Rettulit mihi quidam frater e Gallia se habere sororem uirginem matremque viduam, quae in eadem urbe divisis habitarent cellulis et vel ob hospitii solitudinem vel custodiendas facultatulas praesules sibi quosdam clericos adsumpsissent, ut maiori dedecore iungerentur alienis, quam a se fuerant separatae. cumque ego ingemescerem et multo plura tacendo quam loquendo significarem: “quaeso te,” inquit, “corripias eas litteris tuis et ad concordiam revoces, ut mater filiam, filia matrem agnoscat.” cui ego: “optimam” inquam “mihi iniungis provinciam, ut alienus conciliem, quas filius fraterque non potuit, quasi vero episcopalem cathedram teneam et non clausus cellula ac procul a turbis remotus vel praeterita plangam vitia vel vitare nitar praesentia. sed et incongruum est latere corpore et lingua per orbem vagari.” et ille: “nimium” ait “formidolosus; ubi illa quondam constantia, in qua multo sale urbem defricans Lucilianum quippiam rettulisti?” “hoc est” aio “quod me fugat et labra dividere non sinit. postquam ergo arguendo crimina factus sum criminosus et iuxta tritum vulgi sermone proverbium iurantibus et negantibus cunctis me aures nec credo habere nec tango ipsique parietes in me maledicta resonarunt “et psallebant contra me, qui bibebant vinum,” coactus malo tacere didici rectius esse arbitrans ponere custodiam ori meo et ostium munitum labiis meis, quam declinare cor in verba malitiae et, dum carpo vitia, in vitium detractionis incurrere.”
(Jerome, Ep. 117.1-3)
A certain brother from Gaul told me the other day that he had a virgin sister and a widowed mother who, though living in the same city, had separate apartments, and had taken to themselves clerical directors, either to prevent their feeling lonely, or else to manage their small properties ; and that by this union with strangers they had caused more scandal even than by living apart. I groaned to hear his tale, and by silence expressed far more than I could by words. “Pray,” he continued, “rebuke them in a letter and recall them to harmony, so that the mother may recognize her daughter, and the daughter her mother.” “This is a fine commission,” I replied, “that you lay upon me, that I a stranger should reconcile those with whom a son and brother has failed. You talk as though I held a bishop’s chair instead of being confined, far from men’s turmoil, in a tiny cell, where I lament past sins and try to avoid present temptations. It is inconsistent surely to hide one’s body, and to allow one’s tongue to roam the world.” Thereupon he answered: “You are too fearful; where now is the hardihood wherewith, like Lucilius of old,* you scoured the city with abundant salt?” “It is just that,” said I, “which deters me and forbids me now to open my lips. Because I tried to convict crime I have myself been made out a criminal. It is like the popular proverb:** as all the world declares on oath that I have no ears, I believe it too and do not touch them. The very walls resounded with curses against me and “I was the song of drunkards.”*** I have been taught by painful experience to hold my tongue, and now I think it better to set a guard to my mouth, and keep the door of my lips close fastened, rather than to incline my heart to malicious words, and while censuring the faults of others myself to fall into that of detraction.”
* Horace, satires, I.x.3: sale multo urbem defricuit. Lucilius was a satirist.
** This proverb has not been identified nor has any satisfactory explanation of its nature been given.
(tr. William Henry Fremantle, with his notes)