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Eusebius Hieronymus Sophronius, a.k.a. 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 monk was no bookish egghead nor solitary man of prayer. Though an extreme ascetic, he could show a nasty disposition, and he wasn't afraid to enter the public fray.
Jerome was born around 345 to wealthy Christian parents in Stridon, Dalmatia (in modern Slovenia), and educated in Rome, where he studied grammar, rhetoric, and philosophy. There he was baptized at age 19.
He 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. When this group disbanded, Jerome went to Antioch to resume his studies of Greek. But his plans were interrupted during Lent 375 by a dream (one of the most famous in church history): 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 learned Hebrew from a Jewish convert, prayed and fasted, ...