Saint Jerome (347 –420) was a Roman Christian priest, confessor, theologian and historian, who became a Doctor of the Church. He is best known for his translation of the Bible into Latin (the Vulgate), and his commentaries on the Gospel of the Hebrews. His list of writings is extensive. He is recognised by the Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Lutheran Church, and the Church of England (Anglican Communion) as a saint.
He actually sounds as though at one time he was a rather fun loving little boy, who was made to believe that fun was not a good idea, in effect he was turned into a masochist...
As a student in Rome, he engaged in the superficial escapades and wanton behaviour of students there, which he indulged in quite casually but suffered terrible bouts of repentance afterwards. To appease his conscience, he would visit on Sundays the sepulchers of the martyrs and the Apostles in the catacombs. This experience would remind him of the terrors of hell.
In 373 he set out on a journey through Thrace and Asia Minor into northern Syria. At Antioch, where he stayed the longest, two of his companions died and he himself was seriously ill more than once. During one of these illnesses (about the winter of 373–374), he had a vision that led him to lay aside his secular studies and ‘devote himself to God’. In the end he became an ascetic and went to the desert of Chalcis, to the southwest of Antioch, known as the Syrian Thebaid, from the number of hermits inhabiting it.
During this period, he had a number of hallucinations brought on by the isolation and nutritional deprivation. Whilst there he made his first attempt to learn Hebrew under the guidance of a converted Jew.
Returning to Antioch in 378 or 379, he was ordained by Bishop Paulinus, apparently unwillingly and on condition that he was allowed to continue his ascetic life. After a period in Constantinople he was given duties in Rome, and he undertook a revision of the Latin Bible, to be based on the Greek manuscripts of the New Testament. He also updated the Psalter containing the Book of Psalms.
After this time there are no spiritual experiences, however, there is one very shabby sad experience to add to the picture of this man revered by the church.
In Rome he was surrounded by a circle of well-born and well-educated women, including some from the noblest patrician families, such as the widows Lea, Marcella and Paula, with their daughters Blaesilla and Eustochium. Thinking him a Christian and therefore to be trusted and revered, they tended to look to him for support and guidance. And guidance they did indeed appear to get. In 384, Jerome was forced to leave his position at Rome after an inquiry was brought up by the Roman clergy into allegations that he had an ‘improper relationship’ with the widow Paula.
Not content with this, his constant condemnation of Blaesilla's lifestyle in Rome led her to adopt the aescetic practices Jerome instructed her to follow. So harsh were these practise, that it affected her health and she died just four months after starting to follow his instructions. Quite understandably, the Roman populace were outraged at Jerome for causing the death of such a young girl. He then proceeded to add insult to injury by insisting that Blaesilla should not be mourned, and that Paula’s grief at her death was excessive. He was roundly condemned as heartless, polarising Roman opinion against him.
In August 385, he left Rome and returned to Antioch. There is the hint that all this asceticism had actually turned him a bit loopy. He spent some time travelling to the:
homes of the great heroes of the ascetic life … admiring the disciplined community life of the ...inhabitants but detecting even there "concealed serpents."
He was supported financially during all this time by Paula who gave him the means of livelihood and of increasing his collection of books. He spent most of his last years writing mostly polemics, against Origenism and even against his early friend Rufinus. He was a great provoker of hostility:
as a result of his writings against Pelagianism, a body of excited partisans broke into the monastic buildings, set them on fire, attacked the inmates and killed a deacon.
It is recorded that Jerome died near Bethlehem on 30 September 420.
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