He would then return to being a more kindly spirit, requesting Augustine either to deny or to admit that the book (40) was his. "Then if I write something in my own defence, the blame would be yours who challenged me; not mine, who was obliged to reply." His last line requested: "Whatever you write to me, see that it comes to me first."
In 404 A.D. Augustine replied (73) tactfully and humbly to Jerome’s last letter (72), mentioning that he had received it and had found indications therein that he had offended Jerome. After gently chiding Jerome for thinking that he would be hurt by a reply to his opinion, Augustine begged forgiveness if he had offended Jerome, but asked him not to pass over in silence the mistake which he noticed in his deeds or in his words. Once again he stated his desire to be corrected by Jerome, and expressed the wish that the two of them "lived in places nearer to each other, so that, even if we could not converse together, at least we could have letters more often."
Augustine delicately confessed his fear at having incurred Jerome's' displeasure, adding: "If I cannot mention what seems to be faulty in your writings, nor you in mine, without suspicion of jealousy or injury to our friendship, then let us drop this [matter] for the sake of our lives and salvation." He again asked Jerome's pardon if he had offended him and even excused Jerome for being angry: "I do not at all think that you could be angry unless I either said what I should not, or did not say what I should." This letter (73) was to be carried or forwarded to Jerome by Praesidius, evidently a bishop. Augustine, in his anxiety that this letter should directly reach and appease Jerome, wrote a special letter (74) to this Praesidius, a short exhortation urging him not to fail to send his letter to Jerome.
Moreover, he sent Praesidius copies of letters 71 and of Jerome's letter 72. "When you have read them you may easily see both the moderation which I have thought fit to observe, and his irritation which I have good reason to fear. If I have written anything which I ought not to write or if I have not written the right way, then do not write to him about me, but rather send me an exhortation with brotherly love, so that I may be corrected and may beg his pardon when I have realized my fault.”
As fate would have it, Augustine's last letter (73) had not yet reached Jerome before Jerome took up the cudgels of extreme harshness in a letter (75) written the same year (404 A.D.). For five years all the evidence in Jerome's hands has pointed to Augustine as the man who has allowed himself to be used, to be the tool of partisans, of an unfriendly clique, whose schemes he thought he had escaped when he settled at Bethlehem.
While he expresses regard and affection for Augustine, if Augustine is sincere, Jerome asks him to come out into the open and face him like a man. He shows the temper of a man conscious of his own power, nerved for the fray, fearless and always strong even in his weakest point. He gives warning that he will waste no words with a sycophant. Jerome begins this letter (75) by acknowledging the reception of Augustine's letters (28, 40 and 71) through Deacon Cyprian, letters which contain what Jerome considers criticisms of his works instead of mere inquires.
Image (above): A detail of the painting, St Jerome, by Caravagio. Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (1573 – 1610) was an Italian painter with great influence both on religious and secular painting. Two of his religious paintings are located in the Augustinian Church of Santa Maria del Popolo in Rome. Jerome mentions that he is forced to give only a hasty, unplanned answer because a messenger is about to depart. In this, his attempt to answer Augustine, Jerome sweeps aside "the greetings and compliments with which you anoint my head; I say nothing of the flattery with which you try to make up to me for your reproof of me."
He goes on to defend his interpretation by naming his authorities and by giving a strong, elusively specious, scriptural argument in support of his view. He then launches out into a rather cutting criticism of what actually is not Augustine's interpretation at all. He concludes his letter by saying that if he has gone "beyond bounds" in his reply, Augustine should lay the blame on himself for forcing him to answer.
He then added: "And do not go on thinking that I am a master of lies. . . . And do not stir up against me a mob of ignorant people who respect you as a bishop and receive you with priestly honour when you preach in the church, but who have little use for a man like me, old and almost feeble, and living an obscure life in a country monastery. In other words, find yourself some other people to teach or criticize. The sound of your voice hardly reaches us, separated from you as we are by such expanses of sea and land; if, by any chance you write more letters, before Italy and Rome get them, see that they are delivered to me to whom they are addressed."
In the following year, 40, A.D., Jerome sent a short letter (81) to Augustine which seems to be by way of apology for letter 75. By this time, Jerome had received Augustine's pacifying Letter 73. He may well have blushed. He meekly wrote that he was glad to have heard from Firmus that Augustine was well.
Jerome is now sending Firmus back to Africa: "So then I send you back by him this debt of greeting, embracing you with disinterested love, and at the same time I ask you to pardon my diffidence because I could not refuse you the answer you have so long demanded. . . . Let complaints of this sort be at an end; let there be between us pure brotherly affection, and let us hereafter send each other letters full of charity, not of questions." He concludes: "Let us, if you will, play together in the field of the Scriptures without hurting each other."
In 405 A.D. Augustine, having received Jerome's last two letters (75 and 81), replies at length in a letter that is at once patient, respectful, humble, yet firm and cogent in favour of his interpretation of GaIatians 2:11-14. In it he answers Jerome's every objection. Beginning with a reference to his own last letter (73), he adds: "But what I most wanted to know from your answer - and I would like it said to me very plainly - is whether you granted me the pardon which I asked. A sort of cheerful tone in your letter (81) makes it seem that I have been pardoned - that is, if your letter (81) was sent after you read mine (73), something that is not so certain."
He then comments on Jerome's wish that they may play together in the field of Scripture: "I would rather deal with those matters seriously than in sport. But if it pleased you to use that word because of your facility in that field, I confess that I ask something greater of your kindly ability, of your learned, exact, experienced, expert and gifted prudence and care, that, in these great and involved questions, by the gift or rather under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, you would help me not so much playing in the field as toiling up the mountain of the Scriptures."
Augustine begs Jerome, however, to show him "how we may manage, if we sometimes speak with too great assurance, not to fall into the suspicion of childish boasting and of trying to win fame for our own name by depreciating great men [a reference to Jerome's letter 68], when we chance to be stirred by an argument which is not adopted by us, through undue caution or slow understanding, and we are trying, according to our lights, to see the other side of the case. . . . “
Augustine continued, “Otherwise. . . we might find ourselves arguing with a more learned friend in such a manner that, whatever he says, we have to agree with it, and we are given no chance of the slightest opposition, not even for the sake of asking a question." He avows his firm belief that the authors of the Scriptures have not in any way erred in writing anything therein. As to Jerome, however, "I do not believe that you want your books to be read as if they were those of Prophets or Apostles. . . ."
Augustine then takes up the crucial question. Writing at great length he fully discusses and criticizes Jerome's interpretation while expounding in detail his own opinion. Then the contrast and analysis of the two interpretations are included, Augustine has proven his view beyond doubt. It is a brilliant, masterly defence before which Jerome's interpretation lies pierced and bleeding. But it was masterly no less for its gentleness than for its logic.
Before closing his letter, Augustine expresses his gratitude to Jerome for his kindness and adds that if people find anything objectionable in his (Augustine's) writings, he does not want them "to bury it in a crafty heart nor air their criticisms to others, while hiding them from me, for this is the way friendship is injured and the bonds of intimacy are broken."
He urges Jerome: "Let us impress. . . upon those who are most sincerely interested in our work. . . that it is possible between dear friends for something to be objected to in the speech of either, without charity being thereby diminished, without truth begetting hatred."
Augustine asks Jerome's intimates to believe that the indirectness of his first letter (40) was not intentional on his part, but was entirely "without my wish or arrangement, of consent, or even knowledge that it happened. If they do not believe what I call God to witness, I do not know what more I can do." He states that when he denied having written a book against Jerome, he did not realize that this "book" was supposed to be his letter (40).
That letter, he writes, was not in any way meant to be against Jerome. "Leaving aside the members of your household, I beg of you personally not to think that I was dealing in hypocritical flattery when I mentioned in my letters those talents which the goodness of the Lord has granted you, and, if I have offended you in any way, pardon me."
Augustine then begs Jerome not to apply himself more literally than is meant to Augustine's reference to singing a palinode, and humbly asks Jerome to correct him again and again whenever Jerome sees that he needs it. "For although according to the titles of honour which the usage of the church has "now sanctioned, a bishop ranks higher than a priest, in many things Augustine ranks lower than Jerome."
Augustine concludes his long letter: "I think I have answered enough - even, perhaps, more than enough - to your three letters [72, 75 and 81]. . . . Do you answer what you think, for our instruction or that of others. I will take greater care, as far as the Lord helps me, to see that the letters which I write to you reach you before they get into any other hands to be scattered abroad. I admit that I do not want your letters to me to have the same fate which you so reasonably complain happened to mine addressed to you. I hope that there may reign between us not only the love but even the freedom of friendship, and, even if we object to anything in each other's letters, you must not fail to criticize mine, as I shall do to yours, but of course it must be with such dispositions as do not displease the eyes of God in the love of brothers. But if you think that cannot be between us without a deep injury to love itself, then it must not be. For, that other complete understanding which I wished to have with you is greater, but the lesser is better than none."
There is no reply (extant) to Augustine's letter (82). However, a few years later Jerome addressed a letter to Marcellinus, a layman, in which it is evident that the misunderstanding is ended, and that Augustine and Jerome are united in a strong bond of friendship and mutual high esteem. In that letter to Marceliinus, who had written to Jerome for the solution of some problems, Jerome refers him to Augustine, through whom he will receive the correct answer, the selfsame judgment of Jerome.
Although there was never the collaborations between the two that Augustine so ardently desired, their correspondence was continued through six further (extant) Ietters: two of-Augustine's and four of Jerome's. Jerome's respect and regard for Augustine led him to write a glowing tribute to one with whom he was especially united in intense dialogue.
The letter numbers above all refer to the numbered letters in Augustine’s own collection of correspondence, which also gave numbers to letters that he received. The correspondence between Augustine and Jerome is part of a minority within Augustine’s correspondence that was undertaken by Augustine to satisfy his own needs and enquiry, i.e., rather than his writing in response to the needs and enquiries of others.Link
St Jerome completes the Vulgate Bible. From Christianity Today magazine. http://www.christianitytoday.com/history/issues/issue-28/405-jerome-completes-vulgate.html