A letter of Jerome to Eustochia, on the fall of Rome

I happened to come across the French translation of letters of Jerome online here — the menu on the left hand side divides them by date into several pages — and was struck by one, written in 410, to Eustochia, which mentions the fall of Rome and noble Romans turning up at Bethlehem who have lost everything.

Here’s a quick translation from the French (and why is there no translation into English of all Jerome’s letters?) —

Nothing exists that has no end; and yet the long succession of past ages must in no way be considered as the completion of anything.  Every author will run dry, unless he has amassed in advance the materials from good works, from works that have a claim to have a future, aimed at a sort of eternity and do not foresee a limit in time to their usefulness.  But let us hold on to these elementary truths: everything that is born dies; everything that can reach a peak declines.  And again: there is no work of man which reaches old age.  Who would ever have thought that Rome, that Rome which conquered in every part of the world, would collapse; that she would be at the same time the mother and the tomb of all peoples; that she would be enslaved in her turn, she who counted among her slaves the orient, Egypt and Africa?  Who would have thought that the obscure Bethlehem would see illustrious beggars at its doors, once loaded with every kind of wealth?

Since we cannot help them, let us pity them at least to the bottom of our hearts, and let us mingle our tears with their tears.   Bent under the load of our holy labours, but all the while unable to avoid a profound grief in seeing those who mourn,  and while bemoaning those who weep, we have continued with our commentary on Ezekiel, and we are nearly at the end, and we really want to finish our work on the Holy Scriptures.  It’s not about talking about the projects, but about executing them.  So then, encouraged by your repeated invitations, O Eustochia, virgin of Christ, I return to my interrupted work, and I defer to your wishes in my haste to finish the third volume.  But before starting, I commend myself to your goodwill, as well as the goodwill of those who condescend to read me; asking you to have more regard to my good intentions than my actual powers.  The former are part of the frailty of man, the latter depend on the holy will of God.

2 thoughts on “A letter of Jerome to Eustochia, on the fall of Rome

  1. Despite the oddity the lady’s name was EustochiUM – that well-heeled family (Ceionii, I think) had a liking for exotic (esp. Greek) names. Her father’s name Toxotius might take on a different meaning nowadays..!!

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