Fathers of the Church
Letter XVI: to Pope Damasus
by Jerome in 377-378 | translated by W. H. Fremantle, M.A., G. Lewis, M.A., W. G. Martley, M.A
1. By her importunity the widow in the gospel at last gained a hearing, and by the same means one friend induced another to give him bread at midnight, when his door was shut and his servants were in bed. The publican's prayers overcame God, although God is invincible. Nineveh was saved by its tears from the impending ruin caused by its sin. To what end, you ask, these far-fetched references? To this end, I make answer; that you in your greatness should look upon me in my littleness; that you, the rich shepherd, should not despise me, the ailing sheep. Christ Himself brought the robber from the cross to paradise, and, to show that repentance is never too late, He turned a murderer's death into a martyrdom. Gladly does Christ embrace the prodigal son when he returns to Him; and, leaving the ninety and nine, the good shepherd carries home on His shoulders the one poor sheep that is left. From a persecutor Paul becomes a preacher. His bodily eyes are blinded to clear the eyes of his soul, and he who once haled Christ's servants in chains before the council of the Jews, lives afterwards to glory in the bonds of Christ.
2. As I have already written to you, I, who have received Christ's garb in Rome, am now detained in the waste that borders Syria. No sentence of banishment, however, has been passed upon me; the punishment which I am undergoing is self-inflicted. But, as the heathen poet says:
"They change not mind but sky who cross the sea."
The untiring foe follows me closely, and the assaults that I suffer in the desert are severer than ever. For the Arian frenzy raves, and the powers of the world support it. The church is rent into three factions, and each of these is eager to seize me for its own. The influence of the monks is of long standing, and it is directed against me. I meantime keep crying: "He who clings to the chair of Peter is accepted by me." Meletius, Vitalis, and Paulinus all profess to cleave to you, and I could believe the assertion if it were made by one of them only. As it is, either two of them or else all three are guilty of falsehood. Therefore I implore your blessedness, by our Lord's cross and passion, those necessary glories of our faith, as you hold an apostolic office, to give an apostolic decision. Only tell me by letter with whom I am to communicate in Syria, and I will pray for you that you may sit in judgment enthroned with the twelve; that when you grow old, like Peter, you may be girded not by yourself but by another, and that, like Paul, you may be made a citizen of the heavenly kingdom. Do not despise a soul for which Christ died.
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.