instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Expert advice

Thanks to Elaine, I found a passage in St. Jerome (Letter 107, 12) in which he suggests a (rather detailed) course of instruction in the Holy Scriptures for the daughter of Laeta, who had written him asking how to bring her up as a consecrated virgin:
Let her treasures be not silks or gems but manuscripts of the holy scriptures; and in these let her think less of gilding, and Babylonian parchment, and arabesque patterns, than of correctness and accurate punctuation.

Let her begin by learning the psalter, and then let her gather rules of life out of the proverbs of Solomon. From the Preacher let her gain the habit of despising the world and its vanities. Let her follow the example set in Job of virtue and of patience.

Then let her pass on to the gospels never to be laid aside when once they have been taken in hand.

Let her also drink in with a willing heart the Acts of the Apostles and the Epistles.

As soon as she has enriched the storehouse of her mind with these treasures, let her commit to memory the prophets, the heptateuch [Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges], the books of Kings and of Chronicles, the rolls also of Ezra and Esther.

When she has done all these she may safely read the Song of Songs but not before: for, were she to read it at the beginning, she would fail to perceive that, though it is written in fleshly words, it is a marriage song of a spiritual bridal. And not understanding this she would suffer hurt from it.

Let her avoid all apocryphal writings, and if she is led to read such not by the truth of the doctrines which they contain but out of respect for the miracles contained in them; let her understand that they are not really written by those to whom they are ascribed, that many faulty elements have been introduced into them, and that it requires infinite discretion to look for gold in the midst of dirt.

Cyprian's writings let her have always in her hands. The letters of Athanasius and the treatises of Hilary she may go through without fear of stumbling. Let her take pleasure in the works and wits of all in whose books a due regard for the faith is not neglected. But if she reads the works of others let it be rather to judge them than to follow them.