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Fathers of the Church

Letter XLIV: to Marcella

Description

Marcella had sent some small articles as a present (probably to Paula and Eustochium) and Jerome now writes in their name to thank her for them. He notices the appropriateness of the gifts, not only to the ladies, but also to himself.

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 is one of many written to Marcella, one of Jerome's disciples and head of a religious community in Rome.

by Jerome in 385 | translated by W. H. Fremantle, M.A., G. Lewis, M.A., W. G. Martley, M.A

When absent in body we are wont to converse together in spirit. Each of us does what he or she can. You send us gifts, we send you back letters of thanks. And as we are virgins who have taken the veil, it is our duty to show that hidden meanings lurk under your nice presents. Sackcloth, then, is a token of prayer and fasting, the chairs remind us that a virgin should never stir abroad, and the wax tapers that we should look for the bridegroom's coming with our lights burning. The cups also warn us to mortify the flesh and always to be ready for martyrdom. "How bright," says the psalmist," is the cup of the Lord, intoxicating them that drink it!" Moreover, when you offer to matrons little fly-flaps to brush away mosquitoes, it is a charming way of hinting that they should at once check voluptuous feelings, for "dying flies," we are told, "spoil sweet ointment." In such presents, then, as these, virgins can find a model, and matrons a pattern. To me, too, your gifts convey a lesson, although one of an opposite kind. For chairs suit idlers, sackcloth does for penitents, and cups are wanted for the thirsty. And I shall be glad to light your tapers, if only to banish the terrors of the night and the fears of an evil conscience.

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.