Saint Jerome . He is considered the Father of the Church , one of the four great Latino Fathers. The Latin translation of the Bible made by Saint Jerome, called The Vulgate (from vulgata editio, ‘edition for the people’), has been until the promulgation of the Neovulgate in 1979, the official biblical text of the Roman Catholic Church .
He was a famous student of Latin at a time when that meant mastering Greek . She knew some Hebrew when she started her translation project, but she moved to Bethlehem to perfect her language skills. The translation began in 382 correcting the existing Latin version of the New Testament . In approximately 390 AD it passed into the Old Testament in Hebrew. He completed his work in 405 .
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- 1 Early years
- 2 Chronology
- 3 Characteristics of the work of Saint Jerome
- 4 Writings of Saint Jerome
- 5 Political Dilemmas
- 6 Iconography
- 7 Bibliography
- 8 Sources
He was born in Estridón , a city located on the border between Dalmatia and Pannonia, approximately between the years 340 and 342; He died in Bethlehem on September 30 of the 420 .Viajó to Rome , probably by the year 360, where he was baptized and became a scholar of ecclesiastical issues. From Rome he traveled to Trier, a city famous for its schools, and there he began his theological studies. Later he went to Aquileya, and towards 373 he left on a trip to the East. He first settled in Antioch, where he heard Apollinar of Laodicea speak , one of the main exegetes of that time and who was not yet separated from the Church. From 374 to 379 Jerome led a lifeascetic in the Chalcis desert, south-west of Antioch .
Ordained a priest in Antioch, he traveled to Constantinople (in 380-381), where a friendship arose between him and Saint Gregory of Nazianzo. From 382 to August 385 he settled temporarily in Rome, not far from Pope Damasus. To the death of this last (the December 11 of the 384 ), his position began to become difficult. His harsh criticism earned him bitter enemies who sought ways to harm him.
After a few months, he was forced to leave Rome. On the way between Antioch and Alexandria , he arrived in Bethlehem in 386. He settled there in a monastery near a convent founded by two Roman ladies: Paula and Eustoquia, who followed him to Palestine . Thereafter he led a life of asceticism and study; but even then he was caught up in trouble because of his controversies, of which we will speak later, one with Rufino and the other with the Pelagians.
The literary activity of Saint Jerome, although quite prolific, can be summarized under a few main titles: works in the Bible; theological controversies, historical works; various letters; translations.
But it is perhaps the chronology of his most important writings that will allow us to follow the development of his studies more easily. A first period extends until his temporary stay in Rome (382), it is a time of preparation. From this stage we have the translation of the homilies of Origen on Jeremiah , Ezekiel and Isaiah (379 to 381), and almost at the same time the translation of the Chronicle of Eusebius ; and the “Vita S. Pauli, prima eremitae” (374 to 379).
A second period covers from his stay in Rome to the beginning of the translation of the Hebrew Old Testament (382 to 390). During this time the exegetical vocation of Saint Jerome was reaffirmed under the influence of Pope Damasus, and it took its definitive form when the opposition of the ecclesiastics of Rome forced the caustic Dalmatian to renounce his ecclesiastical development and retire to Bethlehem.
In 384 we have the correction of the Latin version of the Four Gospels; in 385, the Epistles of Saint Paul; in 384, a first revision of the Latin Psalms, according to the accepted text of the Septuagint (Roman Psalter); in 384, the revision of the Latin version of the Book of Job, after the version accepted in the Septuagint; between 386 and 391, a second revision of the Latin Psalter, this time having in front of the Greek text of the “Hexapla” of Origen (called Galician Psalter, contained in the Vulgate).
It is doubtful whether he revised the entire version of the Old Testament according to the Greek of the Septuagint . From 382 to 383 he wrote “Altercatio Luciferiani et Orthodoxi” and “De Perpetua Virginitate B. Mariae; adversus Helvidium”. From 387 to 388, commentaries on the Epistles to Philemon, the Galatians, the Ephesians, and Titus; and between 389 to 390 on Ecclesiastes.
Between 390 and 405, Saint Jerome concentrated all his attention on the translation of the Old Testament from Hebrew, but this work alternated it with many other works. Between 390 and 394 he translated the Books of Samuel and of the Kings, Job, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, the Song of Songs, Ezra and Paralipomena. In 390 he translated the treatise “De Spiritu Sancto” by Didymus of Ale-jandría; in 389 to 390 he outlined his works “Quaestiones hebraicae in Genesim” and “De interpre-tatione nominum hebraicorum”.
In 391 to 392 he wrote the “Vita S. Hilarionis”, the “Vita Malchi, monachi captivi”, and commentaries on Nahum, Micah, Zephaniah, Ageus, and Habakkuk. From 392 to 393, “De viris illustribus”, and “Adversus Jovinianum”; in 395, comments on Jonah and Obadiah; in 398, revision of the rest of the Latin version of the New Testament, and around the same time comments on Isaiah chapters xiii-xxiii; in 398, an unfinished work “Against Joannem Hierosolymitanum”; in 401, “Apologeticum adversus Rufinum”; between the years 403 to 406, “Contra Vigilantium”; finally, from 398 to 405, he completed the Old Testament translation of the Hebrew.
In the last stage of his life, from 405 to 420, he returned to the series of his comments that he had interrupted for seven years. In 406 he commented on Hosea, Joel, Amos, Zacharias, and Malachi; in 408, on Daniel; from 408 to 410, on the rest of Isaías; from 410 to 415, on Ezekiel; from 415 to 420 on Jeremiah. From 401 to 410, the date he stopped doing his sermons; treatises on Saint Mark, homilies on the Psalms, on various subjects and on the Gospels; in 415, “Dialogi contra Pelagianos”.
Characteristics of the work of Saint Jerome
Saint Jerome owes his place in the history of exegetical studies mainly to his revisions and translations of the Bible. Until around 391 and 392, he considered the Septuagint translation to be inspired. But the progress of his Hebraic studies and his relationships with rabbis made him abandon that idea, recognizing as inspired only the original text. It was around this period that he undertook the translation of the Old Testament from Hebrew. But his reaction against the ideas of his time went too far, and he was reproached for not having enough regard for the Septuagint. This last version was made from a Hebrew text, much older and purer, than the one in use at the end of the fourth century. Thus,
With this exception, we must admit the excellence of the translation carried out by Saint Jerome. His comments represent a tremendous amount of work but of quite uneven value. Very often he worked too fast; Furthermore, he considered a comment a work of compilation, and his greatest care was to accumulate the interpretations of his predecessors, rather than pass judgment on them.
The work “Quaestiones hebraicae in Genesim” constitutes one of his best works, since it is a philological search with respect to the original text. This apologizes for the fact that he was unable to continue, as had been his intention, with a completely new style of work for the time. Although he often imposed his desire to avoid the excessive use of allegories, his efforts in this regard were far from successful, and in his later years he was ashamed of some of his early allegorical explanations.
He himself said that one had to resort to the allegorical meaning only when one was unable to discover the literal meaning. His treatise “De interpretatione nominum hebraicorum” is but a collection of mystical and symbolic meanings. Except for his “Commentarius in ep. Ad Galatas”, which is one of the best, his explanations of the New Testament are of little value. Among his comments on the Old Testament, those on Amos, Isaiah and Jeremiah stand out; although there are some frankly bad, such as those of Zacarías, Hosea and Joel.
In short, the Biblical knowledge of Saint Jerome places him first among the ancient exegetes. First, he was very careful with his sources of information; It required of the exegete a fairly extensive knowledge of the sacred and profane history, as well as the linguistics and geography of Palestine. He never categorically accepted or rejected deuterocanonical books as part of the Canon of Scripture, of which he made constant use.
On inspiration, the existence of a spiritual meaning and the in-errancy (absence of error) in the Bible, sustained the traditional doctrine. Possibly he insisted more than others on the part that corresponds to the sacred writer when collaborating in the inspired work. His criticism is still original. The controversy with the Jews and with the Pagans had long ago drawn the attention of Christians to certain difficulties in the Bible. Saint Jerome responded in various ways.
Without mentioning his clarifications on this or that problem, he appealed above all to the principle that the original text of Scripture is the only one inspired and free from error. Therefore, one must determine whether the text, in which the problems arise, has not been altered by the copyist. Furthermore, when the New Testament writers quoted the Old Testament, they did so not according to the letter but according to the spirit. There are many subtleties and even contradictions in the explanations that Saint Jerome offers, but we must keep in mind his evident sincerity. He does not try to cover up his ignorance, but he admits that there are many problems in the Bible, which is why he will sometimes seem totally embarrassed.
Finally, he declares a principle, which, if recognized as legitimate, could serve to revalue the shortcomings of his criticism. He maintains that, in the Bible, there is no material error due to the ignorance or carelessness of the sacred writer, but adds: “It is common for the sacred historian to adapt to the opinion generally accepted by the masses in his time” (PL, XXVI, 98; XXIV, 855).
Among the historical works of Saint Jerome it is worth mentioning the translation and continuation of the work “Chronicon Eusebii Caesariensis”, since the continuation written by him, which covers from 325 to 378, served as a model for the writing of the annals made by the chroniclers of the Middle Ages, with the consequent transmission of defects in their works: overabundance of unimportant data, and lack of proportion and historical sense.
The “Vita S. Pauli, prima eremitae” is not a very reliable document. The “Vita Mal-chi, monachi captivi” is an eulogy to chastity, woven through a number of legendary episodes. Similarly, the “Vita S. Hilarionis” has been affected by contact with previous works. The San Hilario crossings have been claimed to be a plagiarism of some old travel narratives. But these objections are entirely wrong, since this work is a truly reliable work.
The treatise “De viris illustribus” is a story of great literary quality. It was written with an apologetic intention to prove that the Church had produced men of great learning. For the history of the first three centuries, Jerome depended heavily on Eusebius, whose comments he appropriated, often distorting them, due to the speed with which he worked. Nonetheless, his fourth century authorship relationships are of great value. His homiletical work consists of approximately one hundred homilies or short treatises, and in this facet the Solitaire of Bethlehem shines with its own light.
He is a monk who addresses monks, not without making obvious allusions to contemporary events. The speaker lengthens and apologizes for it. He displays a wonderful knowledge of the versions and contents of the Bible. His allegories are sometimes excessive, and his teaching on grace is Semipelagian. A critical spirit against authority, a sympathy for the poor that goes to the extreme of showing open hostility towards the rich, lack of good taste, inferiority of style, erroneous quotations, are the most notorious defects of those sermons.
Obviously these are notes taken by his listeners, so one wonders if they were examined by the preacher. The correspondence of Saint Jerome is one of the best known parts of his literary production. It comprises approximately one hundred and twenty letters from him and several of his correspondents. Many of these letters were written with the intention of being published, and in several of them the author even corrects himself, showing, therefore, evidence of great care and skill in his composition, and in which Saint Jerome he reveals himself as a master of style.
These letters, which had previously found great success among his contemporaries, have been, with the “Confessions” of Saint Augustine , one of the works most appreciated by the humanists of the Renaissance. Apart from literary interest they have great historical value. When describing a period that covers half a century, they address the most varied topics; There are letters dealing with theology, controversy, criticism, conduct, and biography.
Despite their bombastic vocabulary, they are full of the personality of the man. It is in this correspondence that the temperament of Saint Jerome is more clearly exposed; his fickleness, his tendency to extremes, his excessive sensitivity; how he went from being exquisitely refined to being bitterly satirical, his open sincerity in commenting on others and just as frank in speaking about himself.
St. Jerome’s theological writings are mostly controversial, and it could almost be said that they were made for the occasion. He failed as a theologian for not applying himself a personal methodology in doctrinal matters. In his controversies he was simply the interpreter of accepted ecclesiastical doctrine. Compared to Saint Augustine, his inferiority in scope and the originality of his point of view is very evident. His “Dialogue” against the Luciferians deals with a schismatic sect whose founder was Lucifer, Bishop of Cagliari, in Sardinia.
The Luciferians refused to respond affirmatively to the measure of clemency by which the Church, since the Council of Alexandria, in 362, had allowed the bishops who had adhered to Arianism, to fulfill their duties on the condition that profess the Nicene Creed.
This rigorist sect had adherents everywhere, and even in Rome itself it was very problematic. Jerome wrote his “Dialogue” against them, a work with biting sarcasm, but not always correct in its doctrinal content, especially regarding the Sacrament of Confirmation. The book “Adversus Helvidium” is from almost the same time. Elvidio held the following two principles: Mary had children of Joseph after the virgin birth of Jesus Christ; From a religious point of view, marital status is not inferior to celibacy.
Strong requests motivated Jerónimo to answer. For this reason he debated the various texts of the Gospel, which, as it was affirmed, contained the objections to the perpetual virginity of Mary. Although he did not find positive answers on all points, his work, despite everything, maintains a fairly reliable place in the history of Catholic exegesis on these questions. The issue of the dignity of virginity and marriage, discussed in the book against Elvid, was dealt with again in the book “Adversus Jovinianum”, written almost ten years later. Jerónimo recognizes the legitimacy of marriage, but uses certain derogatory expressions about it, for which he was criticized by his contemporaries and for which he could not offer a satisfactory explanation.
Joviniano was more dangerous than Elvidio. Although he did not exactly teach salvation by faith alone and the futility of good works, he made the way to salvation too easy and despised a life of asceticism. Jerónimo returned to each of these points. The “Apologetici adversus Rufinum” dealt with the Origin controversies. Saint Jerome was involved in one of the most violent episodes of that fight, which stirred the Church throughout Origen’s life until the Fifth Ecumenical Council (553). The point of discussion was to determine whether certain doctrines professed by Origen, and others taught by some of his pagan followers, could be accepted.
In this case, the doctrinal problems were made more bitter by differences between Saint Jerome and his old friend, Rufino. To understand Saint Jerome’s position, we must remember that Origen’s works were by far the most complete exegetical collection that existed at the time, and the most accessible to students. Hence, the tendency to use them was more natural, and, evidently, Saint Jerome did it like many others. But we must carefully distinguish between the writers who made use of Origen and those who adhered to his doctrines.
This distinction is particularly necessary with Saint Jerome, whose way of working was very fast, and consisted of copying the interpretations of previous exegetes without any critical examination of them. However, it is true that Saint Jerome valued and used the work of Origen so much that he even transcribed erroneous passages without due reservation. But it is also evident that he never adhered to the thinking or methodology of the Origin doctrines.
It was under these circumstances that Rufino, who was a genuine Origenist, called him to justify his use of Origen, and the explanations he gave were not without shame. At this distance of time, a very fine and detailed study of the matter would be required to determine the real bases of the confrontation. Despite this, Jerónimo would be accused of using reckless language and a rather hasty method of work. With a temperament like his, and certain of his undoubted orthodoxy in relation to Origin, he would naturally have been tempted to justify everything. This sparked the bitterest controversy with his cunning adversary, Rufino.
But overall, Jerome’s position is by far the stronger of the two, even in the eyes of his contemporaries. It has been accepted that in this confrontation, Rufino was the culprit. It was he who caused the conflict in which he himself proved to be a narrow-minded, confused, ambitious and even timorous person. Saint Jerome, whose attitude is not always irreproachable, is far superior to him. Vigilancio, the Gascón priest against whom Jerónimo wrote a treatise, disagreed with ecclesiastical customs, rather than doctrinal aspects.
What he mainly rejected was monastic life and the veneration of saints and relics. Soon, Elvidio, Joviniano and Vigilancio were the spokesmen for a movement against asceticism that had developed throughout the fourth century. It is possible to observe the influence of that same reaction on the doctrine of the monk Pelagio, who gave his name to the main heresy that arose about grace: Pelagianism. On this subject Jerónimo wrote his “Dialogi contra Pelagianos”. With regard to the doctrine of original sin, the author is much less so when he determines the part of God and that of man in the act of justification.
In general his ideas are Semipelagian: the merits of man before grace; a formula that endangers the principle of absolute freedom as a gift of grace. The book “De situ et nominibus locorum hebraicorum” is a translation of Eusebius’ “Onomasticon”, to which the translator has added some additions and corrections.
The translations of Origen’s “Homilies” vary in character according to the time they were written. As time went by, Jerome became more expert in the art of translation, and abandoned the tendency to alleviate, as he had been doing, certain errors in the doctrine of Origen. Special translation deserves the translation of the homilies “In Canticum Canticorum”, whose original in Greek has been lost.
The complete works of Saint Jerome can be found in PL, XXII-XXX. (Translator’s note: It seems that the ancient city of Estridón corresponds to the current Ljubljana, capital of the Republic of Slovenia, a country located between Croatia, Hungary and Austria, and whose territories were part of the Roman provinces of Dalmatia and Pannonia).
Saint Jerome’s Writings
Among his best-known works we find his letters and his famous biblical commentaries. Among his works of apologetic origin we can mention: The Perpetual Virginity of Mary, his Letter to Pamachio against Juan de Jerusalem, the Dialogue against the Luciferians, Against Joviniano, Against Vigilantio, Against Pelagiano and others. In the letter to Joveniano, Jerónimo writes: The pleasure for meat was unknown until the universal flood; but since the flood we have been stuffed with the stinking fibers and juices of animal meat … Jesus Christ who appeared when the time was up, united the end with the beginning, so that we are no longer allowed to eat more meat (. ..) And that’s why I tell you, if you want to be perfect, then it is convenient not to eat meat. (Adversus Jovinanum 1.30)
His high positions in the Roman government and the severity with which he treated the disorders of mismanagement of the rulers and also of the clergy of the time for their comfortable lifestyles due to looting the poor created difficulties for him and he was exiled in holy land where he founded monasteries one of his writings that continues to this day was this:
That golden brake on your horse’s mouth, That golden ring on your slave’s arm That golden ornaments on your shoes They are a sign that you are robbing the orphan And starving the widow Who after you find dead and they pass by Your great house will say: with how many tears did that palace build, how many orphans were naked, how many widows were insulted, how many workers received unjust wages and thus not even death will free you from your accusers.
Thus he spoke against the emperor’s family, his reward for being such a direct preacher that he was exiled for the first time and the people protested causing the emperor to receive him again but his continued accusations towards the empire led him to exiles increasingly distant until who died from the severity of his travels and his advanced age.
The attributes with which this saint is usually represented are: Cardinal’s hat and clothing, a Lion and, to a lesser extent, a cross, a skull, books and writing materials. The reason why he is represented with a lion is because, it is said, Saint Jerome was meditating on the banks of the Jordan River, when he saw a lion crawling towards him with a leg crossed by a huge thorn. Saint Jerome rescued the beast and completely cured her leg.
The grateful animal never wanted to be separated from its benefactor. When Saint Jerome died, the lion lay down on his grave and left to starve. But it is a legend attributed by mistake, in reality it belongs to Saint Gerasimus, hermit. The similarity in the names was misleading.
The classic iconography is that of Saint Jerome in his cabinet, as it appears in Domenico Ghirlandaio’s painting for the Ognissanti church in Florence. But he has also been depicted as a hermit in the desert grotto, generally accompanied by a lion, as can be seen in Leonardo’s painting and in Hieronymus Bosch’s Praying Saint Jerome.