Letter LXVIII. To Castrutius.
Castrutius, a blind man of Pannonia, had set out for Bethlehem to visit Jerome. However, on reaching Cissa (whether that in Thrace or that on the Adriatic is uncertain) he was induced by his friends to turn back. Jerome writes to thank him for his intention and to console him for his inability to carry it out. He then tries to comfort him in his blindness (1) by referring to Christs words concerning the man born blind (Joh. ix. 3) and (2) by telling him the story of Antony and Didymus. The date of the letter is 397 a.d.
1. My reverend son Heraclius the deacon has reported to me that in your eagerness to see me you came as far as Cissa, and that, though a Pannonian and consequently a land animal, you did not quail before the surges of the Adriatic and the dangers of the Ægean and Ionian seas. He tells me that you would have actually accomplished your purpose, had not our brethren with affectionate care held you back. I thank you all the same and regard it as a kindness shewn. For in the case of friends one must accept the will for the deed. Enemies often give us the latter, but only sincere attachment can bring us the former. And now that I am writing to you I beseech you do not regard the bodily affliction which has befallen you as due to sin. When the Apostles speculated concerning the man that was born blind from the womb and asked our Lord and Saviour: “Who did sin, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” they were told “Neither hath this man sinned nor his parents, but that the works of God should be made manifest in him.” 1997 Do we not see numbers of heathens, Jews, heretics and men of various opinions rolling in the mire of lust, bathed in blood, surpassing wolves in ferocity and kites in rapacity, and for all this the plague does not come nigh their dwellings? 1998 They are not smitten as other men, and accordingly they wax insolent against God and lift up their faces even to heaven. We know on the other hand that holy men are afflicted with sicknesses, miseries, and want, and perhaps they are tempted p. 141 to say “Verily I have cleansed my heart in vain, and washed my hands in innocency.” Yet immediately they go on to reprove themselves, “If I say, I will speak thus; behold I should offend against the generation of thy children.” 1999 If you suppose that your blindness is caused by sin, and that a disease which physicians are often able to cure is an evidence of Gods anger, you will think Isaac a sinner because he was so wholly sightless that he was deceived into blessing one whom he did not mean to bless. 2000 You will charge Jacob with sin, whose vision became so dim that he could not see Ephraim and Manasseh, 2001 although with the inner eye and the prophetic spirit he could foresee the distant future and the Christ that was to come of his royal line. 2002 Were any of the kings holier than Josiah? Yet he was slain by the sword of the Egyptians. 2003 Were there ever loftier saints than Peter and Paul? Yet their blood stained the blade of Nero. And to say no more of men, did not the Son of God endure the shame of the cross? And yet you fancy those blessed who enjoy in this world happiness and pleasure? Gods hottest anger against sinners is when he shews no anger. Wherefore in Ezekiel he says to Jerusalem: “My jealousy will depart from thee and I will be quiet and will be no more angry.” 2004 For “whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom He receiveth.” 2005 The father does not instruct his son unless he loves him. The master does not correct his disciple unless he sees in him signs of promise. When once the doctor gives over caring for the patient, it is a sign that he despairs. You should answer thus: “as Lazarus in his lifetime 2006 received evil things so will I now gladly suffer torments that future glory may be laid up for me.” For “affliction shall not rise up the second time.” 2007 If Job, a man holy and spotless and righteous in his generation, suffered terrible afflictions, his own book explains the reason why.
2. That I may not make myself tedious or exceed the due limits of a letter by repeating old stories, I will briefly relate to you an incident which happened in my childhood. The saintly Athanasius bishop of Alexandria had summoned the blessed Antony to that city to confute the heretics there. Hereupon Didymus, a man of great learning who had lost his eyes, came to visit the hermit and, the conversation turning upon the holy scriptures, Antony could not help admiring his ability and eulogizing his insight. At last he said: You do not regret, do you, the loss of your eyes? At first Didymus was ashamed to answer, but when the question had been repeated a second time and a third, he frankly confessed that his blindness was a great grief to him. Whereupon Antony said: “I am surprised that a wise man should grieve at the loss of a faculty which he shares with ants and flies and gnats, and not rejoice rather in having one of which only saints and apostles have been thought worthy.” From this story you may perceive how much better it is to have spiritual than carnal vision and to possess eyes into which the mote of sin cannot fall. 2008
Though you have failed to come this year, I do not yet despair of your coming. If the reverend deacon 2009 who is the bearer of this letter is again caught in the toils of your affection, and if you come hither in his company I shall be delighted to welcome you and shall readily acknowledge that the delay in payment is made up for by the largeness of the interest.
John 9:2, 3.140:1998
Ps. xci. 10.141:1999
Ps. 73:13, 15.141:2000
Gen. xlviii. 10.141:2002
Gen. xlix. 10.141:2003
2 Kings xxiii. 29.141:2004
Ezek. xvi. 42. In the Vulgate the tenses are different, but the sense is substantially the same.141:2005
Heb. xii. 6.141:2006
Luke xvi. 25.141:2007
Nahum i. 9.141:2008
Luke vi. 42.141:2009
Heraclius, a deacon of Pannonia, who had been sent to Bethlehem by his bishop Amabilis to procure from Jerome a long promised commentary on the Visions of Isaiah. This, which Jerome subsequently incorporated as book V. in his complete work on the prophet, Heraclius succeeded in obtaining from him. See the Preface to the Commentary.