Saint Jerome

St. Jerome (ca. 345-420) was an early Christian biblical scholar. The official Latin Bible of the Roman Catholic Church, the Vulgate, is largely the product of his labors of translation and revision.

Born in territory now in northwest Yugoslavia, Jerome studied rhetoric as a youth at Rome in preparation for a career in law, which he did not pursue. The 2 decades from his early 20s were a period of much travel and temporary settlement. After a journey to the German city of Trier, he stopped for a time at Aquileia, in Italy, and there became a member of circle of young Christian intellectuals sharing a common commitment to the ascetic life. He had already formed his two consuming interests: scriptural studies and the pursuit of Christian asceticism. In Syria from about 374, for 4 or 5 years he lived as a recluse in the desert, beginning there his study of Hebrew. Finding that life not entirely compatible, he journeyed in 379 to Constantinople, where he was a student of Gregory of Nazianzus; and there also he undertook the translation from Greek into Latin of homilies by Origen, that eminent biblical scholar much admired by Jerome.

For 3 years from 382 Jerome was at Rome, serving as secretary to Pope Damasus. At the Pope's suggestion, he undertook a complete revision of the Latin Gospels of the New Testament, the aim of which was to replace older, varying, and inaccurate versions with a uniform one based on the best available Greek manuscripts. At Rome also he took every opportunity to commend the life of ascetic renunciation, particularly among wealthy and aristocratic ladies, among whom he had a notable following. The death of Damasus in 384 led to Jerome's departure from Rome, and in the company of a group of ascetic enthusiasts he made a pilgrimage to the monastic centers of Palestine and Egypt.

From 386 to the end of his life Jerome was settled in Bethlehem. There he presided over a monastery endowed by the wealthy Paula, who herself presided nearby over a sister foundation for women. Jerome's most significant accomplishment in his 34 years at Bethlehem was his translation of the Old Testament from the original Hebrew into Latin. It was an act of scholarly courage, arousing in his lifetime the criticism of many (including Augustine) who were wedded to the traditional Greek Old Testament as the basis for Latin translations. Of much less credit to Jerome in these years was his role in a number of vitriolic controversies; in the most unfortunate of these he aligned himself with implacable foes of that teacher, then dead a century and a half, from whom Jerome had learned so much—Origen.

Further Reading on St. Jerome

A variety of opinions on Jerome are in F. X. Murphy, ed., A Monument to Saint Jerome (1952), a symposium of essays by a number of scholars on various aspects of Jerome's life and significance. David S. Wiesen, St. Jerome as a Satirist: A Study in Christian Latin Thought and Letters (1949), deals with Jerome's writings. See also Jean Steinmann, Saint Jerome and His Times (1959).

Additional Biography Sources

Kelly, J. N. D. (John Norman Davidson), Jerome: his life, writings, and controversies, New York: Harper & Row, 1975.

Warmington, William, A moderate defence of the oath of allegiance, 1612, Ilkley etc.: Scolar Press, 1975.

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