[St. Pachomius Library]
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The Blessèd Jerome:

Translated by Wm. Henry Fremantle, 1893.


6. For you say that the souls of Apostles and martyrs have their abode either in the bosom of Abraham, or in the place of refreshment, or under the altar of God, and that they cannot leave their own tombs, and be present where they will. They are, it seems, of senatorial rank, and are not subjected to the worst kind of prison and the society of murderers, but are kept apart in liberal and honourable custody in the isles of the blessed and the Elysian fields.

Will you lay down the law for God? Will you put the Apostles into chains? So that to the day of judgment they are to be kept in confinement, and are not with their Lord, although it is written concerning them, [Apoc. xiv, 4], They follow the Lamb, whithersoever he goeth. If the Lamb is present everywhere, the same must be believed respecting those who are with the Lamb.

And while the devil and the demons wander through the whole world, and with only too great speed present themselves everywhere; are martyrs, after the shedding of their blood, to be kept out of sight shut up in a coffin [or, in the altar], from whence they cannot escape?

You say, in your pamphlet, that so long as we are alive we can pray for one another; but once we die, the prayer of no person for another can be heard, and all the more because the martyrs, though they cry for the avenging of their blood, [Apoc. vi, 10], have never been able to obtain their request.

If Apostles and martyrs while still in the body can pray for others, when they ought still to be anxious for themselves, how much more must they do so when once they have won their crowns, overcome, and triumphed? A single man, Moses [Ex. xxxii. 30ff.], oft wins pardon from God for six hundred thousand armed men; and Stephen [Act vii. 59-60], the follower of his Lord and the first Christian martyr, entreats pardon for his persecutors; and when once they have entered on their life with Christ, shall they have less power than before? The Apostle Paul says [Apoc. xxvii, 37] that two hundred and seventy-six souls were given to him in the ship; and when, after his dissolution, he has begun to be with Christ, must he shut his mouth, and be unable to say a word for those who throughout the whole world have believed in his Gospel? Shall Vigilantius the live dog be better than Paul the dead lion? I should be right in saying so after Ecclesiastes [ix. 4], if I admitted that Paul is dead in spirit.

The truth is that the saints are not called dead, but are said to be asleep. Wherefore Lazarus, who was about to rise again, is said [John xi. 11], to have slept. And the Apostle [1 Thess. iv. 13], forbids the Thessalonians to be sorry for those who were asleep.

As for you, when wide awake you are asleep, and asleep when you write, and you bring before me an apocryphal book which, under the name of Esdras [1], is read by you and those of your feather, and in this book [4 Esd. vii. 105], it is written that after death no one dares pray for others.

I have never read the book: for what need is there to take up what the Church does not receive? It can hardly be your intention to confront me with Balsamus, and Barbelus, and the Thesaurus of Manichæus, and the ludicrous name of Leusiboras; though possibly because you live at the foot of the Pyrenees, and border on Iberia, you follow the incredible marvels of the ancient heretic Basilides and his so-called knowledge, which is mere ignorance, and set forth what is condemned by the authority of the whole world. I say this because in your short treatise you quote Solomon as if he were on your side, though Solomon never wrote the words in question at all; so that, as you have a second Esdras you may have a second Solomon. And, if you like, you may read the imaginary revelations of all the patriarchs and prophets, and, when you have learned them, you may sing them among the women in their weaving-shops, or rather order them to be read in your taverns, the more easily by these melancholy ditties to stimulate the ignorant mob to replenish their cups.


  1. "Esdras": The Fourth Book of Esdras (2 Esdras in the King James Apocrypha) is found neither in the Septuagint nor the Masoretic texts of Scripture, but enjoyed centuries of popularity with an unclear canonical status -- e.g., despite Jerome's reservations, it was included in the Vulgate, but as an appendix after the New Testament. The verse mentioned by Vigilantius comes from the "Bensly fragment", a section removed from the Vulgate text but preserved in Arabic, Ge'ez, and other languages; it was still part of the Latin text in Jerome's time. However, the verse when read in context is less heretical than both Vigilantius and Jerome seem to depict it: it seems to refer to the status of the dead on the Day of Judgement, when it is too late to pray.