Fathers of the Church
Letter LXXVI: to Abigaus
by Jerome in 399 | translated by W. H. Fremantle, M.A., G. Lewis, M.A., W. G. Martley, M.A
1. Although I am conscious of many sins and every day pray on bended knees, "Remember not the sins of my youth nor my transgressions, yet because I know that it has been said by the Apostle "let a man not be lifted up with pride lest he fall into the condemnation of the devil," and that it is written in another passage, "God resisteth the proud but giveth grace to the humble," there is nothing I have striven so much to avoid from my boyhood up as a swelling mind and a stiff neck, things which always provoke against themselves the wrath of God. For I know that my master and Lord and God has said in the lowliness of His flesh: "Learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart," and that before this He has sung by the mouth of David: "Lord, remember David and all his gentleness. Again we read in another passage, "Before destruction the heart of man is haughty; and before honour is humility." Do not, then, I implore you, suppose that I have received your letter and have passed it over in silence. Do not, I beseech you, lay to my charge the dishonesty and negligence of which others have been guilty. For why should I, when called on to respond to your kind advances, continue dumb and repel by my silence the friendship which you offer? I who am always forward to seek intimate relations with the good and even to thrust myself upon their affection. "Two," we read, "are better than one .... for if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow .... a three fold cord is not quickly broken, and a brother that helps his brother shall be exalted." Write to me, therefore, boldly, and overcome the effect of absence by frequent colloquies.
2. You should not grieve that you are destitute of those bodily eyes which ants, flies, and creeping things have as well as men; rather you should rejoice that you possess that eye of which it is said in the Song of Songs, "Thou hast ravished my heart, my sister, my spouse; thou hast ravished my heart with one of thine eyes." This is the eye with which God is seen and to which Moses refers when he says:—"I will now turn aside and see this great sight." We even read of some philosophers of this world that they have plucked out their eyes in order to turn all their thoughts upon the pure depths of the mind. And a prophet has said "Death has entered through your windows." Our Lord too tells the Apostles: "Whosoever looketh upon a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart." Consequently they are commanded to lift up their eyes and to look on the fields, for these are white and ready for harvest.
3. You request me by my exhortations to slay in you Nebuchadnezzar and Rabshakeh and Nebuzar-adan and Holofernes. Were they alive in you, you would never have sought my aid. No, they are dead within you, and yon have begun to build up the ruins of Jerusalem with the help of Zerubbabel and of Joshua the son of Josedech the high priest, of Ezra and of Nehemiah. You do not put your wages into a bag with holes, but you lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, and if you seek my friendship, it is because you believe me to be a servant of Christ.
I commend to you—although she needs no commendation but her own—my holy daughter Theodora, formerly the wife or rather the sister of Lucinius of blessed memory. Tell her that she must not grow weary of the path upon which she has entered, and that she can only reach the Holy Land by toiling through the wilderness. Warn her against supposing that the work of virtue is perfected when she has made her exodus from Egypt. Remind her that she must pass through snares innumerable to arrive at mount Nebo and the River Jordan, that she must receive circumcision anew at Gilgal, that Jericho must fall before her, overthrown by the blasts of priestly trumpets, that Adoni-zedec must be slain, that Ai and Hazor, once fairest of cities, must both fall.
The brothers who are with me in the monastery salute you, and I through you earnestly salute those reverend persons who deign to bestow upon me their regard.
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.