Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers: Series II/Volume VI/The Letters of St. Jerome/Letter 126

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Letter CXXVI. To Marcellinus and Anapsychia.

Marcellinus, a Roman official of high rank, and Anapsychia his wife had written to Jerome from Africa to ask him his opinion on the vexed question of the origin of the soul. Jerome in his reply briefly enumerates the several views that have been held on the subject. For fuller information he refers his questioners to his treatise against Rufinus and also to their bishop Augustin who will, he says, explain the matter to them by word of mouth. Although it hardly appears in this letter Jerome is a decided creationist (see his Comm. on Eccles. xii. 7). But, though he vehemently condemns Rufinus (Ap. ii. 10) for professing ignorance on the subject, he assents (Letter CXXXIV.) to Augustin (Letter CXXXI.) who similarly professes ignorance but seems to lean to traducianism. The date of writing is a.d. 412.

To his truly holy lord and lady, his children worthy of the highest respect and affection, Marcellinus and Anapsychia, Jerome sends greeting.

1. I have at last received from Africa your joint letter and no longer regret the effrontery which led me, in spite of your silence to ply you both with so many missives. I hoped, indeed, by so doing to gain a reply and to learn of your welfare not indirectly from others but directly from yourselves. I well remember your little problem about the nature of the soul; although I ought not to call it little, seeing that it is one of the greatest with which the church has to deal. You ask whether it has fallen from heaven, as Pythagoras, all Platonists, and Origen suppose; or whether it is part of God’s essence as the Stoics, Manes, and the Spanish Priscillianists hint. Whether souls created long since are kept in God’s storehouse as some ecclesiastical writers[1] foolishly imagine; or whether they are formed by God and introduced into bodies day by day according to that saying in the Gospel: “my Father worketh hitherto and I work;”[2] or whether, lastly, they are transmitted by propagation. This is the view of Tertullian, Apollinaris, and most western writers who hold that soul is derived from soul as body is from body and that the conditions of life are the same for men and brutes. I have given my opinion on the matter in my reply to the treatise which Rufinus presented to Anastasius, bishop of Rome, of holy memory. He strives in this by an evasive and crafty but sufficiently foolish confession to play with the simplicity of his hearers, but only succeeds in playing with his own faith or rather want of it. My book,[3] which has been published a good while, contains an answer to the calumnies which in his various writings Rufinus has directed against me. Your reverend father Oceanus[4] has, I think, a copy of it. But if you cannot procure it your bishop Augustine is both learned and holy. He will teach you by word of mouth and will give you his opinion, or rather mine, in his own words.

2. I have long wished to attack the prophecies of Ezekiel and to make good the promises which I have so often given to curious readers. When, however, I began to dictate I was so confounded by the havoc wrought in the West and above all by the sack of Rome that, as the common saying has it, I forgot even my own name. Long did I remain silent knowing that it was a time to weep.[5] This year I began again and had written three books of commentary when a sudden incursion of those barbarians of whom your Virgil speaks[6] as the “far-wandering men of Barce” (and to whom may be applied what holy scripture says of Ishmael: “he shall dwell over against all his brethren”[7]) overran the borders of Egypt, Palestine, Phenicia, and Syria, and like a raging torrent carried everything before them. It was with difficulty and only through Christ’s mercy that we were able to escape from their hands. But if, as the great orator says, “amid the clash of arms law ceases to be heard;”[8] how much more truly may it be said that war puts an end to the study of holy scripture. For this requires plenty of books and silence and careful copyists and above all freedom from alarm and a sense of security. I have accordingly only been able to complete two books and these I have sent to my daughter, Fabiola,[9] from whom you can if you like borrow them. For want of time I have not been able as yet to transcribe the rest. But when you have read these you will have seen the ante-chamber and will easily form from this a notion of the whole edifice. I trust in God’s mercy and believe that, as he has helped me in the difficult opening chapters of the prophecy, so he will help me in the chapters towards the close. These describe the wars of Gog and Magog, and set forth the mode of building, the plan, and the dimensions of the holy and mysterious temple.

3. Our reverend brother Oceanus to whom you desire an introduction is a great and good man and so learned in the law of the Lord that no words of mine are needed to make him able and willing to instruct you both and to explain to you in conformity with the rules which govern our common studies, my opinion and his on all questions arising out of the scriptures. In conclusion, my truly holy lord and lady, may Christ our God by his almighty power have you in his safekeeping and cause you to live long and happily.


Footnotes[edit]

  1. The allusion is probably to Clement of Alexandria.
  2. John v. 17.
  3. Against Rufinus, ii. §§ 8–10; iii. §30; in neither place, however, does Jerome clearly state his own view.
  4. See Letter LXIX, introduction. It is doubtful whether Oceanus was in holy orders although the title ‘father’ seems to imply it.
  5. Eccl. iii. 4.
  6. Virg., A. iv. 43. It does not appear who these barbarians were. Barce is near Cyrene in Africa.
  7. Gen. xvi. 12. R.V. marg.
  8. Cicero, pro Milon. 4.
  9. This Fabiola (who must be carefully distinguished from the lady so often mentioned by Jerome) is probably the person to whom Augustine addressed a letter on communion with the spiritual world.