Vidi nuper – nomina taceo, ne saturam putes – nobilissimam mulierum Romanarum in basilica beati Petri semiviris antecedentibus propria manu, quo religiosior putaretur, singulos nummos dispertire pauperibus. interea – ut usu nosse perfacile est – anus quaedam annis pannisque obsita praecurrit, ut alterum nummum acciperet; ad quam cum ordine pervenisset, pugnus porrigitur pro denario et tanti criminis reus sanguis effunditur.
(Jerome, Ep. 22.32)
Just lately I saw the greatest lady in Rome – I will not give her name, for this is not a satire – standing in the church of the blessed Peter with her band of eunuchs in front. She was giving money to the poor with her own hand to increase her reputation for sanctity; and she gave them each a penny! At that moment – as you might easily know by experience – an old woman, full of years and rags, ran in front of the line to get a second coin; but when her turn came she got, not a penny, but the lady’s fist in her face, and for her dreadful offence she had to pay with her blood. (tr. Frederick Adam Wright)
Et cur, inquies, creata sunt genitalia, et sic a conditore sapientissimo fabricati sumus, ut mutuum nostri patiamur ardorem, et gestiamus in naturalem copulam? periclitamur responsionis verecundia, et quasi inter duos scopulos, et quasdam necessitatis et pudicitiae συμπληγάδας, hinc atque inde, vel pudoris, vel causae naufragium sustinemus. si ad proposita respondeamus, pudore suffundimur. si pudor impetrarit silentium, quasi de loco videbimur cedere, et adversario feriendi occasionem dare. melius est tamen clausis, quod dicitur, oculis Andabatarum more pugnare, quam directa spicula, clypeo non repellere veritatis. poteram quidem dicere: “quomodo posterior pars corporis et meatus per quem alvi stercora egeruntur relegatus est ab oculis, et quasi post tergum positus, ita et hic qui sub ventre est, ad digerendos humores et potus, quibus venae corporis irrigantur, a Deo conditus est.” sed quoniam ipsa organa et genitalium fabrica, et nostra feminarumque discretio, et receptacula vulvae ad suscipiendos et coalendos fetus condita, sexus differentiam praedicant, hoc breviter respondebo: numquam ergo cessemus a libidine, ne frustra huiuscemodi membra portemus. cur enim maritus se abstineat ab uxore? cur casta vidua perseveret, si ad hoc tantum nati sumus, ut pecudum more vivamus? aut quid mihi nocebit, si cum uxore mea alius concubuerit? quomodo enim dentium officium est mandere, et in alvum ea quae sunt mansa transmittere, et non habet crimen qui coniugi meae panem dederit: ita si genitalium hoc est officium, ut semper fruantur natura sua, meam lassitudinem alterius vires superent: et uxoris, ut ita dixerim, ardentissimam gulam fortuita libido restinguat.
(Jerome, Adversus Justinianum 1.36)
Why then, you will say, were the organs of generation created, and why were we so fashioned by the all-wise creator, that we burn for one another, and long for natural intercourse? To reply is to endanger our modesty: we are, as it were, between two rocks, the Symplegades of necessity and virtue, on either side; and must make shipwreck of either our sense of shame, or of the cause we defend: If we reply to your suggestions, shame covers our face. If shame secures silence, in a manner we seem to desert our post, and to leave the ground clear to the raging foe. Yet it is better, as the story goes, to shut our eyes and fight like the blindfold gladiators, than not to repel with the shield of truth the darts aimed at us. I can indeed say: “Our hinder parts which are banished from sight, and the lower portions of the abdomen, which perform the functions of nature, are the Creator’s work.” But inasmuch as the physical conformation of the organs of generation testifies to difference of sex, I shall briefly reply: Are we never then to forego lust, for fear that we may have members of this kind for nothing? Why then should a husband keep himself from his wife? Why should a widow persevere in chastity, if we were only born to live like beasts? Or what harm does it do me if another man lies with my wife? For as the teeth were made for chewing, and the food masticated passes into the stomach, and a man is not blamed for giving my wife bread: similarly if it was intended that the organs of generation should always be performing their office, when my vigour is spent let another take my place, and, if I may so speak, let my wife quench her burning lust where she can. (tr. William Henry Fremantle, George Lewis and/or William Gibson Martley)
Quaeso igitur et te* iterum atque iterum deprecor, ut ignoscas disputatiunculae meae et, quod modum meum egressus sum, tibi imputes, qui coegisti, ut rescriberem, et mihi cum Stesichoro oculos abstulisti. nec me putes magistrum esse mendacii, qui sequor Christum dicentem ‘ego sum via et vita et veritas’ [John 14:6], nec potest fieri, ut veritatis cultor mendacio colla submittam, neque mihi imperitorum plebeculam concites, qui te venerantur ut episcopum et in ecclesia declamantem sacerdotii honore suscipiunt, me autem aetatis ultimae et paene decrepitum ac monasterii et ruris secreta sectantem parvi pendunt, et quaeras tibi, quos doceas sive reprehendas. ad nos enim tantis maris atque terrarum at te divisos spatiis vix vocis tuae sonus pervenit et, si forsitan litteras scripseris, ante eas Italia ac Roma suscipiet, quam ad me, cui mittendae sunt, deferantur.
* The addressee is Augustine.
(Jerome, Ep. 112.18)
I ask you, therefore, and with all urgency press the request, that you forgive me this humble attempt at a discussion of the matter; and wherein I have transgressed, lay the blame upon yourself who compelled me to write in reply, and who made me out to be as blind as Stesichorus. And do not bring the reproach of teaching the practice of lying upon me who am a follower of Christ, who said, I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. It is impossible for me, who am a worshipper of the Truth, to bow under the yoke of falsehood. Moreover, refrain from stirring up against me the unlearned crowd who esteem you as their bishop, and regard with the respect due the priestly office the orations which you deliver in the church, but who esteem lightly an old decrepit man like me, courting the retirement of a monastery far from the busy haunts of men; and seek others who may be more fitly instructed or corrected by you. For the sound of your voice can scarcely reach me, who am so far separated from you by sea and land. And if you happen to write me a letter, Italy and Rome are sure to be acquainted with its contents long before it is brought to me, to whom alone it ought to be sent. (tr. John George Cunningham)
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.
Tu qui in Latinis mussitas, et testudineo gradu moveris potius, quam incedis: vel Graece debes scribere, ut apud homines Graeci sermonis ignaros aliena scire videaris: vel si Latina tentaveris, ante audire grammaticum, ferulae manum subtrahere, et inter parvulos ἀθηνογέρων artem loquendi discere. quamvis Croesos quis spiret et Darios, litterae marsupium non sequuntur. sudoris comites sunt et laboris; sociae ieiuniorum, non saturitatis; continentiae, non luxuriae. Demosthenes plus olei quam vini expendisse dicitur, et omnes opifices nocturnis semper vigiliis praevenisse. quod ille in una littera fecit exprimenda, ut a cane rho disceret, tu in me criminaris, quare homo ab homine Hebraeas litteras didicerim. inde est quod quidam inerudite sapientes remanent, dum nolunt discere quod ignorant.
(Jerome, Apologia Adversus Libros Rufini 1.17)
You who can hardly do more than mutter in Latin, and who rather creep like a tortoise than walk, ought either to write in Greek, so that among those who are ignorant of Greek you may pass for one who knows a foreign tongue; or else, if you attempt to write Latin, you should first have a grammar-master, and flinch from the ferule, and begin again as an old scholar among children to learn the art of speaking. Even if a man is bursting with the wealth of Crœsus and Darius, letters will not follow the money-bag. They are the companions of toil and of labour, the associates of the fasting not of the full-fed, of self-mastery not of self-indulgence. It is told of Demosthenes that he consumed more oil than wine, and that no workman ever shortened his nights as he did. He for the sake of enunciating the single letter Rho was willing to take a dog as his teacher; and yet you make it a crime in me that I took a man to teach me the Hebrew letters. This is the sort of wisdom which makes men remain unlearned: they do not choose to learn what they do not know. (tr. William Henry Fremantle)
Respice sanctum virum Pammachium, et ferventissimae fidei Paulinum Presbyterum, qui non solum divitias, sed se ipsos Domino obtulerunt. qui contra diaboli tergiversationem, nequaquam pellem pro pelle, sed carnes, et ossa, et animas suas Domino consecrarunt. qui te et exemplo, et eloquio, id est, et opere, et lingua possunt ad maiora perducere. nobilis es, et illi, sed in Christo nobiliores.
(Jerome, Ep. 118.5)
Look at Pammachius and at Paulinus that presbyter of glowing faith both of whom have offered to the Lord not only their riches but themselves. In spite of the devil and his shuffling they have by no means given skin for skin, but have consecrated their own flesh and bones, yea and their very souls unto the Lord. Surely these may lead you to higher things both by their example and by their preaching, that is, by their deeds and words. You are of noble birth, so are they: but in Christ they are made nobler still. (tr. William Henry Fremantle)
Vidua, quae soluta est vinculo maritali, nihil necesse habet nisi perseverare. at scandalizat quempiam vestis fuscior: scandalizet Iohannes, quo inter natos mulierum maior nullus fuit, qui angelus dictus ipsum quoque dominum baptizavit, qui camelorum vestitus tegumine zona pellicia cingebatur. cibi displicent viliores; nihil vilius est locustis. illae Christianos oculos potius scandalizent, quae purpurisso et quibusdam fucis ora oculosque depingunt, quarum facies gypseae et nimio candore deformes idola mentiuntur, quibus si forte improvidens lacrimarum stilla eruperit, sulco defluit, quas nec numerus annorum potest docere, quod vetulae sunt, quae capillis alienis verticem instruunt et praeteritam iuventutem in rugis anilibus poliunt, quae denique ante nepotum gregem trementes virgunculae componuntur.
(Jerome, Ep. 38.3)
A widow who is freed from the marital bond has but one duty laid upon her, and that is to continue as a widow. It may be that some people are offended by her sombre garb: they would be offended also by John the Baptist, and yet among those born of women there has not been a greater than he. He was called God’s messenger and baptized the Lord Himself, but he was clothed in camel’s-hair raiment and girded with a girdle of skins. It may be that some are displeased by a widow’s simple food: nothing can be more simple than locusts. Those women rather should offend a Christian’s eyes, who paint their cheeks with rouge and their eyes with belladonna; whose faces are covered with powder and so disfigured by excessive whiteness that they look like idols; who find a wet furrow on their skin if perchance a careless tear escape them; whom no amount of years can convince that they are old; who heap their heads with borrowed tresses; who polish up past youthfulness in spite of the wrinkles of age; who, in fine, behave like trembling schoolgirls before a company of their own grandsons. (tr. Frederick Adam Wright)