Jerome’s Bad Dream

Saint Jerome in Penitence by Hieronymous Bosch

Saint Jerome in Penitence by Hieronymous Bosch

“Ciceronianus es non Christianus”

In A.D. 375, around the middle of the Lenten season, Jerome had a dream.

The translator of Scripture into Latin had been baptized a Christian at age 19, but like many of his era, Jerome still loved to read “the judicious precepts of Quintilian, the rich and fluent eloquence of Cicero, the graver style of Fronto, and the smoothness of Pliny.”

After suffering a fever, Jerome experienced a realistic dream in which he was brought before a heavenly tribunal.  A voice demanded him to identify himself.  “I am a Christian,” Jerome replied.

“You lie,” insisted the voice.  “Ciceronianus es non Christianus (you are a Ciceronian, not a Christian), for ‘where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.'”

Jerome, imagining himself scourged, vowed never again to read “worldly” books (a vow he kept for ten years before relenting).

Later, relating this experience in a letter to Eustochium, he advised, “So long as we are held down by this frail body, so long as we have our treasure in earthen vessels (2 Corinthians 4:7); so long as the flesh lusts against the spirit and the spirit against the flesh (Galatians 5:17), there can be no sure victory.  ‘Our adversary the devil goes about as a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour’ (1 Peter 5:8).”

“What communion has light with darkness?” he continued.  “‘And what concord has Christ with Belial?’ (2 Corinthians 6:14-15).  How can Horace go with the psalter, Virgil with the gospels, Cicero with the apostle?  Is not a brother made to stumble if he sees you sitting at meat in an idol’s temple? (1 Corinthians 8:10).  Although ‘unto the pure all things are pure’ (Titus 1:15), and ‘nothing is to be refused if it be received with thanksgiving’ (1 Timothy 4:4), still we ought not to drink the cup of Christ, and, at the same time, the cup of devils (1 Corinthians 10:21).”

A millennium and a half later, F. F. Bosworth, a well-respected Pentecostal preacher with an outstanding healing ministry, tendered a letter of resignation to the Assemblies of God.  “It is with regret,” he wrote, “that I return my credentials, but I believe that is the consistent thing to do, since I do not believe, nor can I ever teach, that all will speak in tongues when baptized in the Spirit.”  Bosworth had succumbed to doubting Scripture and his own Pentecostal experience on the basis that Charles Finney and other historic preachers he admired had not spoken in tongues.

Afterward, T. K. Leonard remarked, “I would spend more time in getting an experience that fits the Bible than I would in endeavoring to get the Bible to fit an experience” (in Carl Brumback, Like a River: the Early Years of the Assemblies of God [Springfield, MO: Gospel Publishing House, 1977], pp. 66, 72).

It is perfectly true that with maturity and wisdom, a Christian may often handle ideas and activities that are external to Christianity, and even contrary to it, responsibly, incurring neither harm nor offense.  Yet Jerome is correct in regard to the risk, and inconsistency, of significant involvement in the contrary thought system of the world, and indeed any and all higher loyalties, or preconceived notions, apart from the clear teaching of Scripture and of the Holy Spirit.

Be careful what you read, what you spend your time on, what you put into your mind, and which personages you admire.  Even great Christians of the past had imperfections, and imperfect theology.  As Isaiah prophesied of Messiah, “Butter and honey shall he eat, that he may know to refuse the evil, and choose the good,” since a “child” must learn “to refuse the evil, and choose the good” (Isaiah 7:15 f.).

Copyright © 2013 Paul A. Hughes

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