fr. Miran Špelič OFM

THE BEGINNINGS OF MONASTICISM IN AQUILEIAN AND NEIGHBOURING CHURCHES
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(excerpt from the article in: Westillyricum und Nordostitalien in der spätrömischen Zeit, Situla xx (1996) 291-297)

Jerome

Letter 11 witnesses to the regular relations between the community of virgins in Emona and their compatriot, who used to write to them not only ordinary letters, but also answered their questions about some difficult scripture passages. It is thus that we can understand the word "officium" in this context: »... ne unum quidem apicem totiens vobis tribuenti officium praestitistis.«(1) The continuation of the letter shows us more than openly, that Jerome is well conscious of the strong reason for the silence of the Emonian virgins: it is most probable that he became the target of invectives, for what he does not state, they were without ground.(2) He rather delineates contrition and encourages evangelical non-judgement(3) leaving the judgement to God; otherwise the accuser might quickly become accused himself. They should therefore have pity on him in order not to become a crowd of gossipers.(4) We know nothing about the answer. Out of the absence of further correspondence, which is likely to have been brilliantly triumphant, we can suppose that Jerome's letter did not achieve its purpose.

The same theme reappears in letter 12, addressed to the monk Antonius. Here it is accompanied by a short treatise on humility and pride. Here too, there is a mention of frequent correspondence, since Jerome did not lose his hope for an answer not even after ten letters (be it a real or figurative number).(5) Very probably we are dealing with the same circle of ascetics, which has, out of unknown reasons, turned back to their already famous, yet sharp-tongued compatriot. Jerome surely knew well the situation among the monks in his homeland and had a personal acquaintance with Antonius, since we can perceive out of his letter the conviction, that the threatened relationship will be strenghtened after this exhortation to humility. A certain degree of closeness is suggested also by the fact, that Jerome dared in a letter which is not an invective, but a sincere wish of reconciliation, to compare his addressee with Satan, the Jews and the sophists, if he perseveres in his pride.(6) The final expressions of the author's humility, which do not seem artificial, witness to their good contacts in past times.(7)

We can ask ourselves about the reasons for the broken relations with Emona. One of them is surely the calumniations, against which Jerome wants to acquit himself in his letters. If they existed, it is a sign, that also the monasteries in our parts were well informed and involved in the polemics of their time. It is not excluded that the rupture of relations coincides with Jerome's departure to the East. Again we do not know all the reasons, why the Aquileian community of clerics was almost scattered at once. Did Jerome's temper interbene also here? At least three outstanding members left (Bonosus, Rufinus and Jerome). Did the eventual quarrel echo far in the hinterland?

The second possible reason could be a resentment of Emonian ascetics, who could not agree with Jerome's views, that it is not possible to be a monk in one's own place, close to his relatives and friends. Jerome - as a strong personality had his conviction and wanted, of course, to convince others of it too - often stressed that real monastic life is at home only in the desert.(8)

There is no need to underline that it did not please those who lived in monasteries close to their homes. Nevertheless, what in reality caused this rupture between Jerome and his homeland or the monastic life in his home regions, will remain the domain of guessing and hypotheses.




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NOTES

1. »...you have not offered not even one penstroke to the one who was so often at your service.«

2. »non enim egent sani medico et mauult paenitentiam peccatoris quam mortem et errantem ouiculam suis umeris refert et prodigum filium reuertentem excepit laetus pater.« Obviously Jerome identifies himself with the sick, the sinner, the lost sheep and the prodigal son.

3. »nolite iudicare ante tempus.«

4. »anguli susurronum«.

5. »decem iam, nisi fallor, epistulas plenas tam officii quam precum misi, cum tu ne muttum quidem facere dignaris et domino loquente cum seruis frater cum fratre non loqueris.«

6. »satanas autem ex archangelico fastigio non aliam ob causam nisi ob contrariam humilitati superbiam ruit. et iudaicus populus primas sibi cathedras et salutationes in foro uindicans deputato antea in stillam situlae gentili populo succedente. deletus est. contra sophistas quoque saeculi et sapientes mundi petrus et iacobus piscator mittitur, cuius rei causa scriptura ait: superbis deus resistit, humilibus autem dat gratiam.«

7. »sed quoniam et irasci hominis est et iniuriam non facere christiani, ad antiquum morem reuertens rursus precor, ut et diligentem te diligas et conseruo sermonem conseruus inpertias.«

8. »monachum perfectum in patria sua esse non posse» (Ep. 14, 7). »quanti monachorum, dum patris matrisque miserentur, suas animas perdiderunt! super patre et matre pollui nobis non licet, quanto magis super fratre, sororibus, consobrinis, familia, seruulis! genus regale et sacerdotale sumus (Ep. 64, 4). »quanti monachi habitant cum parentibus suis; si descenderit spiritus sanctus et manserit super eos, ipse spiritus expellit eos in desertum« (Tract. in Marc., 1).