Jerome, Saint

Jerome, Saint
(ca. 345–420)
   Eusebius Hieronymus, the Roman biblical scholar better remembered as St. Jerome, was born in the important port city of Aquileia, located on the northernmost shore of the Adriatic Sea. Aquileia was a substantial center of Christianity during the late Roman Empire; its bishop oversaw several churches throughout the surrounding region. Jerome’s genius was recognized early and as a young man he studied both secular and clerical subjects at Rome,where he was eventually baptized as a Christian. This period laid the foundation for his lifelong devotion to scholarship and Christianity. Jerome openly embraced the growing Roman fascination with Christian asceticism (that is, the practicing of religious self-denial), first returning to Aquileia to join a small ascetic community of personal friends, and then beginning a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, ca. 374. On his way to Palestine, however, Jerome diverted to the Syrian Desert, where he remained as an ascetic hermit for six years. During this time, Jerome came into contact with a Jewish community from which he learned to read Hebrew. At the end of this period, Jerome was ordained as a priest before traveling to the imperial capital of Constantinople.He then returned to Rome where he became a papal secretary for Pope Damasus.
   Aside from his secretarial duties, Jerome’s second visit to Rome (ca. 382–385) was spent preaching the merits of asceticism to urban Romans. His message was well received—particularly by young noblewomen. Since the ascetic life required abstention from marriage, many noble families were less than thrilled with Jerome’s influence on their daughters. The removal of an eligible daughter meant losing an important family asset for the building of alliances and the shoring up of family position. Furthermore, asceticism itself was still not completely accepted by many of Rome’s upper classes, and Jerome’s efforts to spread its ideals were viewed as a threat.When one of his young female pupils died while practicing an ascetic lifestyle, Jerome found his welcome in Rome to be wearing thin. The death of his protector, Pope Damasus, suggested that it was a suitable time for Jerome to renew his interest in pilgrimage. After visiting the ascetic centers of Antioch, Egypt, and Palestine, Jerome became the abbot of his own male monastery in Bethlehem ca. 386. This institution not only served the spiritual development of its members, but also provided a convenient hostel for the steady number of Roman pilgrims seeking to visit sites associated with the life of Christ. From this stable setting, Jerome was able to devote the rest of his life to the study of biblical texts while maintaining a presence within powerful church circles back in the West. Jerome’s writings attest to his impressive scholarship, his biting wit, and his fierce concern for the Roman church. His most famous and influential work was his revised Latin edition of the biblical corpus. Pope Damasus requested the project as part of his broader campaign to codify and authorize biblical material. Jerome began by translating the individual Gospel books from the Greek, but his knowledge of Hebrew convinced him to translate the books of the Torah and the Prophets directly from Hebrew examples. Composed and translated as individual books, these biblical texts were gathered together sometime around the early seventh century into a single format known as the Vulgate. This Latin edition became the most popular medieval biblical text, though it is important to realize that the contents of these medieval collections often differ from one another. Jerome did not translate what would be considered the entire New Testament; other anonymous writers filled in these gaps. Medieval changes in the construction of Latin and later translations of Jerome’s work into vernacular languages such as Old High German added to the variety and mistakes common in medieval Scriptures.Nor did each “biblical” collection contain all the same texts. The standardization of biblical collections into an orthodox set of texts would take several centuries; a final critical edition of the Vulgate as a whole would not emerge until 1528. The Catholic Church pronounced the Vulgate as authoritative during the Council of Trent, ca. 1560—a gathering largely influenced by the Counter-Reformation.
   Jerome’s other important works include translations of texts by African Christian teachers such as Origen, as well as Jerome’s continuation of the historical Chronicle began by Eusebius of Caesarea. More popular, however, was Jerome’s catalogue of worthy ecclesiastical authors and their works entitled De viris illustribus. This extended bibliography would become an authoritative list of orthodox Christian writers and their works during the Middle Ages, creating a shopping list for ecclesiastical libraries across Europe. Aside from these works of literature, existing portions of Jerome’s personal correspondence provides a welcome insight into the turmoil and debate within Christianity during the fourth and fifth centuries.His opinionated nature and biblical knowledge led Jerome to engage with most of the disputes of his day: Arianism, Pelagianism and Origenism. He was also involved with leading Christian figures such as Rufinus, Melania and St. AUGUSTINE.
   Finally, it should be noted that Jerome’s reputation for scholarship lent his name an authority in later periods that was only matched by that of the English scholar BEDE. Many medieval texts would appear that falsely claimed to be the work of Jerome. The most influential of these works was the Martyrologium Hieronymianum, or the Martyrology of St. Jerome. This list of saints was widely held to be the work of Jerome during the Middle Ages and at least one manuscript contained an attached letter in which Jerome referred to a list of martyrs. This link between the manuscript and Jerome was forged specifically to make use of Jerome’s authority, and highlights his importance in the medieval world.
   ■ Corpus Christianorum Series Latina. Vols. 72–80. Turnholti, Belgium: Brepols, 1953 ff.
   ■ Early Church Fathers. “Ante-Nicene Fathers.” Available online. URL: Accessed February 4, 2005.
   ■ The Homilies of Saint Jerome. Translated by Marie Liguori Ewald.Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 2001.
   ■ Kelly, J. N. D. Jerome: His Life,Writings, and Controversies. London: Duckworth, 1975.
   ■ “Jerome, St.” In Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, edited by F. L. Cross, 867–868. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997.
   ■ On Illustrious Men. Translated by Thomas P. Halton. Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 1999.
   ■ Patrologia Latinae. Edited by J. P.Migne.Vols. 22–30. Paris, 1844–1864. CD-ROM ed. Alexandria, Va.: Chadwyck-Healey, 1995.
   ■ Rebenich, Stefan. Jerome. London: Routledge, 2002.
   ■ Saint Jerome: Dogmatic and Polemical Works. Translated by John Hritzu.Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 1965.
   ■ Selected Letters of St. Jerome. Translated by F. A. Wright. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1933.
   Chris Craun

Encyclopedia of medieval literature. 2013.

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