[Home]History of Jerome

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I. Life.

1. Studies and Travels to 378.

The famous ecclesiastical author
commonly known as St. Jerome, whose full name was
Eusebius Sophronius Hieronymus, was
born at Stridon, on the border between
Pannonia and Dalmatia, in the second
quarter of the fourth century; d. near
Bethlehem Sept. 30, 420. He came of
Christian parents, but was not baptized until about
360, when he had gone to Rome with his friend
Bonosus to pursue his rhetorical and philosophic
studies. These were principally secular, probably
including Greek literature; he seems as yet to have
had no thought of studying the Greek Fathers, or
any Christian writings. His journey with Bonosus
to Gaul seems to have followed immediately upon
a stay of several years in Rome. During this
sojourn in eastern Gaul and "on the semi-barbarous
banks of the Rhine," he seems to have been
occupied with theological studies, and to have copied
for his friend Rufinus Hilary's commentary on the
Psalms and treatise De synodis. Next came a stay
of at least several months, possibly years, with
Rufinus at Aquileia where he made many Christian
friends. Some of these accompanied him when he
set out about 373 on a journey through Thrace and
Asia Minor into northern Syria. At Antioch, where
he made the longest stay, two of his companions
died and he himself was seriously ill more than once.
During one of these illnesses (about the winter of
373-374) he had a vision which determined him
to lay aside his secular studies and devote himself
to the things of God. In any case he seems to have
abstained for a considerable time from the study
of the classics and to have plunged deeply into that
of Holy Scripture, under the impulsion of
Apollinaris of Laodicea, then teaching in Antioch and
not yet suspected of heresy. Seized with the desire
for a life of ascetic penance, he went for a time to
the desert of Chalcis, to the southwest of Antioch,
known as the Syrian Thebaid, from the number of
hermits inhabiting it. During this period, however,
he seems to have found time for study and writing.
He made his first attempt to learn Hebrew under
the guidance of a converted Jew; and at this time
he seems to have been in relation with the Jewish
Christians in Antioch, and perhaps as early as this
to have interested himself in the Gospel according
to the Hebrews, asserted by them to be the source
of the canonical Matthew.

2. Sojourn in Rome, 382-385.

Returning to Antioch, in 378 or 379, he was
ordained by Bishop Paulinus, apparently with some
unwillingness and on condition that he
still continue his ascetic life. Soon
afterward he went to Constantinople
to pursue his study of Scripture under
the instruction of Gregory Nazianzen.
There he seems to have spent two years; the next
three (382-385) he was in Rome again, in close
intercourse with Pope Damasus and the leading
Roman Christians. Invited thither originally to
the synod of 382 held for the purpose of ending the
schism of Antioch, he made himself indispensable to
the pope, and took a prominent place in his councils.
Among other duties he undertook the revision of
the text of the Latin Bible on the basis of the Greek
New Testament and the Septuagint, in order to
put an end to the marked divergences in the current
western texts (see BIBLE VERSIONS, A, II., 2). This
commission determined the course of his scholarly
activity for many years, and gave occasion to his
most important achievement. He undoubtedly
exercised an important influence during these three
years, to which, outside of his unusual learning,
his zeal for ascetic strictness and the realization of
the monastic ideal contributed not a little. He was
surrounded by a circle of well-born and
well-educated women, including some from the noblest
patrician families, such as the widows Marcella
and Paula, (qq.v.) with their daughters Blaesilla
and Eustochium. The resulting inclination of these
women for the monastic life, and his unsparing
criticism of the life of the secular clergy, raised a
growing hostility against him, especially in the class
just named. Soon after the death of his patron,
Damasus (Dec. 10, 384), he decided to retire from
a position which was fast becoming impossible.

3. Residence in Palestine after 385.

In August 385 he returned to Antioch,
accompanied by his brother Paulinianus and several
friends and followed a little later by Paula and
Eustochium, who had resolved to leave their
patrician surroundings and to end their days in the
Holy Land. In the winter of 385 Jerome
accompanied them and acted as their spiritual adviser.
The pilgrims, joined by Bishop Paulinus of Antioch,
visited Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and the
holy places of Galilee, and then went
to Egypt, the home of the great
heroes of the ascetic life. In
Alexandria Jerome listened to the blind
catechist Didymus expounding the prophet
Hosea and telling his reminiscences of the great
Anthony, who had died thirty years before; he
spent some time in Nitria, admiring the disciplined
community life of the numerous inhabitants of that
"city of the Lord," but detecting even there
"concealed serpents," i.e., the poison of Origenistic
heresy. Late in the summer of 388 he was back
in Palestine, and settled down for the remainder of
his life in a hermit's cell near Bethlehem,
surrounded by a few friends, both men and women
(including Paula and Eustochium), to whom he
acted as priestly guide and teacher. Amply
provided by Paula with the means of livelihood and
of increasing his collection of books, he led a life of
incessant activity in literary production. To these
last thirty-four years of his career belong the most
important of his works-- his version of the Old
Testament from the original text, the best of his
scriptural commentaries, his catalogue of Christian
authors, and the dialogue against the Pelagians,
the literary perfection of which even a controversial
opponent recognized. To this period also belong
the majority of his passionate polemics, which
distinguished him among the orthodox Fathers,
including notably the treatises occasioned by the
Origenistic controversy against Bishop John of
Jerusalem and his early friend Rufinus. As a result
of his onslaughts on the Pelagians, he was subjected
to actual persecution at their hands about the
beginning of 416, when a body of excited partizans
broke into the monastic buildings, set them on fire,
and laid violent hands on the inmates, killing a
deacon, and forcing Jerome to seek safety in a
neighboring fortress. The date of his death is given
by the Chronicon of Prosper. His remains,
originally buried at Bethlehem, are said to have been
later translated to the church of Santa Maria
Maggiore at Rome, though other places in the West
claim some relics-- the cathedral at Nepi boasting
the possession of his head, which, according to
another tradition, is in the Escurial.

II. Works

1. Biblical and Exegetical.

The writings of Jerome cover nearly
all the principal departments of Christian theology;
but the most numerous and important
belong to that of Biblical study,
including especially his labors for the
improvement or translation of the
Latin text. His knowledge of Hebrew,
primarily required for this branch of his work,
gives also to his exegetical treatises (especially to
those written after 386) a value greater than that
of most patristic commentaries, although he is as
a rule too much hampered by Jewish tradition, and
indulges too often in allegorical and mystical
subtleties after the manner of Philo and the
Alexandrian school. But he deserves credit for the
distinctness with which he emphasizes the difference
between the Old-Testament Apocrypha and the
Hebraica veritas of the canonical books (cf.
especially his introductions to the Books of Samuel, see
Prologus Galeatus, to the Solomonic writings,
to Tobit, and to Judith. His exegetical works fall
into three groups:

(a) his translations or recastings
of Greek predecessors, including fourteen homilies
on Jeremiah and the same number on Ezekiel by
Origen (translated c. 380 in Constantinople); two
homilies of Origen on the Song of Solomon (in
Rome, c. 383); and thirty-nine on Luke (c. 389, in
Bethlehem). The nine homilies of Origen on Isaiah
included among his works were not done by him.
Here should be mentioned, as an important
contribution to the topography of Palestine, his book
De situ et nominibus locorum Hebraeorum,
a translation with additions and some regrettable omissions
of the Onomasticon of Eusebius. To the same period
(c. 390) belongs the Liber interpretationis nominum
, based on a work supposed to go back
to Philo and expanded by Origen.

(b) Original
commentaries on the Old Testament. To the period
before his settlement at Bethlehem and the following
five years belong a series of short Old-Testament
studies- De seraphim, De voce Osanna, De tribus
quaestionibus veteris legis
(usually included among
the letters as xviii., xx., xxxvi.); Quaestiones
hebraicae in Genesin; Commentarius in Ecclesiasten;
Tractatus septem in Psalmos x.-xvi.
Explanationes in Michaeam, Sophoniam, Nahum,
Habacuc, Aggaeum.
About 395 he composed a
series of longer commentaries, though in rather a
desultory fashion-- first on the remaining seven
minor prophets, then on Isaiah (c. 395-c. 400), on
Daniel (c. 407), on Ezekiel (between 410 and 415),
and on Jeremiah (after 415, left unfinished).

(c) New-Testament commentaries. These include only
Philemon, Galatians, Ephesians, and Titus (hastily
composed 387-388); Matthew (dictated in a
fortnight, 398); Mark, selected passages in Luke, the
prologue of John, and Revelation. Treating the
last-named book in his cursory fashion, he made
use of an excerpt from the commentary of the
North-African Tichonius, which is preserved as a sort of
argument at the beginning of the more extended
work of the Spanish presbyter Beatus of Libana.
But before this he had already devoted to the
Apocalypse another treatment, a rather arbitrary
recasting of the commentary of Victorinus (d. 303),
with whose chiliastic views he was not in accord,
substituting for the chiliastic conclusion a
spiritualizing exposition of his own, supplying an
introduction, and making certain changes in the text.

2. Historical.

One of Jerome's earliest attempts in the
department of history was his Temporum liber, composed
c. 380 in Constantinople; this is a
recasting in Latin of the chronological
tables which compose the second part
of the Chronicon of Eusebius, with a
supplement covering the period from 325 to 379.
In spite of numerous errors taken over from
Eusebius, and some of his own, Jerome produced a
valuable work, if only for the impulse which it gave to
such later chroniclers as Prosper, Cassiodorus, and
Victor of Tannuna to continue his annals. Three
other works of a hagiological nature are the Vita
Pauli monachi,
written during his first sojourn at
Antioch (c. 376), the legendary material of which
is derived from Egyptian monastic tradition; the
Vita Malchi monachi captivi (c. 391), probably
based on an earlier work, although it purports to
be derived from the oral communications of the aged
ascetic Malchus originally made to him in the desert
of Chalcis; and the Vita Hilarionis, of the same
date, containing more trustworthy historical
matter than the other two, and based partly on the
biography of Epiphanius and partly on oral
tradition. The so-called Martyrologium sancti Hieronymi
is spurious; it was apparently composed by a
western monk toward the end of the sixth or
beginning of the seventh century, with reference to an
expression of Jerome's in the opening chapter of
the Vita Malchi, where he speaks of intending to
write a history of the saints and martyrs from the
apostolic times. But the most important of Jerome's
historical works is the book De viris illustribus,
written at Bethlehem in 392, the title and
arrangement of which are borrowed from Suetonius.
It contains short biographical and literary notes on
135 Christian authors, from St. Peter down to
Jerome himself. For the first seventy-eight
Eusebius (Hist. eccl., i.-viii.) is the main source; in the
second section, beginning with Arnobius and
Lactantius, he includes a good deal of independent
information, especially as to western writers.

3. Dogmatic and Polemical.

Practically all of Jerome's productions in the
field of dogma have a more or less violently
polemical character, and are directed
against assailants of the orthodox
doctrines. Even the translation of the
treatise of Didymus on the Holy Spirit
into Latin (begun in Rome 384,
completed at Bethlehem) shows an apologetic tendency
against the Arians and Pneumatomachi. The same
is true of his version of Origen's De principiis (c.
399), intended to supersede the inaccurate
translation by Rufinus. The more strictly polemical
writings cover every period of his life. During the
sojourns at Antioch and Constantinople he was
mainly occupied with the Arian controversy, and
especially with the schisms centering around
Meletius and Lucifer. Two letters to Pope Damasus
(xv. and xvi.) complain of the conduct of both
parties at Antioch, the Meletians and Paulinians,
who had tried to draw him into their controversy
over the application of the terms ousia and
hypostasis to the trinity. At the same time or a little
later (379) he composed his Liber Contra
in which he cleverly uses the dialogue form
to combat the tenets of that faction, particularly
their rejection of baptism by heretics. In Rome
(c. 383) he wrote a passionate counterblast against
the teaching of Helvidius, in defense of the doctrine
of the perpetual virginity of Mary, and of the
superiority of the single over the married state. An
opponent of a somewhat similar nature was
Jovinianus, with whom he came into conflict in 392
(Adversus Jovinianum, and the defense of this work
addressed to his friend Pammachius, numbered
xlviii. in the letters). Once more he defended the
ordinary catholic practises of piety and his own
ascetic ethics in 406 against the Spanish presbyter
Vigilantius, who opposed the cultus of martyrs
and relics, the vow of poverty, and clerical celibacy.
Meanwhile the controversy with John of Jerusalem
and Rufinus concerning the orthodoxy of Origen
occurred. To this period belong some of his most
passionate and most comprehensive polemical works--
the Contra Joannem Hierosolymitanum (398 or
399); the two closely-connected Apologiae contra
(402); and the "last word" written a few
months later, the Liber tertius seu ultima responsio
adversus scripta Rufini.
For further details see
polemical works is the skilfully-composed Dialogue
contra Pelagianos

4. Letters.

Jerome's letters, both by the great variety of
their subjects and by their qualities of style, form
the most interesting portion of his
literary remains. Whether he is
discussing problems of scholarship, or
reasoning on cases of conscience, comforting the
afflicted, or saying pleasant things to his friends,
scourging the vices and corruptions of the time,
exhorting to the ascetic life and renunciation of the
world, or breaking a lance with his theological
opponents, he gives a vivid picture not only of his own
mind, but of the age and its peculiar characteristics.
The letters most frequently reprinted or referred to
are of a hortatory nature, such as xiv.,
Ad Heliodorum de laude vitae solitariae; xxii., Ad Eustochium
de custodia virginitatis
; lii., Ad Nepotianum de vita
clericorum et monachorum,
a sort of epitome of
pastoral theology from the ascetic standpoint; liii., Ad
Paulinum de studio scripturarum
; lvii., to the same,
De institutione monachi; lxx., Ad Magnum de
scriptoribus ecclesiasticis;
and cvii., Ad Laetam de
institutione filiae.

III. Theological Position

1. His Excellences and Defects.

Jerome undoubtedly
ranks as the most learned of the western Fathers.
He surpasses the others especially in
his knowledge of Hebrew, gained by
hard study, and not unskilfully used.
It is true that he was perfectly
conscious of his advantages, and not
entirely free from the temptation to
despise or belittle his literary rivals, especially
Ambrose. His own scholarship is by no means
without its weak points. His acquaintance with
Greek and Latin literature, both pagan and
Christian, is great, but by no means without its gaps
and its traces of superficial reading; and his
knowledge of Hebrew offers innumerable points of attack
to modern criticism. As a general rule it is not so
much by absolute knowledge that he shines as
by an almost poetical elegance, an incisive wit, a
singular skill in adapting recognized or proverbial
phrases to his purpose, and a successful aiming at
rhetorical effect. His weaknesses are most
noticeable in dogmatic subjects. He was so little of a
dogmatic theologian that he contributed only
indirectly to the development of doctrine. The same
may be said of his contribution to moral theology,
in which he showed less an interest in abstract
ethical speculation than a morbid ascetic zeal and
passionate enthusiasm for the monastic ideal.

2. His Lack of Independence.

It was this attitude that made Luther judge him
so severely. In fact, Evangelical readers are
generally little inclined to accept his writings as authori-
tative, especially in consideration of his lack of
independence as a dogmatic teacher and his
submission to orthodox tradition. He
approaches his papal patron Damasus
with the most utter submissiveness,
making no attempt at an independent
decision of his own. The Church
founded upon the rock of Peter is to
decide whether he is to recognize, with the
Meletians, three hypostases in the divine ousia, or, with
the Paulinians, one hypostasis with three prosopa or
persons. "Decide, I pray thee, and I shall not
fear to speak of three hypostases" He may be
called not only the forerunner of modern
ultra-montanism, but even of the Jesuit unreasoning
obedience. The tendency to recognize a superior
comes out scarcely less significantly in his
correspondence with Augustine (cf. the letters numbered
lvi., Lxvii., cii-cv., cx.-cxii., cxv.-cxvi. in his own,
and xxviii., xxxix., xl., lxvii.-lxviii., lxxi.-lxxv.,
lxxxi.-lxxxii. in Augustine's).

Yet in spite of the defects and weaknesses already
mentioned, Jerome has retained a rank among the
western Fathers. This would be his due, if for
nothing else, on account of the incalculable influence
exercised by his Latin version of the Bible upon
the subsequent ecclesiastical and theological
development. But that he won his way to the title of a
saint and doctor of the catholic Church was possible
only because he broke away entirely from the
theological school in which he was brought up,
that of the Origenists. In the artistic tradition of
the Roman Catholic Church it has been usual to
represent him, the patron of theological learning,
as a cardinal, by the side of the Bishop Augustine,
the Archbishop Ambrose, and the Pope Gregory.
Even when he is depicted as a half-clad anchorite,
with cross, skull, and Bible for the only furniture
of his cell, the red hat or some other indication of
his rank is as a rule introduced somewhere in the

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