Feast Day : September 30
Patronage: libraries and librarians
Name meaning: “Sacred name”
Jerome was one of the greatest thinkers of the early Church, and also one of the most controversial. He was born Eusebius Hieronymous Sophronius at Stridonium near Aquileia, Italy, to an affluent Christian family. He was baptized at age 18 by Pope Liberius. His father sent him to Rome to be schooled, and he was tutored by a well-known pagan scholar, Donatus. He learned Greek and Latin and oratorical skills. Despite his Christian upbringing—and perhaps because of his education—Jerome devoted himself to an intense study of the pagan classics. After three years in Rome, he went traveling with a friend. During this time, he experienced a conversion back to his religious roots. On his return to Aquileia, he was on good terms with the clergy. In 374, he was inspired to travel to Antioch. There, he suffered a great illness that killed some of his friends and traveling companions. While delirious, he had either a dream or a vision in which he was rebuked for his pagan interests. In his own account, he said: Suddenly I was caught up in the spirit and dragged before the judgment seat of the Judge; and here the light was so bright, and those who stood around were so radiant, that I cast myself upon the ground and did not dare to look up. Asked who and what I was I replied: “I am a Christian.” But he who presided said: “Thou liest, thou art a follower of Cicero and not of Christ. For ‘where thy treasure is, there will thy heart be also.’” Instantly I became dumb, and amid the strokes of the lash—for He had ordered me to be scourged—I was tortured more severely still by the fire of conscience, considering with myself that verse, “In the grave who shall give thee thanks?” Yet for all that I began to cry and to bewail myself, saying: “Have mercy upon me, O Lord: have mercy upon me.” Amid the sound of the scourges this cry still made itself heard. At last the bystanders, falling down before the knees of Him who presided, prayed that He would have pity on my youth, and that He would give me space to repent of my error. He might still, they urged, inflict torture on me, should I ever again read the works of the Gentiles. . . . Accordingly I made an oath and called upon His name, saying “Lord, if ever again I possess worldly books, or if ever again I read such, I have denied Thee.” Dismissed, then, on taking this oath, I returned to the upper world, and, to the surprise of all, I opened upon them eyes so drenched with tears that my distress served to convince even the credulous. And that this was no sleep nor idle dream, such as those by which we are often mocked, I call to witness the tribunal before which I lay, and the terrible judgment which I feared. . . . I profess that my shoulders were black and blue, that I felt the bruises long after I awoke from my sleep, and that thenceforth I read the books of God with a zeal greater than I had previously given to the books of men. This event proved to be life-changing, and Jerome retired to the desert at Chalcis, southwest of Antioch, to live as a hermit for four years. He learned Hebrew. It was a time of suffering for him, both of health and from temptations. He then resumed his career as scholar and biblical consultant. He consented to ordination only if he could remain a monk or a recluse. Jerome went to Constantinople to study under St. Gregory Nazianzus. In 382, he went to Rome, where he won the favorable attention of Pope Damasus (r. 366–383), who named him papal secretary. When Damasus died, Jerome found himself out of favor. He had alienated many people, not only pagans, but also those whom he had attacked with his sarcasm and barbed wit. Rumors began to circulate that his relationship with St. Paula was not appropriate. Jerome, St. Paula and Eustochium (Paula’s third daughter), and others exiled themselves to Jerusalem and then toured Egypt and Palestine. At Bethlehem, they established monastic communities for men and women, a free school and a hospice. Jerome vigorously fought anything he considered a heresy. From 405 until his death, he attacked the Pelagian heresy. He defended attacks on the perpetual virginity of Mary, nonsecular celibacy and the veneration of relics. He opposed the teachings of Origen and argued with St. Augustine. In 404 Paula died. Several years later, Rome was sacked by barbarians, who pursued refugees east. Jerome’s life and work were interrupted with violence, beatings, killings and arson. Eustochium’s convent was destroyed; she never recovered, and died in 419. Jerome died in 420, his health, voice and eyesight failing from work and penance. He was buried beside Paula and Eustochium at the church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. Later his remains were moved to St. Major’s in Rome. Jerome’s ecclesiastical writings include a continuation of the Historia Ecclesiastica of Eusebius of Caesarea, to 378, and De Viris Illustribus (392), about leading ecclesiastical writers. He also translated Origen and wrote controversial treatises. A large number of his letters survive. Jerome’s greatest accomplishment was his translation of the Bible, including the Apocrypha, from Greek and Hebrew into Latin. The Latin Vulgate Bible was the primary authority until about the mid-20th century. Jerome spent years working on the translation. He believed that a guardian angel is assigned to each soul at birth. Even the souls of sinners receive a guardian angel, he said, though mortal sin will put them “into flight.” He organized angels into ranks of seven, eliminating the principalities and virtues in the rankings of other Church theologians. He questioned the distinctions between ranks of angels. Despite his own dream experience, Jerome sided with the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah in skepticism about dreams. He agreed that dreams can be a vehicle of revelation to a soul, but also held that the impure and unrighteous could twist dreams for their own selfserving ends. He declared that the word of God could not be sought through pagan practices of dream incubation, such as offered in the Aesculapian temples. According to the Christian scholar Morton Kelsey, Jerome may have deliberately mistranslated a Hebrew word so as to condemn dreams as witchcraft or soothsaying. According to Kelsey, Jerome’s mistranslation was of the Hebrew term anan, which means witchcraft or soothsaying. Anan appears 10 times in the Old Testament. Seven times Jerome correctly translated it as “witchcraft.” Three times he translated it as “observing dreams.” For example, Leviticus 19:26 was changed from “You shall not practice augury or witchcraft” (soothsaying) into “You shall not practice augury nor observe dreams.” Another reference against soothsaying that he changed is found in Deuteronomy 18:10–11: “There shall not be found among you . . . any one who practices divination, a soothsayer, or an augur, or a sorcerer, or a charmer, or a medium, or a wizard, or a necromancer.” These passages are part of the body of rules, regulations and laws laid down to govern Hebrew society. The mistranslation is curious, says Kelsey, in light of the fact that Jerome was an excellent scholar and correctly translated the term seven other times. Kelsey concludes that the mistranslation may have been deliberate, perhaps because of Jerome’s frightening dream. The New Oxford, New Jerusalem and other modern editions of the Bible have restored the original meaning of anan.