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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,708708 XXVI. containing a few remarks on some Hebrew words, a report suddenly reached me that 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 ass709709 ῞Ονω λύρα was a Greek proverb.), 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 Lord’s 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 aside710710 Reading nec diligentiam instead of et. 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.711711 Acts xxvi. 24.
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?712712 Hæreditarias sepulturas. The one thing that I have unfortunately said has been that virgins ought to live more in the company of women than of men,713713 The reference is to Letter XXII. 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,”714714 Ps. lxix. 4. and I am become “a proverb to them.”715715 Ps. lxix. 11. 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?”716716 Hor. A. P. 21, 22. 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.717717 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.” They may say if they will, “rejoicing in hope; serving the time,” but we will say “rejoicing in hope; serving the Lord.”718718 Rom. xii. 11, 12. The reading κυρίω “Lord” is probably correct. The R.V. says, “Some ancient authorities read the opportunity,” (καιρῷ). They may see fit to receive an accusation against a presbyter unconditionally; but we will say in the words of Scripture, “Against an elder719719 I.e. a “presbyter.” receive not an accusation, but before two or three witnesses. Them that sin rebuke before all.”720720 1 Tim. v. 19, 20. They may choose to read, “It is a man’s 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.”721721 1 Tim. i. 15. Lastly, let them take as much pleasure as they please in their Gallican “geldings;”722722 Jerome’s detractors suggested this word instead of the simpler “ass” in Zech. ix. 9 and Matt. xxi. 2–5. The phrase “Gallican geldings” appears to be a quotation from Plaut. Aul. iii. 5, 21. we will be satisfied with the simple “ass” of Zechariah, loosed from its halter and made ready for the Saviour’s service, which received the Lord on its back, and so fulfilled Isaiah’s prediction: “Blessed is he that soweth beside all waters, where the ox and the ass tread under foot.”723723 Isa. xxxii. 20, LXX.
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