Letter XXVII. To Marcella.
In this letter Jerome defends himself against the charge of having altered the text of Scripture, and shows that he has merely brought the Latin Version of the N.T. into agreement with the Greek original. Written at Rome 384 a.d.
1. After I had written my former letter, 708 containing a few remarks on some Hebrew words, a report suddenly reached me that p. 44 certain contemptible creatures were deliberately assailing me with the charge that I had endeavored to correct passages in the gospels, against the authority of the ancients and the opinion of the whole world. Now, though I might—as far as strict right goes—treat these persons with contempt (it is idle to play the lyre for an ass 709 ), yet, lest they should follow their usual habit and reproach me with superciliousness, let them take my answer as follows: I am not so dull-wilted nor so coarsely ignorant (qualities which they take for holiness, calling themselves the disciples of fishermen as if men were made holy by knowing nothing)—I am not, I repeat, so ignorant as to suppose that any of the Lords words is either in need of correction or is not divinely inspired; but the Latin manuscripts of the Scriptures are proved to be faulty by the variations which all of them exhibit, and my object has been to restore them to the form of the Greek original, from which my detractors do not deny that they have been translated. If they dislike water drawn from the clear spring, let them drink of the muddy streamlet, and when they come to read the Scriptures, let them lay aside 710 the keen eye which they turn on woods frequented by game-birds and waters abounding in shellfish. Easily satisfied in this instance alone, let them, if they will, regard the words of Christ as rude sayings, albeit that over these so many great intellects have labored for so many ages rather to divine than to expound the meaning of each single word. Let them charge the great apostle with want of literary skill, although it is said of him that much learning made him mad. 711
2. I know that as you read these words you will knit your brows, and fear that my freedom of speech is sowing the seeds of fresh quarrels; and that, if you could, you would gladly put your finger on my mouth to prevent me from even speaking of things which others do not blush to do. But, I ask you, wherein have I used too great license? Have I ever embellished my dinner plates with engravings of idols? Have I ever, at a Christian banquet, set before the eyes of virgins the polluting spectacle of Satyrs embracing bacchanals? or have I ever assailed any one in too bitter terms? Have I ever complained of beggars turned millionaires? Have I ever censured heirs for the funerals which they have given to their benefactors? 712 The one thing that I have unfortunately said has been that virgins ought to live more in the company of women than of men, 713 and by this I have made the whole city look scandalized and caused every one to point at me the finger of scorn. “They that hate me without a cause are more than the hairs of mine head,” 714 and I am become “a proverb to them.” 715 Do you suppose after this that I will now say anything rash?
3. But “when I set the wheel rolling I began to form a wine flagon; how comes it that a waterpot is the result?” 716 Lest Horace laugh at me I come back to my two-legged asses, and din into their ears, not the music of the lute, but the blare of the trumpet. 717 They may say if they will, “rejoicing in hope; serving the time,” but we will say “rejoicing in hope; serving the Lord.” 718 They may see fit to receive an accusation against a presbyter unconditionally; but we will say in the words of Scripture, “Against an elder 719 receive not an accusation, but before two or three witnesses. Them that sin rebuke before all.” 720 They may choose to read, “It is a mans saying, and worthy of all acceptation;” we are content to err with the Greeks, that is to say with the apostle himself, who spoke Greek. Our version, therefore, is, it is “a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation.” 721 Lastly, let them take as much pleasure as they please in their Gallican “geldings;” 722 we will be satisfied with the simple “ass” of Zechariah, loosed from its halter and made ready for the Saviours service, which received the Lord on its back, and so fulfilled Isaiahs prediction: “Blessed is he that soweth beside all waters, where the ox and the ass tread under foot.” 723
῞Ονω λύρα was a Greek proverb.44:710
Reading nec diligentiam instead of et.44:711
Acts xxvi. 24.44:712
The reference is to Letter XXII.44:714
Ps. lxix. 4.44:715
Ps. lxix. 11.44:716
Hor. A. P. 21, 22.44:717
Perhaps an allusion to the Greek proverb, ῎ονος λύρας ἤκουσε καὶ σάλπιγγος ὗς. “The ass listened to the lyre, and the pig to the trumpet.”44:718
Rom. 12:11, 12. The reading κυρίω “Lord” is probably correct. The R.V. says, “Some ancient authorities read the opportunity,” (καιρῷ).44:719
I.e. a “presbyter.”44:720
1 Tim. 5:19, 20.44:721
1 Tim. i. 15.44:722
Jeromes detractors suggested this word instead of the simpler “ass” in Zech. 9:9, Matt. 21:2. The phrase “Gallican geldings” appears to be a quotation from Plaut. Aul. iii. 5, 21.44:723
Isa. xxxii. 20, LXX.