. St. Jerome’s Cicero Obsession based on St. Jerome’s letter to his disciple St. Eustochium in Rome, A.D. 384 When I was young and foolish long ago, I traveled to Jerusalem alone To fast and pray away from everyone. My book collection I could not forgo; With greatest toil I had made it grow. So, when I went to pray by walls of stone— All night, in tears, atone before God’s throne— I’d stray from God with books of Cicero. I took up Plautus after each day’s fast— A garden, and a library to read, Says Cicero, is everything we need. The greatest Roman writers of the past Had polished treasures, infinitely vast. But when my soul with me would sometimes plead, And I would read the Scriptures of my creed, Their style seemed rough and dull; my eyes were glassed. For weeks the devil toyed about with me, Until a fever fell, destroyed my rest, My prayer, my fast; by pestilence oppressed, I turned to skin and bone quite rapidly. I grew as cold as catacombs could be, No warmth but deep within my throbbing breast. A priest had made a funeral request, For soon I’d pass on to eternity. To my surprise, I did not die; instead, I saw the Lord in realms of light apart. “Yea, who and what art thou?” He asked, to start. “A Christian priest, I worship Thee,” I said. But Jesus frowned at me and shook His head. “Thou liest, Ciceronian thou art, ‘For where thy treasure is, there is thy heart!’” He had me whipped until my skin was red. But conscience tortured me more strongly yet; I thought, “‘Who shall confess to Thee in Hell?’” And on my knees before my Lord I fell And begged for mercy as I paid my debt, So while with thrashings I was still beset, I cried, “Dear Lord, I hereby bid farewell To heathen books—forever I expel Such works, for I’ve denied Thee with that set!” When I returned to mortal earth again, All knew it was no dream, but something real— My shoulders, black and blue, took long to heal. I burned my pagan books and said, “Amen, No more shall I read lies of heathen pen! No more shall wicked works to me appeal!” And now I read God’s books with greater zeal Than I had ever given books of men! I ask, Eustochium, disciple dear, What functions as a Cicero for you? What makes you apathetic toward what’s true? What makes God’s words so difficult to hear? Whatever dulls desire to adhere To God along with His devoted few, Cast out as poison right upon first view, However good and true it may appear! . Poet’s notes: St. Jerome (born between 342 and 347, died 420), a priest, theologian, historian, and Doctor of the Catholic Church, left behind many writings, second in quantity only to St. Augustine in the ancient Roman world, contributing greatly to Christian theology. He wrote an authoritative translation of the Bible into Latin, called the Vulgate, which is still used by the Catholic Church. Plautus and Cicero were pre-Christian Roman writers, still studied by students of the classical age. Most likely, the incident depicted in the poem heavily influenced his becoming one of the greatest Bible scholars the world has ever known. Scripture quotes: “Where thy treasure,” etc.: Matthew 6:21 “Who shall confess,” etc.: Psalm 6:6 . . Joshua C. Frank works in the field of statistics and lives near Austin, Texas. His poetry has also been published in the Asahi Haikuist Network.