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Century V, Chapter X

CHAP. X.

CHAP; THE Llp£ AND W0RKS OF JEROM.

Jfrombom, This renowned monk was born at Stridon, a A. D. town in the confines of Dalmatia and Pannonia, 331* under the emperor Constantine, in the year 331. The place was obscure, and was rendered still more 60 by the desolations of the Goths. Nor is it a very clear case whether.it ought to be looked on as part of Italy or not*. That Jeroni was of a liberal and opulent family, appears from the pains taken with his education, which was finished at Rome, that he

* Erasm. Life of Jerom, prefixed to his works.

might there acquire the graces of Latinity. He was in truth the most learned of the Roman fathers, and was eminent both for genius and industry. He was brought up in Christianity from infancy, and hence, like other good men, who have had the same advantages, he appears never to have known the extreme conflicts with indwelling sin,which, to later converts, have given so much pain, and often have rendered them more eminently acquainted with vital religion.

After his baptism at Rome, he travelled into France, in company with Bonosus, a fellow-student. He examined libraries, and collected information from all quarters ; and, returning into Italy, he determined to follow the profession of a monk : a term, which did not, at that time, convey the modern idea of the word. In Jerom's time, it meant chiefly the life of a private recluse Christian, who yet was fettered by no certain rules nor vows, but acted according to his own pleasure. Such a life suited the disposition of a studious person like Jerom. He was, however, made a presbyter of the church, but never would proceed any further in ecclesiastical dignity. He spent four years in the deserts of Syria, reading and studying with immense industry. A Commentary on the prophet Obadiah, which he published, bore strong marks of juvenile indiscretion, as he afterwards frankly owned. And here, by the assistance of a Jew, who visited him, Nicodemus-like, in the evenings, lest he should give umbrage to his brethren, he acquired the knowledge of the Hebrew tongue, and with indefatigable labour he studied also the Chaldee and the Syriac.

On his return to Rome, he became intimate with Paula, the illustrious descendant of the Pauls, so famous in Roman story, with Marcella, and other opulent ladies. The monastic life, which had long flourished in the East, was only beginning to be fashionable in the West. The renowned Athana

Chap- sius, and his Egyptian friends, rendered respectable, v , during their exile at Rome, by their sufferings for the faith, contributed to throw a dignity on such a course of life: and the zeal of Jerom nursed the same spirit among serious persons. The ladies I have mentioned, were hence induced to impart a celebrity to the monastic taste by their own example.

Paula, her daughter Eustochium, her son-in-law Pammachius, Marcella, and others, admired and revered Jerom ; and he, whose temper was choleric and imperious to a great degree, seems to have lived in much harmony with females, probably because be more easily gained submission from them than from persons of his own sex.

Spleen and calumny hastened the departure of Jerom from Rome. This great man had not learned to command his passions, and to disregard the breath of fame. Unjust aspersions on his character affected him with a very blameable acrimony. He retired again to the East: there several of his admirers followed him. He chose Bethlehem as the seat of his old age, where Paula erected four monasteries, three for the women, over which she presided, and one for the men, in which Jerom lived the rest of his life, enjoying at times the society of his learned friends. He instructed the women also in theology, and Paula died, after having lived twenty years in the monastery.

Jerom dies I shall not spend any time in vindicating the chasof 9"!*Bge tity of Jerom, because his whole life was a sufficient A. D. answer to calumny in that respect. He was certainly 420. serious in the very best sense of the word, and died in the 91st year of his age, in the year 420.

Yet it is to be lamented, that a man of so great sincerity, and of a mind so vigorous, should have been of so little service to mankind. The truth is, his knowledge of theology was contracted and low. He confessed, that while he macerated his body iu the deserts, he was thinking of the pleasures and delights of Rome. He understood not the true Cent. Gospel-mystery of mortifying sin, and, by his vo- - v' luntary humility and neglect of the body, added to the fame and splendour of his voluminous but illdigested learning, hecontributedmore than any other person of antiquity to the growth of superstition. His quarrel with Ruffinus is a reproach to both their memories. Yet, of the two, Jerom seems to have been more evangelical in his views; because Origren was erroneous in his doctrines : and it is a sufficient account of so uninteresting a controversy to say, that Ruffinus defended, Jerom accused, Origen.

For the view of his controversy with Augustine, I must refer the reader to the accounts of that Father of the Church.

Jerom was, however, humble before God, and truly pious: and of him it must be said, to the honour of Christian godliness, how much worse a man he would have been had he not known Christ Jesus, and how much better if he had known him with more clearness and perspicuity !

The works of a writer so superstitious, though sound in the essentials of Christianity, will not deserve a very particular review. Here and there a vigorous and evangelical sentiment breaks out amidst the clouds. His epistles discover him to have been sincere and heavenly minded, though his temper was choleric. In a letter to Nepotian* there are various rules worthy the attention of Pastors, concerning the contempt of riches, the avoiding of secular familiarities, and the regulation of external conduct. One observation will deserve to be distinctly remembered: " A clergyman easily subjects himself to contempt who never represses invitations to dinner, however frequent."

He wrote an epitaph upon the death of this same Nepotian some time after f, eloquent, pious, pathetic, 'hcdeath

* Paris Edit. vol. i.6G. - . f Id. 8 D.

Another letter to Flotentiah

Chap. In this he confesses the doctrine of original sin, and celebrates the victory of Christ over death. He makes an excellent use of the public miseries of the times, by recommending more strongly a practical attention to piety. Hence, also, he makes the best apology which could be invented for his favourite solitude.

In his letter * to Rusticus the monk, the learned reader, who would see a practical comment on St. Paul's cautions against voluntary humility in the Epistle to the Colossians, may behold it in Jerom. He abounds in self-devised ways of obtaining holiness, while the true way of humble faith in Jesus is not despised indeed, but little attended to.

A short letter to Florentius shows genuine humility and acquiescence in Christ, as his sole hope, after all his austerities. He calls himself a polluted sinner altogether; " yet, because the Lord sets free the captives, and looks to the humble and the contrite, perhaps he may say to me also, lying in the grave of wickedness, Jerom, come forth." It was this humble faith in Christ, which checked the impetuosity and arrogance of his natural temper, repressed his vain-glory, and in some degree changed a lion into a lamb. For Jerom, though exactly formed by constitution and habit, to sustain the character of a Pharisee, was too deeply conscious of internal pollution to be one in reality.

Toxotius, the son of Paula, had married Leeta, by whom he had a daughter, whom the grandmother destined to virginity. Jerom writes to the mother f, advising, that the child be sent to Bethlehem, when grown up, and promising himself to superintend her education. At presenthe gives rules for her education, while an infant, which are useful, but mixed with superstition. Laeta's father, it seems, was a Pagan. Jerom, however, despairs not of his conversion : " All things, he says, are possible with * 15 G. f 19 G. .;. .

God. Conversion is nevez-too late. The thief from the cross passed into Paradise. Despair not of your Father's salvation. A relation of yours, Gracchus, whose very name is expressive of patrician nobility, a few years ago broke in pieces and burnt the images of idolatry, and received the faith of Christ." Behold the spirit of meekness and charity adorning one of the most rugged tempers in the world, and admire the effect of victorious grace in Jerom.

I am disgusted with the repeated lessons of superstition with which his epistles present us. He knew, however, better things. In a letter to his Paula, he Jerom rebuked her immoderate sorrow for the death of her p"u'"to daughter Blesilla, in strains at once evangelical and tender *. In a letter to Pammachius f, who be- .-.. came a monk after the decease of his wife Paulina; the daughter of Paula, he speaks with holy rapture on the love of Christ, according to the ideas of the book of Canticles : " Whether you read or write, or watch or sleep, let love always sound a trumpet in your ears ; let this trumpet excite your soul; overpowered with this love, seek in your bed Him whom your soul loveth." How much is it to be regretted, that Jerom and his friends should have so hidden their talent; that persons who loved Christ sincerely had not learned, like the Apostles and firstChristians, to profess him in the most public walks of society, and by preaching and conversation to have instructed mankind in general ! But such conduct would have required a self-denial and a charity, larger and of a more sublime nature than theirs; to live in the world, and yet remain separate from it, shows a divine strength indeed.

Jerom confesses, that Gregory Nazianzeti was his preceptor in theological expositions The Eastern mode, thus caught by Jerom, and pursued by a mind eager, and adorned with learning and eloquence, became highly respected in the West.— • 57 G- f 59 G. -- - i 106 D.

Jerom, as a theologian, seems greatly inferior to his contemporary Augustine, though in style and diction superior.

In- the foregoing century, Jovinian, an Italian monk, taught, first at Rome, and afterwards at Milan, some points of doctrine directly opposite to the growing superstitions. 11 is not easy to state, with confidence, either the character or the sentiments of the man. His works are lost. The most celebrated teachers of the Church opposed him vehemently. Ambrose, Jerom, and Augustine, joiqed their testimonies against him. The last, indeed, wrote very little, and that little from popular rumour, rather than from any distinct knowledge of the subject; for the weight of popular prejudice overwhelmed Jovinian speedily, so that his doctrines could never enter Africa, nor give the bishop of Hippo an opportunity of knowing him. Had this been the case, I should have expected, from his candour and judgment, that fair and distinct delineation of Jovinian, which we seek in vain from the choleric and prejudiced Jerom. We have of the latter two books against Jovinian *, intemperate, fierce, and ill-supported by Scripture or argument. I have endeavoured, as well as I can, to discover what were his real opinions f; but, in wading through the torrent of Jerom's abuse, I find no very certain vestiges; such is the violence and intemperance of his spirit and language. One single quotation is all that I can discover, which can be called Jovinian's own, the language of which is barbarous in the extreme, and justifies Jerom's censure upon him in one respect, as a man void of all classical culture and elegance. The sense of it £ seems

* Tom. xi. 7 D.

f Whatever they were, he was condemned in a council, held hy Ambrose at Milan, as an heretic, and was, by the emperor Honoring, banished to the island Boa.

t 8 G.

to be this: " Having satisfied those who were invited to hear me, not for the sake of my glory, but that I may deliver myself from unjust accusations, I sow my field, and visit the new plantations, the tender shrubs, delivered from the whirlpools of vices, fortified by troops. For we know the Church, through hope, faith, and charity, inaccessible, invincible. In her there are none immature, every one is teachable; none can subdue her by violence, or elude her by art."

I admire the positiveness of Mosheim in deciding so peremptorily for the character of a man *, of whose writings nothing has come down to us, but a singlesentence so barbarous and doubtful. Certainly he opposed the prejudices in favour of celibacy and fasting. A monk himself, he disclaimed any superior dignity or estimation, on account of his abstinence from matrimony; nor did he think, that fasting added any intrinsic excellence to a character. Thus far is certain: and that he saw so much truth in such an age, proves him doubtless to have been a man of strong sense and manly understanding. But before I dare call him " a worthy opposer of the reigning superstitions," I ought to know his motives. He might be influenced by the pure love of God, the faith of Jesus, and unfeigned humility. He might be moved by a spirit merely prudential, worldly, and even profane. For true Christians and Deists will unite in opposing superstition, from motives very opposite. We are, indeed, always strongly inclined to think well of those persons in past ages, who happened to favour our peculiar sentiments or prejudices; and, on the contrary, we are apt to judge harshly of those who thought in a different manner. Does this propensity account for Mosheim's hasty approbation of the character of Jovinian ? Whether it does or not in this instance I cannot but observe, that this sort of mental * Mosheim, Cent. iv. c. iii. 22.

imbecility forms one of the most capital defects of that ecclesiastical historian : As to myself, I can only say, I endeavour to guard against it.

Let us hear, however, what are the four propositions of Jovinian. I wish I could give them in his own words, instead of those of his adversary. The first is, that virgins, widows, and married women, who have once been washed in Christ, if in other works they differ not, are of the same excellence. Secondly, he endeavours to prove, that those who have been regenerated cannot be subverted by the devil. The third shows, that there is no distinction in the sight of God, between those who abstain from meats, and those who receive them with thanksgiving. The fourth, that all who keep their baptism shall be equally rewarded in the

From information so scanty, two very opposite opinions may be deduced : first, that Jovinian, blest with divine illumination, and the faith of God'select,

tianity, condemned the self-righteous taste of the times in ascribing merit to extrinsic excellence, to fasting, and celibacy ; recommended them only as external helps of godliness in certain cases; placed all the hope of salvation on the grace of Jesus in unfeigned faith and humility ; asserted the perpetuity of this grace in the elect; and while he reprobated the fictitious virtues of proud men, was zealous for the glory of God and his Christ. Whether this was Jovinian's view or not, it undoubtedly was that of the apostles. If it was his, he was no heretic, as he has been represented, but a faithful confessor of Christ. That which strongly inclines me to hope, on the whole, that this was his real character, and that even good men of his age were deceived con*cerning him, is the soundness with which he interprets Scripture in thefewinstances to be collected from Jerom's confused account. He observes that

kingdom of heaven.

entered full

the spirit of apostolical Chris

those who fell were only baptized with water, not Cent. with the Holy Ghost, as appears from the case of , '*. , Simon Magus, showing from St. John, that he who is born of God doth not commit sin. He mentions the presence of Jesus at the marriage of Cana, in support of his vindication of matrimony ; to which Jerom returns an answer too ridiculous to deserve mentioning. There are other things in Jerom's opposition, weak beyond measure, and which show that sound argumentation was not the talent of this celebrated Father.

If, on the other hand, Jovinian's opposition to the fashionable austerities sprang from the love of the world ; if he held that all sins were really equal, and that the devil had no power at all to draw the regenerate into sin, he might be a Stoic, an Epicurean, an Antinomian; a character very remote from that of a Christian. A little clear information of Jovinian's own life, and even a larger specimen of his writings, might have solved this doubt.

About the beginning of this century, Vigilantius, Brief «c. a presbyter, a man remarkable for eloquence, who vi^Lluu was born in Gaul, and afterwards, performed his ecclesiastical functions in Spain, treading in the steps of Jovinian, exhorted and wrote with much energy against the custom of performing vigils in temples consecrated to martyrs, and against the whole apparatus of pilgrimages, relics, addresses to saints, voluntary poverty, and the like. I have here to regret, as in the former instance, the want of materials for estimating the character of this man, whom Mosheim scruples not to call the good Vigilantius*. He quotes indeed Bayle's dictionary; whence I gather, that the presbyter before us was agreeable to that self-conceited sceptic ; but the ambiguity remains unremoved. He might oppose superstition from the faith and love of Christ, or from profaneand sensuality. As no specific blot, however, * Moebeim, Cent. v. c. iii. 14.

Chap- is affixed to the moral characters of Jovinian and v x ; , Vigilantius, amidst an intemperate effusion of satire, the probability is, on the whole, that they were pious men, and deserved to be ranked in a very different class from that of heretics.

Jerom wrote apologies for his books against Jovinian*, which gave additional strength to the charges of asperity justly brought against him by many. His commendation of rhetoric is excessive, and his vain-glory odious, though it seems unknown to himself. The best instruction to be collected from them is, to see how the defect of Christian principle fails not to appear in the defect of humility, meekness, and love. Augustine and Jerom, in principles and practice, form in this respect a strong contrast. The pieces against Vigilantius deserve the same censure. He absurdly gives to saints a sort of omnipresence and intercessory power.

I have said already, that the contest between Jerom and Ruffinus is uninteresting. It is a deplorable evidence of the weakness and corruption . of human nature, even in men constantly engaged in religious studies ! A sincere and practical attention to the real peculiarities of the Gospel, can alone secure the genuine holiness of professors, and mortifythe whole body of sin. When Jerom is calm and unruffled, and looks to Jesus Christ in faith and love, he seems quite another man from what he is when engaged in controversy. For a single page of Jovinian or Vigilantius, I would gladly give up the whole invectives of Jerom and Ruffinus.

It is remarkable, that Jerom confesses the vast obscurity of the whole Epistle to the Romans fTo one who studied so much, and whose mind was so clouded with self-righteous superstitions, it must appear in that light. He evidently speaks as one irresolute, embarrassed, and confused. His immensity of verbal learning, in which he much excelled * 37 D. 43 D. 44 G. f 58 D. Tom. ult. of vol. i.

Augustine, was notcombined with thatluminous perspicuity, and comprehensive judgment of doctrine, which enabled the latter to see his way through various mazes, and to find order and beauty, where the former beheld inextricable confusion. Such is the difference between divine and human teaching !

Hence Jerom, in his very voluminous expositions *, speaks at random ; is allegorical beyond all bounds, and almost always without accuracy and precision; lowers the doctrine of illumination in 1 Cor. ii. to things merely moral and practical; hints atsomethinglikeafirstand second justification before God; asserts predestination, and, as it were, retracts it; owns a good will as from God in one place, in another supposes a power to choose to be the whole of divine grace ; never opposes fundamental truths deliberately, but though he owns them every where, always does so defectively, and often inconsistently. It must be confessed, the reputation of this father's knowledge and abilities has been much over-rated. There is a splendor in a profusion of ill-digested learning, coloured by a lively imagination, which is often mistaken for sublimity of genius. This was Jerom's case ; but this was not the greatest part of the evil. His learned ignorance availed, more than any other cause, to give a celebrity to superstition in the Christian world, and to darken the light of the Gospel. Yet, when he was unruffled by contradiction, and engaged in meditations unconnected with superstition, he could speak with Christian affection concerning the characters and offices of the Son of God.

It was a marvellous effect of Divine Providence, that while all other truths were more or less clouded, that which relates to the person of the Son of God, on whom rests the salvation of men, should remain unsullied. From St. John's days to Jerom we have seen the whole church unanimous in a

* Vol. ii. throughout.

Chap- comprehensive view of the Godhead and manhood s» , of the divine Saviour : whoever opposed either, could never obtain the free sanction of the church. Imperial violence was ever found necessary to extort the admission of such persons into the church as pastors. This essential article of Christianity seems even to have been studied with the minutest accuracy ; and few perhaps, even of the best modern divines, have attained the precision of the ancients. Heresiarchs have not failed to take advantage of this circumstance, and the narrow and imperfect conceptions, which some authors have formed of the person of Jesus Christ have emboldened them to suppose, that the assertion of the manhood enervates the proof of the Godhead. Inlerioritytothe Father, confessed in any light, seems to startle many minds unaccustomed to the generous and extensive habits of thinking, in which the fathers excelled on this subject ; while yet the answer is so easy to all supposed difficulties of this nature ; " equal to the Father as touching his Godhead, and inferior to the Father as touching his manhood *."