On the Mystery of Holy Scripture

St. Jerome ca. 347-420
In the Apocalypse a book is shown sealed with seven seals, Rev. 5:1 which if you deliver to one that is learned saying, Read this, he will answer you, I cannot, for it is sealed. Isa. 29:11 How many there are today who fancy themselves learned, yet the Scriptures are a sealed book to them, and one which they cannot open save through Him who has the key of David, he that opens and no man shuts; and shuts and no man opens. Rev. 3:7 In the Acts of the Apostles the holy eunuch (or rather man for so the scripture calls him Acts 8:27) when reading Isaiah he is asked by Philip Do you understand what you read?, makes answer:— How can I except some man should guide me? Acts 8:30-31 To digress for a moment to myself, I am neither holier nor more diligent than this eunuch, who came from Ethiopia, that is from the ends of the world, to the Temple leaving behind him a queen’s palace, and was so great a lover of the Law and of divine knowledge that he read the holy scriptures even in his chariot. Yet although he had the book in his hand and took into his mind the words of the Lord, nay even had them on his tongue and uttered them with his lips, he still knew not Him, whom— not knowing— he worshipped in the book. Then Philip came and showed him Jesus, who was concealed beneath the letter. Wondrous excellence of the teacher! In the same hour the eunuch believed and was baptized; he became one of the faithful and a saint. He was no longer a pupil but a master; and he found more in the church’s font there in the wilderness than he had ever done in the gilded temple of the synagogue.

These instances have been just touched upon by me (the limits of a letter forbid a more discursive treatment of them) to convince you that in the Holy Scriptures you can make no progress unless you have a guide to show you the way.

…You see how, carried away by my love of the Scriptures, I have exceeded the limits of a letter yet have not fully accomplished my object. We have heard only what it is that we ought to know and to desire, so that we too may be able to say with the psalmist:— My soul breaks out for the very fervent desire that it has always unto your judgments. But the saying of Socrates about himself— this only I know that I know nothing — is fulfilled in our case also. The New Testament I will briefly deal with. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are the Lord’s team of four, the true cherubim or store of knowledge. With them the whole body is full of eyes, they glitter as sparks, Eze. 1:7 they run and return like lightning, Eze. 1:14 their feet are straight feet, Eze. 1:7 and lifted up, their backs also are winged, ready to fly in all directions. They hold together each by each and are interwoven one with another: Eze. 1:11 like wheels within wheels they roll along Eze. 1:16 and go wherever the breath of the Holy Spirit wafts them. Eze. 1:20 The apostle Paul writes to seven churches (for the eighth epistle— that to the Hebrews— is not generally counted in with the others). He instructs Timothy and Titus; he intercedes with Philemon for his runaway slave. Of him I think it better to say nothing than to write inadequately. The Acts of the Apostles seem to relate a mere unvarnished narrative descriptive of the infancy of the newly born church; but when once we realize that their author is Luke the physician whose praise is in the gospel, we shall see that all his words are medicine for the sick soul. The apostles James, Peter, John, and Jude, have published seven epistles at once spiritual and to the point, short and long, short that is in words but lengthy in substance so that there are few indeed who do not find themselves in the dark when they read them. The Apocalypse of John has as many mysteries as words. In saying this I have said less than the book deserves. All praise of it is inadequate; manifold meanings lie hidden in its every word.

I beg of you, my dear brother, to live among these books, to meditate upon them, to know nothing else, to seek nothing else. Does not such a life seem to you a foretaste of heaven here on earth? Let not the simplicity of the Scripture or the poorness of its vocabulary offend you; for these are due either to the faults of translators or else to deliberate purpose: for in this way it is better fitted for the instruction of an unlettered congregation as the educated person can take one meaning and the uneducated another from one and the same sentence. I am not so dull or so forward as to profess that I myself know it, or that I can pluck upon the earth the fruit which has its root in heaven, but I confess that I should like to do so. I put myself before the man who sits idle and, while I lay no claim to be a master, I readily pledge myself to be a fellow-student. Every one that asks receives; and he that seeks finds; and to him that knocks it shall be opened. Mat. 7:8 Let us learn upon earth that knowledge which will continue with us in heaven. (Letter 53)

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