Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Conversion of the Roman World, according to St Jerome

I was just looking up the age of Conan when I came to Mithra on the wickipeejuh, or on la wikipédie. Here I found a reference to St Jerome of Stridon as to what the grades of initiation were to Roman Mithraism. Letter CVII, ad Laetam.

More than one thing are worth quoting, but mainly two:

And to pass over such old stories which to unbelievers may well seem incredible, did not your own kinsman Gracchus whose name betokens his patrician origin, when a few years back he held the prefecture of the City, overthrow, break in pieces, and shake to pieces the grotto of Mithras and all the dreadful images therein? Those I mean by which the worshippers were initiated as Raven, Bridegroom, Soldier, Lion, Perseus, Sun, Crab, and Father? Did he not, I repeat, destroy these and then, sending them before him as hostages, obtain for himself Christian baptism?

God grant this might one day happen to Masonic lodges closer to the present!

Now, the other thing is about HOW certain not through and through intellectual converts were usually made. St Jerome is here speaking of a man not yet converted.

The apostle Paul writing to the Corinthians and instructing in sacred discipline a church still untaught in Christ has among other commandments laid down also this: "The woman which has an husband that believes not, and if he be pleased to dwell with her, let her not leave him. For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the believing wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the believing husband; else were your children unclean but now are they holy." Should any person have supposed hitherto that the bonds of discipline are too far relaxed and that too great indulgence is conceded by the teacher, let him look at the house of your father, a man of the highest distinction and learning, but one still walking in darkness; and he will perceive as the result of the apostle's counsel sweet fruit growing from a bitter stock and precious balsams exhaled from common canes. You yourself are the offspring of a mixed marriage; but the parents of Paula— you and my friend Toxotius— are both Christians. Who could have believed that to the heathen pontiff Albinus should be born— in answer to a mother's vows— a Christian granddaughter; that a delighted grandfather should hear from the little one's faltering lips Christ's Alleluia, and that in his old age he should nurse in his bosom one of God's own virgins? Our expectations have been fully gratified. The one unbeliever is sanctified by his holy and believing family. For, when a man is surrounded by a believing crowd of children and grandchildren, he is as good as a candidate for the faith. I for my part think that, had he possessed so many Christian kinsfolk when he was a young man, he might then have been brought to believe in Christ. For though he may spit upon my letter and laugh at it, and though he may call me a fool or a madman, his son-in-law did the same before he came to believe. Christians are not born but made. For all its gilding the Capitol is beginning to look dingy. Every temple in Rome is covered with soot and cobwebs. The city is stirred to its depths and the people pour past their half-ruined shrines to visit the tombs of the martyrs. The belief which has not been accorded to conviction may come to be extorted by very shame.

The letter is of course much longer, and I have not read all of it. But I think this point deserves to be made, because some people tend to imagine Christianity after Constantine came with lots of violence. In the Roman World this was not quite so.

Hans Georg Lundahl
Nanterre University Library
St Bruno, founder of Carthusians

Link to quoted letter:

NewAdvent / Fathers / St Jerome : Letters : 107 to LAETA

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