Saturday, August 3, 2013

Jerome (ca 345-420)

Olympian childhood and youth (345-365)
Jerome (Eusebius Sophronius Hieronymus) was born around 345 in the town of Stridon about 150 miles (94 km) northeast of the coastal city of Trieste in Alpinia (see Glossary). He went to Rome around 360 to study philosophy and rhetoric. Only then did he learn Latin and some Greek.

As a student, he would joined his colleagues in drinking and having casual sexual intercourse. Then, tormented by guilt, on Sundays he would enter the dark catacombs filled with the bones of early Christians and feel terrified by the sense of Hell he experienced.

Jerome enjoyed reading classical authors and fondly quoted Virgil. Raised and educated as an Olympian, he eventually became a Christian. At that time, the Roman state already subsidized the Church. Soon the Roman ruler Theodosius would outlaw all other religions.

Transitional years (365-375)
Finished with Rome, Jerome moved to Trier in northeast Gallia. There he copied a commentary on the Psalms written by Hilary who had served as bishop of Poitiers just a few years earlier. Then he moved to Aquileia, in Alpinia near Trieste, where he joined a group of young Christian intellectuals.

He traveled with some of these Christian friends to Antioch in Levantia. There, in the winter of 375, he and his friends became seriously ill; while he eventually recovered, two of them died. He had a vision in which he was called to abandon his study of classical books devoted to the gods and instead to commit himself to learning about Jesus. He did.

Formative Years (375-388)
He first went to live in the desert southwest of Antioch where many Christian hermits already embraced an extremely simple way of living. Jerome used the opportunity to begin learning Hebrew. In 380 he returned to Antioch and was ordained a priest. He then left for Constantinople where he studied the Bible under Gregory Nazianzen, leader of the church in Constantinople, and translated sermons by Origen from Greek into Latin.

In 382, 17 years after he had finished his studies in Rome, Jerome returned to it a very different man. Introduced by Gregory to Damasus 1st, leader of the church in Rome, Jerome became Damasus' secretary. At his request, Jerome prepared fresh Latin translations of the Greek New Testament and the Psalms from the Septuagint.

Even in Rome, Jerome continued his extremely simple way of living and criticized Church leaders for their very Olympian way of living. His example inspired several wealthy widows from upper-class families, including Paula and her daughters Blaesilla and Eustochium, to simplify their way of living as well. When the beautiful and popular Blaesilla died as a result of the deprivations encouraged by Jerome, followed by Jerome's advice to Paula not to mourn her death, Church leaders used the popular outrage which followed to rid Rome of Jerome.

Even so, Paula, Eustochium, and other friends accompanied Jerome as he traveled from Rome to Levantia. Together they visited the Sea of Galilee, Jerusalem, and Bethlehem before journeying to Egypt to learn from the example of hermits there. They even got to speak with a man in Alexandria who had personally known Anthony of the Desert. In 388 the group returned to Bethlehem where they would remain for the rest of their lives.

The Vulgate (388-420)
Paula provided Jerome with full financial support and all the books he needed to do his work. In Rome, Jerome had translated the Greek New Testament into Latin. In Bethlehem, he revised that translation and then begin translating original Hebrew texts of Old Testament books into Latin. Augustine told him to base his translation of Old Testament books on the Greek Septuagint. Jerome rejected his advice even though he did use the Septuagint as an important resource.

Jerome completed his Latin translation of the Bible from the original languages in 405. From then until the reformation of the Church in the 1500s, Jerome's version, known as the Vulgate or Common version, would be the only known version of Latin Christendom's most important book.

During his years in Bethlehem Jerome also wrote commentaries on the Bible as well as bitter attacks against Origenism, Pelagianism, and other ways of thinking he regarded as mistaken.

Copyright © 2013 by Steven Farsaci. All rights reserved.