Overview

Jerome

(c. 347—420)


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(c.341–420),

monk and Doctor of the Church. Born at Strido, near Aquileia, in Dalmatia, Jerome was well educated, first by his father, then by the grammarian Donatus at Rome. After this he studied rhetoric with such success that it is evident in all his writings. Meanwhile he used to visit the churches and especially the catacombs of Rome and was baptized some time before 366. He travelled in Gaul, Dalmatia, and Italy. While at Trier he decided to become a monk; this he did with like-minded friends in Aquileia until, after a quarrel caused by some real or supposed scandal, Jerome left for Palestine. He reached Antioch in 374: two of his companions died, Jerome too was seriously ill. In this state he dreamt that he appeared before God's judgement-seat and was condemned for being a Ciceronian rather than a Christian. For several years he took this experience very seriously. He became a hermit in the desert of Chalcis in Syria for five years, gave up the classics he knew and loved so well, and learnt Hebrew instead to study Scripture in its original language. Already he had learnt Greek, so that, with his mastery of style and rhetoric, he was equipped for his future achievements as writer and translator. Unfortunately Jerome also had a difficult, cantankerous temperament and a sarcastic wit which made him enemies.

After being ordained priest in Antioch, although he had no wish for orders and in fact never said Mass, he studied in Constantinople under Gregory of Nazianzus; no doubt Jerome found himself more at home in the sophisticated capital than among the rustic Syrian monks. There he translated Eusebius' Chronicle from Greek into Latin, and a number of Origen's homilies; to these he added his first original Scriptural work on the Vision of Isaiah, addressed in its later form to Damasus. He returned to Rome to act as interpreter to Paulinus, one of the claimants to the See of Antioch.

Once there, he was retained as his ‘secretary’ by Damasus, then a very old man; he produced other scriptural opuscula, mainly translations. He then embarked on the enormous task of producing a standard Latin text of the Bible, revised according to the meaning of the original texts, but not, apparently, an entirely new translation. He began on the Gospels and the Psalter; eventually he produced all, or nearly all, the Bible in what was later called the Vulgate version. He also wrote a number of influential commentaries on particular books such as the Prophets and the Epistles; that on Matthew's Gospel became a standard work.

His stay in Rome lasted only three years, but during it he became the guide of a group of dedicated Christian ladies, Paula, Marcella, Eustochium, and others, most of whom had been living a semi-monastic life in their widowhood. He gave them much help in their study of Scripture and in their pursuit of a more perfect Christian life apart from the worldly conditions of Rome. His relationship with them gave rise to scandalous gossip, largely unjust. But Jerome made enemies wherever he went: his aggressive sarcasm and readiness to equate himself with authentic tradition were often counter-productive. He paid the price for being a brilliant controversialist for good causes by arousing jealousy and animosity. He left Rome in 385, as he had left Syria and Constantinople before, under something of a cloud; he resolved to start again, this time at Bethlehem, where Paula established a convent of nuns and Jerome one of monks. There he spent the rest of his life, teaching, writing, and studying.

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Subjects: History by Period — Christianity.


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