Wednesday, August 29, 2012


Mma Potokwane and Saint Jerome

Alexander McCall Smith, The Limpopo Academy of Private Detection (New York: Pantheon Books, 2012), p. 20 (a conversation about businessman Mr. Ditso Ditso):
Mma Ramotswe brought her down to earth. "But is there any reason to think that he is behaving dishonestly?"

Mma Potokwane shrugged. "How do you get as much money as he has? By working? I really don't see, Mma, how one man could do so much work that he would end up with so much money. No, there's something else there—something that we don't know about but that must be there, Mma—it must."
Mma Potokwane's suspicion (that wealth must be the result of ill-gotten gains) reminds me of a saying repeated a few times in the works of St. Jerome—"A rich man is either a crook or a crook's heir."

John A. Ryan, Alleged Socialism of the Church Fathers (St. Louis: B. Herder, 1913), pp. 67-71, discusses three of these passages from St. Jerome. I don't have access to Corpus Christianorum Latinorum or Corpus Scriptorum Ecclesiasticorum Latinorum, so I'll provide citations to Migne's Patrologia Latina (PL) instead. Roger Pearse has a handy list of PL volumes available on the World Wide Web.

St. Jerome, commentary on Jeremiah 2.6 (on 5.26 = PL vol. 24, col. 747 B-C, tr. Ryan p. 67):
And they fill their houses through the plunder and losses of others, that this saying of the philosophers may be fulfilled, "every rich man is unjust or the heir of an unjust one."

Et aliorum damnis atque dispendiis suas complent domos, ut impleatur philosophorum illa sententia: Omnis dives aut iniquus, aut haeres iniqui.
St. Jerome, commentary on Habakkuk 2.3 (on 3.7 = PL vol. 25, col. 1316 C, tr. Ryan p. 68):
Those who work for honors or riches in this world become the tabernacles of demons; this is significantly shown by the one word iniquity, for "every rich man is either unjust or the heir of an unjust one."

Daemones intelliguntur, quorum fit tabernaculum quicumque in hoc saeculo propter honores et divitias laborarit: quod significanter sub uno verbo iniquitatis ostenditur, "Omnis enim dives, aut iniquus, aut haeres iniqui est."
St. Jerome, letter 120.1 (to Hedibia = PL vol. 22, col. 984, discussing the parable of the unjust steward, tr. Ryan pp. 68-69):
And you therefore, since you have few children, make to yourself many friends of the mammon of iniquity who may receive you into everlasting dwellings. He said well "of iniquity"; for all riches come from iniquity, and unless one was the loser another could not be the gainer. Hence that common saying seems to me to be most true: "The rich man is unjust or the heir of an unjust one."

Igitur et tu, quia paucos non habes filios, plurimos fac tibi amicos de iniquo mammona, qui te recipiant in aeterna tabernacula. Pulchre dixit de iniquo; omnes enim divitiae de iniquitate descendunt et nisi alter perdierit, alter non potest invenire. Unde et illa vulgata sententia mihi videtur esse verissima, Dives autem iniquus, aut iniqui haeres.
Ryan doesn't mention St. Jerome, tractate on psalm 83(84), ed. Germain Morin in Anecdota Maredsolana, Vol. III, Part I: Sancti Hieronymi Presbyteri Commentarioli in Psalmos (1895), p. 86, lines 17-19, my translation:
Also true is a certain saying of a philosopher: 'Every rich man is either unjust or the heir of an unjust man.'

Vera est et philosophi quaedam sententia: 'Omnis dives aut iniquus, aut iniqui heres est.'
See also Erasmus, Adagia 1.9.47, tr. R.A.B. Mynors (footnotes omitted):
Dives aut iniquus est aut iniqui heres
A rich man is either wicked himself or the heir of a wicked man

St. Jerome in a letter to Hedibia writes as follows: 'Hence too I think it absolutely true, as the common saying has it, that a rich man is either wicked himself or the heir of a wicked man.' If that remark in Hesiod is true, that what is in every man's mouth is not spoken wholly without cause, this proverb should be diligently taken to heart by those who are foolishly proud of being rich. Great wealth is hardly ever acquired without dishonesty; either the owner himself has accumulated it by fair means or foul, or at the very least he is the successor of one who acquired it in that fashion. Plato in book 5 of the Laws: 'So that there is truth in the current saying, that very rich men are not good men.' There is also a line current in Greek from one of Menander's comedies: 'Wealth n'er comes quickly to an honest man.' The man had this in mind who is recorded as saying to Sulla when he was in a boastful mood: 'How can you be an honest man when you have so much money though your father left you nothing?' Plutarch tells this in his life of Sulla.

Divus Hieronymus ad Hedibiam scribit in hunc modum: Unde et illa vulgata sententia mihi videtur esse verissima. Dives aut iniquus aut iniqui haeres. Quod si verum est illud Hesiodium non omnino temere esse, quicquid vulgo dicunt mortales, proverbium hoc haud oscitanter expendendum est iis, qui suis operibus stulte se jactant. Neque enim fere parantur ingentes opes sine fraude. Et aut ipse possessor eas per fas nefasque congessit aut certe successit ei, qui has ea paravit via. Plato libro De legibus V: Ὥστε ὁ λόγος ἡμἶν ὀρθός, ὡς οὐκ εἰσὶν οἱ παμπλούσιοι ἀγαθοί, id est Ita verum est, quod vulgo dicimus admodum divites non esse bonos. Circumfertur apud Graecos et hic versiculus ex Menandri comoediis:
Οὐδεὶς ἐπλούτησε ταχέως δίκαιος ὤν, id est
Numquam vir aequus, dives evasit cito.
Huc respexit ille, qui Syllae jactanti sese dixisse legitur: Quomodo vir bonus esse potes, qui tantas possideas opes, cum a patre nihil tibi sit relictum? Refert Plutarchus in illius vita.
For more parallels see Renzo Tosi, Dictionnaire des sentences latines et grecques, tr. Rebecca Lenoir (Grenoble: Jérôme Millon, 2010), #1807 (p. 1320).

Related post: St. Jerome on Wealth and Poverty.

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