The Communion of St. Jerome

St. Jerome, Doctor of the Church
September 30

 c. 342-420

Born at Strido, near Aquileia, Dalmatia, Eusebius Hieronymus Sophronius studied at Rome under Donatus, the famous pagan grammarian, acquired great skill and knowledge of the Latin, Greek, and great classical authors, and was Baptized by Pope Liberius at Rome in 360. After further study at Treves and travel in Gaul, Jerome became an ascetic at Aquileia in 370, joining a group of scholars under Bishop Valerian, among whom was Rufinus. When a quarrel broke up the group, Jerome traveled in the East and in 374 settled at Antioch, where he heard Apollinarius of Laodicea lecture. A vision of Christ caused Jerome to go to Chalcis in the Syrian desert, after a serious illness, and he lived as a hermit for four years, praying and fasting, learning Hebrew, and writing a life of St. Paul of Thebes. On Jerome's return to Antioch, he was ordained by St. Paulinus and entered into the Meletian schism controversy, supporting Paulinus and denouncing the schism in a treatise, Altercatio luciferiani et orthodoxi. Jerome went to Constantinople to study Scripture under St. Gregory Nazianzen, and in 382 Jerome went to Rome with St. Paulinus and St. Epiphanius to attend a council and remained there as secretary to Pope Damasus. While there, at the suggestion of Damasus, he revised the Latin version of the four Gospels, St. Paul's Epistles, and the Psalms, and wrote Adversum Helvidium, denouncing a book by Helvidius declaring that Mary had had several children besides Jesus. Jerome encouraged a group of noble ladies to study Scripture and made numerous enemies by his sermons to them on the virtues of celibacy and by his fiery attacks on pagan life and some influential Romans. On the death of Damasus, his protector and patron, in 384, his enemies and the vicious rumors that were circulated about him (including a scandalous rumor concerning his relations with St. Paula) decided him to return to the East, which he did in 385. He visited Antioch, where Paula, Eustochium, and others of the Roman group joined him, Egypt and Palestine and in 386, they all settled at Bethlehem, where Paula built three convents for women and a monastery for men, which Jerome headed. Most of his time was devoted to his translation of the Bible into Latin from the original tongues, which had been suggested to him by Pope Damasus, but Jerome found time to become involved in numerous controversies. In 393, he wrote Adversus Jovianianum to refute Jovinian's belief that Mary had other children besides Jesus and attacking the desirability of virginity; and Jerome's Contra Vigilantium denounced Vigilantius' condemnation of celibacy and the veneration of relics.  Jerome's greatest achievement was his translation of the Old Testament from Hebrew and his revision of the Latin version of the New Testament in 390-405, a feat of scholarship unequaled in the early Church. This version, called the Vulgate, was declared the official Latin text of the Bible for Catholics by the Council of Trent, and it was from it that almost all English Catholic translations were made until the middle of the twentieth century, when scholars began to use original sources. It remained the official Latin text of the Bible for the Catholic Church until Pope John Paul II replaced it with the New Vulgate in 1979. From 405 until his death he produced a series of biblical commentaries notable for the range of linguistic and topographical material he brought to bear on his interpretations. In 415, his denunciation of Pelagianism [a heresy that denies Original Sin and the Catholic doctrine on grace] in Dialogi contra Pelagianos caused a new furor, and in 416, groups of armed Pelagian monks burned the monasteries at Bethlehem, though he escaped unharmed, and left them poverty-stricken. He died at Bethlehem after a lingering illness on September 30. In addition to the works mentioned above, Jerome corresponded widely (some 120 of his letters, of great historical interest and importance, are still extant); he also compiled a bibliography of ecclesiastical writers, De viris illustribus and he translated and continued Eusebius' Chronicle.


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