03 March 2006

St Jerome on Today's Gospel

Fasting without mercy is no fast. So says Our Lord in the Lesson at today's Mass. The Gospel continues the theme with Our Lord's mandate to love our enemies, and to give alms.

St Jerome's comment on the portion, "Love your enemies," I find to be quite striking. With a knife, he cuts away that part of us which would have us believe that we've done well not to hate our enemies. He also then directs us to true love--concluding with Our Lord's love for us in His prayer.

The Lord hath said unto us: Love your enemies; do good to them that hate you. Many there be who measure God's commandments by their own weakness, and not by the strength of his Saints; and so deem him to have commanded things impossible. Of such are they who think that the best they can do is not to hate their enemies; and that to command us to love them, is to command more than man's nature can bear. It behoveth them to know that Christ did not command to do what is impossible, but what is perfect. On this wise it was that David did, in respect to Saul and Absalom. And likewise, the Martyr Stephen prayed for his enemies, even while they were stoning him. And even so Paul could wish that himself, and not his persecutors, were accursed from Christ. On such wise Jesus both taught and did, when he said: Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do. (Source)


Fredric J. Einstein said...

And yet, St. Jerome was probably one of the most cantankerous of the Doctors of the Western Church. He would basically "rake his opponents over the coals" in terms of verbal abuse. What enemies does Christ command us to love? Ones who are theologically opposed to us or ones that are "part of the Church", but that we personally hate?

fr john w fenton said...


A good question, indeed; and a most correct observation about St Jerome.

Christ's example, and the long-standing interpreation of his words, indicate that we are to love all men, whether in the Church or outside of it; whether they personally attack or physically abuse us, or not. Christ demonstrates this when he says, "Father, forgive them"--referring to both the Roman soldiers who abused him and the false teachers who cried for his execution.

In short, there is no one that we are exclude from our love.

Having said that, to love another does not mean that one must embrace or even tolerate his false doctrine. Certainly St Jerome does not. In fact, I would argue that a most loving thing is to urge a person to repent from his false ways (whether in behavior or in teaching) and to come to the knowledge of the truth.

For the goal is not to condemn, but to have all--even the worst of men--join us in the kingdom of heaven. So our prayers should include begging the Lord to have mercy on those who mistreat us, hate us, abuse us, or even persecute us for our beliefs.