Thursday, September 03, 2009

Saint Jerome with Saint Paula and Saint Eustochium

Francisco de Zurbarán 1598 - 1664 and Workshop
Saint Jerome with Saint Paula and Saint Eustochium, c. 1640/1650
Oil on fabric
Overall: 245.7 x 173.5 cm (96 3/4 x 68 5/16 in.) framed: 264.2 x 192.4 x 9.5 cm (104 x 75 3/4 x 3 3/4 in.)
Samuel H. Kress Collection
The National Gallery of Art, Washington DC

It was not only in Italy that there was devotion and veneration accorded to St Jerome.

His life and works attracted a following and great influence in Spain especially through the Hieronymites

Zurbarán painted a series of paintings in the late 1630s for the Hieronymite monastery of Guadalupe on the Life of St Jerome and Saint Paula, and her daughter Saint Eustochium. This is one of them

In this painting the white and brown habits of the saints are those worn by the Hieronymites

Saint Paula (347–404) was a widow in Rome and had four daughters Blaesilla, Paulina, Eustochium, and Rufina, and a son named Toxotius.

After the death of Blesilla, Paula and Eustochium left Rome to follow the monastic life in the East. Jerome, who had gone ahead by a month, joined them at Antioch.

Paula, Eustochium, and Jerome eventually arrived and settled at Bethlehem

Paula and Eustochium at once began to erect four monasteries and a hospice near the spot where Christ was born. One of the monasteries was occupied by monks and put under the direction of Saint Jerome. The three other monasteries were taken by Paula and Eustochium.

It does not appear that St Jerome composed any monastic rule or founded an order. But some Hieronymites of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries asserted as much.

In 1389 the Hieronymites received the monastery of Our Lady of Guadalupe, in Estramadura, and made it their principal house. This monastery commissioned the work from Francisco de Zurbarán.

In 1835 the monastery was secularised by order of the State. Thus the painting came onto the open market. When secularised it was the most important moastery in Spain.

The influence of St Jerome in Spain had at least one major and notable effect

After the death of her mother and the marriage of her eldest sister, Saint Teresa of Avila was sent for her education to the Augustinian nuns at Avila, but owing to illness she left at the end of eighteen months, and for some years remained with her father. Occasionally she stayed with other relatives notably an uncle who made her acquainted with the Letters of St. Jerome, which determined her to adopt the religious life,

"8. The devil put before me that I could not endure the trials of the religious life, because of my delicate nurture. I defended myself against him by alleging the trials which Christ endured, and that it was not much for me to suffer something for His sake; besides, He would help me to bear it. I must have thought so, but I do not remember this consideration. I endured many temptations during these days. I was subject to fainting-fits, attended with fever,—for my health was always weak. I had become by this time fond of good books, and that gave me life. I read the Epistles of St. Jerome, which filled me with so much courage, that I resolved to tell my father of my purpose,—which was almost like taking the habit; for I was so jealous of my word, that I would never, for any consideration, recede from a promise when once my word had been given."

Saint Teresa of Avila. (Teresa de Cepeda y Ahumada, 1515-1582) Life of St. Teresa of Jesus, of The Order of Our Lady of Carmel , Chapter 3 Section 8 [London: Thomas Baker; New York: Benziger Bros., 1904]

Reading the Letters of St Jerome, one is struck by the personality of the writer. Some described him as "cranky", bad-tempered, sarcastic, a monomaniac. The letters show evidence of that. But they also show someone who is passionate, totally immersed in Scripture, a visionary, a great Saint. Above all they show a human being with flesh, blood, feelings and emotions. Through his Letters he lives. In the same way that later St Teresa of Avila in her letters and works still talks to us. These great Doctors of the Church through their writings show they are not plaster cast statues to be put on a shelf and admired

Here is one Letter of St Jerome (Letter XI.) To the Virgins of Æmona written in AD 374. Æmona was a Roman colony not far from Stridon, Jerome’s birthplace. He complains that they do not reply to his letters:

"This scanty sheet of paper shows in what a wilderness I live, and because of it I have to say much in few words. For, desirous though I am to speak to you more fully, this miserable scrap compels me to leave much unsaid. Still ingenuity makes up for lack of means, and by writing small I can say a great deal. Observe, I beseech you, how I love you, even in the midst of my difficulties, since even the want of materials does not stop me from writing to you.

Pardon, I beseech you, an aggrieved man: if I speak in tears and in anger it is because I have been injured.

For in return for my regular letters you have not sent me a single syllable. Light, I know, has no communion with darkness, 2 Cor. vi. 14. and God`s handmaidens no fellowship with a sinner, yet a harlot was allowed to wash the Lord’s feet with her tears, Luke vii. 37 sqq. and dogs are permitted to eat of their masters’ crumbs. Matt. xv. 27.

It was the Saviour’s mission to call sinners and not the righteous; for, as He said Himself, “they that be whole need not a physician.” Matt. ix. 12, 13. He wills the repentance of a sinner rather than his death, Ezek. xxxiii. 11. and carries home the poor stray sheep on His own shoulders. Luke xv. 5.

So, too, when the prodigal son returns, his father receives him with joy. Luke xv. 20. Nay more, the apostle says: “Judge nothing before the time.” 1 Cor. iv. 5. For “who art thou that judgest another man’s servant? To his own master he standeth or falleth.” Rom. xiv. 4. And “let him that standeth take heed lest he fall.” 1 Cor. x. 12. “Bear ye one another’s burdens.” Gal. vi. 2.

Dear sisters, man’s envy judges in one way, Christ in another; and the whisper of a corner is not the same as the sentence of His tribunal. Many ways seem right to men which are afterwards found to be wrong. Cf. Prov. xiv. 12. And a treasure is often stowed in earthen vessels. 2 Cor. iv. 7. Peter thrice denied his Lord, yet his bitter tears restored him to his place. “To whom much is forgiven, the same loveth much.” Luke vii. 47. No word is said of the flock as a whole, yet the angels joy in heaven over the safety of one sick ewe. Luke xv. 7, 10. And if any one demurs to this reasoning, the Lord Himself has said: “Friend, is thine eye evil because I am good?” Matt. xx. 15."

I have left in the Biblical references. It might be a useful style if you are ever in the same position as Jerome. The "scrap of paper" is a wonderful witty piece and device. One would have loved to have been there as a fly on the wall when Jerome`s letter was delivered, received and read.