Jacques Maritain Center : Great Inspirers / by J. A. Zahm, CSC

Part I

A Father of the Church and his Inspirers and Collaborators



No period of history is more conspicuous for stirring and far-reaching events than is the second half of the fourth century of the Christian Era. It was this period that beheld the dissolution of the great Roman Empire, that witnessed the decisive combat between paganism and Christianity, and that rejoiced in some of the noblest achievements of Christian scholarship.

For years before the débâcle came, it was evident to all clear- visioned observers that the mightiest nation that the world had yet known was fated to be the victim of its own luxury and corruption. Not a day passed that did not deplore the fall of some portion of the great edifice to whose erection Roman valor and statesmanship had devoted ten long centuries and whose duration Roman citizens had fondly thought would prove eternal. Consuls, governors of provinces, and men who had attained the highest honors of the empire finished their days in disgrace and misery. Even the Caesars themselves -- those masters of the world, before whom the universe trembled -- occupied the throne but a short time before meeting with a tragic death. On all sides the empire was attacked by hordes of barbarians -- by Vandals, by Goths, by Quadi, by Sarmatians, who were soon followed by Huns and Ethiopians, Heruli and Numidians. Everywhere they dealt terrific blows to the imperial forces. From the Julian Alps to the Thracian Bosporus, the country was ravaged by fire and sword, and the Roman eagle, which for centuries had flown above victorious in countless battlefields, was trampled in the dust by rude warriors from the valleys of the Danube and the Vistula.

From the frontiers of the empire these countless hosts moved with irresistible force towards the heart of the Roman world. In 402 Alaric was master of the territory from Venice to the Po, and was marching on towards Rome when his course was arrested by Stilicho at Pollentia. During the latter part of this fateful year, the Alani, the Suevi, and the Vandals crossed the Rhine and inundated Gaul and Spain, both of which were then lost to the empire. Shortly afterward Britain declared its independence. Then Alaric reappeared, and, in a brief time, Rome, so long the mistress of the world, was at his feet -- a toy for his wrath and a pawn for his unbridled lust of power.

While the barbarians of the North were overrunning the empire of the Caesars and infusing new blood into the corrupt and decadent races of the South, Christianity, made strong by three centuries of persecution, was already preparing to celebrate her triumph over an effete paganism. The contest of the rival religions had been long and obstinate. In spite of its moral, social, and doctrinal weaknesses polytheism kept up a vigorous struggle until the last. It was a curious. spectacle to behold paganism, deprived of vitality and facing inevitable dissolution, obstinately persisting in its futile struggle and unwilling, even in its death throes, to acknowledge defeat. It did not, indeed, admit itself conquered until it became aware that the smoke of sacrifice had ceased to rise from its altars; that its most sumptuous and imposing temples had been dedicated to the Crucified; that its most cherished idols had become objects of derision, even among those who had previously shown them most honor; that the Cross had been exalted above the capitol; that the Emperor Julian, their last, forlorn hope, had exclaimed in the agony of death: Nenikêkas Galilaie -- Galilean, thou hast conquered!

But while paganism, unwilling to be regenerated, was falling a victim of its own vices and corruption, Christianity was daily becoming more powerful and, conscious of her divine mission, was preparing, even before the Sack of Rome by Alaric, to evangelize the barbarians and create a new world -- Christian Europe.

And how well she was equipped for this stupendous task! Never before could she count so many men of brilliant genius and profound scholarship as were at her service during the second half of the fourth century. It is true that during the period of persecution she had such eminent teachers and apologists as Tertullian, Origen, St. Justin, St. Cyprian, Lactantius, Arnobius, and Clement of Alexandria. But, after the Church had left the Catacombs, and was free to preach the gospel in the open, the number of her learned sons became much greater. And, when we reach the latter half of the fourth century, we find a splendid galaxy of illustrious doctors who are still the glory of their age and faith. In the East were St. Gregory of Nyssa, St. Gregory of Nazienzus and St. Basil the Great -- known as "the three Cappadocians." There were also St. Athanasius, the illustrious patriarch of Alexandria, St. Epiphanius, the pentaglot bishop of Salamis in Cyprus, and St. John Chrysostom, "the greatest preacher ever heard in a Christian pulpit." In the West were the learned St. Hilary, St. Ambrose, the preeminent ecclesiastical teacher, and St. Augustine who, as I have elsewhere observed, "combined the searching and potent dialectics of Plato, the profound scientific conceptions of Aristotle, the learning and versatility of Origen, the grace and eloquence of Basil and Chrysostom. Whether we regard him as philosopher, theologian, or exegetist --the Doctor of Grace is ever admirable, at once the glory of the Church and the master of the ages."{2} For keenness of intellect, profundity of thought and breadth of scholarship these illustrious divines remained unrivaled until the days of Albertus Magnus, Roger Bacon, Duns Scotus, Peter Abelard, and St. Thomas Aquinas -- the illustrious "Angel of the Schools."

It was when the activities of the eminent Greek and Latin doctors of the fourth century began to attract most attention that the Eternal City welcomed within its walls a Dalmatian monk who was destined to occupy a most conspicuous place among them and to achieve a work which was to render both him and his collaborators immortal. His somber habit and his intellectual features, bronzed by the fiery sun of the Syrian desert, where he had led the life of an anchoret, attracted special attention whenever he appeared in public. But this strangely garbed man was not unknown in Rome. For he had, during his youth, studied there under the celebrated grammarian, Donatus, and had early become distinguished for his knowledge and eloquence. He was a native of Stridon, a small town on the southern slope of the Illyrian Alps, and his full name, in Latin, was Eusebius Hieronymus. He is, however, better known to us as St. Jerome, who, in his mature years, became famous for his translation of the Bible from the original tongues into Latin, and for being the most erudite of all the Fathers of the Church.{3}

Jerome, even while a student under Donatus, became noted for his great love of books and for his insatiable thirst for knowledge. At an early age he had mastered the literatures and philosophies of Greece and Rome and was soon regarded by his contemporaries as a prodigy of learning. Like Petrarch long afterwards, he became celebrated as a book collector. Books that he could not purchase he copied with his own hand. He thus gradually became the possessor of a large and valuable library. This he always kept with him -- even during his peregrinations to distant parts of the world.

Following the example of Plato, Jerome's chief purpose in traveling was to acquire knowledge. It is to him that we owe the expression which distinguishes the curious tourist from the intelligent traveler: Discendi studio peregrinationes institutae sunt --The love of study has begot the desire to travel. And the result of his observations in many lands -- in Europe, in Asia, in Africa -- is seen not only in his literary and philosophical, but also, and especially, in his historical and Scriptural works. Speaking of the value of travel as an aid to Scriptural study, he declares: "As one better understands the history of the Greeks when one has seen Athens, and the third book of the AEneid, when one has come by way of Leucate and the Acroceraunian Mountains, from the Troad to Sicily, in order to enter the embouchure of the Tiber, so, also, one better understands the Holy Scriptures when one has traversed Judea, interrogated the souvenirs of its ancient cities and studied its geography."{4} Some years after leaving the school of Donatus, Jerome, who had been deeply impressed by all that he had learned respecting the self- sacrificing lives of the monks of the Thebaid, resolved to follow in their footsteps. He accordingly set out for Syria. However, instead of going by sea, as was then customary, he chose to go overland by way of the Danube, Thrace and Asia Minor. Bearing in mind the unsettled condition of the Roman Empire at this period and the great lack of communications in the countries traversed, we can easily imagine how terrific must have been the fatigues and sufferings which so long a journey entailed and how great and numerous were the difficulties which everywhere confronted the traveler. But these did not in the least deter Jerome from carrying out his project or dampen his ardor to imitate the saintly lives of Paul and Anthony, who were then the glory of Christian Egypt.

During this long journey, as in all he had made previously, Jerome was continually adding to his already vast stores of knowledge. His precious library was always at his side and some favorite author was usually in his hand. Besides this, he always sought out men of learning in all the countries he visited, and, in this wise, he eventually became as familiar with the history and traditions of the East as he was with those of the West.

He was not long in Syria before he determined to fix his abode in the torrid and inhospitable desert of Chalcis. Here, while practicing the greatest austerities, he continued the study of his favorite authors in Latin and Greek. In addition to this, he took up the study of Hebrew, of which he ultimately became so great a master.

From Chalcis Jerome went to Jerusalem. But his sojourn there was short. Although no one could have been more interested in the venerable spectacles which everywhere greeted his admiring gaze, what this ardent student then most felt the need of was knowledge -- ever more knowledge. He wished to be identified with that great movement of ideas, of which the three great Cappadocians -- Saints Basil, Gregory of Nyssa and Gregory of Nazienzus -- were then the acknowledged leaders. Labor and the acquisition of knowledge were the great needs of his soul.{5} A life of inactivity to him was unbearable. He, accordingly, threw himself, with his usual élan, into the great intellectual current which was then giving such vigorous life to the Church in the Orient.

To quench his thirst for knowledge, he proceeded to Constantinople, where the illustrious Gregory of Nazienzus was bishop. This accomplished prelate was then looked upon as the greatest light of the Eastern Church, and posterity has ratified the opinion of his contemporaries. Villeman calls him the greatest poet of Oriental Christendom. On account of his profound knowledge of Scripture and theology he has been surnamed Theologus. And for the same reason, added to his great sanctity, he has been named "the Divine" -- a title that has been given to no other saint of the Church, except to St. John, the Beloved Apostle.

Gregory found in Jerome a kindred spirit and, in spite of their disparity of age, the two soon became fast friends. The venerable bishop gladly opened to the inquiring spirit of his young friend those treasures of Eastern knowledge for which the eager mind of Jerome was then so athirst. During the rest of his life the Dalmatian monk was wont to glory in having had so excellent a preceptor.

While he was pursuing his Scriptural studies under Gregory, Jerome had opportunities of becoming acquainted with many of the most celebrated doctors of the Eastern Church. Among these was St. Gregory of Nyssa, whose theory of cosmogony, as developed in his "Hexaemeron," "must always be regarded as a marvel of scientific divination that is unsurpassed even by the boldest conceptions of that master-intellect of the world -- Aristotle. He also recognized the existence of natural laws which he was unable to detect, much less comprehend -- laws made known long ages afterwards by the investigations of Kepler, Newton and Plateau."{6}

From Constantinople Jerome returned to Rome. A plenary council of the Church's hierarchy had been summoned by Pope Damasus to meet there, in the year 382, and, although he had not been invited to this important convention, the zealous Dalmatian, because of important questions affecting the Eastern Church, which he knew were to be discussed in the council, felt that his familiarity with these made it his duty to be present in the Eternal City in the event that his services should be required.

As on his way eastward, so now, on his return journey, he elected to travel by land rather than by sea. He wished to study the country and the people whose literature had always had such a fascination for him. He, therefore, traversed Greece from one end to the other. His entire journey was one of observation and study, during which he classified in his marvelous memory those vast treasures of erudition of which he subsequently made such splendid use in his manifold writings.

In a preceding page, mention has been made of the cordial welcome accorded by the Romans to the coarsely garbed, bronze-faced Dalmatian on his return from the distant and mysterious East. All classes, especially those who still remembered his triumphs as a student of letters and eloquence, vied with one another in showing honor to one whose fame for learning -- sacred and profane -- had preceded him. But that which exercised even a greater fascination over the minds of the Romans than the great traveler's erudition, were his reputation for sanctity, his character as an anchoret, his eloquent letters from the desert, which had been read and admired by everyone and which had inspired many to embrace the mode of life which had so charmed. Jerome in Chalcis, and had brought such peace and happiness to the solitaries of the Thebaid.

The one who was the first to recognize the great ability of the famous traveler and scholar, and to realize what important services the humble monk would be able to render the Church, was Pope Damasus, who was then occupying the chair of Peter. This venerable pontiff was eminent for virtue and knowledge -- vir egregius et omni genere virtutis ornatus -- and is classed by historians as one of the leading figures of the early Papacy and as one who contributed, in a remarkable degree, toward the splendor of the Church, and toward the development of Christian piety and learning. On account of his celebrated work in the Catacombs it has been said of him that he revealed to the surprised Romans a new city which they learned with astonishment they had long been treading without knowing it.

The Sovereign Pontiff not only testified his great esteem and affection for Jerome, but also showed his confidence in his knowledge and ability by appointing him secretary of the assembled council. This was, indeed, a great honor for a monk who had just arrived from the Orient and whom many of the Western bishops scarcely knew by name. But this was not all. After the council had concluded its deliberations, Damasus made Jerome secretary of the papal chancery, which had charge of many of the most important matters connected with ecclesiastical administration.

It was while Jerome was occupying this position that he received from Damasus, who was deeply interested in Scriptural studies, a commission to revise the version of the Gospels then used in the Eternal City and to make a new translation of the other books of the New Testament. The originals of these, which had been written in Greek, had given rise to numerous Latin translations, many of which were so full of errors and so different one from the other that Jerome declared there were almost as many versions as there were copies -- tot sunt exemplaria paene quot codices.

For this important work the Pope could not have selected one who was better equipped for the task than was his learned secretary. Thoroughly familiar with the texts used in the Eastern Church, and providentially prepared for the work by his admirable course of Scripture under St. Gregory of Nazienzus, Jerome made a thorough revision of the existing Latin translations on the basis of the most approved Greek originals and, in a short time, was able to place in the hands of the Sovereign Pontiff a copy of the New Testament in which the purity of the Sacred Text was again fully reestablished. So great an authority as St. Augustine wrote Jerome that he thanked God that so excellent a version was at last available for the use of the faithful of the Western Church.

One would think that Jerome's manifold duties as secretary to Damasus, combined with his Scriptural labors, would have left him absolutely no time for any other work. But so indefatigable a toiler as the Dalmatian monk, who made such constant use of the midnight oil, could always devise means to secure leisure when the welfare of others demanded his services. And as subsequent events proved, it was precisely at this busy period of his life that the former solitary of Chalcis entered upon what was to be the most remarkable period of his brilliant career.

Among those to whom the learning and saintliness of Jerome appealed quite as strongly as they did to Pope Damasus were many of the noblest patrician women of Rome -- representatives of the Scipios, the Fabii, the Camilli, the Marcelli and other families scarcely less renowned. His monk's garb, his austere visage furrowed by penance and tanned by the sun of the Eastern desert, his vast erudition, fervid and impetuous eloquence, his animated gestures and peculiar accent due to his ten years' absence from the Roman capital, gave to his words a strange charm, and to himself an ascendancy over the minds of his hearers that was quite irresistible. They questioned him about his travels, about the solitaries of the desert, about his studies in Constantinople. But that which most interested them was the Sacred Scriptures. Knowing that they had before them the greatest living authority on Biblical lore, they at once resolved to secure his services as a teacher. Jerome hesitated to accede to their wishes, and did not do so, apparently, until after Pope Damasus had interested himself in their behalf. It was then arranged that his lessons and conferences should be given in a palace on the. Aventine, belonging to a distinguished patrician widow named Marcella -- known in Catholic hagiology as St. Marcella -- a descendant of the old and noble family of the Marcelli, so famous in the annals of the Roman world. She was regarded by her contemporaries as the most beautiful of Roman ladies. But her talent and virtue were even more exceptional.

When she was still a young girl, her mother, Albina, had given hospitality to St. Athanasius, the illustrious Patriarch of Alexandria, who was then an exile from his see. The visage and the conversations of the venerable prelate concerning the monks of the Egyptian desert made on Marcella, whose ardent soul was naturally inclined to great things, a most profound impression. Seeds were then implanted in her generous heart that were destined to produce a fruitage that was to astonish the world.

When the premature death of her husband left her a widow Marcella resolved to put into execution a project which had long been uppermost in her thoughts. That was to follow in the footsteps of those holy men and women of the desert, whose wonderful lives had so thrilled her when, as a young girl, she had listened spellbound to the venerable Athanasius discoursing on the marvels achieved by St. Paul, St. Anthony, and their thousands of spiritual children.

To the amazement -- or rather the consternation -- of the patrician society of Rome it was one day learned that Marcella had bidden adieu to all her rich garments and jewels and had donned the rough and somber habit of a nun. Not only this; she had converted her sumptuous palace on the Aventine into a retreat where her life was devoted to prayer and works of mercy. The outcry at this strange innovation was at first very great. But the surpassing virtue of Marcella soon silenced criticism, and it was not long before she had gathered about her a multitude of widows and young maidens from the noblest families in the capital, who, like herself, desired to follow, under her direction, the same kind of life that had, in the beginning, so shocked all the leaders of patrician Rome. Marcella had, in fact, founded the first convent ever seen in the proud City of the Seven Hills and she was her the first of Roman women to embrace the monastic state.

But her convent quickly became more than refuge from the frivolity and corruption of the capital. It was also soon recognized as a center of works of charity such as the city of the Caesars had not before known. The care of the poor and the sick had never been a pagan virtue and it was not until the advent of Christianity that the precept, "Love thy neighbor as thyself," was put in practice. But it was not until the flower of patrician society, which had gathered about Marcella in her Aventine home, had begun their sublime works of charity that the selfish and pleasure-loving pagans of impenal Rome began to realize the full significance of Christian charity and devotion. Women who had been brought up in the lap of luxury, who never left their sumptuous marble abodes except when borne in golden litters by robust slaves, and who were so delicate that they complained of the weight of their silken raiment, were now seen wending their way, roughly appareled, through the poorest quarters of the Subura and bringing food and clothing to the homes of indigence and misfortune. And yet more, these same women were found ministering to the sick and the dying with a sweetness and a charity that silenced the blasphemy on the lips of the sufferer and prepared him to receive with thanksgiving and joy the message of the Savior.

It was due to the munificence of the patrician Fabiola, also one of the friends of Marcella and one of the frequenters of her convent on the Aventine, that the first hospitals and asylums were erected in Rome and its environs. What an immense advance this was for the welfare of the poor and the sick may be gauged from the fact that pagan Rome had never, during its entire history, established a single institution of public beneficence. Hence, when Fabiola, who was a descendant of the celebrated Fabius Cunctator, opened, for the benefit of suffering humanity, her splendid institutions of charity, her deeds of unheard-of benevolence were heralded throughout the world as the beginning of a new era. In his beautiful eulogy on this philanthropic daughter of the Fabii, St. Jerome describes her as "the glory of the Church, the astonishment of paganism, the mother of the poor," and gives a touching picture of her as she spends her immense fortune for the relief of the indigent and has the sick and dying brought to her hospitals from the public places and from the dark and noisome streets of the imperial capital. When she had a hospice built at Portus Romanus, the news of it was at once carried on the wings of fame to the uttermost parts of the earth. "Far-off Britain," continues Jerome, "learned in the summer what Egypt and Parthia had known in the preceding spring."{7} To us who are so familiar with the heroism of a St. Vincent de Paul, a Florence Nightingale and a Father Damien, and who live in an age when every city and town has its hospitals and asylums, where provision is made for every kind of human misery, it is difficult to realize the amazement which took possession of the Romans when they first became aware of the miracles of charity which were being wrought by the noble patrician women who had gathered under the banner of the saintly Marcella and her ardent associates of the Aventine convent.

"Was it not, indeed, an admirable spectacle which was offered by the heiresses of the most glorious names of idolatrous Rome -- the daughters of the Scipios, the Marcelli, Camilli -- when they consecrated themselves to works of charity, and sacrificed their wealth, their beauty, their youth in order to succor the sick and the poor, as if, by a worthy expiation, Divine Providence had willed that the most humble consolers of humanity should proceed from the midst ofthose families whose glory had before so oppressed the earth?"{8}

But Marcella's palatial abode was yet more than a house of prayer and a center whence ever radiated the most sublime deeds of Christian charity and sacrifice. It was likewise a home of learning whose fame was soon spread far and wide not only on account of the number of those who flocked thither in quest of knowledge but also, and particularly, because of the high rank and eminent virtue of those who were found within its hallowed walls.

A part of Marcella's marble palace with its golden ceilings was set apart for an oratory which was designed for the use of the eager students who flocked in ever increasing numbers to hear the eloquent and scholarly Dalmatian discourse on the Holy Scriptures. For this reason Jerome called Marcella's home on the Aventine Ecclesia Domestica -- the Church of the Household -- an institution which, during the close of the fourth and the opening of the fifth century, was the glory of the Church not only in the West but also in the East.

Chief among the frequenters of this holy retreat were Paula and her two daughters, Blesilla and Eustochium, who possessed in a preeminent degree all the glories of beauty, talent and fortune, and who were bound to Marcella by the tenderest ties of religion and affection. Paula, Jerome informs us, occupied the first place in the senate of Roman matrons. On her mother's side she was the daughter of the Scipios, the Pauli, and the Gracchi -- families that had given to Rome her most illustrious generals, orators and statesmen. Through her father, who was a Greek, she was descended from the half fabulous kings of Sparta and Mycenae. She therefore could proudly suspend in the atrium of her palatial home the images of AEmilius Paulus and Agamemnon. Mother and children, who, besides the two daughters mentioned, included two others -- Paulina and Rufina -- and an only son, Toxotius, were of exceptional intelligence, which had been fully developed by the best masters of Greece and Rome. They all spoke Latin and Greek equally well, and their intellectual attainments were as varied as they were profound.

With such pupils as Marcella and her friends, Paula and her daughters, Jerome had an auditory that was in every way remarkable. But never did students have a more distinguished master. Not since the days when the divine Plato discoursed on philosophy in the peaceful groves of Academus and in the classic halls of Syracuse was there such enthusiasm for learning as there was in that wonderful school on the Aventine where Jerome held his audience spellbound by his erudition and eloquence. His mastery of literary style, that then so enchanted his fair hearers, has won for him from posterity the epithet: "The Christian Cicero." Indeed, no less an authority than Erasmus, himself a master of the purest Latinity, places Jerome as a writer above the illustrious Roman orator and philoso-pher whose works, for two thousand years, have universally been accepted as the most perfect models of literary excellence.{9}

But what charmed his students more than his matchless command of the languages of Greece and Rome was Jerome's wonderful knowledge of Hebrew -- a language then almost unknown in the Eternal City -- and his astonishing erudition in everything that related to the Sacred Scriptures. The great scholar, however, soon had reason to be as much impressed by the profound thought and the surprising mental acumen of his pupils as they were by his vast range of learning and the facility which he possessed of communicating his rare intellectual treasures to others. For he soon discovered, especially in the case of Marcella, Paula and her daughters, Blesilla and Eustochium, that his hearers were as distinguished for their talent and love of learning as they were for their great wealth, noble lineage, and purity of life. In order to have a better understanding of the Sacred Text, they set to work, under their master's guidance, to acquire a knowledge of Hebrew, and it was not long before the Church of the Household resounded with the Psalms of David sung in the language in which they had been composed by the royal prophet. Marcella, Paula and her two daughters, Eustochium and Blesilla, were particularly proficient in this noble but difficult tongue.

Never were students more interested in their work than were those who followed the instructions of Jerome in the convent on the Aventine. Not satisfied with listening to the words that fell from his lips, not content with his explanations of the chapters of the Bible that constituted the day's lesson, they plied him with questions of all kinds, until, as he himself confessed, he felt that he was in the presence of masters rather than pupils.

And, besides this, they demanded more than simple oral teaching. They desired to have their master's lessons in permanent form. At the urgent solicitation of Blesilla, Jerome wrote a commentary on Ecclesiastes. But this, with other works then written at the request of his eager pupils, was but the prelude to the stupendous Scriptural works which he subsequently undertook at the instance of Paula and Eustochium -- the prelude, too, of woman's share in the great Dalmatian's life- work -- labors which were to confer immortality on both the master and his gifted pupils and inspirers.

The serious character of the studies engaged in by Jerome's pupils, as well as the success which attended their efforts, is well illustrated by what is related of Blesilla, who, at her master's request, took up the study of Hebrew in order that she might read the Sacred Text in the original. For her this seemingly tremendous task was but child's play. "That which all Greece had admired in the great Origen was," Jerome assures us, "now exemplified in this young woman of twenty years. Not months, but days only sufficed for her to overcome the difficulties of this language, and to understand and to chant the Psalms in Hebrew, as well as Paula, her mother."{10}

But this extraordinary young woman was not content with studying the New Testament in Greek and the Old Testament in Hebrew. For, in addition to reading the Sacred Books in the original, she made a special study of the Greek commentators, particularly Origen. And that those who were unacquainted with Greek might be able to enjoy her favorite author in a translation, she begged Jerome to make a Latin version of Origen's voluminous commentaries on the Gospels of Sts. Matthew, Luke and John. Imagine a young woman of the "Smart Set," or of New York's "Four Hundred," spending her time on such works as those of the author of the "Hexapla" and the "Peri Archon," and finding such delight in them as to make provision to have her friends share her pleasure in reading them!

Never before had Rome witnessed such ardor in the study of Scripture, and never before or since was there assembled for such study so distinguished and so intelligent a group of women. Such great progress in the knowledge of Scripture had some of made -- notably Marcella, a woman of markable mentality -- that they were consulted on difficult passages of Holy Writ, by laity and clergy alike. But such was the modesty of Marcella that she never gave opinion as her own. She always said but repeated what she had learned from her master.{11} And never was there more sympathetic cooperation in a great cause, such a pious union of hearts and souls as that which existed between the master and the pupils of the Church of the Household. Nothing was more touching than the sweet familiarity, full of confidence and respect; the tender friendship, noble and pure, which bound Marcella and her illustrious friends to their devoted teacher.{12} But all this, together with their astonishing ardor in study, their admirable docility in following the directions of their illustrious preceptor, was not more remarkable than the fond solicitude of the austere monk for the welfare of his spiritual children and his ever fresh alacrity in revealing to them the treasures of Holy Writ and in sustaining them by his example and counsels in the heroic life upon which they had entered.

The deep and holy affection which Jerome entertained for the inmates of the Aventine convent is especially exhibited in his letters to them. In a communication to Eustochium he addresses her as "my Eustochium, my daughter, my mistress, my companion, my sister," and tells her "my age, your worth, our profession and our love of God, permit me to give you all these names."{13} This paternal affection of Jerome for his spiritual child grew with the passing years and continued uninterrupted until they were separated by death.

While the inmates of the Aventine convent were thus enjoying so great happiness and were, under their earnest and saintly master, making such remarkable progress, not only in sacred science but also in spiritual perfections an event occurred that had a far-reaching effect on the intellectual activities of the Ecclesia Domestica. This was the death of Pope Damasus. Public opinion declared Jerome to be the one who, both on account of his great learning and his exemplary life, was most worthy to succeed him. But the choice for the high office fell upon another.

Deprived of his patron and protector, and incessantly harassed by ruthless persecutors whom his austere and saintly life was a standing reproach, and unable any longer pursue, without continual interruption, favorite Scriptural labors, Jerome again longed for the solitude and peace of the desert, which, in the midst of the perennial agi tations of the Roman capital, he had never ceased to regret. He, accordingly, resolved to return to the East to those fountains of Biblical inspiration in which he had before quenched his thirst and near which he desired to fix his permanent abode.

Accompanied by his young brother, Paulinian, and a number of friends who likewise felt the lure of the desert, and a glorious cortège composed of the most eminent members of the Roman clergy and laity, and followed by the prayers and tears of Marcella and her friends, Paula and her children, Jerome proceeded to Ostia, where he embarked on a vessel that was setting sail for the East. Standing on shipboard, with his heart full of emotion which he made no effort to conceal, the voluntary exile gave a last, lingering look toward the home of the noble women whom he had left on the Aventine.

As he still had a few moments at his disposal before the ship's moorings were loosed, the sad and tender-hearted monk, with tears in his eyes, hastily wrote a letter --raptim flens dolensque conscripsi are his words -- to the venerable Asella of the Church of the Household. In this communication he bade a fond adieu to those who had long been his joy and pride, most of whom he was never to see again. But in the mysterious designs of Providence a chosen few of these cherished and devoted friends were destined, in a retreat beyond the sea, to become his most beneficent inspirers and most efficient coworkers in a stupendous work which they were later to map out for him.

At the close of his letter to Asella, Jerome in the most touching words, the depth of his attachment for his spiritual family on the Aventine. "Salute," he bids Asella, "Paula and Eustochium, who, whether the world will it or not, are my very own; salute Albina, our mother, and Marcella, our sister.{14}

And then, reproaching himself for ever having left his beloved solitude in the desert for the Babylon on the Tiber, with its corruption and turmoil and impending dissolution, he exclaimed: "Fool that I was who, wishing to sing the canticle of the Lord in a strange land, abandoned Sinai for Egypt!" -- Stultus ego qui volebam cantare canticum Domini in terra aliena, et deserto monte Sina, AEgypti auxilium flagitabam.{15}

But the persecutions to which the holy man was subjected by his enemies in Rome were not without happy results. For, once more returned to a grateful solitude, the pinions of his genius were trimmed for their loftiest flights and the venerable recluse was able to give to the world those matchless works on Holy Scripture which were, for all time, to be the glory of the Church and their author's most splendid title to undying fame.

It was only a few months after Jerome's departure for the East when the Appian Way saw passing towards Portus Romanus, at the mouth of the Tiber, a great troop of men and women belonging to the first patrician families of the Eternal City. Among them were many who were clad in the somber garb of widows and virgins consecrated to God. These were Paula and Eustochium and their companions, who were on their way to the sacred places of Palestine and Egypt.

Paula's decision to undertake this long journey was not the result of a sudden impulse. Some years before she had given hospitality to the venerable bishop, Epiphanius of Salamis in Cyprus. His accounts of the prodigies which he had witnessed among the Fathers of the desert made on her the same profound impression which some decades before Marcella had experienced when listening to the stories of the patriarch, Anastasius, respecting the anchorets and cenobites of the Thebaid. From that time her mind loved to dwell on the lands which had been sanctified by the prayers and the penances of Paul and Anthony, Hilarion and Pachomius. Jerome's accounts of the Holy Land and the delights of a life of solitude had confirmed her in her desire to visit the lands of which she had heard such marvels. She was also greatly influenced by the fact that a friend of hers, Melania -- also of a noble patrician family and of the same gens as herself -- had, with a number of friends, many years previous, sought and found peace and happiness in the Thebaid, where they spent ten years. After this, Melania built a convent for herself and companions on the Mount of Olives, whence they wrote such glowing accounts of the delights of monastic life, away from the noise and perturbations of the world, that many were induced to follow their example.

After the death of her husband and of her cherished daughter, the brilliant Blesilla, Paula determined to flee from the distractions and commotions of Rome, and seek peace and tranquillity where it had been found by so many thousands of others -- in the wilderness of Syria or Egypt.

The first objective of the travelers was Salamis in Cyprus, where Paula received a most cordial welcome from her venerated friend, Bishop Epiphanius, who had first inspired her with the idea of making a pilgrimage to the East. After a short visit here, the pilgrims continued their voyage and soon arrived at Antioch, where they were met by Jerome, their beloved friend and father.

So eager was Paula to see the holy places in Palestine, and to visit the monasteries in Egypt, about which she had heard so much through her friend, Melania, that she made preparations to continue, without delay, the rest of the journey by land. She induced Jerome to accompany the party, in order that all might profit by his knowledge of the places visited, and of the history and traditions in which the countries to be visited were so rich. They could not have had a better guide, or one more competent to make their pilgrimage interesting and profitable. Their journeyings in the Holy Land and Egypt, in both of which countries, under the guidance of Jerome, they investigated everything with the keen interest and thoroughness of trained Scriptural students, lasted a whole year. The Holy Land first engaged their attention, after which they went to the famed region of the Nile, the motherland of Christian monasticism. So fascinated was Paula with the lives of the anchorets whom she visited in their desert homes in Nitria and Arsinoë, that she wished to spend the remainder of her days in Egypt in a life of penance and contemplation. Jerome, however, was averse to this, and persuaded her to establish a home for herself and companions in Bethlehem, near the grotto of the Nativity. Returning, then, from Egypt to Bethlehem, Paula had four monasteries erected, three for women, over which she presided, and one for men, under the direction of Jerome.

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{1} Some passages in this and the following chapter have appeared in an article which I wrote some years ago, under a pseudonym, for the Catholic World.

{2} "Bible, Science and Faith," pp. 70,71, Baltimore, 1895.

{3} Referring to the vast erudition of St. Jerome, Erasmus, who was one of the most learned of the Humanists, if not the most learned, asks what scholar of antiquity can be compared with jerome for the extent and variety of his knowledge, sacred and profane. "Sin doctrinam exigas, quaeso te, quem habet vel eruditissima Graecia sic absolutum in omni doctrinae genere, ut cum Hieronimo sit committendus? Quis unquam pari felicitate omnes totius eruditionis partes conjunxit et absolvit? Quis unquam in tot linquis antecelluit unus? Cui tanta historiarum, tanta geographiae, tanta antiquitatis notitia contigit unquam? Quis unquam sacrarum ac profanarum omnium literarum et parem et absolutam scientiam est assecutus?" Migne, J. P. (Editor), "Patrologiae Latinae," Tom. XXIII, col. 1552. Paris, 1883.

{4} Quomodo Graecorum historias magis intelligunt, qui Athenas viderint, et tertium Virgilii librum, qui a Troade per Leucaten, et Acroceraunia ad Sixiliam, et inde ad ostia Tiberis navigaverint; ita Sanctam Scripturam lucidius intuebitur, qui Judaeam oculis contemplatus est; et antiquarum urbium memorias, locorumque vel eadem vocabula, vel mutata cognoverit. Migne, op. cit., Tom. XXIX, col. 423.

{5} Referring to St. Jerome's lifelong love of learning, and his extraordinary assiduity in all intellectual pursuits, a German writer declares that knowledge was the spouse of the studious Dalmatian monk as poverty was the spouse of St. Francis of Assisi -- "Ist etwas echt an ihm, so ist es seine aufrichtige Liebe zur Wissenschaft, seine unausrottbare Neigung zur gelehrten Beschäftigung. Die Wissenschaft war die Braut des Hieronymus, wie die Braut des hl. Franz Wissenschaft." Georg Grützmacher, "Hieronymus, Eine Biographische Studie zur Alten Kirchengeschichte," vol. I, p. 127, Berlin, 1901-1908.

{6} Vid. author's "Bible, Science and Faith," p. 67.

{7} Sub una aestate didicit Britania quod AEgyptus et Parthus noverat vere. Migne, op. cit., Tom. XXII, col. 697.

{8} Villemain, "Nouveaux Mélanges Historiques et Littéraires." Tom. III, p. 439, Paris, 1827.

{9} Sin eloquentiae laudem requiras, in hac certe Christianos scriptores universos tanto post se reliquit intervallo, ut nec hi cum Hieronymo conferri queant, qui vitam omnem in uno bene dicendi studio contriverunt: ac prorsus tantum abest, ut quisquam sit nostrae religionis scriptor, quam cum hoc possis componere, ut, meo judicio, Ciceronem etiam ipsum suffragiis omnium eloquentiae Romanae principem, nonnullis dicendi virtutibus superet. Quoted in Migne, op. cit., Tom. XXIII, col. 1552.

{10} "Jam vero, quod in Origine quoque illo Graecia toto miratur, in paucis non dicam mensibus, sed diebus, ita hebraeae linguae vicerat difficultates, ut in discendis canendisque psalmis cum matre contenderet." "Epistola ad Paulam super obitu Blesillae filiae." Migne, op. cit., Tom. XXII, col. 466.

{11} In his letter to Principia, on the death of Marcella, Jerome writes: Quid in illa virtutum, quid ingenii, quid sanctitatis, quid puritatis invenerim, vereor dicere, ne fidem credulitatis excedam. Hoc solum dicam, quod quidquid in nobis longi fuit studio congragatum, et meditatione diuturna, quasi in naturam versum; hoc illa libavit, hoc didicit, hoc possedit; ita ut profectionem nostram, si de aliquo testimonio Scripturarum esset aborta contentio ad illum judicem pergeratur. Migne, ut sup., Tom. XXII, col. 1091.

{12} Jerome, in a letter to Asella, one of the members of the Ecclesia Domestica, in referring to this matter, writes: Lectio assidutatem, assiduitas familiaritatem, familiaritatem fiduciam fecerat. Migne, op. cit., Tom. XXII, col. 481.

{13} Mi Eustochium, filia, domna, conserva, germana, aliud enim aetatis, aliud enim aetatis, aliud meriti, aliud religionis, hoc charitatis est nomen. Migne, op. cit., Tom. XXII, col. 411.

{14} Saluta Paulam et Eustochium, velit nolit mundus, in Christo meas. Saluta matrem Albinam, sororemque Marcellam. Migne, ut sup., Tom. XXII, col. 484.

{15} Migne, op. cit., Tom. XXII, col. 482.

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