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JEROME (c. 347420), properly Eusebius Hieronymus; church father and biblical scholar. Born at Stridon in Dalmatia of a prosperous Christian family, Jerome was educated at Rome under Aelius Donatus, the most eminent grammarian of the fourth century. With Donatus he studied the principal Latin authors, of whom Cicero and Vergil exerted a lasting influence on him. His rhetorical training included the rudiments of philosophy, which held little interest for him, except for dialectics. Rhetoric and dialectics became the tools of his polemics. While in Rome he enjoyed those youthful indiscretions that he would later bitterly lament as immorality. Jerome was nevertheless baptized, perhaps in the year 366.

In his twentieth year Jerome continued his studies at Trier, where the ideal of monasticism took hold of him forever. In 374 he made a pilgrimage to Antioch in Syria, where he mastered Greek and began in earnest his lifelong study of the Bible. Recovery from a serious illness strengthened his resolve to become an anchorite in the nearby desert of Chalcis. While practicing asceticism, he learned Hebrew so that he could read the Old Testament without recourse to the Septuagint. Suspected of religious heterodoxy, he returned to Antioch in 378.

Ordained a priest at Antioch, Jerome was introduced to biblical exegesis by Apollinaris of Laodicea. Around the year 381 Jerome traveled to Constantinople, where he met the theologians Gregory of Nazianzus and Gregory of Nyssa and began his translations of Origen's works on the Bible. Origen was both Jerome's blessing and his bane. From Origen, Jerome derived substantially his own approach to biblical exegesis, but later he was often suspected of sharing Origen's heretical views.

In 382 Jerome returned to Rome and soon became secretary to Pope Damasus, who set him to revising the Old Latin versions of the New Testament. Jerome left Rome for the East in 389, soon to be joined by Paula and Eustochium, two religious Roman women. Together they established two monasteries at Bethlehem. Thereafter, Jerome lived the ascetic life of a monk and continued his study of the Bible. During these years there poured from his pen a river of Latin translations of the Bible from the Greek and Hebrew, translations of Origen's works on the Bible and commentaries of his own, polemical works, and letters to people throughout the Roman world. Although Jerome befriended Augustine of Hippo and the historian Paulus Orosius, he scorned Ambrose of Milan and hounded John Chrysostom. He died in 420. An obstinate monk, Jerome was combative, vindictive, and cantankerous. Nonetheless, as a biblical scholar he was the most learned of church fathers.

Jerome's voluminous writings fall into four broad groups: translations and studies of the Bible, polemics, historical works, and letters. By far the most important category deals with scripture, his towering achievement being his Latin translation of the Bible. Known as the Vulgate, it became the authorized version of the Bible in the Latin church. For the New Testament, Jerome corrected the Old Latin versions of the Gospels in the light of earlier Greek manuscripts. His work on the Old Testament took a more complicated course. He began by relying on the Septuagint, but the more familiar he became with Hebrew the more determined he was to base his translations on the Hebrew text. The result was a far more accurate version of the Old Testament than anything theretofore available in Latin.

Translation was only part of Jerome's biblical interests. In his quest to determine and understand the text, he wrote sixty-three volumes of commentaries and some one hundred homilies primarily concerned with explaining the Bible to the religious community at Bethlehem. Some of Jerome's commentaries are little more than Latin translations of Origen's Greek originals. In the areas of exegesis and homiletics, Jerome was influenced primarily by Apollinaris, Origen, and rabbinical thought, including the work of Akiva ben Joseph, one of the founders of rabbinical Judaism. From Apollinaris, Jerome learned the value of historical commentary and concrete interpretation of the Bible. Jewish exegesis also emphasized the literal sense of the Old Testament. In addition, his Hebrew teachers acquainted Jerome with Jewish oral traditions, a source unknown to most of his Christian contemporaries. Increasingly, Jerome respected the Hebrew text of the Old Testament, in his words, the veritas Hebraica, which ultimately led him to doubt the accuracy of the Septuagint. Origen influenced Jerome to go beyond literal and historical interpretation of scripture to discover its allegorical and symbolic meaning. Although Jerome often criticized Origen's approach, he too felt that under the literal text lay a level of deeper spiritual meaning.

Intellectually eclectic, Jerome used all three approaches to biblical exegesis. His usual method of exposition consisted of a literal explanation of every verse, including citations of variant readings and interpretations, frequently followed by an allegorical interpretation. For the Old Testament, he translated passages from Hebrew and from the Septuagint before commenting on them in turn. His treatment of the Hebrew text was generally historical and included discussion of Hebrew words, names, and grammar. Despite his high regard for rabbinical exegesis, Jerome never preferred it to orthodox Christian interpretation. The Septuagint was also often subjected to spiritual exegesis. Here especially Jerome relied heavily on Origen, whom he defended as a learned and gifted biblical scholar. Nonetheless, he often attacked Origen and steadfastly rejected his theology and dogmas. Origen's influence can be seen further in Jerome's tendency to give his own, original spiritual interpretation of the Septuagint.

The second major category of Jerome's writings is polemics. His early studies in Rome made their contribution in this area as well. The training in rhetoric and dialectics equipped him for controversy, and his mastery of Latin prose style gave him a clear, sometimes elegant, means of expression. Moreover, the young student had frequented the law courts and had enjoyed listening to the violent verbal exchanges of eminent lawyers. In addition to his well-turned Latin phrases, Jerome employed caustic and even disreputable abuse, his opponents generally being branded fools, charlatans, heretics, or all three. He was particularly adept at disparaging his opponents' literary style, which was all the more effective because he of all the church fathers wrote a Latin that was almost classically pure. These tools were valuable because Jerome was unimpressive as a theologian and a philosopher. His contribution was as a scholar, not as an original thinker.

Jerome employed his polemical works either to combat current heresies or to defend himself from the charge of heresy. His rebuttals often provide the best information about the nature of his opponents' views. Jerome unswervingly upheld the cause of orthodoxy. He entered the field of controversy in 378379 with his Altercatio Luciferiani et Orthodoxi (Debate of a Luciferian and an orthodox), in which he attacked the views of the Sardinian bishop Lucifer. Using the orthodox believer as a sounding-board for his own views, Jerome argued in favor of Arian bishops' retaining their clerical positions upon recantation and defended the validity of Arian baptism. Chief among Jerome's religious views are his abiding faith in the Christian church and its apostolic authority, and his opposition to heresy as destructive to Christian unity. He never wavered from these beliefs.

In 383 Jerome combated the views of the Roman layman Helvidius, who denied the virginity of Mary after the birth of Jesus and who argued that the married and celibate states were equal in dignity. In Adversus Helvidium, a spirited pamphlet, Jerome used exegetical and scholarly arguments, along with his usual verbal abuse, to defend the perpetual virginity of Mary and to exalt the value of celibacy in Christian life. Jerome's triumph over Helvidius helped to establish the orthodox views of the Latin church on Mariology and celibacy. Next, in Adversus Iovinianum (Against Jovinian), written in 393, Jerome marshaled all his skills in exegesis, dialectics, rhetoric, satire, and obloquy to defend again the doctrines of Mary's virginity, the virgin birth of Jesus, the superiority of celibacy over marriage, and the advocacy of asceticism. In 404 Jerome wrote Contra Vigilantium (Against Vigilantius), a response to the polemics of Vigilantius, a priest from Aquitaine. In this controversy, Jerome defended devotion to the relics of martyrs and saints and the offering of prayers to them, and he endorsed all-night vigils at their shrines as acts of piety. He also again championed the ascetic way of life, including celibacy, monasticism, and fasting, and he approved sending alms to monasteries in Jerusalem as Paul had urged.

In two polemical works Jerome defended himself against the charge of sharing Origen's heresy, first in 397 with his Contra Ioannem Hierosolymitanum (Against John of Jerusalem) and again in 401, when his old friend Rufinus of Aquileia openly accused him of being a follower of Origen. In effect, Rufinus attacked Jerome's whole approach to the Bible. Jerome's response, Apologia adversus Rufinum (Apology against Rufinus), was a terrible counterattack, violent, satirical, scurrilous, and learned. Jerome successfully defended his life's work, including his use and translations of Origen's commentaries, his reliance on the Hebrew original of the Old Testament, and his respect for the Septuagint. Not denying his debt to Origen's learning, Jerome steadfastly denied sharing Origen's theology.

Jerome's last polemical work, Dialogus adversus Pelagianos (Dialogue against a Pelagian), written in 415, attacked the tenets of the Pelagian heresy, which was primarily concerned with the concepts of sin and grace. Against the Pelagian position that people can live free of sin, Jerome countered that humans constantly need divine help. He further insisted that humanity is given to sin, despite its possession of free will. Jerome also defended Augustine's concept of original sin and accepted the need for infant baptism. Dialogus exhibits the hallmarks common to the rest of Jerome's polemical works: personal abuse, biblical scholarship, and orthodoxy.

The last two categories of Jerome's work are more historical than religious in importance. Jerome either translated or wrote several historical treatises valuable for his study of the Bible. The first, published in 382, was his translation of Eusebius of Caesarea's Chronikoi kanones (Chronological canons), an annalistically arranged work that combined biblical and Near Eastern chronology with Greco-Roman chronology. Jerome added to its contents and continued its coverage to his own times, ending with the Battle of Adrianople in 378. Chronicle became the historical framework of his exegetical studies. In wider terms, Jerome's Chronicle became the standard authority in western Europe for the chronology of the ancient world.

In 392393 Jerome published De viris illustribus (On famous men), a historical catalog of Christian literature in which he surveyed the lives and writings of 135 authors, overwhelmingly Christian with a sprinkling of Jewish authors, beginning with the apostle Peter and ending with himself. Although he relied heavily on Eusebius for the early part, and although he inserted authors whom he had never read, in the later part he contributed much information derived from his own reading. The work was continued by others into the fifteenth century.

For religious purposes, a trilogy of biblical studies is Jerome's most significant historical work. Between 389 and 391 Jerome produced his Onomastikon (Hebrew names), derived from Origen. Onomastikon is an etymological dictionary of proper names in the Bible, alphabetically arranged. Next came his Liber locorum (Book of places), a translation of Eusebius's Onomastikon, with meager additions drawn from his own knowledge of Palestine. The Liber locorum is an alphabetical listing of the place names and descriptions of the geographical features of the sites mentioned in the Bible. Last came his Liber hebraicarum quaestionum (Hebrew questions), a discussion of various problems in the text of the Book of Genesis, heavily dependent on rabbinical exegesis. The treatment is essentially linguistic, historical, and geographical. Rounding out Jerome's historical work are hagiographies of Paul, Malchus, and Hilarion.

Jerome's 154 letters also illuminate the religious climate of the time. In his correspondence, Jerome discussed prominent church leaders, satirized the Christian clergy, discussed the burning religious issues of the day, and provided much information about himself and his intellectual development. All his written work influenced the subsequent course of the Latin church. His greatest contribution can be put simply: when later generations read the Vulgate, they read the translation of Jerome and reaped the finest fruits of his superb scholarship.


J. N. D. Kelly's Jerome: His Life, Writings, and Controversies (London, 1975) is easily the best treatment of Jerome's career. It is firmly based in the sources, and its approach is consistently sane. Philip Rousseau's Ascetics, Authority, and the Church in the Age of Jerome and Cassian (Oxford, 1978) is a much broader study of the religious and intellectual climate of the time. An excellent study of Jerome's polemics can be found in Ilona Opelt's Hieronymus' Streitschriften (Heidelberg, 1973), an exhaustive analysis of this genre. David S. Wiesen's Saint Jerome as a Satirist (Ithaca, N.Y., 1964) concentrates on one of the most salient aspects of Jerome's polemics and correspondence. Similarly, Harald Hagendahl's Latin Fathers and the Classics (Göteborg, 1958) devotes part 2, the heart of his book, to Jerome's use of classical writers. Francis X. Murphy, in A Monument to Saint Jerome: Essays on Some Aspects of His Life, Works, and Influence (New York, 1952), has assembled ten essays that discuss Jerome both as a religious figure and as an intellectual figure. The quality of the essays, however, is quite uneven.

John Buckler (1987)