Conversing With a Saint

jerome 4

I turned the corner and my eyes locked in on his face. It was gaunt and haggard, weathered by years in the desert. He looked emaciated, his arms and legs thin and bony as if he were malnourished or starving. I wanted to know his story. Who was he? Where was he from? What circumstances had shaped his life experience? I wanted to have a conversation with this man.

Great works of art draw the viewer in, cause them to ask questions, and compel them to search for the story of the subject. Art of all types exists to tell a story, it can take us to another time and place. Art preserved is the closest that we can come to time travel. There I stood, a man in the twenty first century looking at a work of art painted in the fifteenth century of a subject from the late fourth/early fifth century. It was almost as if I could have a conversation with the painting. The artist had carefully included visual clues as to who this man was and what was important to him. Saint Jerome was his name; he was an early church father, a translator of the biblical text, a prolific writer, and, at times an ascetic monk who isolated himself in the desert to avoid the distractions of the world and draw closer to God.

Jerome saw great value in sacrifice for the sake of Christ and for others. In a letter to one of his students, he writes, “Exuperius, the saintly bishop of Toulouse, like the widow of Zarephath feeds others and goes hungry himself. His face is pale with fasting, but it is the craving of others that torments him, and he has spent all his substance on those that are Christ’s flesh. Yet none is richer than he; for in his wicker basket he carries the body of the Lord and in his glass cup His blood.”

Sacrifice. It may be a mostly taboo subject in the Western church. We may think of Jerome as a radical. The painting by Roberti would concur, Jerome was quite radical. But I think that was the point of the painting. You see, in the artist’s context, the church in Europe was at the height of it’s power and influence; but it had become quite rich and complacent, forgetting the example of saints like Jerome who lived sacrificial lives of poverty. Even the monastic community had fallen into the complacency that great wealth can bring. I believe the artist, like the Old Testament prophet, not so politely seeks to shake the masses out of their complacency and back to sacrificial lives devoted to God.

A study of history often reveals the cyclical nature of the ways of humans. Studying church history reveals the same thing: Patterns. Patterns; both good and bad. Has wealth once again lulled the church in the West into complacency? Have the distractions of life slowly drawn our personal priorities away from sacrificial love and service to God?

It seems that Jerome can still speak after all.

@chelsleeham @mattk77_77 @stacy_rapp @MeggieBurmester @lautsbaugh @NigelBurmester @ywam @ywamla @YWAMMontana @RELEVANT

, , , , , ,