Monday, September 25, 2023

St. Jerome on Care for Churches and Reverence in Divine Worship

Fray José de Sigüenza (1544-1606)
In the run-up to the September 30th feast of the great Father and Doctor of the Church, St Jerome, it seems highly appropriate to share with a broad readership some fascinating material from a biography of the saint written in 1595 by Spanish monk Fray José de Sigüenza and published in English for the first time (it seems) in 1907 in London. A PDF of the entire book may be found here.

Book IV, discourses 1 and 2, speak of Jerome’s contributions to the Church’s liturgy. It must be born in mind that Fray José, like many authors of his era, simply assumes that customs which were universal in his time went back to the Patristic age. Thus he can speak of a chasuble which was believed to belong to the Saint, even though there were no such things as special vestments for the liturgy in his time. Likewise, there is no chain of custody to show the authenticity of his supposed chalice.Nonetheless, the rich quotations from Jerome’s works and the moral applications made by the learned author are certainly still relevant—at times, strikingly so, as when we read Jerome’s complaints about those who neglect the beauty of churches and the reverence that should be brought to divine worship.

I will publish these excerpts over the next couple of weeks. The notes are in the original text, but renumbered here for convenience.

The Life of St. Jerome
The Great Doctor of the Church
in Six Books

from the Original Spanish of The Reverend Father Fray José de Sigüenza
Professed Monk of the Royal Monastery of San Lorenzo, Madrid

Translated by
Mariana Monteiro
London: Sands and Co., 1907

* * *
Book the Fourth.
Fifth Age—Manhood, Virility
Discourse the First
(pp. 259–70)
St. Jerome establishes the Order of Divine Worship in Rome, and draws up the Holy Ceremonies of the Church. He prescribes the “Alleluia” to be sung in the Roman Liturgy. [This part on the Alleluia will be published later this week. — PAK]

ALTHOUGH St. Jerome had so much occupation in Rome fulfilling the offices of cardinal and chancellor, nevertheless he so thoroughly discharged the duties relating to his sacred priesthood and ministry that it would seem he had naught else to attend to. I do not wish in this discourse to treat of those duties which related to him as Doctor of the Church, but only of those labours which, as a good priest, he fulfilled, leaving aside all others for future discourses. It seems impossible that one man could have attended to so much, and have done so many things with such thoroughness. I believe it was because, as his food was scanty, his allotted time for sleep so short, he had time for what would appear no time could be enough.

He said Mass very frequently, and with all the devotion and fervour which can be imagined in so saintly a soul. Our Lord during these performances gave him great lights for all things, and favoured him with many graces and favours, as His Divine Majesty is wont to do on behalf of such like servants of His, who, fully aware of what they are called to do, prepare first their soul, most earnestly awaiting the coming of so great a Bridegroom. And as the reverence for, and fear of, so much majesty absorbs their minds, turning their eyes to their own littleness and vileness, they empty themselves of all that they have within them, so that nothing should embarrass them, in order that such royal eyes be not offended and their capacity be not curtailed. Hence, when He enters these, He enriches them with His presence, and leaves them replete with His gifts. In this way do saints grow in grace; in this way are they made so great that, compared with them, the rest bear no proportion whatever; as the astrologers say that the earth bears no comparison with the heavens, similarly do these men of heaven bear an immeasurable advantage to worldly ones. This kept our saint in a continual guard in all things—custody of the eyes, great prudence and consideration in his words, his intercourse and conversation. He feared lest there should enter in by these windows, unless well guarded, what in the time of need would suffice to close the gates to the coming of God. Thus did he himself express it in the Epitaph of Marcella: “I proceeded with great modesty in my eyes, in order not to look on the Roman matrons.” [1]

It is a very difficult matter that the images of things seen which remain impressed in the soul, should not obstruct or intervene at the time when the priest needs to be gazing so closely upon Christ; and it is a great deceit and dangerous presumption to trust to one’s self, and make so little account of God, as to think that He will establish in them His dwelling, and work the effects which from His corporeal presence is assumed, they themselves doing nothing on their part to warrant such a hope; for they have thought it of small moment that the dwelling should be well guarded and prepared for His coming, nor even when He is within (which is worse) do they linger a moment to thank Him for His coming, nor to ask of Him those mercies which they might have obtained by some of these efforts.

And the truth of all this is apparent to many of us; for, after many years’ enjoyment of these great benefits, we find ourselves buried in the deepest poverty. Nor can I persuade myself that so great a treasure, if it were within, could possibly remain so concealed that it should of itself afford so few or no proofs of its dwelling there. It is impossible that a bright fire, so many times multiplied, should not warm and shed its radiance on all objects around—that so brilliant a light should not diffuse a reflection, for this is its principal effect, and the sun itself does not wish to be obscured, but that it should be seen by its works and effects, and glory be given to the Father of the light which is in the heavens, and be declared, “This is the chaste generation which the Lord has blessed.”

This was seen in St. Jerome, who came forth from that sacred banquet “like a lion darting gleams of fire from his mouth” (for thus does St. Chrysostom declare of good communicants), turning for the divine honour, appalling to devils, unbearable to the bad. [2] In memory of this and as most precious relics and of great esteem does the city of Rome preserve the chalice in which St. Jerome consecrated, and it is shown to the people with great reverence, together with the chasuble which he wore. Perchance this may be the same chasuble which was sent to him by his great friend Nepotian, nephew of Heliodorus, when at the point of death, as a precious legacy in proof of his friendship. The saint himself says in the epitaph which he subsequently wrote upon him, and dedicated to the said uncle:
Tears are coursing down my cheeks, and despite that I wish to resist them with the Spirit, I cannot disguise the sorrow I feel. Who would have thought that Nepotian, placed at the point of death, should have remembered my friendship? and that his soul, being in agony, should not have forgotten the sweetness of our desire? And taking the hand of his uncle, he said: ‘This chasuble which I used in the holy ministry of the altar of Christ, send it to my beloved, in age my father, and in office my brother, and by all the affection that you bear to your nephew, pass it on to him whom you love on an equality with me.’ Saying these words he swooned away, grasping the hand of his uncle and bearing me in his memory. [3]
He was in an extreme manner tender towards his friends; and it seemed as friend after friend departed, that he himself expired with each, and their memory was always present with him.
The chasuble said to have been St Jerome’s
He was skillful in handling all things that were under his care and that appertained to the divine worship, keeping them all scrupulously clean. He considered that the church was the palace of the most exalted of kings, and the table that of the greatest of lords. He well knew the respect described in the Old Testament for the holy of holies, which was no more than the shadow of these present things, and he judged that all diligence was all too little. He could not endure those who on this point were careless and without decorum, and therefore to the contrary he experienced great delight when he found anyone who excelled in these matters; he greatly admired this same priest Nepotian for this quality of circumspection and carefulness in his office.

In the same Epistle [4] he says, a little above:
In comparison to what we have said little can I add; but in small things is made manifest the inclination and the spirit. Because in the same manner as we judge the Creator admirable, not only in the heavens and on the earth, in the sun and in the ocean, in the elephant, camel, horses, buffaloes, tigers, bears, and lions, so also in the smaller form of the animal kingdom—such as the ant, the fly, the caterpillar, and insects and grubs, which we know better by their foms than by their names, and examining each we are struck with admiration and reverence at the skill of the Great Artificer, so also does the soul that is truly dedicated to Christ, careful of what is great and what is small, because it knows that even of one idle word it will have to give an account. Therefore he [Nepotian] was careful that the altar should be very clean, that there be no speck of dust on the walls, that the floor be well swept; the doorkeeper to assist at the doors and watch assiduously, that the tabernacle and sacristy be properly cleaned, the vessels thoroughly washed, and all the ceremonies performed with pious solicitude and diligence. He did not neglect either the greatest or the smallest office; and whenever you sought for him you would always find him in the church. The side chapels in the church, the sepulchres and altars of the martyrs, he would adorn with a variety of flowers, branches, the fresh green shoots of the vine, so that the whole was decorated with loving care and by the labour of his hands.
I have inserted this here, not only because in itself it breathes all that is fresh, beautiful, and comely, and that we may see what was the care and pious inclination our saint had towards all these things (which in truth was my purpose), but that in passing we should consider how impious are those [5] who reprehend all they see in the church of holy ceremonies and ornamentation, saying that all these things are novelties and of little fruit, whereas these have been in use from primitive ages, fostered and increased, and well established, and received, since the time of St. Jerome, down to the present time—even the smallest customs—a truth proved learnedly by those who have written treatises in defense of this truth against the monsters of these times [a reference to the Protestant ‘reformers’—PAK].

It is through St. Jerome being so particular and strict on the things appertaining to the Divine worship that it has resulted, as though by inheritance, that his Order and spiritual sons are distinguished by this same love of cleanliness and extreme care in the Divine service, and even so they consider themselves far behind what ought to be. It fosters devotion to witness the neatness and spotless cleanliness of the altars, sacristies, and temples of this Order; whilst it altogether destroys devotion to see the neglect of all these qualities in many places of worship, and in a matter where all care is insufficient; and it is a true inference what the interior life of the soul must be when the outside is thus neglected.

[1] Epist. 16
[2] Marianus, in Vita D. Hieronymi.
[3] Epist. 3, c. 6, ad Heliod.
[4] Epist. 3, ch. 5.
[5] Fere omnes haeretici a Vigilantio usque ad impium Kemnicium.

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