Fathers of the Church

Letter XI: to the Virgins of Aemona

Description

Jerome reproaches the virgins for not answering any of his many letters.

Provenance

Following his translation of the Bible, St. Jerome's letters are the most well-known and widely read of all his writings. Aemona was a Roman colony not far from Stridon, Jerome's birthplace. The virgins to whom the note is addressed had omitted to answer his letters, and he now writes to upbraid them for their remissness.

by Jerome in 374 | translated by W. H. Fremantle, M.A., G. Lewis, M.A., W. G. Martley, M.A

This scanty sheet of paper shows in what a wilderness I live, and because of it I have to say much in few words. For, desirous though I am to speak to you more fully, this miserable scrap compels me to leave much unsaid. Still ingenuity make up for lack of means, and by writing small I can say a great deal. Observe, I beseech you, how I love you, even in the midst of my difficulties, since even the want of materials does not stop me from writing to you.

Pardon, I beseech you, an aggrieved man: if I speak in tears and in anger it is because I have been injured. For in return for my regular letters you have not sent me a single syllable. Light, I know, has no communion with darkness, and God's handmaidens no fellowship with a sinner, yet a harlot was allowed to wash the Lord's feet with her tears, and dogs are permitted to eat of their masters' crumbs. It was the Saviour's mission to call sinners and not the righteous; for, as He said Himself, "they that be whole need not a physician. He wills the repentance of a sinner rather than his death, and carries home the poor stray sheep on His own shoulders. So, too, when the prodigal son returns, his father receives him with joy. Nay more, the apostle says: "Judge nothing before the time." For "who art thou that judgest another man's servant? To his own master he standeth or falleth." And "let him that standeth take heed lest he fall." "Bear ye one another's burdens."

Dear sisters, man's envy judges in one way, Christ in another; and the whisper of a corner is not the same as the sentence of His tribunal. Many ways seem right to men which are afterwards found to be wrong. And a treasure is often stowed in earthen vessels. Peter thrice denied his Lord, yet his bitter tears restored him to his place. "To whom much is forgiven, the same loveth much." No word is said of the flock as a whole, yet the angels joy in heaven over the safety of one sick ewe. And if any one demurs to this reasoning, the Lord Himself has said: "Friend, is thine eye evil because I am good?"

Taken from "The Early Church Fathers and Other Works" originally published by Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co. in English in Edinburgh, Scotland, beginning in 1867. (PNPF II/VI, Schaff and Wace). The digital version is by The Electronic Bible Society, P.O. Box 701356, Dallas, TX 75370, 214-407-WORD.