Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers: Series II/Volume VI/Prefaces/Prefaces to Commentaries/Jeremiah
The Commentary on Jeremiah is in six books; but Jerome did not live to finish it. It was written between the years 317 and 319, but only extends to chapter xxxii. It was dedicated to Eusebius of Cremona. The Prefaces, which are full of vigour, contain many allusions to the events and controversies of the last years of Jerome’s life. In the Preface to Book i., after speaking of the Book of Daniel and the apocryphal Letter of Jeremiah as not belonging to the prophet’s writings, he continues:
I pay little heed to the ravings of disparaging critics who revile not only my words, but the very syllables of my words, and suppose they give evidence of some little knowledge if they discredit another man’s work, as was exemplified in that ignorant traducer who lately broke out, and thought it worth his while to censure my commentaries on Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians. He does not understand the rules of commenting (for he is more asleep than awake and seems utterly dazed), and is not aware that in our books we give the opinions of many different writers, the authors’ names being either expressed or understood, so that it is open to the reader to decide which he may prefer to adopt; although I must add that, in my Preface to the First Book of that work, I gave fair notice that my remarks would be partly my own, partly those of other commentators, and that thus the commentary would be the work conjointly of the ancient writers and of myself.Grunnius, his precursor, overlooked the same fact, and once upon a time did his best to cavil. I replied to him in two books, and there I cleared away the objections which he adduced in his own name, though the real traducer was some one else; to say nothing of my treatises against Jovinianus where, you may remember, I show that he (Jovinianus) laments that virginity is preferred to marriage, single marriage to digamy, digamy to polygamy. The stupid fool, labouring under his load of Scotch porridge, does not recollect that we said, in that very work, “I do not condemn the twice married, nor the thrice married, and, if it so be, the eight times married; I will go a step farther, and say that I welcome even a penitent whoremonger; for things equally lawful must be weighed in an even balance.” Let him read the Apology for the same work which was directed against his master, and was received by Rome with acclamation many years ago. He will then observe that his revilings are but the echoes of other men’s voices, and that his ignorance is so deep that even his abuse is not his own, but that he employs against us the ravings of foes long since dead and buried.
The Preface to Book ii. is short and contains nothing of special importance. In that to Book iii. Jerome declares that he will, like Ulysses with the Sirens, close his ears to the adversary. The devil, who once spoke through Jovinianus, “now barks through the hound of Albion (Pelagius), who is like a mountain of fat, and whose fury is more in his heels than in his teeth; for his offspring is among the Scots, in the neighbourhood of Britain; and, according to the fables of the poet, he must, like Cerberus, be smitten to death with a spiritual club, that, in company with his master Pluto, he may forever hold his peace.”
In the Preface to Book iv. Jerome says he has been hindered in his work by the harassing of the Pelagian controversy. He regards Pelagius as reproducing the doctrines of impassibility and sinlessness taught by Pythagoras and Zeno, and revived by Origen, Rufinus, Evagrius Ponticus, and Jovinian. Their doctrines, he says, were promulgated chiefly in Sicily, Rhodes, and other islands; they were propagated secretly, and denied in public. They were full of malice, but were but dumb dogs, and were refuted in “certain writings,” probably those of Augustin; but he declares his intention of writing against them, which he did in his anti-Pelagian Dialogue.
The Prefaces to Books v. and vi. contain nothing noteworthy.
- That is, Rufinus. See Preface to Book xii. of Isaiah, where Rufinus is called Grunnius Corocotta Porcellus, and Preface to Book iv. of Jeremiah.
- Scotorum pultibus prægravatus. The words have been translated “made fat with Scotch flummery” (Stillingfleet). Another rendering is, “having his belly filled and his head bedulled with Scotch porridge” (Wall on Infant Baptism, pt. i. c. 19, § 3). Some think the words refer to Celestius, Pelagius’ supporter.
- The letter to Pammachius (Jer. Letter XLVIII.) in defence of the book against Jovinianus.
- Jovinian was condemned in a Synod at Rome about 390. Thirty years had thus passed since the events occurred to which Jerome refers. See Preface to the treatise against Jovinian.