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Letter XVI. To Pope Damasus.
This letter, written a few months after the preceding, is another appeal to Damasus to solve the writer’s doubts. Jerome once more refers to his baptism at Rome, and declares that his one answer to the factions at Antioch is, “He who clings to the chair of Peter is accepted by me.” Written from the desert in the year 377 or 378.
1. By her importunity the widow in the gospel at last gained a hearing,294294 Matt. xv. 28. and by the same means one friend induced another to give him bread at midnight, when his door was shut and his servants were in bed.295295 Luke xi. 7, 8. The publican’s prayers overcame God,296296 Luke xviii. 10–14. although God is invincible. Nineveh was saved by its tears from the impending ruin caused by its sin.297297 Jon. iii. 5, 10. To what end, you ask, these far-fetched references? To this end, I make answer; that you in your greatness should look upon me in my littleness; that you, the rich shepherd, should not despise me, the ailing sheep. Christ Himself brought the robber from the cross to paradise,298298 Luke xxiii. 43. and, to show that repentance is never too late, He turned a murderer’s death into a martyrdom. Gladly does Christ embrace the prodigal son when he returns to Him;299299 Luke xv. 20. and, leaving the ninety and nine, the good shepherd carries home on His shoulders the one poor sheep that is left.300300 Luke xv. 5. From a persecutor Paul becomes a preacher. His bodily eyes are blinded to clear the eyes of his soul,301301 Acts ix. 8. and he who once haled Christ’s servants in chains before the council of the Jews,302302 Acts viii. 3. lives afterwards to glory in the bonds of Christ.303303 2 Cor. xii. 10.
2. As I have already written to you,304304 See Letter XV. I, who have received Christ’s garb in Rome, am now detained in the waste that borders Syria. No sentence of banishment, however, has been passed upon me; the punishment which I am undergoing is self-inflicted. But, as the heathen poet says:
The untiring foe follows me closely, and the assaults that I suffer in the desert are severer than ever. For the Arian frenzy raves, and the powers of the world support it. The church is rent into three factions, and each of these is eager to seize me for its own. The influence of the monks is of long standing, and it is directed against me. I meantime keep crying: “He who clings to the chair of Peter is accepted by me.” Meletius, Vitalis, and Paulinus306306 The three rival claimants of the see of Antioch. Paulinus and Meletius were both orthodox, but Meletius derived his orders from the Arians and was consequently not recognized in the West. In the East, however, he was so highly esteemed that some years after this he was chosen to preside over the Council of Constantinople (a.d. 391). Vitalis, the remaining claimant, was a follower of Apollinaris, but much respected by the orthodox on account of his high character. all profess to cleave to you, and I could believe the assertion if it were made by one of them only. As it is, either two of them or else all three are guilty of falsehood. Therefore I implore your blessedness, by our Lord’s cross and passion, those necessary glories of our faith, as you hold an apostolic office, to give an apostolic decision. Only tell me by letter with whom I am to communicate in Syria, and I will pray for you that you may sit in judgment enthroned with the twelve;307307 Matt. xix. 28. that when you grow old, like Peter, you may be girded not by yourself but by another,308308 Joh. xxi. 18. and that, like Paul, you may be made a citizen of the heavenly kingdom.309309 Phi. iii. 20, R.V. Do not despise a soul for which Christ died.
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