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Letter XLIII. To Marcella.
Jerome draws a contrast between his daily life and that of Origen, and sorrowfully admits his own shortcomings. He then suggests to Marcella the advantages which life in the country offers over life in town, and hints that he is himself disposed to make trial of it. Written at Rome in 385 a.d.
1. Ambrose who supplied Origen, true man of adamant and of brass,904904 For the meaning of these epithets as applied to Origen see Letter XXXIII. § 1. with money, materials and amanuenses to bring out his countless books—Ambrose, in a letter to his friend from Athens, states that they never took a meal together without something being read, and never went to bed till some portion of Scripture had been brought home to them by a brother’s voice. Night and day, in fact, were so ordered that prayer only gave place to reading and reading to prayer.
2. Have we, brute beasts that we are, ever done the like? Why, we yawn if we read for over an hour; we rub our foreheads and vainly try to suppress our languor. And then, after this great feat, we plunge for relief into worldly business once more.
I say nothing of the meals with which we dull our faculties, and I would rather not estimate the time that we spend in paying and receiving visits. Next we fall into conversation; we waste our words, we attack people behind their backs, we detail their way of living, we carp at them and are carped at by them in turn. Such is the fare that engages our attention at dinner and afterwards. Then, when our guests have retired, we make up our accounts, and these are sure to cause us either anger or anxiety. The first makes us like raging lions, and the second seeks vainly to make provision for years to come. We do not recollect the words of the Gospel: “Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be which thou hast provided?”905905 Luke xii. 20. The clothing which we buy is designed not merely for use but for display. Where there is a chance of saving money we quicken our pace, speak promptly, and keep our ears open. If we hear of household losses—such as often occur—our looks become dejected and gloomy. The gain of a penny906906 Nummus. Sc. Sestertius = 4 cents = 2 pence. fills us with joy; the loss of a half-penny907907 Obolus = 3 1–2 cents = 1 penny 3 farthings. plunges us into sorrow. One man 58is of so many minds that the prophet’s prayer is: “Lord, in thy city scatter their image.”908908 Ps. lxxiii. 20, Vulg. For created as we are in the image of God and after His likeness,909909 Gen. i. 26. it is our own wickedness which makes us assume masks.910910 These were worn by both Greek and Roman actors. Just as on the stage the same actor now figures as a brawny Hercules, now softens into a tender Venus, now shivers in the role of Cybele; so we—who, if we were not of the world, would be hated by the world911911 Joh. xv. 19.—for every sin that we commit have a corresponding mask.
3. Wherefore, seeing that we have journeyed for much of our life through a troubled sea, and that our vessel has been in turn shaken by raging blasts and shattered upon treacherous reefs, let us, as soon as may be, make for the haven of rural quietude. There such country dainties as milk and household bread, and greens watered by our own hands, will supply us with coarse but harmless fare. So living, sleep will not call us away from prayer, nor satiety from reading. In summer the shade of a tree will afford us privacy. In autumn the quality of the air and the leaves strewn under foot will invite us to stop and rest. In springtime the fields will be bright with flowers, and our psalms will sound the sweeter for the twittering of the birds. When winter comes with its frost and snow, I shall not have to buy fuel, and, whether I sleep or keep vigil, shall be warmer than in town. At least, so far as I know, I shall keep off the cold at less expense. Let Rome keep to itself its noise and bustle, let the cruel shows of the arena go on, let the crowd rave at the circus, let the playgoers revel in the theatres and—for I must not altogether pass over our Christian friends—let the House of Ladies912912 Ps. lxxiii. 28. hold its daily sittings. It is good for us to cleave to the Lord,913913 Senatus Matronarum. Comp. Letter XXXIII. 4: “Rome calls together its senate to condemn him.” and to put our hope in the Lord God, so that when we have exchanged our present poverty for the kingdom of heaven, we may be able to exclaim: “Whom have I in heaven but thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire beside thee.”914914 Ps. lxxiii. 25. Surely if we can find such blessedness in heaven we may well grieve to have sought after pleasures poor and passing here upon earth. Farewell.
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