Monday, September 30, 2019

The Lion in the Wilderness

Today is the feast of St. Jerome, Doctor of the Church. In his book On Famous Men, Jerome devotes each chapter to a famous man, starting with St. Peter; chapter 135 is devoted to -- Jerome:

I, Jerome, son of Eusebius, of the city of Strido, which is on the border of Dalmatia and Pannonia and was overthrown by the Goths, up to the present year, that is, the fourteenth of the Emperor Theodosius, have written the following: Life of Paul the monk, one book of Letters to different persons, an Exhortation to Heliodorus, Controversy of Luciferianus and Orthodoxus, Chronicle of universal history, 28 homilies of Origen on Jeremiah and Ezekiel, which I translated from Greek into Latin, On the Seraphim, On Osanna, On the prudent and the prodigal sons, On three questions of the ancient law, Homilies on the Song of Songs two, Against Helvidius, On the perpetual virginity of Mary, To Eustochius, On maintaining virginity, one book of Epistles to Marcella, a consolatory letter to Paula On the death of a daughter, three books of Commentaries on the epistle of Paul to the Galatians, likewise three books of Commentaries on the epistle to the Ephesians, On the epistle to Titus one book, On the epistle to Philemon one, Commentaries on Ecclesiastes, one book of Hebrew questions on Genesis, one book On places in Judea, one book of Hebrew names, Didymus on the Holy Spirit, which I translated into Latin one book, 39 homilies on Luke, On Psalms 10 to 16, seven books, On the captive Monk, The Life of the blessed Hilarion. I translated the New Testament from the Greek, and the Old Testament from the Hebrew, and how many Letters I have written To Paula and Eustochius I do not know, for I write daily. I wrote moreover, two books of Explanations on Micah, one book On Nahum, two books On Habakkuk, one On Zephaniah, one On Haggai, and many others On the prophets, which are not yet finished, and which I am still at work upon.

Colantonio, Jerome in his Study
(Niccolò Colantonio, Jerome in His Study)

Jerome is often depicted with a lion, a representation of his association with wilderness monastic life. According to legend, a lion entered the monastery at which he was staying. Everyone fled, except for Jerome, who saw that the beast was limping. Jerome approached the lion and removed the thorn from its paw. The lion stayed around, and, as you can imagine, was very good at guarding things. Such is the power of a good deed. But the legend also continues that the lion got distracted once and the monastery's donkey was stolen; and the lion had to come back shamefaced to the monastery, as reluctant to enter as a dog that knows it has done wrong. It was assumed that the lion had eaten the donkey, so its punishment was to take the place of the donkey, which it patiently did until happenstance returned the donkey to the monks, the lion was vindicated, and all was made well.

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