Fathers of the Church

Letter XXXI: to Eustochium

Description

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.

Provenance

Following his translation of the Bible, St. Jerome's letters are the most well-known and widely read of all his writings. This letter was written at Rome in 384 A.D. (on St. Peter's Day). It should be compared with Letter XLIV (44), of which the theme is similar.

by Jerome in 384 | translated by W. H. Fremantle, M.A., G. Lewis, M.A., W. G. Martley, M.A

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, 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.

2. It is true that a festival such as the birthday 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, Baruch receives letters from Jeremiah, and the Holy Spirit descends in the form of a dove at the baptism of Christ. But to give you, too, a sprinkling of pepper and to remind you of my former letter, I send you to-day this three-fold warning. Cease not to adorn yourself with good works—the true bracelets of a Christian woman. Rend not the letter written on your heart as the profane king cut with his penknife that delivered to him by Baruch. Let not Hosea say to you as to Ephraim, "Thou art like a silly dove."

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 Lucullus 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, 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." 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. 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 by reading, 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"

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.