“SEEK THE THINGS THAT ARE ABOVE (St. Jerome, Commentary on The Vanity of Riches).”


Below you have St. Jerome’s commentary on the following passage from Ecclesiastes:

Ecclesiastes 5:9-6:8


9 But all things considered, this is an advantage for a land: a king for a plowed field.[a]
10 The lover of money will not be satisfied with money; nor the lover of wealth, with gain. This also is vanity.
11 When goods increase, those who eat them increase; and what gain has their owner but to see them with his eyes?
12 Sweet is the sleep of laborers, whether they eat little or much; but the surfeit of the rich will not let them sleep.
13 There is a grievous ill that I have seen under the sun: riches were kept by their owners to their hurt, 14 and those riches were lost in a bad venture; though they are parents of children, they have nothing in their hands. 15 As they came from their mother’s womb, so they shall go again, naked as they came; they shall take nothing for their toil, which they may carry away with their hands. 16 This also is a grievous ill: just as they came, so shall they go; and what gain do they have from toiling for the wind? 17 Besides, all their days they eat in darkness, in much vexation and sickness and resentment.
18 This is what I have seen to be good: it is fitting to eat and drink and find enjoyment in all the toil with which one toils under the sun the few days of the life God gives us; for this is our lot. 19 Likewise all to whom God gives wealth and possessions and whom he enables to enjoy them, and to accept their lot and find enjoyment in their toil—this is the gift of God. 20 For they will scarcely brood over the days of their lives, because God keeps them occupied with the joy of their hearts.

The Frustration of Desires

6 There is an evil that I have seen under the sun, and it lies heavy upon humankind: 2 those to whom God gives wealth, possessions, and honor, so that they lack nothing of all that they desire, yet God does not enable them to enjoy these things, but a stranger enjoys them. This is vanity; it is a grievous ill. 3 A man may beget a hundred children, and live many years; but however many are the days of his years, if he does not enjoy life’s good things, or has no burial, I say that a stillborn child is better off than he. 4 For it comes into vanity and goes into darkness, and in darkness its name is covered; 5 moreover it has not seen the sun or known anything; yet it finds rest rather than he. 6 Even though he should live a thousand years twice over, yet enjoy no good—do not all go to one place?

7 All human toil is for the mouth, yet the appetite is not satisfied. 8 For what advantage have the wise over fools? And what do the poor have who know how to conduct themselves before the living?

“SEEK THE THINGS THAT ARE ABOVE (St. Jerome, Commentary on Ecclesiastes).”

‘Every man to whom God has given wealth and possessions and power to enjoy them, and to accept his lot and find enjoyment in his toil — this is the gift of God. For he will not much remember the days of his life because God keeps him occupied with joy in his heart.’ In comparison with the man who feeds upon his wealth in the gloom of cares and hoards up perishable things with great heaviness of life, he says that man is better who enjoys his present joys. For in one case there is perhaps little pleasure in enjoyment; but in the other there is only a multitude of cares. And he gives the reasons why it is a gift of God to enjoy wealth. Because ‘he will not much remember the days of his life’. If God calls him away in the happiness of his heart, it will not be in sadness, he will not be troubled by anxiety, taken away in happiness and present pleasure. But it is better that spiritual food and spiritual drink should be understood, according to the words of Saint Paul, and to see goodness in all one’s labour, for with great labour and zeal we can behold true goods. And this is our task, that we should rejoice in our zeal and our labour. Even though that is good, until Christ is manifest in our life it is not yet fully good.

‘All the toil of a man is for his mouth, yet his spirit is not filled. For what advantage has the wise man over the fool? And what does the poor man have who knows how to conduct himself before the living.’ All, over which men labour in this world, is consumed in the mouth, and, munched by the teeth, it passes down to the stomach to be digested. For the little while that it delights the appetite, it seems to give pleasure while it is held in the mouth. When it has passed to the belly, there ceases to be any difference between sorts of food.
After all this, the soul of the eater is not satisfied; either because it again longs for what it has eaten, and both the wise man and fool cannot live without food, and the poor man seeks for nothing except how he can keep the organism of his pitiful body alive and not die of hunger, or because the soul gains no advantage from the refreshment of the body and food is the same to the wise man and the fool alike and the poor man goes where he can see wealth.
It is better however that we should understand this about the writer of Ecclesiastes who, being learned in the heavenly scriptures, has his labour in his mouth and yet his soul is not satisfied since he always longs to learn. In this matter the wise man has the advantage over the fool, that, when he feels that he is poor (by ‘poor’ we mean the man who is called blessed in the gospel), he hurries to find out those things which pertain to life, and he travels along that narrow, confined path which leads to life, and is poor in evil works, and knows where Christ dwells, who is life.

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