St. Jerome: Praying and reading

When we pray, we speak to God; but when we read, God speaks to us.

attr. to St. Jerome

I saw this in a meme going around FB from accounts with famous names attached, but it’s is a centuries-old fauxtation (or at least a very free paraphrase). It stems from St. Alphonsus Ligouri’s “On Spiritual Reading,” which, in the English language version available on the Web, attributes the phrase to St. Jerome exactly as given above. What St. Jerome actually said was: “Do you pray? You speak to the Bridegroom. Do you read? He speaks to you.” (Letter XXII, to Eustochium, 25.) St. Alphonsus paraphrased it. (The actual Latin of St. Jerome is: “Oras: loqueris ad sponsum; legis: ille tibi loquitur,” from here. A literal translation runs like this: “You pray: You speak to the bridegroom. You read: He speaks o you.”)

St. Ambrose said something similar, referenced in CCC 2653, which references Dei Verbum 25, which says that it’s St. Ambrose, De officiis ministrorum 1,20,88:PL 16,50, and you can verify that the citation is correct by looking at PL 16, 50 right here. The Latin is, “Illum alloquimur cum oramus, illum audimus cum divina legimus oracula.” The English translation is, “We speak to him when we pray; we listen to him when we read the divine oracles.”

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