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Home > Fathers of the Church > Letters of St. Jerome > Letter 97

Letter 97

To Pammachius and Marcella

With this letter Jerome sends to Pammachius and Marcella a translation of the paschal letter issued by Theophilus for the year 402 A.D. together with the Greek original. He takes the precaution of sending this latter because in the preceding year complaints have been made that his translation was not accurate. Written in 402 A.D.

1. Once more with the return of spring I enrich you with the wares of the east and send the treasures of Alexandria to Rome: as it is written, God shall come from the south and the Holy One from Mount Paran, even a thick shadow. (Hence in the Song of Songs the joyous cry of the bride: I sat down under his shadow with great delight and his fruit was sweet to my taste. Song of Songs 2:3) Now truly is Isaiah's prophecy fulfilled: In that day shall there be an altar to the Lord in the land of Egypt. Isaiah 19:19 Where sin has abounded, grace does much more abound. Romans 5:20 They who fostered the infant Christ now with glowing faith defend Him in His manhood; and they who once saved Him from the hands of Herod are ready to save Him again from this blasphemer and heretic. Demetrius expelled Origen from the city of Alexander; but he is now thanks to Theophilus outlawed from the whole world. Like him to whom Luke has dedicated the Acts of the Apostles Acts 1:1 this bishop derives his name from his love to God. Where now is the wriggling serpent? In what plight does the venomous viper find himself? His is

A human face with wolfish body joined.

Where now is that heresy which crawled hissing through the world and boasted that both the bishop Theophilus and I were partisans of its errors? Where now is the yelping of those shameless hounds who, to win over the simple minded, falsely proclaimed our adherence to their cause? Crushed by the authority and eloquence of Theophilus they are now like demon-spirits only able to mutter and that from out of the earth. 1 Samuel 28:13 For they know nothing of Him who, as He comes from above, John 8:23 speaks only of the things that are above.

2. Would that this generation of vipers Matthew 3:7 would either honestly accept our doctrines, or else consistently defend its own; that we might know whom we are to esteem and whom we are to shun. As it is they have invented a new kind of penitence, hating us as enemies though they dare not deny our faith. What, I ask, is this chagrin of theirs which neither time nor reason seems able to cure? When swords flash in battle and men fall and blood flows in streams, hostile hands are often clasped in amity and the fury of war is exchanged for an unexpected peace. The partisans of this heresy alone can make no terms with churchmen; for they repudiate mentally the verbal assent that is extorted from them. When their open blasphemy is made plain to the public ear, and when they perceive their hearers clamouring against them; then they assume an air of simplicity, declaring that they hear such doctrines for the first time and that they have no previous knowledge of them as taught by their master. And when you hold their writings in your hand, they deny with their lips what their hands have written. Why, sirs, need you beset the Propontis, shift your abode, wander through different countries, and rend with foaming mouths a distinguished prelate of Christ and his followers? If your recantations are sincere, you should replace your former zeal for error with an equal zeal for the faith. Why do you patch together from this quarter and from that these rags of cursing? And why do you rail at the lives of men whose faith you cannot resist? Do you cease to be heretics because according to you sundry persons believe us to be sinners? And does impiety cease to disfigure your lips because you can point to scars on our ears? So long as you have a leopard's spots and an Ethiopian's skin, Jeremiah 13:23 how can it help your perfidy to know that I too am marked by moles? See, Pope Theophilus is freely allowed to prove Origen a heretic; and the disciples do not defend the master's words. They merely pretend that they have been altered by heretics and tampered with, like the works of many other writers. Thus they seek to maintain his cause not by their own belief but by other people's errors. So much I would say against heretics who in the fury of their unjust hostility to us betray the secret feelings of their minds and prove the incurable nature of the wound that rankles in their breasts.

3. But you are Christians and the lights of the senate: accept therefore from me the letter which I append. This year I send it both in Greek and Latin that the heretics may not again lyingly assert that I have made many changes in and additions to the original. I have laboured hard, I must confess, to preserve the charm of the diction by a like elegance in my version: and keeping within fixed lines and never allowing myself to deviate from these I have done my best to maintain the smooth flow of the writer's eloquence and to render his remarks in the tone in which they are made. Whether I have succeeded in these two objects or not I must leave to your judgement to determine. As for the letter itself you are to know that it is divided into four parts. In the first Theophilus exhorts believers to celebrate the Lord's passover; in the second he slays Apollinarius; in the third he demolishes Origen; while in the fourth and last he exhorts the heretics to penitence. If the polemic against Origen should seem to you to be inadequate, you are to remember that Origenism was fully treated in last year's letter; and that this which I have just translated, as it aims at brevity, was not bound to dwell farther upon the subject. Besides, its terse and clear confession of faith directed against Apollinarius is not lacking in dialectical subtlety. Theophilus first wrests the dagger from his opponent's hand, and then stabs him to the heart.

4. Entreat the Lord, therefore, that a composition which has won favour in Greek may not fail to win it also in Latin, and that what the whole East admires and praises Rome may gladly take to her heart. And may the chair of the apostle Peter by its preaching confirm the preaching of the chair of the evangelist Mark. Popular rumour, indeed, has it that the blessed pope Anastasius is of like zeal and spirit with Theophilus and that he has pursued the heretics even to the dens in which they lurk. Moreover his own letters inform us that he condemns in the West what is already condemned in the East. May he live for many years so that the reviving sprouts of heresy may in course of time by his efforts be made to wither and to die.

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Source. Translated by W.H. Fremantle, G. Lewis and W.G. Martley. From Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, Vol. 6. Edited by Philip Schaff and Henry Wace. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1893.) Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight. <http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/3001097.htm>.

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