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Christian History Home > 131 Christians > Scholars and Scientists > Jerome

Bible translator whose version lasted a millennium.
posted 8/08/2008 12:56PM

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"Make knowledge of the Scripture your love … Live with them, meditate on them, make them the sole object of your knowledge and inquiries."

Eusebius Hieronymus Sophronius, thankfully known as Jerome, was probably the greatest Christian scholar in the world by his mid-30s. Perhaps the greatest figure in the history of Bible translation, he spent three decades creating a Latin version that would be the standard for more than a millennium. But this was no bookish egghead. Jerome was also an extreme ascetic with a nasty disposition who showered his opponents with sarcasm and invective.



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Eusebius completes Ecclesiastical History


First Council of Nicea


Jerome born


Jerome dies


Patrick begins mission to Ireland

From Cicero to scorpions

Jerome was born to wecaptionhy Christian parents in Stridon, Dalmatia (near modern Ljubljana, Slovenia), and educated in Rome, where he studied grammar, rhetoric, and philosophy. There he was baptized at age 19.

Like other students, Jerome followed his studies with travel. But instead of discovering the sensuous pleasures of the empire, Jerome found himself drawn to the ascetics he met along the way, including those in Trier (now in southwest Germany) and Aquileia, Italy, where he joined a group of elite ascetics. Among them was Rufinius, famous for his translations of Origen's works. The group disbanded around 373, however, and Jerome resumed his travels, this time taking "an uncertain journey" to become a hermit in the Holy Land.

Exhausted, he only made it as far as Antioch, where he continued his studies of Greek. He even studied under Apollinarius of Laodicea (who was later condemned as a heretic for teaching Christ had only human flesh, not a human mind or will). But his Greek studies were interrupted by a dream—one of the most famous in church history—during Lent 375: dragged before a tribunal of God, he was found guilty of preferring classic pagan literature to Christian: "Ciceronianus es, non Christianus," (You are a follower of Cicero, not of Christ) said his judge.

Shaken, Jerome vowed never to read or own pagan literature again. (More than a decade later, however, Jerome downplayed the dream and again began reading classic literature.) He then shuffled off to the Syrian desert, rediscovering the joys of an ascetic "prison, with none but scorpions and wild beasts for companions." He settled in Chalcis, where the rigors of this life were exhausting. He begged for letters to stave off his loneliness, hated the harsh desert food, and could not find peace.

"Though I was protected by the rampart of the lonely desert, I could not endure against the promptings of sin and the ardent heat of my nature," he later wrote. "I tried to crush them by frequent fasting, but my mind was always in a turmoil of imagination."

Still, he learned Hebrew from a Jewish convert, prayed and fasted, copied manuscripts, and wrote countless letters. Despite his repeated assurances that he was happy in Chalcis, he returned to Antioch after a few years—shortly after other hermits began to suspect Jerome was a secret heretic (for his views on the Trinity, which, some argued, emphasized the unity of God at the expense of the three persons).

Sharp-tongued secretary

By then, Jerome was recognized as an important scholar and monk. Bishop Paulinus rushed to ordain him as priest, but the monk would only accept it on the condition that he would never be forced to carry out priestly functions. Instead, Jerome plunged himself into scholarship, especially that of the Bible. He attended exegetical lectures, examined Gospel parchments, and met other famous exegetes and theologians.

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