) he supposes that Uphaz (in the phrase “gold of Uphaz”) is the same as Cephas. Written at Rome a.d. 384.
Blaesilla, the daughter of Paula and sister of Eustochium, had lost her husband seven months after her marriage, A dangerous illness had then led to her conversion, and she was now famous throughout Rome for the length to which she carried her austerities. Many censured her for what they deemed her fanaticism, and Jerome, as her spiritual adviser, came in for some of the blame. In the present letter he defends her conduct, and declares that persons who cavil at lives like hers have no claim to be considered Christians. Written at Rome in 385 a.d.
1. When Abraham is tempted to slay his son the trial only serves to strengthen his faith.757 When Joseph is sold into Egypt, his sojourn there enables him to support his father and his brothers.758 When Hezekiah is panic-stricken at the near approach of death, his tears and prayers obtain for him a respite of fifteen years,759 If the faith of the apostle, Peter, is shaken by his Lord’s passion, it is that, weeping bitterly, he may hear the soothing words: “Feed my sheep.”760 If Paul, that ravening wolf,761 that little Benjamin,762 is blinded in a trance, it is that he may receive his sight, and may be led, by the sudden horror of surrounding darkness, to call Him Lord Whom before he persecuted as man.763
2. So is it now, my dear Marcella, with our beloved Blaesilla. The burning fever from which we have seen her suffering unceasingly for nearly thirty days has been sent to teach her to renounce her over-great attention to that body which the worms must shortly devour. The Lord Jesus has come to her in her sickness, and has taken her by the hand, and behold, she arises and ministers unto Him.764 Formerly her life savored somewhat Of carelessness; and, fast bound in the bands of wealth, she lay as one dead in the tomb of the world. But Jesus was moved with indignation,765 and was troubled in spirit, and cried aloud and said, Blaesilla, come forth.766 She, at His call, has arisen and has come forth, and sits at meat with the Lord.767 The Jews, if they will, may threaten her in their wrath; they may seek to slay her, because Christ has raised her up.768 It is enough that the apostles give God the glory. Blaesilla knows that her life is due to Him who has given it back to her. She knows that now she can clasp the feet of Him whom but a little while ago she dreaded as her judge.769 Then life had all but forsaken her body, and the approach of death made her gasp and shiver. What succour did she obtain in that hour from her kinsfolk? What comfort was there in their words lighter than smoke? She owes no debt to you, ye unkindly kindred, now that she is dead to the world and alive unto Christ.770 The Christian must rejoice that it is so, and he that is vexed must admit that he has no claim to be called a Christian.
3. A widow who is “loosed from the law of her husband”771 has, for her one duty, to continue a widow. But, you will say, a sombre dress vexes the world. In that case, Jn the Baptist would vex it, too; and yet, among those that are born of women, there has not been a greater than he.772 He was called an angel;773 he baptized the Lord Himself, and yet he was clothed in raiment of camel’s hair, and girded with a leathern girdle.774 Is the world displeased because a widow’s food is coarse? Nothing can be coarser than locusts, and yet these were the food of John. The women who ought to scandalize Christians are those who paint their eyes and lips with rouge and cosmetics; whose chalked faces, unnaturally white, are like those of idols; upon whose cheeks every chance tear leaves a furrow; who fail to realize that years make them old; who heap their heads with hair not their own; who smooth their faces, and rub out the wrinkles of age; and who, in the presence of their grandsons, behave like trembling school-girls. A Christian woman should blush to do violence to nature, or to stimulate desire by bestowing care upon the flesh. “They that are in the flesh,” the apostle tells us, “cannot please God.”775
4. In days gone by our dear widow was extremely fastidious in her dress, and spent whole days before her mirror to correct its deficiencies. Now she boldly says: “We all with unveiled face, beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image, from glory to glory, even as by the spirit of the Lord.”776 In those days maids arranged her hair, and her head, which had done no harm, was forced into a waving head-dress. Now she leaves her hair alone, and her only head-dress is a veil. In those days the softest feather-bed seemed hard to her, and she could scarcely find rest on a pile of mattresses. Now she rises eager for prayer, her shrill voice cries Alleluia before every other, she is the first to praise her Lord. She kneels upon the bare ground, and with frequent tears cleanses a face once defiled with white lead. After prayer comes the singing of psalms, and it is only when her neck aches and her knees totter, and her eyes begin to close with weariness, that she gives them leave reluctantly to rest. As her dress is dark, lying on the ground does not soil it. Cheap shoes permit her to give to the poor the price of gilded ones. No gold and jewels adorn her girdle; it is made of wool, plain and scrupulously clean. It is intended to keep her clothes right, and not to cut her waist in two. Therefore, if the scorpion looks askance upon her purpose, and with alluring words tempts her once more to eat of the forbidden tree, she must crush him beneath her feet with a curse, and say, as he lies dying in his allotted dust:777 “Get thee behind me, Satan.”778 Satan means adversary,779 and one who dislikes Christ’s commandments, is more than Christ’s adversary; he is anti-christ.
5. But what, I ask you, have we ever done that men should be offended at us? Have we ever imitated the apostles? We are told of the first disciples that they forsook their boat and their nets, and even their aged father.780 The publican stood up from the receipt of custom and followed the Saviour once for all.781 And when a disciple wished to return home, that he might take leave of his kinsfolk, the Master’s voice refused consent.782 A son was even forbidden to bury his father,783 as if to show that it is sometimes a religious duty to be undutiful for the Lord’s sake.784 With us it is different. We are held to be monks if we refuse to dress in silk. We are called sour and severe if we keep sober and refrain from excessive laughter. The mob salutes us as Greeks and impostors785 if our tunics are fresh and clean. They may deal in still severer witticisms if they please; they may parade every fat paunch786 they can lay hold of, to turn us into ridicule. Our Blaesilla will laugh at their efforts, and will bear with patience the taunts of all such croaking frogs, for she will remember that men called her Lord, Beelzebub.787
Blaesilla died within three months of her conversion, and Jerome now writes to Paula to offer her his sympathy and, if possible, to moderate her grief. He asks her to remember that Blaesilla is now in paradise, and so far to control herself as to prevent enemies of the faith from cavilling at her conduct. Then he concludes with the prophecy (since more than fulfilled) that in his writings Blaesilla’s name shall never die. Written at Rome in 389 a.d.
1. “Oh that my head were waters and mine eyes a fountain of tears: that I might weep,” not as Jeremiah says, “For the slain of my people,”788 nor as Jesus, for the miserable fate of Jerusalem,789 but for holiness, mercy, innocence, chastity, and all the virtues, for all are gone now that Blaesilla is dead. For her sake I do not grieve, but for myself I must; my loss is too great to be borne with resignation. Who can recall with dry eyes the glowing faith which induced a girl of twenty to raise the standard of the Cross, and to mourn the loss of her virginity more than the death of her husband? Who can recall without a sigh the earnestness of her prayers, the brilliancy of her conversation, the tenacity of her memory, and the quickness of her intellect? Had you heard her speak Greek you would have deemed her ignorant of Latin; yet when she used the tongue of Rome her words were free from a foreign accent. She even rivalled the great Origen in those acquirements which won for him the admiration of Greece. For in a few months, or rather days, she so completely mastered the difficulties of Hebrew as to emulate her mother’s zeal in learning and singing the psalms. Her attire was plain, but this plainness was not, as it often is, a mark of pride. Indeed, her self-abasement was so perfect that she dressed no better than her maids, and was only distinguished from them by the greater ease of her walk. Her steps tottered with weakness, her face was pale and quivering, her slender neck scarcely upheld her head. Still she always had in her hand a prophet or a gospel. As I think of her my eyes fill with tears, sobs impede my voice, and such is my emotion that my tongue cleaves to the roof of my mouth. As she lay there dying, her poor frame parched with burning fever, and her relatives gathered round her bed, her last words were: “Pray to the Lord Jesus, that He may pardon me, because what I would have done I have not been able to do.” Be at peace, dear Blaesilla, in full assurance that your garments are always white.790 For yours is the purity of an everlasting virginity. I feel confident that my words are true: conversion can never be too late. The words to the dying robber are a pledge of this: “Verily I say unto thee, today shall thou be with me in paradise.”791 When at last her spirit was delivered from the burden of the flesh, and had returned to Him who gave it;792 when, too, after her long pilgrimage, she had ascended up into her ancient heritage, her obsequies were celebrated with customary splendor. People of rank headed the procession, a pail madeof cloth of gold covered her bier. But I seemed to hear a voice from heaven, saying: “I do not recognize these trappings; such is not the garb I used to wear; this magnificence is strange to me.”
2. But what is this? I wish to check a mother’s weeping, and I groan myself. I make no secret of my feelings; this entire letter is written in tears. Even Jesus wept for Lazarus because He loved him.793 But he is a poor comforter who is overcome by his own sighs, and from whose afflicted heart tears are wrung as well as words. Dear Paula, my agony is as great as yours. Jesus knows it, whom Blaesilla now follows; the holy angels know it, whose company she now enjoys. I was her father in the spirit, her foster-father in affection. Sometimes I say: “Let the day perish wherein I was born,”794 and again, “Woe is me, my mother, that thou hast borne me a man of strife and a man of contention to the whole earth.”795 I cry: “Righteous art thou, O Lord …yet let me talk with thee of thy judgments. Wherefore doth the way of the wicked prosper?”796 and “as for me, my feet were almost gone, my steps had well-nigh slipped. For I was envious at the foolish when I saw the prosperity of the wicked, and I said: How doth God know? and is there knowledge in the most high? Behold these are the ungodly who prosper in the world; they increase in riches.”797 But again I recall other words, “If I say I will speak thus, behold I should offend against the generation of thy children.”798 Do not great waves of doubt surge up over my soul as over yours? How comes it, I ask, that godless men live to old age in the enjoyment of this world’s riches? How comes it that untutored youth and innocent childhood are cut down while still in the bud? Why is it that children three years old or two, and even unweaned infants, are possessed with devils, covered with leprosy, and eaten up with jaundice, while godless men and profane, adulterers and murderers, have health and strength to blaspheme God? Are we not told that the unrighteousness of the father does not fall upon the son,799 and that “the soul that sinneth it shall die?”800 Or if the old doctrine holds good that the sins of the fathers must be visited upon the children,801 an old man’s countless sins cannot fairly be avenged upon a harmless infant. And I have said: “Verily, I have cleansed my heart in vain, and washed my hands in innocency. For all the day long have I been plagued.”802 Yet when I have thought of these things, like the prophet I have learned to say: “When I thought to know this, it was too painful for me; until I went into the sanctuary of God; then understood I their end.”803 Truly the judgments of the Lord are a great deep.804 “O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments, and His ways past finding out!”805 God is good, and all that He does must be good also. Does He decree that I must lose my husband? I mourn my loss, but because it is His will I bear it with resignation. Is an only son snatched from me? The blow is hard, yet it can be borne, for He who has taken away is He who gave.806 If I become blind a friend’s reading will console me. If I become deaf I shall escape from sinful words, and my thoughts shall be of God alone. And if, besides such trials as these, poverty, cold, sickness, and nakedness oppress me, I shall wait for death, and regard them as passing evils, soon to give way to a better issue. Let us reflect on the words of the sapiential psalm: “Righteous art thou, O Lord, and upright are thy judgments.”807 Only he can speak thus who in all his troubles magnifies the Lord, and, putting down his sufferings to his sins, thanks God for his clemency.
The daughters of Judah, we are told, rejoiced, because of all the judgments of the Lord.808 Therefore, since Judah means confession, and since every believing soul confesses its faith,809 he who claims to believe in Christ must rejoice in all Christ’s judgments. Am I in health? I thank my Creator. Am I sick? In this case, too, I praise God’s will. For “when I am weak, then am I strong;” and the strength of the spirit is made perfect in the weakness of the flesh. Even an apostle must bear what he dislikes, that ailment for the removal of which he besought the Lord thrice. God’s reply was: “My grace is sufficient for thee; for my strength is made perfect in weakness.”810 Lest he should be unduly elated by his revelations, a reminder of his human weakness was given to him, just as in the triumphal car of the victorious general there was always a slave to whisper constantly, amid the cheerings of the multitude, “Remember that thou art but man.”811
3. But why should that be hard to bear which we must one day ourselves endure? And why do we grieve for the dead? We are not born to live forever. Abraham, Moses, and Isaiah, Peter, James, and John, Paul, the “chosen vessel,”812 and even the Son of God Himself have all died; and are we vexed when a soul leaves its earthly tenement? Perhaps he is taken away, “lest that wickedness should alter his understanding …for his soul pleased the Lord: therefore hasted he to take him away from the people”813 —lest in life’s long journey he should lose his way in some trackless maze. We should indeed mourn for the dead, but only for him whom Gehenna receives, whom Tartarus devours, and for whose punishment the eternal fire burns. But we who, in departing, are accompanied by an escort of angels, and met by Christ Himself, should rather grieve that we have to tarry yet longer in this tabernacle of death.814 For “whilst we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord.”815 Our one longing should be that expressed by the psalmist: “Woe is me that my pilgrimage is prolonged, that I have dwelt with them that dwell in Kedar, that my soul hath made a far pilgrimage.”816 Kedar means darkness, and darkness stands for this present world (for, we are told, “the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehendeth it not”817 ). Therefore we should congratulate our dear Blaesilla that she has passed from darkness to light,818 and has in the first flush of her dawning faith received the crown of her completed work. Had she been cut off (as f pray that none may be) while her thoughts were full of worldly desires and passing pleasures, then mourning would indeed have been her due, and no tears shed for her would have been too many. As it is, by the mercy of Christ she, four months ago, renewed her baptism in her vow of widowhood, and for the rest of her days spurned the world, and thought only of the religions life. Have you no fear, then, lest the Saviour may say to you: "Are you angry, Paula, that your daughter has become my daughter? Are you vexed at my decree, and do you, with rebellious tears, grudge me the possession of Blaesilla? You ought to know what my purpose is both for you and for yours. You deny yourself food, not to fast but to gratify your grief; and such abstinence is displeasing to me. Such fasts are my enemies. I receive no soul which forsakes the body against my will. A foolish philosophy may boast of martyrs of this kind; it may boast of a Zeno819 a Cleombrotus,820 or a Cato.821 My spirit rests only upon him “that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and that trembleth at my word.822 Is this the meaning of your vow to me that you would lead a religious life? Is it for this that you dress yourself differently from other matrons, and array yourself in the garb of a nun? Mourning is for those who wear silk dresses. In the midst of your tears the call will come, and you, too, must die; yet you flee from me as from a cruel judge, and fancy that you can avoid failing into my hands. Jonah, that headstrong prophet, once fled from me, yet in the depths of the sea he was still mine.823 If you really believed your daughter to be alive, you would not grieve that she had passed to a better world. This is the commandment that I have given you through my apostle, that you sorrow not for them that sleep, even as the Gentiles, which have no hope.824 Blush, for you are put to shame by the example of a heathen. The devil’s handmaid825 is better than mine. For, while she imagines that her unbelieving husband has been translated to heaven, you either do not or will not believe that your daughter is at rest with me.”
4. Why should I not mourn, you say? Jacob lint on sackcloth for Joseph, and when all his family gathered round him, refused to be comforted. “I will go down,” he said, “into the grave unto my son mourning.”826 David also mourned for Absalom, covering his face, and crying: “O my son, Absalom …my son, Absalom! Would God I had died for thee, O Absalom, my son!”827 Moses,828 too, and Aaron,829 and the rest of the saints were mourned for with a solemn mourning. The answer to your reasoning issimple. Jacob, it is true, mourned for Joseph, whom he fancied slain, and thought tomeet only in the grave (his words were: “I will go down into the grave unto my son mourning”), but he only did so because Christ had not yet broken open the door of paradise, nor quenched with his blood the flaming sword and the whirling of the guardian cherubim.830 (Hence in the story of Dives and Lazarus, Abraham and the beggar, though really in a place of refreshment, are described as being in hell.831 ) And David, who, after interceding in vain for the life of his infant child, refused to weep for it, knowing that it had not sinned, did well to weep for a son who had been a parricide—in will, if not in deed.832 And when we read that, for Moses and Aaron, lamentation was made after ancient custom, this ought not to surprise us, for even in the Ac of the Apostles, in the full blaze of the gospel, we see that the brethren at Jerusalem made great lamentation for Stephen.833 This great lamentation, however, refers not to the mourners, but to the funeral procession and to the crowds which accompanied it. This is what the Scripture says of Jacob: “Joseph went up to bury his father: and with him went up all the servants of Pharaoh, the elders of his house, and all the elders of the land of Egypt, and all the house of Joseph and his brethren”; and a few lines farther on: “And there went up with him both chariots and horsemen: and it was a great company.” Finally, “they mourned with a great and very sore lamentation.”834 This solemn lamentation does not impose prolonged weeping upon the Egyptians, but simply describes the funeral ceremony. In like manner, when we read of weeping made for Moses and Aaron,835 this is all that is meant.
I cannot adequately extol the mysteries of Scripture, nor sufficiently admire the spiritual meaning conveyed in its most simple words. We are told, for instance, that lamentation was made for Moses; yet when the funeral of Joshua is described836 no mention at all is made of weeping. The reason, of course, is that under Moses—that is under the old Law—all men were bound by the sentence passed on Adam’s sin, and when they descended into hell837 were rightly accompanied with tears. For, as the apostle says, “death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over them that had not sinned.”838 But under Jesus,839 that is, under the Gospel of Christ, who has unlocked for us the gate of paradise, death is accompanied, not with sorrow, but with joy. The Jews go on weeping to this day; they make bare their feet, they crouch in sackcloth, they roll in ashes. And to make their superstition complete, they follow a foolish custom of the Pharisees, and eat lentils,840 to show, it would seem, for what poor fare they have lost their birthright.841 Of course they are right to weep, for as they do not believe in the Lord’s resurrection they are being made ready for the advent of antichrist. But we who have put on Christ842 and according to the apostle are a royal and priestly race,843 we ought not to grieve for the dead. “Moses,” the Scripture tells us, “said unto Aaron and unto Eleazar, and unto Ithamar, his sons that were left: Uncover not your heads, neither rend your clothes; lest ye die, and lest wrath come upon all the people.”844 Rend not your clothes, he says, neither mourn as pagans, lest you die. For, for us sin is death. In this same book, Leviticus, there is a provision which may perhaps strike some as cruel, yet is necessary to faith: the high priest is forbidden to approach the dead bodies of his father and mother, of his brothers and of his children;845 to the end, that no grief may distract a soul engaged in offering sacrifice to God, and wholly devoted to the Divine mysteries. Are we not taught the same lesson in theGospel in other words? Is not the disciple forbidden to say farewell to his home or to bury his dead father?846 Of the high priest, again, it is said: “He shall not go out of the sanctuary, and the sanctification of his God shall not be contaminated, for the anointing oil of his God is upon him.”847 Certainly, now that we have believed in Christ, and bear Him within us, by reason of the oil of His anointing which we have received,848 we ought not to depart from His temple—that is, from our Christian profession—we ought not to go forth to mingle with the unbelieving Gentiles, but always to remain within, as servants obedient to the will of the Lord.
5. I have spoken plainly, lest you might ignorantly suppose that Scripture sanctions your grief; and that, if you err, you have reason on your side. And, so far, my words have been addressed to the average Christian woman. But now it will not be so. For in your case, as I well know, renunciation of the world has been complete; you have rejected and trampled on the delights of life, and you give yourself daily to fasting, to reading, and to prayer. Like Abraham,849 you desire to leave your country and kindred, to forsake Mesopotamia and the Chaldaeans, to enter into the promised land. Dead to the world before your death, you have spent all your mere worldly substance upon the poor, or have bestowed it upon your children. I am the more surprised, therefore, that you should act in a manner which in others would justly call for reprehension. You call to mind Blaesilla’s companionship, her conversation, and her endearing ways; and you cannot endure the thought that you have lost them all. I pardon you the tears of a mother, but I ask you to restrain your grief. When I think of the parent I cannot blame you for weeping: but when I think of the Christian and the recluse, the mother disappears from my view. Your wound is still fresh, and ant touch of mine, however gentle, is more likely to inflame than to heal it. Yet why do you not try to overcome by reason a grief which time must inevitably assuage? Naomi, fleeing because of famine to the land of Moab, there lost her husband and her sons. Yet when she was thus deprived of her natural protectors, Ruth, a stranger, never left her side.850 And see what a great thing it is to comfort a lonely woman Ruth, for her reward, is made an ancestress of Christ.851 Consider the great trials which Jb endured, and you will see that you are over-delicate. Amid the ruins of his house, the pains of his sores, his countless bereavements, and, last of all, the snares laid for him by his wife, he still lifted up his eyes to heaven, and maintained his patience unbroken. I know what you are going to say “All this befell him as a righteous man, to try his righteousness.” Well, choose which alternative you please. Either you are holy, in which case God is putting your holiness to the proof; or else you are a sinner, in which case you have no right to complain. For if so, you endure far less than your deserts.
Why should I repeat old stories? Listen to a modern instance. The holy Melanium,852 eminent among Christians for her true nobility (may the Lord grant that you and I may have part with her in His day!), while the dead body of her husband was still unburied, still warm, had the misfortune to lose at one stroke two of her sons. The sequel seems incredible, but Christ is my witness that my words are true. Would you not suppose that in her frenzy she would have unbound her hair, and rent her clothes, and torn her breast? Yet not a tear fell from her eyes. Motionless she stood there; then casting herself at the feet of Christ, she smiled, as though she held Him with her hands. “Henceforth, Lord,” she said, “I will serve Thee more readily, for Thou hast freed me from a great burden.” But perhaps her remaining children overcame her determination. No, indeed; she set so little store by them that she gave up all that she had to her only son, and then, in spite of the approaching winter, took ship for Jerusalem.
6. Spare yourself, I beseech you, spare Blaesilla, who now reigns with Christ; at least spare Eustochium, whose tender years and inexperience depend on you for guidance and instruction. Now does the devil rage and complain that he is set at naught, because he sees one of your children exalted in triumph. The victory which he failed to win over her that is gone he hopes to obtain over her who still remains. Too great affection towards one’s children is disaffection towards God. Abraham gladly prepares to slay his only son, and do you complain if one child out of several has received her crown? I cannot say what I am going to say without a groan. When you were carried fainting out of the funeral procession, whispers such as these were audible in the crowd. “Is not this what we have often said. She weeps for her daughter, killed with fasting. She wanted her to marry again, that she might have grandchildren. How long must we refrain from driving these detestable monks out of Rome? Why do we not stone them or hurl them into the Tiber? They have misled this unhappy lady; that she is not a nun from choice is clear. No heathen mother ever wept for her children as she does for Blaesilla.” What sorrow, think you, must not Christ have endured when He listened to such words as these! And how triumphantly must Satan have exulted, eager as he is to snatch your soul! Luring you with the claims of a grief which seems natural and right, and always keeping before you the image of Blaesilla, his aim is to slay the mother of the victress, and then to fall upon her forsaken sister. I do not speak thus to terrify you. The Lord is my witness that I address you now as though I were standing at His judgment seat. Tears which have no meaning are an object of abhorrence. Yours are detestable tears, sacrilegious tears, unbelieving tears; for they know no limits, and bring you to the verge of death. You shriek and cry out as though on fire within, and do your best to put an end to yourself. But to you and others like you Jesus comes in His mercy and says: “Why weepest thou? the damsel is not dead but sleepeth.”853 The bystanders may laugh him to scorn; such unbelief is worthy of the Jews. If you prostrate yourself in grief at your daughter’s tomb you too will hear the chiding of the angel, “Why seek ye the living among the dead?”854 It was because Mary Magdalene had done this that when she recognized the Lord’s voice calling her and fell at His feet, He said to her: “Touch me not, for I am not yet ascended to my Father;”855 that is to say, you are not worthy to touch, as risen, one whom you suppose still in the tomb.
7. What crosses and tortures, think you, must not our Blaesilla endure to see Christ angry with you, though it be but a little! At this moment she cries to you as you weep: “If ever you loved me, mother, if I was nourished at your breast, if I was taught by your precepts, do not grudge me my exaltation, do not so act that we shall be separated forever. Do you fancy that I am alone? In place of you I now have Mary the mother of the Lord. Here I see many whom before I have not known. My companions are infinitely better than any that I had on earth. Here I have the company of Anna, the prophetess of the Gospel;856 and—what should kindle in you more fervent joy—I have gained in three short months what cost her the labor of many years to win. Both of us widows indeed, we have been both rewarded with the palm of chastity. Do you pity me because I have left the world behind me? It is I who should, and do, pity you who, still immured in its prison, daily fight with. anger, with covetousness, with lust, with this or that temptation leading the soul to ruin. If you wish to be indeed my mother, you must please Christ. She is not my mother who displeases my Lord.” Many other things does she say which here I pass over; she prays also to God for you. For me, too, I feel sure, she makes intercession and asks God to pardon my sins in return for the warnings and advice that I bestowed on her, when to secure her salvation I braved the ill will of her family.
8. Therefore, so long as breath animates my body, so long as I continue in the enjoyment of life, I engage, declare, and promise that Blaesilla’s name shall be forever on my tongue, that my labors shall be dedicated to her honor, and that my talents shall be devoted to her praise. No page will I write in which Blaesilla’s name shall not occur Wherever the records of my utterance shall find their way, thither she, too, will travel with my poor writings. Virgins, widows, monks and priests, as they read, will see how deeply her image is impressed upon my mind. Everlasting remembrance will make up for the shortness of her life. Living as she does with Christ in heaven, she will live also on the lips of men. The present will soon pass away and give place to the future, and that future will judge her without partiality and without prejudice. As a childless widow she will occupy a middle place between Paula, the mother of children, and Eustochium the virgin. In my writings she will never die. She will hear me conversing of her always, either with her sister or with her mother.
Onasus, of Segesta, the subject of this letter, was among Jerome’s Roman opponents. He is here held up to ridicule in a manner which reflects little credit on the writer’s urbanity. The date of the letter is 385 a.d.
1. The medical men called surgeons pass for being cruel, but really deserve pity. For is it not pitiful to cut away the dead flesh of another man with merciless knives without being moved by his pangs? Is it not pitiful that the man who is curing the patient is callous to his sufferings, and has to appear as his enemy? Yet such is the order of nature. While truth is always bitter, pleasantness waits upon evil-doing. Isaiah goes naked without blushing as a type of captivity to come.857 Jeremiah is sent from Jerusalem to the Euphrates (a river in Mesopotamia), and leaves his girdle to be marred in the Chaldaean camp, among the Assyrians hostile to his people.858 Ezekiel is told to eat bread made of mingled seeds and sprinkled with the dung of men and cattle.859 He has to see his wife die without shedding a tear.860 Am is driven from Samaria.861 Why is he driven from it? Surely in this case as in the others, because he was a spiritual surgeon, who cut away the parts diseased by sin and urged men to repentance. The apostle Paul says: “Am I therefore become your enemy because I tell you the truth?”862 And so the Saviour Himself found it, from whom many of the disciples went back because His sayings seemed hard.863
2. It is not surprising, then, that by exposing their faults I have offended many. I have arranged to operate on a cancerous nose;864 let him who suffers from wens tremble. I wish to rebuke a chattering daw; let the crow realize that she is offensive.865 Yet, after all, is there but one person in Rome
“Whose nostrils are disfigured by a scar?”866 Is Onasus of Segesta alone in puffing out his cheeks like bladders and balancing hollow phrases on his tongue?
I say that certain persons have, by crime, perjury, and false pretences, attained to this or that high position. How does it hurt you who know that the charge does not touch you? I laugh at a pleader who has no clients, and sneer at a penny-a-liner’s eloquence. What does it matter to you who are such a refined speaker? It is my whim to inveigh against mercenary priests. You are rich already, why should you be angry? I wish to shut up Vulcan and burn him in his own flames. Are you his guest or his neighbor that you try to save an idol’s shrine from the fire? I choose to make merry over ghosts and owls and monsters of the Nile; and whatever I say, you take it as aimed at you. At whatever fault I point my pen, you cry out that you are meant. You collar me and drag me into court and absurdly charge me with writing satires when I only write plain prose!
(So you really think yourself a pretty fellow just because you have a lucky name!867 Why it does not follow at all. A brake is called a brake just because the light does not break through it.868 The Fates are called “sparers,”869 just because they never spare. The Furies are spoken of as gracious,870 because they show no grace. And in common speech Ethiopians go by the name of silverlings. Still, if the showing up of faults always angers you, I will soothe you now with the words of Persius: “May you be a catch for my lord and lady’s daughter! May the pretty ladies scramble for you! May the ground you walk on turn to a rose-bed!”871
3. All the same, I will give you a hint what features to hide if you want to look your best. Show no nose upon your face and keep your mouth shut. You will then stand some chance of being counted both handsome and eloquent.
Jerome - Letters 23