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Fathers of the Church

Letter LXXI.: to Lucinius

Description

In this letter Jerome encourages Lucinius to fulfil his purpose of coming to Bethlehem, describes the books Which he is sending to him, and answers two questions relating to ecclesiastical usage. He also sends him some trilling presents.

Provenance

Lucinius was a wealthy Spaniard of Betica who in conformity with the ascetic ideas of his time had made a vow of continence with his wife Theodora. Being much interested in the study of scripture he proposed to visit Bethlehem, and in A.D. 397 sent several scribes thither to transcribe for him Jerome's principal writings. To these on their return home Jerome now entrusts the following letter. Shortly after receiving the letter (written in 398 A.D.) Lucinius died and Jerome wrote to Theodora to console her for her loss (letter LXXV)

by Jerome in 398 | translated by W. H. Fremantle, M.A., G. Lewis, M.A., W. G. Martley, M.A

1. Your letter which has suddenly arrived was not expected by me, and coming in an unlooked for way it has helped to rouse me from my torpor by the glad tidings which it conveys. I hasten to embrace with the arms of love one whom my eyes have never seen, and silently say to myself:—'"oh that I had wings like a dove! for then would I flee away and be at rest."' Then would I find him "whom my soul loveth." In you the Lord's words are now truly fulfilled: "many shall come from the east and west and shall sit down with Abraham." In those days the faith of my Lucinius was foreshadowed in Cornelius, "centurion of the band called the Italian band." And when the apostle Paul writes to the Romans: "whensoever I take my journey into Spain I will come to you: for I trust to see you in my journey, and to be brought on my way thitherward by you;" he shews by the tale of his previous successes what he looked to gain from that province. Laying in a short time the foundation of the gospel "from Jerusalem and round about unto Illyricum," he enters Rome in bonds, that he may free those who are in the bonds of error and superstition. Two years he dwells in his own hired house that he may give to us the house eternal which is spoken of in both the testaments. The apostle, the fisher of men, has cast forth his net, and, among countless kinds of fish, has landed you like a magnificent gilt-bream. You have left behind you the bitter waves, the salt tides, the mountain-fissures; you have despised Leviathan who reigns in the waters. Your aim is to seek the wilderness with Jesus and to sing the prophet's song: "my soul thirsteth for thee, my flesh longeth for thee in a dry and thirsty land where no water is; to see thy power and thy glory, so as I have seen thee in the sanctuary." or, as he sings in another place, "lo, then would I wander far off and remain in the wilderness. I would hasten my escape from the windy storm and tempest." Since you have left Sodom and are hastening to the mountains, I beseech you with a father's affection not to look behind you. Your hands have grasped the handle of the plough, the hem of the Saviour's garment, and His locks wet with the dew of night; do not let them go. Do not come down from the housetop of virtue to seek for the clothes which you wore of old, nor return home from the field. Do not like Lot set your heart on the plain or upon the pleasant gardens; for these are watered not, as the holy land, from heaven but by Jordan's muddy stream made salt by contact with the Dead Sea.

2. Many begin but few persevere to the end. "They which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the crown." But of us on the other hand it is said: "So run that ye may obtain." Our master of the games is not grudging; he does not give the palm to one and disgrace another. His wish is that all his athletes may alike win garlands. My soul rejoices, yet the very greatness of my joy makes me feel sad. Like Ruth when I try to speak I burst into tears. Zacchus, the convert of an hour, is accounted worthy to receive the Saviour as his guest. Martha and Mary make ready a feast and then welcome the Lord to it. A harlot washes His feet with her tears and against His burial anoints His body with the ointment of good works. Simon the leper invites the Master with His disciples and is not refused. To Abraham it is said: "Get thee out of thy country and from thy kindred and from thy father's house, unto a land that I will shew thee." He leaves Chalda, he leaves Mesopotamia; he seeks what he knows not, not to lose Him whom he has found. He does not deem it possible to keep both his country and his Lord; even at that early day he is already fulfilling the prophet David's words: "I am a stranger with thee and a sojourner, as all my fathers were." He is called "a Hebrew," in Greek pera'th's, a passer-over, for not content with present excellence but forgetting those things which are behind he reaches forth to that which is before. He makes his own the words of the psalmist: "they shall go from strength to strength." Thus his name has a mystic meaning and he has opened for you a way to seek not your own things but those of another. You too must leave your home as he did, and must take for your parents, brothers, and relations only those who are linked to you in Christ. "Whosoever," He says, "shall do the will of my father ... the same is my brother and sister and mother."

3. You have with you one who was once your partner in the flesh but is now your partner in the spirit; once your wife but now your sister; once a woman but now a man; once an inferior but now an equal. Under the same yoke as you she hastens toward the same heavenly kingdom.

A too careful management of one's income, a too near calculation of one's expenses— these are habits not easily laid aside. Yet to escape the Egyptian woman Joseph had to leave his garment with her. And the young man who followed Jesus having a linen cloth cast about him, when he was assailed by the servants had to throw away his earthly covering and to flee naked. Elijah also when he was carried up in a chariot of fire to heaven left his mantle of sheepskin on earth. Elisha used for sacrifice the oxen and the yokes which hitherto he had employed in his work. We read in Ecclesiasticus: "he that toucheth pitch shall be defiled therewith." As long as we are occupied with the things of the world, as long as our soul is fettered with possessions and revenues, we cannot think freely of God. "For what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? And what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? Or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel?" "Ye cannot," the Lord says, "serve God and Mammon." Now the laying aside of money is for those who are beginners in the way, not for those who are made perfect. Heathens like Antisthenes and Crates the Theban have done as much before now. But to offer one's self to God, this is the mark of Christians and apostles. These like the widow out of their penury cast their two mites into the treasury, and giving all that they have to the Lord are counted worthy to hear his words: "ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel."

4. You can see for yourself why I mention these things; without expressly saying it I am inviting you to take up your abode at the holy places. Your abundance has supported the want of many that some day their riches may abound to supply your want; you have made to yourself "friends of the mammon of unrighteousness that they may receive you into everlasting habitations." Such conduct deserves praise and merits to be compared with the virtue of apostolic times. Then, as you know, believers sold their possessions and brought the prices of them and laid them down at the apostles' feet: a symbolic act designed to shew that men must trample on covetousness. But the Lord yearns for believers' souls more than for their riches. We read in the Proverbs: "the ransom of a man's soul are his own riches." We may, indeed, take a man's own riches to be those which do not come from some one else, or from plunder; according to the precept: "honour God with thy just labours." But the sense is better if we understand a man's "own riches" to be those hidden treasures which no thief can steal and no robber wrest from him.

5. As for my poor works which from no merits of theirs but simply from your own kindness you say that you desire to have; I have given them to your servants to transcribe, I have seen the paper-copies made by them, and I have repeatedly ordered them to correct them by a diligent comparison with the originals. For so many are the pilgrims passing to and fro that I have been unable to read so many volumes. They have found me also troubled by a long illness from which this Lent I am slowly recovering as they are leaving me. If then you find errors or omissions which interfere with the sense, these you must impute not to me but to your own servants; they are due to the ignorance or carelessness of the copyists, who write down not what they find but what they take to be the meaning, and do but expose their own mistakes when they try to correct those of others. It is a false rumour which has reached you to the effect that I have translated the books of Josephus and the volumes of the holy men Papias and Polycarp. I have neither the leisure nor the ability to preserve the charm of these masterpieces in another tongue. Of Origen and DidymusI have translated a few things, to set before my countrymen some specimens of Greek teaching. The canon of the Hebrew verity—except the octoteuch which I have at present in hand—I have placed at the disposal of your slaves and copyists. Doubtless you already possess the version from the septuagint which many years ago I diligently revised for the use of students. The new testament I have restored to the authoritative form of the Greek original. For as the true text of the old testament can only be tested by a reference to the Hebrew, so the true text of the new requires for its decision an appeal to the Greek.

6. You ask me whether you ought to fast on the Sabbath and to receive the eucharist daily according to the custom—as currently reported- -of the churches of Rome and Spain. Both these points have been treated by the eloquent Hippolytus, and several writers have collected passages from different authors bearing upon them. The best advice that I can give you is this. Church-traditions—especially when they do not run counter to the faith—are to be observed in the form in which previous generations have handed them down; and the use of one church is not to be annulled because it is contrary to that of another. As regards fasting, I wish that we could practise it without intermission as—according to the Acts of the Apostles—Paul did and the believers with him even in the season of Pentecost and on the Lord's Day. They are not to be accused of manichism, for carnal food ought not to be preferred before spiritual. As regards the holy eucharist you may receive it at all times without qualm of conscience or disapproval from me. You may listen to the psalmist's words:- -"O taste and see that the Lord is good;" you may sing as he does:—"my heart poureth forth a good word." But do not mistake my meaning. You are not to fast on feast-days, neither are you to abstain on the week days in Pentecost. In such matters each province may follow its own inclinations, and the traditions which have been handed down should be regarded as apostolic laws.

7. You send me two small cloaks and a sheepskin mantle from your wardrobe and ask me to wear them myself or to give them to the poor. In return I send to you and your sister in the Lord four small haircloths suitable to your religious profession and to your daily needs, for they are the mark of poverty and the outward witness of a continual penitence. To these I have added a manuscript containing Isaiah's ten most obscure visions which I have lately elucidated with a critical commentary. When you look upon these trifles call to mind the friend in whom you delight and hasten the voyage which you have for a time deferred. And because "the way of man is not in himself" but it is the Lord that "directeth his steps;" if any hindrance should interfere—I hope none may—to prevent you from coming, I pray that distance may not sever those united in affection and that I may find my Lucinius present in absence through an interchange of letters.

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.