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Letter XLIV. To Marcella.

Marcella had sent some small articles as a present (probably to Paula and Eustochium) and Jerome now writes in their name to thank her for them. He notices the appropriateness of the gifts, not only to the ladies, but also to himself. Written at Rome in 385 a.d.

When absent in body we are wont to converse together in spirit.915915    Cf. Col. ii. 5. Each of us does what he or she can. You send us gifts, we send you back letters of thanks. And as we are virgins who have taken the veil,916916    Cf. Letter CXXX. § 2. it is our duty to show that hidden meanings lurk under your nice presents. Sackcloth, then, is a token of prayer and fasting, the chairs remind us that a virgin should never stir abroad, and the wax tapers that we should look for the bridegroom’s coming with our lights burning.917917    Matt. xxv. 1. The cups also warn us to mortify the flesh and always to be ready for martyrdom. “How bright,” says the psalmist, “is the cup of the Lord, intoxicating them that drink it!”918918    Ps. xxiii. 5, according to the Gallican psalter. Moreover, when you offer to matrons little fly-flaps to brush away mosquitoes, it is a charming way of hinting that they should at once check voluptuous feelings, for “dying flies,” we are told, “spoil sweet ointment.”919919    Eccles. x. 1, Vulg. In such presents, then, as these, virgins can find a model, and matrons a pattern. To me, too, your gifts convey a lesson, although one of an opposite kind. For chairs suit idlers, sackcloth does for penitents, and cups are wanted for the thirsty. And I shall be glad to light your tapers, if only to banish the terrors of the night and the fears of an evil conscience.


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