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usebius Hieronymus Sophronius is his birth name, but he is better known as Eusebius Hieronymus Stridonensis and Hieronymus Stridonensis, and St. Jerome. In the Eastern Orthodox Church, he is called St. Jerome of Stridonium.
He was born circa 345 or 347 (some sources say as early as 330-1, 340 and 342) in Stridon (Latin: Strido Dalmatiae; Italian: Stridone), "a small town at the head of the Adriatic near the episcopal city of Aquileia", and near Æmona (modern Ljubljana, now in Slovenia) but the exact location is unknown.
Doctor of the Church, theologian, writer and historian
born in Strido
In his own words, Jerome mentions his birthplace in De viris illustribus:
From Darko Darovec, A historical outline of Istria, "Ancient times":
"...the great Jerome [was], born in the locality of Strido, at the meeting of Istr[i]a, Pannonia and Dalmatia. Strido is also the medieval name of the village of Zdrenj / Sdregna near Buzet, where the majority of Italian historians [ed. note: as well as English ones] in the past placed the birthplace of the saint. However, the place of birth of this famous Christian writer has been much debated by ecclesiastical writers, including Pietro Stancovich, and recently R. Bratož, in an extract from his book Zgodovina Cerkve na Slovenskem (History of the Church in Slovenia), published in 1991, has accepted the latest theory, in his opinion well-founded, according to which the place was located in the area of Čičarija (Ciceria), between Starad, Šapjane and Žejane."
Chaos about the location of St. Jerome's birthplace was generated by a pseudo scholar [who?] that confused present day geographic areas with the geographic boundaries as existing at the time of St. Jerome's life. That pseudo scholar was copied ad infinitum by others, leading researchers to believe that Strido is located in present day Dalmatia or even in Hungary where modern Pannonia is located!
The map below shows the geographic boundaries in the fourth century, the two arrows point to: upper arrow present-day location of Strido; lower arrow, alternative location of old Strido according to Darko Darovec. Both locations fit well with "a small town at the head of the Adriatic near the episcopal city of Aquileia" and "I, Jerome, son of Eusebius, of the city of Strido, which is on the border of Dalmatia and Pannonia". There is no border between Dalmatia and Pannonia today, but it existed in the fourth century!
In Jerome’s infancy and childhood the Arian
[followers of Arius] Goths
were waiting behind the Julian Alps and ready to swoop down on the
Italian peninsula. In 378 [or 377] they spread in wild waves over
eventually disappeared from the face of the earth so that today not even
the site of the town can be identified except from Jerome's own words in
conjuction with maps of the Roman Empire of his time. [see
below] "Witness," Jerome also wrote, "witness the soil of my birthplace; apart from the sky and earth,
the bushes springing again, and the thickets, all has perished."
Others have claimed that his birthplace was in the current-day
Others have claimed that his birthplace was in the current-day
He was one of five (or just the known 3?) children of a Christian family, but was not baptized at birth. The family was moderately wealthy, possessing houses (140) and slaves (Apol. i. 30, Vol. iii. p. 498), and was intimate with the richer family from which sprang Bonosus (or Latin: Bonoso), Jerome’s foster brother and [life-long] friend (6). Jerome had a brother, Paulinian, twenty years his junior (140, 173) who later also entered into the monastic life, as well as a sister (8, 9), and he had an aunt named Castorina (13).
Jerome and Bonosus were educated together, first at home by Jerome's father (also named Eusebius), and then his parents sent them to Rome (around 359 A.D.?) where Jerome studied under the famous pagan grammarian Ælius Donatus (who was possibly of African origin) and Victorinus, a Christian rhetorician. There he passed through a standard course of studies in classical literature and rhetoric, and was baptized as a Christian by Pope Liberius in 366 (sources that date his birth to 342 say 360). He tells us that "it was my custom on Sundays to visit, with friends of my own age and tastes, the tombs of the martyrs and Apostles, going down into those subterranean galleries whose walls on both sides preserve the relics of the dead." Here he enjoyed deciphering the inscriptions.
Jerome's native tongue is presumed to have been the Illyrian dialect, but at Rome he became fluent in Latin and Greek, and read the classics of literature, history, and philosophy in those two languages. In addition to his studies, the young man began a life-long project - building a library of his own. This did not mean the purchase of books, but copying the works himself. Besides enjoying the intellectual pleasures of literature, Jerome joined in the other pleasures of Rome and delighted in games and spectacles.
After three (?) years at Rome, Jerome's intellectual curiosity led him to leave Rome to explore other parts of the world. Accompanied by Bonosus, he traveled to Gaul (366-370?) [See Poiters section of ancient Roman road map], visiting in turn the principal places in that country, from Narbonne and Toulouse in the south to Trêves (now Trier, Germany; Latin: Augusta Treverorum) on the north-east frontier and one of the oldest cities in Europe), was a seat of the imperial court in Jerome's time. Eager to build up a religious library, the young scholar transcribed some of the works of St. Hilary of Poitiers - commentary on the Psalms and the treatise De synodis - for the famous theologian and his friend Tyrranius Rufinus (345-410), also known as Rufinus Aquileiensis but usually referred to simply as Rufinus, and he got together other literary and religious treasures.
Returning from Trier probably by way of Vercellæ / Vercelli (which was half ruined in his time), Jerome and Bonosus returned home to Strido, but did not stay there long. Having become a scholar with a scholar's tastes and cravings for knowledge, Jerome was easily excited and bent on scholarly discoveries. From Strido they went to Aquileia, where the bishop had cleared the church there of the plague of Arianism and had drawn to it many eminent men. In Aquileia, Jerome settled down to literary work for three years (370-373), and then made a commitment to the twin pursuits of his life: scriptural study and the fostering of asceticism. He composed there his first original tract, De muliere septies percussa in the form of a letter to Innocentius (c. 370), one of the friendships that he had formed in Aquileia.
His most notable friendship was with Rufinus who had gone to Aquileia around 370. At first a close friend, Rufinus later became his bitter opponent after quarreling bitterly over the question of Origen's orthodoxy (which Rufinus translated) and his worth as a commentator. By nature an irascible man with a sharp tongue, changing sides in a controbersy and expecting his acquaintences to follow him, Jerome made enemies as well as friends.
Besides Innocentius and Rufinus, plus his life-long friend, Bonosus, some of Jerome's other friends and acquaintences in Aquileia were:
(For the mention of these in various parts of Jerome’s works, the Index must be consulted.)
These ascetics did not form a monastery. There were as yet no Orders or Rules. The vow was merely a “purpose” (propositum) which each privately took on himself and the terms of which each man freely prescribed. The Greek word Monachus (Monk) was used, but only implied living a single or separate life. Some were hermits (5, 9, 247), some lived in cities (121, 250). Jovinian was a monk, though antiascetic (378); Heliodorus (91) and John of Jerusalem (174) were monks, though Bishops. Some members of the ascetic society at Aquileia may have resided in the same house; but there was no cenobitic discipline. Jerome visited Strido and the neighbouring town of Æmona (12), and perhaps resided at his native place for a time, but he complains of the worldliness of the people of his native town and of the opposition of their Bishop, Lupicinus (8 n. 10). The friends at Aquileia were united in the closest friendship.
In 373 came the baptism of Rufinus (7, Ruf. Ap. i. 4, Vol. iii. 436) and the writing of Jerome's first letter on “the woman seven times struck with the axe”. There are the only incidents which have come down to us of this period. We only know that the society was broken up by some event which Jerome speaks of as “a sudden storm,” and “a monstrous rending asunder” (5).
Epistle to Rufinus (3rd in Vallarsi's enumeration) tells us the route of his pilgrimage. Jerome's friends Innocent, Heliodorus, Niceas, and Hylas, the freed slave, started overland for Syria (1, 5, 6, 10). The others went their separate way: Chromatius, Eusebius, and Jovinus remained in Italy, whereas Bonosus retired to an island in the Adriatic, where he lived the life of a hermit (5, 9) [could he also have gone on to become the Bonosus, Bishop of ? who was accused of being a heretic?], and Rufinus went to Egypt and subsequently to Palestine in the company of Melania (6, 7).
On the way journey East, Jerome and his friends travelled through Thrace, Athens (?), Pontus, Bithynia, Galatia, at the capital of which (Ancyra) he appears to have stayed (497), Cappadocia, and Cilicia, arriving to Antioch around 373, their haven of rest (5). [See Thrace map]
In Antioch, Jerome at first attended the lectures of the famous Apollinaris, bishop of Laodicea, who had not yet put forward his heresy. Jerome stayed in Antioch for several months after becoming ill. It was in the middle of Lent (36) that he fell into a fever from which he nearly died. To this illness belongs his anti-Ciceronian dream (36, Apol. ii. 6, Vol. iii. 462). In the dream, he was brought before the great judge. Asked who he was, he answered that he was a Christian. "You lie," said the judge, "you are a Ciceronian. Where your treasure is, there is your heart." Jerome resolved never again to read the pagan classics that he had loved so well, but to devote himself to Christian scripture.
With his companions, Jerome left Antioch for the desert of Chalcis, about fifty miles southeast of Antioch, where Innocent and Hylas soon died.The delights of Rome were not easy to forget. Jerome was plagued by unchaste thoughts and was homesick also for the world of thought, study, and discussion. To dispel his unhappy state of mind, he decided to study Hebrew with the help of a monk who was a Jew by birth (some say he was a Jewish Rabbi). "When my soul was on fire with wicked thoughts," he wrote in 411, "as a last resort, I became a pupil to a monk who had been a Jew, in order to learn the Hebrew alphabet. From the judicious precepts of Quintilian, the rich and fluent eloquence of Cicero, the graver style of Fronto, and the smoothness of Pliny, I turned to this language of hissing and broken-winded words. What labor it cost me, what difficulties I went through, how often I despaired and abandoned it and began again to learn, both I, who felt the burden, and they who lived with me, can bear witness. I thank our Lord that I now gather such sweet fruit from the bitter sowing of those studies." The knowledge of the Hebrews language enabled him to translate the Scriptures from more direct sources.
By now, Jerome was left alone with Evagrius, at whose country house he fell in with the ancient hermit Malchus (315), and was encouraged by him in the ascetic tendency. He also organized a workshop of copyists, and began to write letters to his friends in the West. He determined to devote himself exclusively to the Bible and theology, although Rufinus suggested later that the vow was not strictly kept. Jerome hoped to see Rufinus, wrote to him through Florentius (Letter 4, 6), but Rufinus did not come. Heliodorus had some thought of accompanying him, but, to Jerome’s great chagrin, felt the call to pastoral work to be the stronger, and he returned to Italy (8, 13, 123).
Now desiring a more solitary life, Jerome moved to the desert of Chalcis, south of modern Aleppo and about fifty miles southeast of Antioch, where he lived for five years in the desert as a hermit, not in a narrow hut as the others did, but in a room spacious enough to hold his library. He spent his days in the practice of austerity, prayer, study of the Scripture, and copying books.
He had many attacks of illness but suffered still more from temptation. "In the remotest part of a wild and stony desert," he wrote years afterwards to his friend Eustochium, "burnt up with the heat of the sun, so scorching that it frightens even the monks who live there, I seemed to myself to be in the midst of the delights and crowds of Rome.... In this exile and prison to which through fear of Hell I had voluntarily condemned myself, with no other company but scorpions and wild beasts, I many times imagined myself watching the dancing of Roman maidens as if I had been in the midst of them. My face was pallid with fasting, yet my will felt the assaults of desire. In my cold body and my parched flesh, which seemed dead before its death, passion was still able to live. Alone with the enemy, I threw myself in spirit at the feet of Jesus, watering them with my tears, and tamed my flesh by fasting whole weeks. I am not ashamed to disclose my temptations, though I grieve that I am not now what I then was."
Unfortunately, his solitude was disrupted by the theological disputes of quarrelling monks again, and Jerome in exasperation went back to Antioch in 378, where he heard Apollinaris the Younger (c.310-c.390) lecture, and after some resistance he allowed himself to be ordained a priest by Paulinus, bishop of Antioch, although reserved the right to remain unattached to any particular diocese. he was given no pastoral duties. Jerome was convinced his vocation did not lie in that office, which he refused to exercise and, in fact, he never said Mass even once.
During 380-1, he spent some time in Constantinople studying the Scriptures under the Greek, Gregory Nazianzus (or Gregory of Nazianzus), who was then bishop of that city, one of the holiest and deepest of the theologians of Cappadocia (in modern central Turkey). Thus he was able to acquaint himself with significant contemporary Greek work on Christology, and broadened his awareness of exegetical approaches.
When Jerome returned to Rome in 382, the aging Pope Damasus I appointed him confidential secretary and librarian and commissioned him to begin his work of rendering the Bible into Latin. This gave Jerome many opportunities to exercise his talents. He began with the New Testament and revised, in accordance with the Greek text, the Latin New Testament, which had been disfigured by clumsy correction. He then continued with the Old Testament. Fostering Christian asceticism, he sought the assistance of a group of holy women who were influenced by Saint Athanasius and members of Rome's first convent. Among these women who were under his spiritual tutelage were Saints Marcella and Paula (who remained his lifelong friend), with Paula's daughters, Saints Blaesilla and Eustochium, and Saint Melania. He was only 40 years old at the time.
He continued to write elegant epistles and eloquent protreptics for asceticism. The combination of his literary brilliance and the patronage of his wealthy friends seemed to promise him great things - he was even spoken of as the next pope - but he increasingly annoyed the Roman clergy with his bitingly satirical attacks on their manners (cf. especially his most famous letter, Ep. 22, to Eustochium). During his life he made numerous enemies because of his fierce attacks on pagan life, his denouncement of several heresies, and his sometimes-abrupt demeanor.
Jerome's relations with Paula in particular seemed to sit oddly with his denunciations of clerical indulgence and his impassioned advocacy of self-denial. So long as he enjoyed the patronage of Damasus, little could be done, but the death of Damasus in 384 and advent of pope Siricius in December 384 gave Jerome's many enemies a chance to lobby for an investigation into his behaviour.
In 385, following an official enquiry, he was condemned and effectively banished from Rome by a clerical body whom he labelled a "senate of the Pharisees" (Did. Spir. Sanct., praef.; cf. Epp. 33.5; 127.9). In May 385, he set sail from Ostia for Antoich, accompanied by his brother Paolinian and several friends.
A few months later, Paula and Eustochium, accompanied by a large number of consecrated virgins and widows, set sail from Portu Romanus, at the mouth of the Tiber, for Cyprus, where Paula received a cordial welcome from her old friend, St. Epiphanius, bishop of Salamis. After a short visit, they continued their voyage and soon arrived an Antioch where they were met by Jerome. After brief visits to the holy sites in Antioch, Egypt, and Palestine, the party finally settled at Bethlehem in the summer of 386 where a monastery and a convent were established for him by Paula and presided over by Jerome on a fairly liberal ascetic regime. There he began his most productive literary period, and remained there until his death. From this period of his life came his major biblical commentaries and the bulk of his work on the Latin Bible.
Jerome, with Paula and Eustochium and a group of other women who wanted to lead a dedicated life, went to the Holy Land where they traveled about for some time, and finally settled in Bethlehem, where two monasteries were built, one for Jerome and his monks, the other for Paula and her companions. Education and care of the needy were not neglected, but the most important work of the Bethlehem group was continued work on the Scriptures. Jerome now translated most of the books of the Old Testament from Hebrew, and some from the Greek Septuagint. He had sought the help of a Jewish rabbi to improve his knowledge of Hebrew.
Not content with this, be wrote many scriptural commentaries, two biographies, and a history of ecclesiastical writers, and kept up a vast correspondence. Besides all this there were sermons or conferences for monks, and lessons for young people.
The achievement of Jerome's life was the translation of the Bible, the edition known as the Vulgate (or people's) bible that is still in use internationally by the Catholic Church, and which also set a standard for the King James version in English 1,200 years later. This was finished by about 404 (another source says it was completed and published in 391-406), and not a moment too soon, for, with the influx of warlike barbarians, Jerome's world soon became dangerously upset. Refugees from the sack of Rome in 410 flocked to Bethlehem. Huns and other pagans made raids uncomfortably near. Houses of learning that he had founded were destroyed by religious separatists.
In addition to his work on the Bible, Jerome's literary activity was extensive and varied. Jerome's first published work was a life of Paul the Hermit.. He translated homilies of Origen (whose Biblical commentaries he liked but whose theology he rejected) and several works of Eusebius, including the Chronicle and the Book of the Interpretation of Hebrew Place Names. Jerome wrote original works defending the perpetual viginity of Mary and monastic celibacy; he attacked Pelagianism and Origenism. The best known of Jerome's Biblical commentaries is Opus prophetale, a commentary on all the prophetic books of the Bible.
He continued the Chronicle of Eusebius of Caesarea, which covered sacred and profane history from the birth of Abraham to 303 AD, bringing the narrative to the year 378. For his De viris illustribus (On Famous Men), Jerome drew upon the Ecclesiastical History of the same Eusebius. He also wrote a number of commentaries on various books of the Bible, being the first Latin Biblical scholar to rely on Hebrew texts in his commentary on Ecclesiastes, as well as polemical treatises against various theological opponents.
For thirty-six years the scholar lived at Bethlehem. Most of these years were not peaceful as there was much confusion in the Church. Jerome seems to have been involved in most of the quarrels over doctrine. He disputed with Saint Augustine, with the heretic Jovinian, with the bishop of Jerusalem, and with his friend Rufinus over the writings of Origen. A difficult and hot-tempered man, Jerome made many enemies throughout his life, but his correspondences with friends and enemies alike is of great interest, particularly those with Saint Augustine. He was brilliant and prolific correspondent and more than 150 of his letters survive.
The writings of Jerome express a scholarship unsurpassed in the early church and helped to create the cultural tradition of the Middle Ages. He developed the use of philological and geographical material in his exegesis and recognized the scientific importance of archaeology. In his interpretation of the Bible he used both the allegorical method of the Alexandrian and the realism of the Antiochene schools. In the times of the so-called "Ilyrian theory", the Southern Slavs considered him their patron saint. To him is also attributed the invention of the glagolitic script (Scriptura hyeronymitana).
St. Jerome died in Bethlehem in 420 and was buried under the Church of the Nativity, close to the grave of Paula and close also to the traditional site of the birth of Jesus. His relics rest in the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome. In 1989, he became a Father of the Church and Doctor of the Church. There are only 33 Doctors of the Church, two of whom were Popes, and two were women. His feast day is September 30. He is the patron saint of librarians.
There are many paintings of St. Jerome. Later ones show him with an attendant lion, from whose paw he had removed a thorn, (no doubt the story on which George Bernard Shaw based his play "Androcles and the Lion"). Others show him with a wide, red, tasselled cardinal's hat (which is surprising because cardinals weren't invented until quite a while after his death). Sometimes renaissance paintings show him wearing spectacles at his desk. The pictures of him beating his breast with a stone as he fasts in the desert are probably more true to life than any of the others.