December 26, 2013

Diet of words

Ambrosius, whose supply of parchment, funds and copyists enabled our Adamantius des entrailles de bronze to produce his innumerable commentaries, remarks to Origen in a letter he wrote from Athens that he had eaten no meal in his company without something being read aloud, nor lain in his guest-bed unaccompanied by a reading from Scripture by one of the brethren, whose readings and prayers were made to follow each other day and night.

We creatures of the belly, did we ever thus? We, who can't manage more than one hour's reading without yawning and rubbing our eyes, our annoyance barely contained? Then, as if after some great task, we go back to troubling ourselves with the business of the world. Of the heavy meals that depress our faculties I say nothing, and am ashamed to mention the time lost every day to anticipation of visitors, or to social calls we pay on others. Straightaway the prattle starts, and our words are wasted on tearing apart third parties. Sounding the lives of others, we bite and in turn are bitten, and even as we take our leave we are busy chewing.

The friendly gathering dispersed, our reckoning continues. Resentment makes a lion's face to flash across our own, and forward-looking plans run through our minds in obsessive bursts, heedless of the Gospel's warning: "Tonight your dumb ass will be stripped of your soul. And what you've stored up will belong to whom, exactly?"

Jerome, Letter 43 (to Marcella)