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“Jerome Letter 45 to Asella”
In this letter Jerome describes the insults he has received in Rome and his departure from the city in the year 385.
Click here to read at earlychurchtexts.com in the original Latin (with dictionary lookup links). The English translation below is from the NPNF series.
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The Monk and the Book:
Saint Jerome in the Renaissance
Jerome (The Early Church Fathers)
Letter XLV. To Asella.
After leaving Rome for the East, Jerome writes to Asella to refute the calumnies by which he had been assailed, especially as regards his intimacy with Paula and Eustochium. Written on board ship at Ostia, in August, 385 a.d.
1. Were I to think myself able to requite your kindness I should be foolish. God is able in my stead to reward a soul which is consecrated to Him. So unworthy, indeed, am I of your regard that I have never ventured to estimate its value or even to wish that it might be given me for Christ’s sake. Some consider me a wicked man, laden with iniquity; and such language is more than justified by my actual sins. Yet in dealing with the bad you do well to account them good. It is dangerous to judge another man’s servant; and to speak evil of the righteous is a sin not easily pardoned. The day will surely come when you and I shall mourn for others; for not a few will be in the flames.
2. I am said to be an infamous turncoat, a slippery knave, one who lies and
deceives others by Satanic arts. Which is the safer course, I should like to
know, to invent or credit these charges against innocent persons, or to refuse
to believe them, even of the guilty? Some kissed my hands, yet attacked me with
the tongues of vipers; sympathy was on their lips, but malignant joy in their
hearts. The Lord saw them and had them in derision, reserving my poor self and
them for judgment to come. One would attack my gait or my way of laughing;
another would find something amiss in my looks; another would suspect the
simplicity of my manner. Such is the company in which I have lived for almost
3. Before I became acquainted with the family of the saintly Paula, all Rome
resounded with my praises. Almost every one concurred in judging me worthy of
the episcopate. Damasus, of blessed memory, spoke no words but mine. Men called
me holy, humble, eloquent.
4. Oh! envy, that dost begin by tearing thyself! Oh! cunning malignity of Satan, that dost always persecute things holy! Of all the ladies in Rome, the only ones that caused scandal were Paula and Melanium, who, despising their wealth and deserting their children, uplifted the cross of the Lord as a standard of religion. Had they frequented the baths, or chosen to use perfumes, or taken advantage of their wealth and position as widows to enjoy life and to be independent, they would have been saluted as ladies of high rank and saintliness. As it is, of course, it is in order to appear beautiful that they put on sackcloth and ashes, and they endure fasting and filth merely to go down into the Gehenna of fire! As if they could not perish with the crowd whom the mob applauds! If it were Gentiles or Jews who thus assailed their mode of life, they would at least have the consolation of failing to please only those whom Christ Himself has failed to please. But, shameful to say, it is Christians who thus neglect the care of their own households, and, disregarding the beams in their own eyes, look for motes in those of their neighbors. They pull to pieces every profession of religion, and think that they have found a remedy for their own doom, if they can disprove the holiness of others, if they can detract from every one, if they can show that those who perish are many, and sinners, a great multitude.
5. You bathe daily; another regards such over-niceness as defilement. You surfeit yourself on wild fowl and pride yourself on eating sturgeon; I, on the contrary, fill my belly with beans. You find pleasure in troops of laughing girls; I prefer Paula and Melanium who weep. You covet what belongs to others; they disdain what is their own. You like wines flavored with honey; they drink cold water, more delicious still. You count as lost what you cannot have, eat up, and devour on the moment; they believe in the Scriptures, and look for good things to come. And if they are wrong, and if the resurrection of the body on which they rely is a foolish delusion, what does it matter to you? We, on our side, look with disfavor on such a life as yours. You can fatten yourself on your good things as much as you please; I for my part prefer paleness and emaciation. You suppose that men like me are unhappy; we regard you as more unhappy still. Thus we reciprocate each other’s thoughts, and appear to each other mutually insane.
6. I write this in haste, dear Lady Asella, as I go on board, overwhelmed with grief and tears; yet I thank my God that I am counted worthy of the world’s hatred. Pray for me that, after Babylon, I may see Jerusalem once more; that Joshua, the son of Josedech, may have dominion over me, and not Nebuchadnezzar, that Ezra, whose name means helper, may come and restore me to my own country. I was a fool in wishing to sing the Lord’s song in a strange land, and in leaving Mount Sinai, to seek the help of Egypt. I forgot that the Gospel warns us that he who goes down from Jerusalem immediately falls among robbers, is spoiled, is wounded, is left for dead. But, although priest and Levite may disregard me, there is still the good Samaritan who, when men said to him, “Thou art a Samaritan and hast a devil,” disclaimed having a devil, but did not disclaim being a Samaritan, this being the Hebrew equivalent for our word guardian. Men call me a mischief-maker, and I take the title as a recognition of my faith. For I am but a servant, and the Jews still call my master a magician. The apostle, likewise, is spoken of as a deceiver. There hath no temptation taken me but such as is common to man. How few distresses have I endured, I who am yet a soldier of the cross! Men have laid to my charge a crime of which I am not guilty; but I know that I must enter the kingdom of heaven through evil report as well as through good.
7. Salute Paula and Eustochium, who, whatever the world may think, are always
mine in Christ. Salute Albina, your mother, and Marcella, your sister;
Marcellina also, and the holy Felicitas; and say to them all: “We must all stand
before the judgment seat of Christ, and there shall be revealed the principle by
which each has lived.”
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Jerome Letter 45 Latin text with English translation
Letter 45 to Asella
Epistle 45 to Asella
XLV ad Asellam
Paula and Eustochium
Migne Latin Text
Patrologiae Latinae Cursus Completus
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