Challenging Quotes from St. Jerome (With brief commentary)

All quotes are taken from his Letter to Nepotian (Quoted from the CCEL)

Actually, having just now realized the extent of the quotable material in this letter, I will treat each quote with a brief post in the coming days or weeks.  I’m not particularly fond of this translation, but it is readable; other translations are available if you find this one cumbersome. 

“A clergyman, then, as he serves Christ’s church, must first understand what his name means; and then, when he realizes this, must endeavor to be that which he is called. For since the Greek word κλῆρος means “lot,” or “inheritance,” the clergy are so called either because they are the lot of the Lord, or else because the Lord Himself is their lot and portion. Now, he who in his own person is the Lord’s portion, or has the Lord for his portion, must so bear himself as to possess the Lord and to be possessed by Him. He who possesses the Lord, and who says with the prophet, “The Lord is my portion,” Psa. xvi. 5; lxxiii. 26. can hold to nothing beside the Lord. For if he hold to something beside the Lord, the Lord will not be his portion. Suppose, for instance, that he holds to gold or silver, or possessions or inlaid furniture; with such portions as these the Lord will not deign to be his portion. I, if I am the portion of the Lord, and the line of His heritage, Ps. xvi. 5, 6. receive no portion among the remaining tribes; but, like the Priest and the Levite, I live on the tithe, Nu. xviii. 24. and serving the altar, am supported by its offerings.1 Cor. ix. 13. Having food and raiment, I shall be content with these, 1 Tim. vi. 8. and as a disciple of the Cross shall share its poverty. I beseech you, therefore, and again and yet again admonish you; (Virgil, Æn. iii. 436) do not look to your military experience for a standard of clerical obligation. Under Christ’s banner seek for no worldly gain, lest having more than when you first became a clergyman, you hear men say, to your shame, “Their portion shall not profit them.” Jer. xii. 13, LXX.  Welcome poor men and strangers to your homely board, that with them Christ may be your guest. A clergyman who engages in business, and who rises from poverty to wealth, and from obscurity to a high position, avoid as you would the plague. For “evil communications corrupt good manners.” 1 Cor. xv. 33. You despise gold; he loves it. You spurn wealth; he eagerly pursues it. You love silence, meekness, privacy; he takes delight in talking and effrontery, in squares, and streets, and apothecaries’ shops. What unity of feeling can there be where there is so wide a divergency of manners?” (5)

“It is the glory of a bishop to make provision for the wants of the poor; but it is the shame of all priests to amass private fortunes.” (6)

“When teaching in church seek to call forth not plaudits but groans. Let the tears of your hearers be your glory. A presbyter’s words ought to be seasoned by his reading of scripture. Be not a declaimer or a ranter, one who gabbles without rhyme or reason; but shew yourself skilled in the deep things and versed in the mysteries of God. To mouth your words and by your quickness of utterance astonish the unlettered crowd is a mark of ignorance. Assurance often explains that of which it knows nothing; and when it has convinced others imposes on itself. My teacher, Gregory of Nazianzus, when I once asked him to explain Luke’s phrase σάββατον δευτερόπρωτον , that is “the second-first Sabbath,” playfully evaded my request saying: “I will tell you about it in church, and there, when all the people applaud me, you will be forced against your will to know what you do not know at all. For, if you alone remain silent, every one will put you down for a fool.” There is nothing so easy as by sheer volubility to deceive a common crowd or an uneducated congregation: such most admire what they fail to understand.” (8)

“Of two imperfect things holy rusticity is better than sinful eloquence.” (9)

“Many build churches nowadays; their walls and pillars of glowing marble, their ceilings glittering with gold, their altars studded with jewels. Yet to the choice of Christ’s ministers no heed is paid. And let no one allege against me the wealth of the temple in Judæa, its table, its lamps, its censers, its dishes, its cups, its spoons, Nu. vii. 24, Vulg. and the rest of its golden vessels. If these were approved by the Lord it was at a time when the priests had to offer victims and when the blood of sheep was the redemption of sins. They were figures typifying things still future and were “written for our admonition upon whom the ends of the world are come.” 1 Cor. x. 11.But now our Lord by His poverty has consecrated the poverty of His house. Let us, therefore, think of His cross and count riches to be but dirt. Why do we admire what Christ calls “the mammon of unrighteousness”? Luke xvi. 9. Why do we cherish and love what it is Peter’s boast not to possess?” (10)

“Avoid entertaining men of the world, especially those whose honours make them swell with pride. You are the priest of Christ—one poor and crucified who lived on the bread of strangers. It is a disgrace to you if the consul’s lictors or soldiers keep watch before your door, and if the Judge of the province has a better dinner with you than in his own palace. If you plead as an excuse your wish to intercede for the unhappy and the oppressed, I reply that a worldly judge will defer more to a clergyman who is self-denying than to one who is rich; he will pay more regard to your holiness than to your wealth. Or if he is a man who will not hear the clergy on behalf of the distressed except over the bowl, I will readily forego his aid and will appeal to Christ who can help more effectively and speedily than any judge. Truly “it is better to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in man. It is better to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in princes.”“(11)

“Let your breath never smell of wine lest the philosopher’s words be said to you: “instead of offering me a kiss you are giving me a taste of wine.” Priests given to wine are both condemned by the apostle 1 Tim. iii. 3. and forbidden by the old Law. Those who serve the altar, we are told, must drink neither wine nor shechar. Levit. x. 9; the word shechar occurs in the Greek text of Luke i. 15. Now every intoxicating drink is in Hebrew called shechar whether it is made of corn or of the juice of apples, whether you distil from the honeycomb a rude kind of mead or make a liquor by squeezing dates or strain a thick syrup from a decoction of corn. Whatever intoxicates and disturbs the balance of the mind avoid as you would wine. I do not say that we are to condemn what is a creature of God. The Lord Himself was called a “wine-bibber” and wine in moderation was allowed to Timothy because of his weak stomach. I only require that drinkers should observe that limit which their age, their health, or their constitution requires. But if without drinking wine at all I am aglow with youth and am inflamed by the heat of my blood and am of a strong and lusty habit of body, I will readily forego the cup in which I cannot but suspect poison. The Greeks have an excellent saying which will perhaps bear translation, ‘Fat bellies have no sentiments refined.‘ ” (11)

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