St. Jerome as a Satirist

St. Jerome as a Satirist: A Study in Christian Latin Thought and Letters

Volume: 34
Copyright Date: 1964
Published by: Cornell University Press
Pages: 306
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    St. Jerome as a Satirist
    Book Description:

    The same satiric spirit that animates the works of the classical satirists Lucilius, Horace, Persius, and Juvenal blossomed once again at the very end of antiquity in the writings of the Christian Church Father, Saint Jerome. In this book, David S. Wiesen illuminates important aspects of the intellectual history of the late fourth century, centering in satire and involving the major social and moral questions which were agitating the best minds of the time. The focal point of Wiesen's investigation is a Christian writer's transformation of a pagan literary genre into a suitable vehicle for Christian propaganda. Among the writers of his day, Saint Jerome was uniquely suited by learning and temperament to combine the inherited body of pagan satire with a new and vigorous Christian spirit into a literary attack on the vices of society-and of personal enemies.

    Jerome, blind to his own faults and unsympathetic to the weaknesses of others, believed that his harshness served the cause of Christianity. Thus, the final chapter of the history of Roman satire ends on a positive note: the world is a dismal place, but it can be made better, and Jerome has both a reform program-Christian asceticism-and an instrument for putting his program into effect-satire. Wiesen concludes: "If we consider Saint Jerome profound dismay at the decadent world in which he lived and his earnest belief that only through Christianity could life become worth living, if, furthermore, we understand the innate irascibility of his temperament and appreciate the thoroughness of his acquaintance with pagan and Christian letters, we must agree that Jerome could justly apply to himself the words of Juvenal: 'Difficile est saturam non scribere.' ('It is difficult not to write satire.')."

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-6674-8
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Preface
    (pp. vii-x)
    D. S. W.
  3. Abbreviations
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. Table of Contents
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  5. CHAPTER I St. Jerome and the Satiric Tradition
    (pp. 1-19)

    Satire is defined by the fourth-century grammarian Diomedes as follows: Satura dicitur carmen nunc quidem maledicum et ad carpenda hominum vitia contpositum, quale scripserunt Lucilius et Horatius et Persius.¹ Diomedes here describes two aspects of satire, its poetic form (carmen) and its abusive and scurrilous content, the purpose of which is the casdgation of human vice and folly. Satire then, in the strict sense of the term, meant to the Romans a definite form of poetic composition. Considering content alone, modern scholars may classify Julius Caesar’s

    ¹ H. Keil, Grammatici Latini, I, 485. That this definition is older than the...

  6. CHAPTER II 0 Tempora! 0 Mores!
    (pp. 20-64)

    It is a commonplace for satirists to castigate the age in which they live, to compare contemporary society unfavorably with the past, and to declare that the vices which they lampoon are peculiar to their own time. In his first satire Juvenal expatiates on the question, Et quando uberior vitiorum copia?¹ The satirist goes as far as to say in his thirteenth satire:

    Nona aetas agitur peioraque saecula ferri

    temporibus, quorum sceleri non invenit ipsa

    nomen et a nullo posuit natura metallo.²

    Persius expresses his weariness with the empty life of his day in a line which Jerome twice quotes:...

  7. CHAPTER III The Church and the Clergy
    (pp. 65-112)

    St.jerome’s repudiation of the society of his age was largely the expression of his opposition to the wanton debauchery of city life. In his view, the tone of urban society was still determined by a tenacious paganism of morality. Out of his disgust for contemporary standards of behavior in general grew a thorough disenchantment with the condition of the Church and the clergy. Jerome believed that the Church, whose task had been to purify by its doctrines the whole mass of society, had instead been corrupted by its rise to wealth and power until it stood no higher than the...

  8. CHAPTER IV Women and Marriage
    (pp. 113-165)

    In his mordant attacks on women more than in any other aspect of his satire, St. Jerome was the heir of an age-old literary tradition. Throughout antiquity the question an vir sapiens ducat uxorem? was one of the most widely discussed topics of popular ethics. Since the question was usually answered in the negative, its continued treatment produced a large body of antifeminist literature. The roots of the misogynous tradition can be found in Hesiod, who in his tale of Pandora sang of the evils brought forth upon the earth by the creation of woman.¹ The theme is continued in...

  9. CHAPTER V Heretics, Jews, and Pagans
    (pp. 166-199)

    Ammianus marcellinus recounts how the Emperor Julian, wishing to assure the disunity of the Christian world, called together the numerous quarreling Christian factions and urged them all fearlessly to follow their own beliefs, “knowing by experience that no beasts are as hostile to men as many Christians are bestial to each other.”¹ Julian was probably thinking in particular of the physical violence that frequently broke out between adherents of rival Christian sects, but his observation was scarcely less applicable to the scurrilous abuse and scorn that Christian writers poured out upon the holders of opinions they considered erroneous or heterodox....

  10. CHAPTER VI Personal Enemies
    (pp. 200-246)

    In his impassioned fight against the enemies of orthodoxy Jerome did not limit himself to denouncing and lampooning heretics in general. On the contrary, one large class of his personal enemies was made up of heretics, and these individuals too felt the sting of Jerome’s satiric invective. The second major group of personal foes consisted of individuals who had the audacity, or courage, to suggest that Jerome’s scholarship was not beyond criticism. The virtue of considering these two groups together is that this procedure will illustrate the inextricable mingling of personal ill will and religious zeal that underlay much of...

  11. CHAPTER VII Retrospect and Conclusion
    (pp. 247-272)

    We have been considering from an external and objective point of view those elements of St. Jerome’s writings which in their content, if not in their form, represent a Christian continuation and development of classical Roman satire and of traditional oratorical invective. The natural conclusion to such a study is an investigation of Jerome’s own attitude toward the bitter, mordant, and mocking features of his works. First, what did Jerome consider to be the nature of satire? Secondly, did Jerome realize the close similarity between his own caustic attack on men and morals and the satire of the pagans? That...

  12. Bibliography
    (pp. 273-284)
  13. Index
    (pp. 285-290)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 291-292)