An Exceeding Small Florilegium Which Aims to Demonstrate Why St Jerome Rocks

My trip to sunny Southern California, which should have been well underway by now, has been temporarily delayed due to circumstances beyond my control. In the meantime, I’ve been required to do quite a bit of sitting and waiting. So as to not waste my time in idleness, I decided to follow the example of my hero J. Gresham Machen (a Classics major who was known to never leave home without a volume of the Loeb Classical Library), and I’ve taken with me Loeb’s volume 262, Jerome: Select Letters. I’ve had the chance to go through many of the letters, from which come the following choice quotations:

Fiunt non nascuntur Christiani. (Christians are not born, but made.)

  • A very consoling (and challenging) thought, indeed!

[On the education of a young girl:] Cave [….] ne capillum inrufes et ei aliquid de gehennae ignibus auspiceris. (Take heed [….] [that you do] not dye her hair red and thereby presage for her the fires of hell.)

  • I knew I was right about redheads all along!

[Discussing the exemplary Christian witness of some family members, which caused the conversion of hardened relatives:] Ego puto etiam ipsum Iovem, si habuisset talem cognationem, potuisse in Christo credere. (I, for my part, think that even Jove might well have believed in Christ if he had kinsfolk of this kind.)

  • Behold St Jerome’s rhetorical genius at work! With a single stroke, he scores one against the pagans, by alluding to the moral want of their gods, and he impresses on his reader the absolute necessity to lead a holy life in the context of one’s family.

[Explaining how he had finished composing a beautiful letter of admonition on a single night, without even thinking of adorning it with rhetorical niceties, he concludes:] Quod idcirco dixi, ut, qui non ignoscit ingenio, ignoscat vel tempori. (I say this that those who make no excuses for lack of ability may make some for lack of time.)

  • Ah, the delightfully undiluted crank! Here he scores one against his critics, who justified their own mediocrity by accusing him of spending too much time composing his letters and treatises according to the canons of Rhetoric.

So there you have it: your patristic awesomeness for the evening!

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3 responses to “An Exceeding Small Florilegium Which Aims to Demonstrate Why St Jerome Rocks

  1. Come now, while not familiar at all with St. Jerome (I am concentrating on Plutarch) I doubt that it is the red hair, but the induction of vanity in the girl by the act of dyeing her hair that presages hell for her. Of course, being auburn-haired I am biased…
    Do these unavoidable delays mean you shall not be in Jackson on Sunday morn?

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  2. J. Gresham Machen (a Classics major who was known to never leave home without a volume of the Loeb Classical Library)

    Is this true? I thought Machen was not distant from the era when the Loeb library was for amateurs only, a mere “crib.” See here or here.

    (I will readily confess to owning several dozen volumes myself — the opprobrium has lifted.)

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  3. Irene> Actually, I think St Jerome refers here to the requirement for Roman meretrices to dye their hair red (or blonde!). :-)

    And indeed, my trip to Jackson is sadly canceled. Sorry I haven’t replied to your e-mail; more details privately.

    Iyov> Thanks for the links. How very interesting!

    This particular detail is recalled by Ned B. Stonehouse in his 1954 biography of Machen. Stonehouse was Machen’s junior colleague in the New Testament department at Westminster, and also a student of his at Princeton; he was also his close friend, and perhaps the one who knew him best. It also recounted in a few smaller biographical essays, and always with admiration. So it might be that the Loeb opprobrium was lifted much before one might surmise from those articles.

    I own quite a few volumes, myself, and I’m sure glad that there no stigma attached to that these days! I find it far more convenient to look over to the English side when I come across a word I don’t know than to carry around a dictionary. :-)

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