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The Chastity of Malchus - Part 2

Escape, Danger & Salvation

Elaine Jordan

In Part 1 of The Life of Malchus written by St. Jerome, Malchus becomes a monk and is taken captive by a band of Bedouins. He becomes the slave of a master who forces a wife on him. The two, however, agree to live in perfect chastity.
A plan to escape

After a long time, while I was sitting alone one day in the desert, and I recalled the companionship of the monks, and especially the expression on the face of the Abbot who had instructed me, cared for me and lost me. While I was meditating in this fashion, I noticed a colony of ants zealously at work on a narrow path. Going to and fro, each was engrossed in its respective labor to secure food for the colony and maintain it.

What seemed most wonderful was that, with so great a throng in motion, those coming out of the mounds never hindered the ones entering. Rather, if they met any ant struggling under its bundle or burden, they lent it the support of their shoulders.

I began to weary then of my captivity and to yearn for the cells of the monastery and to desire the comfort of the solicitude of those ants in whose community all worked together.

the escape of Malchus

Malchus and the woman inflate the goat skins and paddle down the river

That night the woman saw my expression and immediately realized the sadness of my soul and asked why I was so dispirited. She listened to my reasons, and I urged her to escape with me. She agreed and, from that time on, in continual whispers, we wavered between hope and fear.

There were in my herd two he-goats of unusual size. I killed them and made bags from their hides. I prepared their flesh as food for the journey. In the early dusk, when our masters supposed that we had retired, we started out on our journey, taking the skin bags and the meat.

After 10 miles, we arrived at the river. We inflated the skins and mounted them, letting the river carry us downstream until we landed on the opposite bank much farther down, so that anyone pursuing us would lose our tracks. However, much of our meat became wet and we were able to salvage only a three-day supply of food. Then we proceeded on, always looking behind us.

A dangerous situation

On the third day of our flight, we saw behind us two riders mounted on camels, approaching rapidly. In terror because we realized our tracks in the sand had betrayed us, we discovered to our right a cave that ran deep underground. Although we were afraid of venomous snakes and other deadly creatures which seek such shady places to avoid the heat of the sun, we entered it and hastily took refuge in a small dark pit to the left of the entranceway, not daring to go farther lest, in trying to escape death, we should encounter death. We consoled ourselves with the reflection that if the Lord would help His wretched children, we had a place of safety. If, however, He rejected us as sinners, we had a sepulcher.

You can imagine our state of mind, our terror, when right in front of the cave stood our master and a fellow slave. They had tracked us to our hiding place. The master sent his servant into the cave to drag us from hiding. He held the camels and, with drawn sword, awaited our coming.

Meanwhile the servant had entered several yards into the cave. From our cavity in the wall, we watched him pass without discovering us, for his eyes were blinded when he came from the bright sunlight directly into the shade.

Malchus the hermit and the lioness

They watch the lioness kill the master and then leave the cave with its cub

His voice resounded throughout the cave: "Come forth, you rogues, come to your death!” He was still speaking when, all of a sudden, in the darkness, we saw a lioness rush upon him and drag him into her lair by the throat, strangled and covered with blood.

When the master saw the servant was slow about returning, he suspected that the two of us were resisting capture. No longer able to control his wrath, he came to the cave just as he was, holding his sword and shouting at the stupidity of his slave. But before he reached our hiding place, he was caught by the beast. Who could believe that, before our very eyes, a savage beast would fight on our behalf?

Once that fear was removed, however, we realized that similar destruct faced us, though the madness of the lion was less fearful than the anger of man. Shaking with dread and not daring to move, we awaited the outcome of our dangerous situation, with only the comforting knowledge of our chastity as a wall of protection.

But the lioness, wary of snares and sensing that it had been seen, picked up its cub with its teeth and carried it away, yielding its refuge to us. When we emerged from the cavern, we saw the camels of the master peacefully chewing cud. We mounted them and, revived by new provisions, we traveled 10 days through the desert, finally arriving at a Roman camp.

Brought before the tribune, we explained to him all that had happened. He sent us to Sabinianus, the ruler of Mesopotamia, where we sold our camels. Because my old Abbot had by this time fallen asleep in the Lord, I re-entered the monastery here at Maronia wither I had been conducted. My companion I gave to the care of the virgins, loving her as a sister, but never trusting myself to her as to a sister.

St. Jerome concludes the story

All these things the old man, Malchus, related to me when I was young. Now, an old man, I have told them to you. To the chaste, I set forth this story of chastity. You, in turn pass this story on to posterity, so that all may know that in the midst of swords and deserts and beasts, chastity is never a captive, and that a man consecrated to Christ may die, but can never be conquered.


Blason de Charlemagne
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Adapted from Early Christian Biographies, ed. by Roy J. Defarrari,
Washington DC: Catholic Un. Of America Press, 1952, pp. 287-297
Posted March 16, 2012