Don't Be Jerome



I recently read Dr. Stephen Nichols' new and encouraging book A Time for Confidence. In the opening chapter Nichols provides us historic case studies of two early church fathers: Jerome and Augustine. Both were widely successful in their day. Both were incredibly scholarly. Jerome famously translated the Bible into Latin (known as the Latin Vulgate) and Augustine contributed greatly to church theology and Western Civilization alike with works like The Confessions and The City of God. Augustine also famously expunged the Pelagian Heresy in his day that denied the inherent depravity of man.

But despite the impressive accolades of these two men, they both had conflicting perspectives on the great calamity of their day: The fall of Rome, the downfall of a city that they both loved.

Case Study # 1: Jerome

Nichols writes the following:
When word of the sack of Rome by the Visigoths reached Jerome, he played Chicken Little. Jerome learned that in the mayhem surrounding the sack of Rome, a pious and well known woman named Marcella, a former acquaintance of Jerome's, died. Jerome took her death to portend far worse things to come. He took Marcella's death as a sign of the death of Rome. Jerome took the death of Rome as a sign of the end of the world. Life as he knew it was crashing down. He started sending letters to his friends warning them that the end was near. In one of those letters, he mourned, "My voice sticks in my throat and, as I dictate, sobs choke my utterance. The City which has taken the whole world was itself taken." In another he wrote, "The world sinks into ruin: Yes!" The sky has fallen.


Jerome ended up spending the remainder of his days hiding away in a remote cave, mourning the great tragedy of his time.

What had happened to Jerome? Nichols suggests that he got near-sighted. Like the Israelites wandering in the wilderness over a thousand years before him, Jerome too let his immediate earthly circumstances get bigger than his eternal God. His confidence was misplaced, and when Rome came crashing down, his hope did also.

Augustine was different.

Case Study # 2 Augustine

Nichols continues on:
Augustine, like Jerome witnessed the collapse of Rome in 410 AD. From his deathbed twenty years later, Augustine coordinated the efforts of the city of Hippo as it tried in vain to withstand the siege of Vandals. But what did Augustine do when the news of the beginning of Rome's collapse reached him? He went into his study and wrote The City of God.
 
And early on in the City of God Augustine writes, "This is a great work, this, it's arduous...which raises us, not by a quite human arrogance, but by a divine grace, above all earthly dignities that totter on this shifting scene."


Augustine's words are quite the contrast to the apocalyptic visions of Jerome. Instead of the world sinking into ruin, Augustine writes with the purpose of raising himself and his readers above the "earthly dignities that totter on this shifting scene." The world from Jerome's temporary perspective was ending and all was lost, but Augustine looked from a higher, zoomed-out perspective, and it gave him immeasurable hope. Realizing that the world is nothing but a passing scene with kingdoms rocking dangerously back and forth, he sought a Kingdom which was beyond and above this earthly realm.

What about us?

Instead of looking at Rome, we can find ourselves in the West looking at the the demise of our country. Of the rise of secularism, or the mass exodus of millennials from our churches, or the rise of "Religious Nones", or the new sexual morality. We can look globally and see all the turmoil involving refugees, or the horrors of ISIS, or the nuclear buildups of Iran and North Korea--and say like Jerome: "The world sinks into ruin!" The sky is falling!

And we often do.

Ironically it seems that a perspective as described can lead to a sort of blindness. We can become so aware of what is around us, so in tune with the temporary circumstances in our day--that they consumes and distracts us from the eternal reality that God is in control and that he is working all things according to the counsel of His will. We need to be reminded that if our hope was ever in the things of this world--in America, cultural morality, environmentalism, the economy...etc.--it would have been time to panic long, long ago. But our citizenship is in heaven. This world is not our home. And we await our Savior who will one day call us home and make all things new.

Let's not be modern day Jeromes. Rather, let’s hold fast to the only real hope there is: the eternal hope of the resurrection we have been given through Christ. And trusting in that reality should give us confidence no matter what we may face.

***

Nichols, Stephen. A Time for Confidence: Trusting God in a Post-Christian Society. Reformed Trust Publishing. 2017. Kindle Edition

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