ST. EUSTOCHIUM, V.
THIS holy virgin, whose memory is rendered illustrious by the pen of St. Jerom, was daughter of St. Paula, whose admirable life, after her entire conversion to God, this saint faithfully copied. St. Paula, upon the death of her husband Toxotius, retrenched all splendor and magnificence in her household, and devoted herself wholly to God in a life of simplicity, poverty, mortification, and assiduous prayer. Eustochium entered into all the pious views of her mother, and rejoiced to consecrate all the hours which so many misspend in vain amusements, to the exercises of charity and religion; and to see the poor relieved with what other ladies throw away to maintain their idleness, luxury, and pride, converting the blessings of God into their most grievous misfortunes, and the means of salvation and virtue into their most heavy condemnation. Eustochium often visited, and received instructions from St. Marcella, the first of her sex in Rome who embraced an ascetic or retired austere life, for the more perfect exercise of virtue.
Knowing the infinite importance of a good guide in a spiritual life, our devout virgin, about the year 382, put herself under the direction of St. Jerom, and made a solemn vow of virginity. To commend her resolution, and to instruct her in the obligations of that state, he composed his treatise, On Virginity, otherwise called his letter to Eustochium on that subject, toward the latter end of the pontificate of Damasus, about the year 383. In this treatise: having spoken of the excellency of the state of virginity, and of the difficulty of preserving, and the danger of losing the great treasure of purity, he lays down precepts which a virgin is to observe in order to keep herself pure. The first thing he prescribes is sincere humility, and a great fear of losing this virtue. The second is constant watchfulness over the heart and senses against all dangers, rejecting the very first suggestions of evil thoughts, killing the enemy before he gains strength, and crushing the least seeds of temptation. The third is extraordinary temperance in eating and drinking. He forbids her dainty fare, effeminacy, pleasures, and superfluous ornaments. He enjoins her to forbear ever drinking any pure wine which he calls a poison in youth, and throwing oil upon a flame. He would not have fasts carried to excess, and rather commends such as are moderate, but constant; and he enjoins that a person always rise from his meals with an appetite. He recommends solitude, and all Christian virtues, and gives a charge to the virgin, that she never visit those ladies whose dress and discourse have any tincture of the spirit of the world; and adds: “Go very seldom abroad, not even to honor the martyrs: honor them in your chamber.” St. Jerom gives Eustochium useful documents concerning the exercise of assiduous prayer and puts her in mind (besides the hours of Morning, Evening, Tierce, Sext and None, which all know to be consecrated to public prayer) that she ought to rise twice or thrice in the night to pray, and never to omit this duty before and after meals, before going abroad, and after coming in, and on all occasions; and that at every action she ought to make the sign of the cross. This venerable author relates, that when Eustochium was a child, her mother accustomed her to wear only plain ordinary clothes: but that one day her aunt Prætextata put on her rich apparel, and had her hair gracefully curled, according to the custom of young ladies of her quality; that in the night following, Prætextata seemed to see in her sleep a terrible angel, who, with a threatening voice, reproached her for attempting to lay sacrilegious hands on a virgin consecrated to Christ, and to instil vanity into one who was consecrated his spouse.
St. Jerom left Rome in 385, and Eustochium bore her mother company in all her journeys through Syria, Egypt, and Palestine, and settled with her in her monastery at Bethlehem. After the death of St. Paula in 404, Eustochium was chosen abbess in her room. Having St. Jerom for her master, she was learned above her sex, and was well skilled in the Hebrew language. St. Jerom dedicated to her his Comments on Ezechiel and Isaias, and translated the rule of St. Pachomius into Latin, for the use of her nuns. A troop of Pelagian heretics burnt down her monastery in 416, and committed many outrages: of which, St. Eustochium, and her niece, the younger Paula, informed by letter pope Innocent I. who wrote in strong terms to John, bishop of Jerusalem, charging him to put a stop to such violences, adding that otherwise he should be obliged to have recourse to other means to see justice done to those that were injured. St. Eustochium was called to receive the reward which God bestows on the wise virgins about the year 419. Her body was interred near that of her mother St. Paula. See St. Jerom1. de Virgin, et ep. 22, 26, 27.