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Letter XXXIII. To Paula.

A fragment of a letter in which Jerome institutes a comparison between the industry as writers of M. T. Varro and Origen. It is noteworthy as passing an unqualified eulogium upon Origen, which contrasts strongly with the tone adopted by the writer in subsequent years (see, e.g., Letter LXXXIV.). Its date is probably 384 a.d.

1. Antiquity marvels at Marcus Terentius Varro, 749 because of the countless books which he wrote for Latin readers; and Greek writers are extravagant in their praise of their man of brass, 750 because he has written more works than one of us could so much as copy. But since Latin ears would find a list of Greek writings tiresome, I shall confine myself to the Latin Varro. I shall try to show that we of to-day are sleeping the sleep of Epimenides, 751 and devoting to the amassing of riches the energy which our predecessors gave to sound, if secular, learning.

2. Varro’s writings include forty-five books of antiquities, four concerning the life of the Roman people.

3. But why, you ask me, have I thus mentioned Varro and the man of brass? Simply to bring to your notice our Christian man of brass, or, rather, man of adamant 752 —Origen, I mean—whose zeal for the study of Scripture has fairly earned for him this latter name. Would you learn what monuments of his genius he has left us? The following list exhibits them. His writings comprise thirteen books on Genesis, two books of Mystical Homilies, notes on Exodus, notes on Leviticus, * * * * also single books, 753 four books on First Principles, two books on the Resurrection, two dialogues on the same subject. 754

* * * * * * * * * * *

4. So, you see, the labors of this one man have surpassed those of all previous writers, Greek and Latin. Who has ever managed to read all that he has written? Yet what reward have his exertions brought him? He stands condemned by his bishop, Demetrius, 755 only the bishops of Palestine, Arabia, Phenicia, and Achaia dissenting. Imperial Rome consents to his condemnation, and even convenes a senate to censure him, 756 not—as the rabid hounds who now pursue him cry—because of the novelty or heterodoxy of his doctrines, but because men could not tolerate the incomparable eloquence and knowledge which, when once he opened his lips, made others seem dumb.

5. I have written the above quickly and incautiously, by the light of a poor lantern. You will see why, if you think of those who to-day represent Epicurus and Aristippus. 757



Of the 490 books composed by this voluminous writer only two are extant, a treatise on husbandry and an essay on the Latin language.


The epithet χαλκέντερος , “heart of brass,” is applied by Suidas to the grammarian Didymus, who, according to Athenæus, wrote 3,500 books. Of these not one is extant.


Which lasted 57 years.


Αδαμάντιος —Origen is so called by Eusebius (H. E. vi. 14, 10). It appears to have been his proper name.


“They may have been detached essays on particular subjects.”—Westcott.


All the works mentioned have perished except the treatise on First Principles, and this in its completeness is extant only in the Latin version of Rufinus. The version made by Jerome has perished.


Origen left Alexandria for good in 231 a.d., and it was in that or the following year that Demetrius convoked the synod which condemned not so much his writings as his conduct. He appears to have been excommunicated as a heretic.


For Origen’s condemnation in a synod held at Rome this passage is the principal authority. It is more than doubtful whether such a synod ever met; if it did it must have been when Pontianus was pope, in 231 or 232 a.d. Jerome may only mean that the great men of Rome all agreed in this condemnation.


Both these philosophers were hedonists, and the latter was a sensualist as well. Jerome is probably satirizing the worldly clergy of Rome, just as in after-years he nicknames his opponent Jovinian “the Christian Epicurus.”

Next: Letter XXXIV