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Jerome: We must seek peace if we are to avoid wars


Anti-war essays, poems, short stories and literary excerpts

Greek and Roman writers on war and peace


St. Jerome
From Letters
Translated by F.A. Wright

I have passed beyond the limits of consolation, and in forbidding you to weep for one man’s death I have mourned for the dead of the whole world. That mighty king Xerxes, who overthrew mountains and turned the sea into solid ground, when from his high place he looked upon his infinite multitudes and his countless host of men, is said to have wept at the thought that not one of those whom he saw would in a hundred years be alive. – Oh, if we could ascend into such a watch-tower as would give us a view of the whole world spread beneath our feet! Then I would show you a universe in ruins, peoples warring against peoples, and kingdoms shattered on kingdoms. You would see some men being tortured, some killed, others drowned at sea, others dragged off to slavery; here a wedding, there lamentation; some being born, others dying; some living in affluence, others begging their bread; not merely Xerxes’ army, but the inhabitants of the whole world now alive destined soon to pass away. Words fail; for language is inadequate to the greatness of this theme.


‘Depart from evil,’ says the Scripture, ‘and do good; seek peace and pursue it.’ If we do not hate evil we cannot love good. Nay more, we must do good if we are to depart from evil: we must seek peace, if we are to avoid wars. Nor is it enough merely to seek peace; when we have found it and it flies from us, we must pursue with all our might. ‘Peace passeth all understanding,’ and in it is God’s dwelling. As the prophet says: ‘In peace also is His habitation.’


May the voice of the Church’s supplication be heard: ‘Lord, ordain peace for us, for thou also hast wrought all our works for us.’ May our renunciation of the world be a matter of free will and not of necessity! May we seek poverty as a glorious thing, not have it forced upon us as a punishment! However, in our present miseries, with swords raging fiercely all around us, he is rich enough who is not in actual want of bread, he is more powerful than he needs be who is not reduced to slavery.


Shame on us, the world is falling in ruins, but our sins still flourish. The glorious city that was the head of the Roman Empire has been engulfed in one terrific blaze. There is no part of the earth where exiles from Rome are not to be found. Churches once held sacred have fallen into dust and ashes, and still we set our hearts greedily on money. We live as though we were doomed to death on the morrow, but we build houses as though we were going to live for ever in this world. Our walls glitter with gold, gold gleams upon our ceilings and upon the capitals of our pillars: yet Christ is dying at our doors in the persons of His poor, naked and hungry.

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