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Paula on living in Jerusalem

August 24, 2012

I have been thinking a lot about Erasmus and how he and the first generation of humanist scholars learned Greek and Hebrew. Many of them studied with Greek scribes who offered their services as language instructors. But today you can study Greek without ever interacting with a native speaker. Here Paula writes some good advice on the topic,

Paula’s letter to Marcella pleads with her old friend that she leave Rome, called in the letter a “Babylon,” and come to Jerusalem and its Holy Places.3 It describes Paula’s pilgrims to all these Holy Places in such a way as to have Marcella participate in their sacred journeying, mentally, and vicariously, in her imagination. Paula and Eustochium begin their letter by stating that, although the Crucifixion may have made Jerusalem an accursed place, there is ample scriptural justification for Christians to return to that holy city. Paula relies not only on the Scriptures but also upon Cicero for this argument, describing both St. Paul speaking of his need to return to Jerusalem and Cicero speaking of his need to learn one’s Greek not only in Sicily but in Athens, one’s Latin not in Lilybaeum but in Rome. She adds, in a capstone to her argument, that Jerusalem is “our Athens.” She then quotes Virgil’s First Eclogue on the great distance of the British Isles from Rome in noting that Christian Gauls and Britons all make haste to come, not to Rome, but to far Jerusalem.4 Paula movingly contrasts the wealth of Rome and the poverty of Bethlehem:5

Ubi sunt latae porticus? ubi aurata laquearia? ubi domus miserorum poenis et damnatorum labore vestitae? ubi instar palatii, opibus privatorum extructae basilicae, ut vile corpusculum hominis pretiosius inambulet et quasi mundo quicquam possit esse ornatius, tecta magis sua magis quidquam velit aspicere, quam caelum? Ecce in hoc parvo terrae foramine, caelorum conditor natus est, hic involutus pannis, hic visus a pastoribus, hic demonstratus a stella, hic adoratus a Magis . . . In Christi vero . . . villula tota rusticitas, et extra psalmos silentium est. Quocumque te verteris, arator stivam tenens, alleluia decantat. Sudans messor Psalmis se avocat, et curva attondens vitem falce vinitor aliquod Davidicum canit. Haec sunt in hac provincia carmina, hae, ut vulgo dicitur, amatoriae cantationes. Hic pastorum sibilus, haec arma culturae. Verum quid agimus, nec quid deceat cogitantes, solum quod cupimus hoc videmus?[Where are spacious porticoes? Where are gilded ceilings? Where are houses decorated by the sufferings and labours of condemned wretches? Where are halls built by the wealth of private men on the scale of palaces, that the vile carcase of man may move among more costly surroundings, and view his own roof rather than the heavens, as if anything could be more beauteous than creation? . . . . In the village of Christ . . . all is rusticity, and except for psalms, silence. Whithersoever you turn yourself, the ploughman, holding the plough handle, sings Alleluia; the perspiring reaper diverts himself with psalms, and the vine-dresser sings some of the ballads of this country, these are the love-songs, as they are commonly called; these are whistled by the shepherds, and are the implements of the husbandman. Indeed, we do not think of what we are doing or how we look, but see only that for which we are longing.]

Paula has written a Christian Georgics, a Christian pastoral, though as if through the eyes of Karl Marx, Simone Weil, and Frantz Fanon.6 Her style is shaped by Cicero and Virgil, Horace and Juvenal; her social thought is shaped by the Prophets and the Gospels.

In contrast to this letter, Jerome’s account of the pilgrimage Paula made is almost barren of references to classical authors. He writes it after Paula’s death, giving her vita to her virgin daughter, Eustochium.The letter waxes most sentimental about her parting from her family members, describing her as torn between the love of her children and her love for God. He does, however, mention the “fables of the poets,” de fabulis Poetarum, in giving the tale of Andromeda chained to a rock, as happening at Joppa, which he notes was also the harbor of the fugitive Jonah. He had earlier cited some lines of the Aeneid concerning the Greek Isles. But, unlike Paula, he does not show off his classical learning. He is here being more Christian than Ciceronian. (We recall his dream in which he is chided, or chides himself, by being told, “Thou art not a Christian. Thou art a Ciceronian.”8) He mentions Paula as visiting the tomb of Queen Helena, famed in Jerusalem for having given wheat during a famine to the populace. (This Queen Helena in pilgrim legends may have become conflated with the Empress Helena.) He notes Paula’s deep piety at the Cross and the Sepulchre in Jerusalem, and at the cave and church in Bethlehem.9

Jerome even notes Paula telling him that she realizes that the Hebrew means not Mary, mother of God, “her,” but God, “him,” in Psalm 132: “Behold, we heard of her/him in Ephratah, and found her/him in the fields of the wood,” because he has corrected her on this matter of the Hebrew “zoth.”10 A woman, reading of that apology, can sense its pain. It is a male rebuke to her feminist reading of the text, and she, rather than he, may be correct. There was not yet a Dame Julian to console her as there would be for the later Dame Margery concerning such male rebuffs.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. August 24, 2012 3:35 am

    Suzanne – the type is very small – hard to read

  2. August 24, 2012 3:36 am

    We just sang Psalm 132 last week – what do you make of this feminine? (Of course we sang it for the festival of the assumption of Mary).

  3. Suzanne McCarthy permalink*
    August 24, 2012 3:59 am

    I am sorry bout the font. How do you change font size in WordPress? I don’t actually see the issue in psalm 132, but in genesis Jerome certainly mixed things up a bit for women. Especially Gen. 3:16 where he put a wife under the potestas of her husband. Of corse, Paula was a widow.

    More detail on Jerome translating women,

    Click to access The-Vulgate-Genesis.pdf

  4. August 24, 2012 12:04 pm

    Psalm 132 is the antiphon for Christmas among many uses at this season. See Neale and Littledale vol 4 here.

    The ark is anticipated with the feminine pronouns of verse 6.

    Re font size – paragraph1 is fine. It changes after that. In your editor, you should be able to highlight the text and either press a button or right click to chose font. If the whole post was one size it would be easy for the reader to press ctrl+ to increase the size on the page, but with three sizes and three differing line heights this post is unwieldy. ctrl+ makes the large fonts too big when the small fonts are increased.

  5. August 24, 2012 12:21 pm

    My question relates to this: not Mary, mother of God, “her,” but God, “him,” in Psalm 132: “Behold, we heard of her/him in Ephratah, and found her/him in the fields of the wood,” because he has corrected her on this matter of the Hebrew “zoth.”

    What is the zot? There is no zot in this verse. But it is there in 132.14, a critical verse right at the centre of several circles.

    The text surrounded by the repetition of verses 9 and 16 is the desire of יהוה, the only time that this is presented in the Psalter. The desire is itself presented twice. The text framed by this personal desire of יהוה: This is my rest for ever and ever. (זֹאת מְנוּחָתִי עֲדֵי עַד). This is the rest of יהוה that is mentioned in Psalm 95. The frames of throne / sit / remain suggests that this is also the enduring seat of government. This is where the shout of joy of those who are under the covenant mercy is confirmed and here in the Psalter is the first time we see this word חסיד (xasid) as a frame.

    So why would Jerome teach something about zot? Or what was he teaching?

  6. Suzanne McCarthy permalink*
    August 24, 2012 1:11 pm

    Here is the context of the quote on Ephratah. Jerome’s letter CVIII. I think the author of the article in my post has confused things a little. (I can’t edit the post today. I only have my iPad so WordPress functionality is harder to access.)

    10. Then, after distributing money to the poor and her fellow-servants so far as her means allowed, she proceeded to Bethlehem stopping only on the right side of the road to visit Rachel’s tomb. (Here it was that she gave birth to her son destined to be not what his dying mother called him, Benoni, that is the “Son of my pangs” but as his father in the spirit prophetically named him Benjamin, that is “the Son of the right hand).” After this she came to Bethlehem and entered into the cave where the Saviour was born. Here, when she looked upon the inn made sacred by the virgin and the stall where the ox knew his owner and the ass his master’s crib, and where the words of the same prophet had been fulfilled “Blessed is he that soweth beside the waters where the ox and the ass trample the seed under their feet:” when she looked upon these things I say, she protested in my hearing that she could behold with the eyes of faith the infant Lord wrapped in swaddling clothes and crying in the manger, the wise men worshipping Him, the star shining overhead, the virgin mother, the attentive foster-father, the shepherds coming by night to see “the word that was come to pass” and thus even then to consecrate those opening phrases of the evangelist John “In the beginning was the word” and “the word was made flesh.” She declared that she could see the slaughtered innocents, the raging Herod, Joseph and Mary fleeing into Egypt; and with a mixture of tears and joy she cried: ‘Hail Bethlehem, house of bread, wherein was born that Bread that came down from heaven. Hail Ephratah, land of fruitfulness and of fertility, whose fruit is the Lord Himself. Concerning thee has Micah prophesied of old, “Thou Bethlehem Ephratah art not the least among the thousands of Judah, for out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting. Therefore wilt thou give them up, until the time that she which travaileth hath brought forth: then the remnant of his brethren shall return unto the children of Israel.” For in thee was born the prince begotten before Lucifer. Whose birth from the Father is before all time: and the cradle of David’s race continued in thee, until the virgin brought forth her son and the remnant of the people that believed in Christ returned unto the children of Israel and preached freely to them in words like these: “It was necessary that the word of God should first have been spoken to you; but seeing ye put it from you and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, lo, we turn to the Gentiles.” For the Lord hath said: “I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” At that time also the words of Jacob were fulfilled concerning Him, “A prince shall not depart from Judah nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until He come for whom it is laid up, and He shall be for the expectation of the nations.” Well did David swear, well did he make a vow saying: “Surely I will not come into the tabernacle of my house nor go up into my bed: I will not give sleep to mine eyes, or slumber to my eyelids, or rest to the temples of my head, until I find out a place for the Lord, an habitation for the…God of Jacob.” And immediately he explained the object of his desire, seeing with prophetic eyes that He would come whom we now believe to have come. “Lo we heard of Him at Ephratah: we found Him in the fields of the wood.” The Hebrew word Zo as have learned from your lessons means not her, that is Mary the Lord’s mother, but him that is the Lord Himself. Therefore he says boldly: “We will go into His tabernacle: we will worship at His footstool.” I too, miserable sinner though I am, have been accounted worthy to kiss the manger in which the Lord cried as a babe, and to pray in the cave in which the travailing virgin gave birth to the infant Lord. “This is my rest” for it is my Lord’s native place; “here will I dwell” for this spot has my Saviour chosen. “I have prepared a lamp for my Christ.” “My soul shall live unto Him and my seed shall serve Him.”

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