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St. Jerome and St. Augustine as worldwide fifth century witnesses of the received teachings of Mary

3 min • Digitized on May 2, 2023

From A Defense of the Teachings of Mary, page 43
By St. John Henry Newman

7. By the time of St. Jerome (331—420), the contrast between Eve and Mary had almost passed into a proverb. He says (Ep. xxi. 21, ad Eustoch.), “Death by Eve, life by Mary.” Nor let it be supposed that he, any more than the preceding Fathers, considered the Blessed Virgin a mere physical instrument of giving birth to our Lord, who is the Life. So far from it, in the Epistle from which I have quoted, he is only adding another virtue to that crown which gained for Mary her divine Maternity.

They have spoken of faith, joy, and obedience; St. Jerome adds, what they had only suggested, virginity. After the manner of the Fathers in his own day, he is setting forth the Blessed Mary to the high-born Roman Lady, whom he is addressing, as the model of the virginal life; and his argument in its behalf is, that it is higher than the marriage-state, not in itself, viewed in any mere natural respect, but as being the free act of self-consecration to God, and from the personal religious purpose, which it involves.

“Higher wage,” he says, “is due to that which is not a compulsion, but an offering; for, were virginity commanded, marriage would seem to be put out of the question; and it would be most cruel to force men against nature, and to extort from them an angel’s life.”—20.

I do not know whose testimony is more important than St. Jerome’s, the friend of Pope Damasus at Rome, the pupil of St. Gregory Nazianzen at Constantinople, and of Didymus in Alexandria, a native of Dalmatia, yet an inhabitant, at different times of his life, of Gaul, Syria, and Palestine.

8. St. Jerome speaks for the whole world, except Africa; and for Africa in the fourth century, if we must limit so world-wide an authority to place, witnesses St. Augustine (354—430). He repeats the words as if a proverb, “By a woman death, by a woman life” (Opp. t. v. Serm. 232); elsewhere he enlarges on the idea conveyed in it. In one place he quotes St. Irenaeus’s words, as cited above (adv. Julian i. 4). In another he speaks as follows:—

"It is a great sacrament that, whereas through woman death became our portion, so life was born to us by woman; that, in the case of both sexes, male and female, the baffled devil should be tormented, when on the overthrow of both sexes he was rejoicing; whose punishment had been small, if both sexes had been liberated in us, without our being liberated through both.”—Opp. t. vi. De Agon. Christ. c. 24.

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