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Figure 12.

The Creation and Fall . M. Albertinelli, Florence, fifteenth century.

Figure 12.

The Creation and Fall . M. Albertinelli, Florence, fifteenth century.

But the argument was fought out in the field of discourse, where it held out virtually limitless possibilities for virtuosity.

No one was better at handling the theme than Jerome—or, at his most extreme, more perverse. He dealt with it both in treatises—Against Helvidius and Against Jovinian, crushing counterblasts directed at those who had attempted to argue in the other direction—and in many letters addressed to his Roman friends, and especially the young girls and women whom he influenced so strongly.[55] On many occasions, and especially in the notorious Letter 22 addressed to the unfortunate young Eustochium,[56] his sheer rhetorical bravura led him to absurd lengths: marriage, he claims, is worth praising as a means of producing more virgins; the mother of a consecrated virgin, because she

[55] For the context of Jerome's writing on the subject, see J. N. D. Kelly, Jerome (New York: Harper & Row, 1975), 91 ff., 104 ff., 179 ff.

[56] Another sister, Blesilla, actually died as a result of excessive ascetic zeal; see Ep. 39.6; Kelly, Jerome, 98 ff., 108.

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