1902 Encyclopedia > St Jerome

St Jerome
Illyrian Christian priest and apologist
(c. 347 - 420 AD)




ST JEROME (HIERONYMUS, in full EUSEBIUS SOPHRONIUS HIERONYMUS), was born at Strido (modern Strigaul), a town on the border of Dalmatia fronting Pannonia, destroyed by the Goths in 377 A.D. Some authorities, following Prosper's chronicle, give 330 or 331 as the date of his birth, but from certain passages in his writings it is more probable that he was not born till 340 or 342. He says, for example, that he was a boy learning grammar when Julian died; but Julian died in 363, and Jerome would scarcely call himself a boy if he had been thirty-three years, old. What is known of Jerome has mostly been recovered from his own writings, for he was a gossiping sort of man, and biographers have only to string together extracts from his epistles and prologues to get a very good account of his life. His parents were Christians, orthodox though living among people mostly Arians, and wealthy. He was at first educated at home, Bonosus, a life-long friend, sharing his boyish studies, and was after-wards sent to Rome to perfect his education. Donatus, whose Latin grammar was to be the plague of generations of mediaeval school-boys from St Andrews to Prague till Corderius and the Reformation drove it out, taught him grammar and explained the Latin poets. Victorinus taught him rhetoric. He attended the law-courts, and listened to the Roman advocates pleading in the Forum. He went to the schools of philosophy, and heard lectures on Plato, Diogenes, Clitomachus, and Carneades ; the conjunction of names shows how philosophy had become a dead tradition. His Sundays were spent in the catacombs in discovering graves of the martyrs and deciphering inscriptions. Pope Liberius baptized him in 360 ; three years later the news of the death of the emperor Julian the Apostate came to Rome, and Christians felt relieved from a great dread.
When his student days were over Jerome returned to Strido, but did not stay there long. His character was formed. He was a scholar, with a scholar's tastes and crav-ings for knowledge, easily excited, bent on scholarly dis-coveries. From Strido he went to Aqui'.eia, where he formed some friendships among the monks of the large monastery there, the most notable being his acquaintance with Rufinus, with whom he was destined to quarrel bitterly over the question of Origen's orthodoxy and worth as a commentator; for Jerome was a man who always sacrificed a friend to an opinion, and when he changed sides in a controversy expected his acquaintances to follow him. From Aquileia he went to Gaul, visiting in turn the principal places in that country, from Narboune and Toulouse in the south to Treves on the north-east frontier. He stayed some time at Treves studying and observing, and it was there that he first began to think seriously upon divine things. From Treves he returned to Strido, and from Strido to Aquileia. He settled down to literary work in Aquileia, and com-posed there his first original tract, De Muliere septies percussa, in the form of a letter to his friend Innocentius. Some quarrel, no one knows what, caused him to leave Aquileia suddenly; and with some companions, Innocentius, Evagrius, and Heliodorus being among them, he started for a long tour in the East. The epistle to Rufinus (3d in Vallarsi's enumeration) tells us the route. They went through Thrace, visiting Athens, Bithynia, Galatia, Pontus, Cappadocia, and Cilicia, to Antioch, Jerome observing and making notes as they went. He was interested in the theological disputes and schisms in Galatia, in the two languages spoken in Cilicia, &c. At Antioch the party remained some time. Innocentius died of a fever, and Jerome was dangerously ill. This illness brought him face to face with death; he experienced conversion, and resolved to renounce whatever kept him back from God. His greatest temptation was the study of the literature of pagan Rome. In his dreams God reproached him with caring more to be a Ciceronian than a Christian. He disliked the uncouth style of the Scriptures. " O Lord," he prayed, " Thou knowest that whenever I have and study secular MSS. I deny Thee," and he made a resolve henceforth to devote his scholarship to the Holy Scripture. " David was to be henceforth his Simonides, Pindar, and Alcseus, his Flaccus, Catullus, and Severus." Fortified by these resolves he betook himself to a hermit life in the wastes of Chalcis. Chalcis was the Thebaid or the Marseilles of Syria. Great numbers of monks, each in solitary cell, spent lonely lives, scorched by the sun, ill-clad and scantily-fed, pondering on portions of Scripture or copying MSS. to serve as objects of meditation. Jerome at once set himself to such scholarly work as the place afforded. He discovered and copied MSS., and began to study Hebrew. There also he wrote the life of St Paul of Thebes, probably an imaginary tale embodying the facts of the monkish life around him. Just then the Meletian schism, which had to do with the relation of the orthodox to Arian bishops and to those baptized by Arians, distressed the church at Antioch, and Jerome as usual eagerly joined the fray. Here as elsewhere he had but one rule to guide him in matters of doctrine and discipline,—the practice of Rome and the West; for it is singular to see how Jerome, who is daringly original in points of scholarly criticism, was simply a ruthless partisan in all other matters ; and, having discovered what was the Western practice, he set tongue and pen to work with his usual bitterness (Altercatio Luciferiani et Orthodoxi). From Antioch he went to Con-stantinople, where he met with the great eastern scholar and theologian Gregory of Nazianzus, and with his aid tried to perfect himself in Greek. The result of his studies there was the translation of the Chronicon of Eusebius, with a continuation,1 of twenty-eight homilies of Origen on Jeremiah and Ezekiel, and of nine homilies of Origen on the Visions of Isaiah.
In 381 Meletius died, and Pope Damasus interfered in the dispute at Antioch, hoping to end it. Jerome was called to Rome in 382 to give help in the matter, and was made secretary during the investigation. His work brought him into intercourse with this great pontiff, who soon saw what he could best do, and how his vast scholarship might be made of use to the church. Damasus suggested to him to revise the existing Latin translation of the Bible; and to this task he henceforth devoted his great abilities (see BIBLE). At Rome were published the Gospels (with a dedication to Pope Damasus, an explanatory introduction, and the canons of Eusebius), the rest of the New Testa-ment, and the version of the Psalms from the LXX. text, known as the Psalterium Romanum, which was followed in 385 by the Psalt. Gallicanum. based on the Hexaplar Greek text. These scholarly labours, however, did not take up his whole time, and it was almost impossible for Jerome to be long anywhere without getting into a dis-pute. He was a zealous defender of that monastic life which was beginning to take such a large place in the church of the 4th century, and he found enthusiastic dis-ciples among the Roman ladies. A number of widows and maidens met together in the house of Marcella to study the Scriptures with him; he taught them Hebrew, and preached the virtues of the celibate life. His argu-ments and exhortations may be gathered from mauy of his epistles and from his tract Adversus Helvidium, in which he defends the perpetual virginity of the Virgin Mary

against Helvidius, who maintained that Mary bore chil-dren to Joseph, His influence over these ladies alarmed their relations, and excited the suspicions of the regular priesthood and of the populace, but while Pope Damasus lived Jerome remained secure. Damasus died, however, in 384, and was succeeded by Siricius, who did not show much friendship for Jerome. He found it expedient to leave Rome and set out for the East in 385. His letters (especially Ep. 45) are full of outcries against his enemies and of indignant protestations that he had done nothing unbecoming a Christian, that he had taken no money, nor gifts great nor small, that he had no delight in silken attire, sparkling gems, or gold ornaments, that no matron moved him unless by penitence and fasting, &c. His route is given in the third book In Rufinum; he went by Rhegium and Cyprus, where he was entertained by Bishup Epiphanius, to Antioch. There he was joined by two wealthy Roman ladies, Paula, a widow, and Eustochium her daughter, one of Jerome's Hebrew students. They came accompanied by a band of Roman maidens vowed to live a celibate life in a nunnery in Palestine. Accompanied by these ladies Jerome made the tour of Palestine, carefully noting with a scholar's keenness the various places mentioned in Holy Scripture. The results of this journey may be traced in his trans-lation with emendations of the book of Eusebius on the situation and names of Hebrew places, written probably three years afterwards, when he had settled down at Bethlehem. From Palestine Jerome and his companions w-ent to Egypt, remaining some time in Alexandria; and they visited the convents in the Mtrian desert. Jerome's mind was evidently full of anxiety about his translation of the Old Testament, for we find him in his letters recording the conversations he had with learned men about disputed readings and doubtful renderings ; Didymus of Alexandria appears to have been most useful. When they returned to Palestine they all settled at Bethlehem, where Paula built four monasteries, three for nuns and one for monks. She was at the head of the nunneries until her death in 404, when Eustochium succeeded her ; Jerome presided over the fourth monastery. In this monastery at Bethlehem Jerome did most of his literary work and, throwing aside his unfinished plan of a translation from Origen's Hexaplar text, translated the Old Testament directly from the Hebrew, with the aid of Jewish scholars. He men-tions a rabbi from Lydda, a rabbi from Tiberias, and above all Rabbi Ben Anina, who came to him by night secretly for fear of the Jews. Jerome was not familiar enough with Hebrew to be able to dispense with such assistance, and he makes the synagogue responsible for the accuracy of his version : " Let him who would challenge aught in this translation," he says, "ask the Jews." The result of all this labour was the Latin translation of the Scriptures which, in spite of much opposition from the more conservative party in the church, afterwards became the Vulgate or authorized version; but the Vulgate as we have it now is not exactly Jerome's Vulgate, for it suffered a good deal from changes made under the influ-ence of the older translations; the text became very corrupt during the Middle Ages, and in particular all the Apocrypha, except Tobit and Judith, which Jerome translated from the Chaldee, were added from the older versions.
(unfinished).
Notwithstanding the labour involved in translating the Scriptures, Jerome found time to do a great deal of literary work, and also to indulge in violent controversy. Earlier in life he had a great admiration for Origen, and translated many of his works, and this lasted after he had settled at
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Bethlehem, for he translated in 389 Origen's homilies on Luke; but he came to change his opinion and wrote violently against the admirers of the great Alexandrian scholar, Contra Joannem Hierosolymitauum, and Adversus Rufinum Lib. III., for both John, bishop of Jerusalem, and Rufinus, Jerome's old friend, were followers of Origen. At Bethlehem also he found time to finish Didymi de Spiritu Sancto Liber, a translation begun at Rome at the request of Pope Damasus, to denounce the revival of Gnostic heresies by Jovinianus and Vigilantius (Adv. Jovinianum Lib. II. and Contra Vigilantium Liber), and to repeat his admiration of the hermit life in his Vita S. Hilarionis Eremits,, in his Vita Malchi Monachi Captivi, in his translation of the Rule of St Pachomius (the Benedict of Egypt), and in his S. Pachomii et S. Theo-dorici Epistolse et Verba Mystica. He also wrote at Bethlehem De Viris illustribus sive de Scriptoribus Ecclesiaslicis, a church history in biographies, ending with the life of the author; De Nominibus Ilebraicis, compiled from Philo and Origen ; and De Situ et Nominibus Locorum Hebraicorum.2, At the same place, too, he wrote Quxs-tiones Hebraicee on Genesis, and a series of commentaries on Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, the Twelve Minor Prophets, Matthew, and the Epistles of St Paul. Jerome engaged in the Pelagian controversy with more than even his usual bitterness (Dicdogi contra Pelagianos); and it is said that the violence of his invective so provoked his opponents that an armed mob attacked the monastery, and that Jerome was forced to flee and to remain in conceal-ment for nearly two years. He returned to Bethlehem in 418, and after a lingering illness died on September 30, 420.
By far the best edition of Jerome's works is that of Vallarsi
(Verona, 1734-42), which contains in prefixes and appendices almost
all that is known of the great Western scholar. The student will
find the article on "Hieronymus" by Colin in Ersch and Gruber'a
Encyclopddie very useful, and the English reader will find a suc-
cinct account of his writings taken from Vallarsi in Smith's Diet,
of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology, art. "Hierony-
mus." (T. M. L.)



Footnotes

Comp. Sclioene's critical edition (Berlin, 1866, 1875).

See Vercellone, Varise leciiones Vulgatse, Rome, 1860, 1864
See Lagarde's edition appended to his Genesis Greece, Leipsic, 1868.








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