St. Jerome on the fall of Rome

Rome had been besieged and its citizens had been forced to buy their lives with gold.  Then thus despoiled they had been besieged again so as to lose not their substance only but their lives.  My voice sticks in my throat; and, as I dictate, sobs choke my utterance.  The City which had taken the whole world was itself taken; nay more famine was beforehand with the sword and but few citizens were left to be made captives.  In their frenzy the starving people had recourse to hideous food; and tore each other limb from limb that they might have flesh to eat.  Even the mother did not spare the babe at her breast.  In the night was Moab taken, in the night did her wall fall down. (Isaiah 15:1)  “O God, the heathen have come into your inheritance; your holy temple have they defiled; they have made Jerusalem an orchard. The dead bodies of your servants have they given to be meat unto the fowls of the heaven, the flesh of your saints unto the beasts of the earth.  Their blood have they shed like water round about Jerusalem; and there was none to bury them”

Who can set forth the carnage of that night?
What tears are equal to its agony?
Of ancient date a sovran city falls;
And lifeless in its streets and houses lie
Unnumbered bodies of its citizens.
In many a ghastly shape does death appear.
Meantime, as was natural in a scene of such confusion, one of the bloodstained victors found his way into Marcella's house.  Now be it mine to say what I have heard, to relate what holy men have seen; for there were some such present and they say that you too were with her in the hour of danger.  When the soldiers entered she is said to have received them without any look of alarm; and when they asked her for gold she pointed to her coarse dress to show them that she had no buried treasure.  However they would not believe in her self-chosen poverty, but scourged her and beat her with cudgels.  She is said to have felt no pain but to have thrown herself at their feet and to have pleaded with tears for you, that you might not be taken from her, or owing to your youth have to endure what she as an old woman had no occasion to fear.  Christ softened their hard hearts and even among bloodstained swords natural affection asserted its rights.  The barbarians conveyed both you and her to the basilica of the apostle Paul, that you might find there either a place of safety or, if not that, at least a tomb.  Hereupon Marcella is said to have burst into great joy and to have thanked God for having kept you unharmed in answer to her prayer.  She said she was thankful too that the taking of the city had found her poor, not made her so, that she was now in want of daily bread, that Christ satisfied her needs so that she no longer felt hunger, that she was able to say in word and in deed: “naked came I out of my mother's womb, and naked shall I return there: the Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.“

After a few days she fell asleep in the Lord; but to the last her powers remained unimpaired.  You she made the heir of her poverty, or rather the poor through you.  When she closed her eyes, it was in your arms; when she breathed her last breath, your lips received it; you shed tears but she smiled conscious of having led a good life and hoping for her reward hereafter.
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