How do you mark a saint? By his holiness and, as these letters brilliantly reveal, by his humor.
The Catholic Church honors Jerome (345-420 A.D.) as one of her greats, calling him Doctor Maximus in exponendis Sacris Scripturis: doctor of biblical translation and exegesis. Quite justly, he has been called a veritable abyss of learning. But this translation of letters (first published in 1956 but never reprinted) presents an unexpected view of the man as well as of the Church who claims him for her own. For on stage in these pages is one of the West’s most vigorous and gifted satirists.
Nothing escapes Jerome’s pen—whether it be effeminate, ambitious, lecherous priests; the comfortable vanities of nuns; the pomposities of bishops; or the decadence of Roman society and the sophistry of the educated. Everything that offends against the truth he holds dear is fair stalking for this saint. And, as the introduction makes clear, what shines through all the more powerfully in these models of high, literate satire, is the hard permanent core of beliefs, breathtakingly unsanctimonious, that fueled Jerome’s literary gifts and, according to ancient Christian tradition, also made him a holy man of God.
“Of all the members of the Calendar of Saints,” writes Paul Carroll in the introduction, “Jerome is probably one of the most singular. Conspicuous for his scholarly achievements, and for being an astute and seminal moralist, the vain, crabby, vituperative side to his temperament also makes him one of the most fascinating of saints for those who appreciate contradictory, yet somehow profound, irreconcilable traits in our greatest men.”