chapter  14
Pages 10

IN A famous passage in one of his letters St Jerome tells how when he was on his way to Jerusalem to adopt the life of an ascetic he found it impossible to do without his library. Fasting and penance alternated with the reading of Cicero and Plautus, and when he took up the prophets he was disgusted by their style. Then he fell ill, and in a feverish dream seemed to be brought before the seat of judgment. Asked to give an account of himself he replied: ‘I am a Christian.’ ‘You lie’, answered the judge. ‘You are a Ciceronian, not a Christian. For where your heart is, there shall your treasure be.’ ‘I was silent at once’, Jerome goes on, ‘and amid my stripes (for he had ordered me to be beaten) I was even more tortured by the burning of my conscience…. Finally those present threw themselves at the feet of the judge and besought him to make allowances for youth and to allow time for penitence to the sinner, punishing me thereafter if I should ever read the books of the Gentiles again. And I who at this moment of crisis would have promised even more, began to swear an oath: “Lord, if ever I possess or read secular books, I shall have denied thee.”’1