September 30, 2009

Tam Rudes Erant

Yesterday, in looking forward to preaching today on the feast of St. Jerome, I was poking around in my Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft Vulgate looking for some gem from the great translator that I could turn into a homily. You see, Jerome didn't just translate the Sacred Scriptures into Latin, but he also wrote little prologues and introductions to various sections and books.

In his introduction to the letters of St. Paul he asks the question of the order of the letters in the canon: why should the letter to the Romans be first, when it is clearly not the first that was written? Though the principle of ontological economy would suggest that the letters are simply arranged in descending order of size (excepting Hebrews, of course, whose Pauline authorship was doubted even in antiquity), Jerome comes up with a novel solution: the letters are arranged according to an upward graded path, in ascending order of spiritual perfection.

The Romans were so backward and rude that the spiritual condition they represent has to be presented first. The Corinthians, who seem to have known something of grace at least, represent the next spiritual step, and so on, until we get to the persecuted strength of the Thessalonians and the lofty spiritual heights of the letter to the Hebrews. A grain of humility for us 'Romans,' no?

Now I couldn't bring myself to make the people suffer through a homily concocted out of these obscure points, but it does remind us that Sacred Scripture is not a collection of neutral information about God. Scripture--and all Divine Revelation--is presented in such a way that it is geared for what we need to set us on the path of salvation.


Warren said...

Fascinating. I'd love to read all of St. Jerome's comments.

My Dad is of the protestant sect that believes that the writings of Paul trump everything, even the words of Christ. I believe he has spent the last 20 years studying the book of Romans almost exclusively.

As catholics believe in the primacy of Peter, Dad believes in the primacy of Paul. And I do believe he would consider James, a "right strawy epistle" (Luther), and Revelation, "a perfectly obvious set of prophecies that confirm handily my dispensationalist worldview".

So, he would say, I think that they are in fact, ordered from most significant, to most insignificant works.

One needs the four classic Gospels, and the "Gospel of of Our Lord and Saviour St. Paul" (Romans), and little else.

And this lamp, And this paddleball game. And this thermos. And that's ALL I need.


Hidden One said...

That jives with my theory that they're numbered in the order that they ought to be read. :-P

Qualis Rex said...

Father Charles, St Jerome is one of my favorites. I was VERY tempted to buy a Mexican retablo of him the other day (complete with lion, owl, skull etc), but the art dealer overpriced it outrageously and wouldn't budge. He was one no-nonsense saint : )