What St Jerome can teach internet trolls

St Jerome by Caravaggio

‘All their anxiety is about their clothes…. You would take them for bridegrooms rather than for clerics; all they think about is knowing the names and houses and doings of rich ladies.’ This was St Jerome’s acerbic assessment of the clerics of his day.

Never one to soften his words, St Jerome was notorious for his acid tongue that was meant to pillory people he knew and tell them exactly how they disgusted him.

St Jerome may have been born circa 342 in Aquileia, Italy, but reading his letters and his quotes today still makes for eye-watering reading. He had a particular loathing for the married state. When he was asked why one widow would not re-marry, St Jerome retorted, ‘having experienced the vexation of marriage, why should she be like the dog who returns to his own vomit?’ He had some stinging remarks for older women because they, ‘load their heads with other people’s hair, enamel a lost youth upon the wrinkles of age, and affect a maidenly timidity in the midst of a troop of grand children.’

Although St Jerome is thought to have died on September 30 420, today’s world still stands to benefit most from analysing him, especially those who attack others on the internet: trolls, in other words. It is not my intention to throw salt on the wounds of people who have been viciously hurt by trolls when I put forward the suggestion that looking into St Jerome may well prevent someone from becoming a full-blown troll. Bear with me while I explain.

St Jerome spoke the truth and his intention was pure, it was to show up vanity and fraudulent holiness, such as when he spoke out against priests who were far too concerned with their appearance.

Sadly, in our day and times, internet trolls often consider telling the truth to be their last priority, as they make a grandiose and bombastic show of making claims and fiercely crushing another person so that they look strong. If they compare themselves to St Jerome, they may just come to a painful realisation that instead of being truth-tellers, they are making up nasty stuff about their victim and making their victim look like a horrible person so that by-standers might think the victim deserves it.

St Jerome could give it, but he could also take it, too. For years, he exiled himself in the desert and made it known that he was afraid his sins would condemn him to eternal damnation. A lot of internet trolling would cease if trolls spent their time and energy in expunging their own sins, as opposed to constantly reminding others of their failings.

We have an unfortunate situation on the internet where Catholic trolls act with all the greater arrogance, often hypocritically posting laundry lists of how someone is falling short of the Church’s teachings, while they are guilty of the very same transgressions in real life. To be fair to St Jerome, he was not a hypocrite. He may have said, ‘a fat stomach never breeds fine thoughts,’ but in the desert, he would often fast for seven days at a time, in order to purge his mind of temptations, namely thoughts of young women dancing. If someone finds that they can’t help themselves and are always trolling, perhaps like St Jerome they may consider a fast, not from food, but the internet.