JEROME BECAME A SAINT IN SPITE OF HIS NASTY EXPLOSIONS OF TEMPER. WHY? Vol.5 No. 12

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Many Roman Christians at the time were rather cool towards Jerome’s crusade for asceticism and virginity, which they regarded as extremist. One of them was a layman, Helvidius, who in his published refutation of Jerome strove to prove that even Mary after the birth of Jesus lived a normal married life with Joseph. This attack on the perpetual virginity of the Mother of God aroused Jerome to an absolute fury which he unleased in his reply; “Against Helvidius.” Though sprinkled with the gratuitous insults that came so readily from Jerome’s tongue, it was learned and persuasive enough to convince most of his contemporaries and demolish Helvidius. The perpetual virginity of Mary was henceforth to be an unassailable doctrine of Catholic Christianity. Tecsthought shall discuss this perpetual virginity of Mary after this historical project.
With the death of Pope Damasus and elevation of Siricius (384-389) to the throne of the apostles, many Roman Christians regarded his type of asceticism as an oriental intrusion. Worse still, they charged him of many things including his relation with Paula. While rejecting the accusation, Jerome deemed it expedient to leave the eternal city for good. Paula and Eustochium followed him and after joining his company probably at Antioch, they started out on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land.
The final instance of critique against Jerome was from his friend Rufinus with whom he contributed greatly to the spread of monasticism in the West during the fifth century. Rufinus complained about Jerome’s audacity in putting out a totally new translation of the Bible. But the issue that led to a lasting break between the two monks was Origenism.
Initially, both were delighted with the grand master, Origen. But when a strong anti-Origen movement surfaced in the church, Jerome went to the anti-Origen and accused Rufinus and his bishop, John of Jerusalem, of convincing to spread Origen’s heresies. John in turn excommunicated Jerome and in 397 even tried to have him removed from his diocese by force. However, it became a war of writings between two former friends as they drove their pen furiously into action and blasted each other in pamphlets that sizzled with charge and countercharge. Rufinus finally called quits and ceased referring to Jerome in his writings, but Jerome was not the type to let go. He continued to level abuse at Rufinus and even when he heard of the man’s death in 411, he could not withhold a remark about the “scorpion Rufinus… buried with his brother giants, Euceladus and Porphyrion. Jerome said against Ruphinus “that multiple-headed hydra has finally ceased hissing.”
Jerome also played an unseemly role in the quarrel between the crafty patriarch of Alexandria, Theophilus (d. 412) and the saintly patriarch of Constantinople, John, later known as Chrysostom (Golden tongue) (d. 407), who was renowned for his eloquence and mastery of scripture, together with his outspoken denunciation of vice but was found guilty of Origenism and other charges at a farcial trial at the synod of the Oak (403).
An interesting glimpse into the evolving piety of the church of Jerome’s day is provided by his pamphlet against vigilantius, in which he defends the increasingly popular custom of venerating relics of the martyrs and saints, of burning candles at their shrines, of seeking their intercession in prayers as well as the observance of vigils at the site of their burial. He nicknames his opponent “Dormitianus” (sleepyhead) and mingles serious scholarly arguments with scurrilous invective, which he hurls at his opponent’s head. However, the pamphlets was widely read and made an important contribution to the general acceptance of these practices by the church.
The last controversy Jerome took up had to do with the campaign waged by Pelagius, a British theologian and monk in favour of his views on grace, free will, and original sin. Like his colleague Augustine, Jerome was deeply disturbed by Pelagius seeming denial of the crippling effects of original sin on our free will and by his denial of our need for divine help in avoiding sin and by his insistence efforts. Jerome and Augustine joined forces to combat Pelagius and their letters at this juncture show them now enjoying a warm friendship. The old monk of Bethlehem (Jerome) was now quite ready to defer to the brilliant bishop of Hippo (Augustine) whose learning and orthodoxy he had come to fully respect and admire.
In 416, violence struck at Bethlehem and Jerome was forced to flee for his life when his own monastery was seized by a hand of ruffians, perhaps fanatical devotees of Pelagius, and burned to the ground. But his greatest sorrow was the death of the two people who meant the most to him. In 404, his dearest friend and coworker, Paula, died and left Jerome utterly prostrate with grief. And only a year before his own death in 420, Paula’s daughter Eustochium, whom Jerome also loved beyond measure, fell ill and died. It was a blow that completely shattered him. The circumstances of his own death a year later are unknown. We only know that he was buried close to the tombs of those his friends Paula and Eustochium (a mother and daughter) in their beloved church of the nativity a few yards away from the spot held sacred to Christ’s birth.
In the memory of succeeding ages, Jerome’s profile continued to grow until he was finally recognized as a Doctor and Father of the church in view of the enomous contribution made by his translation of the bible, and historical writings, by his great influence on the development of Catholic Mariology and spirituality, and by the impetus he gave to Western Monasticism. The dark side of his personality, his ferocious intolerance and bigotry, his nasty explosions of temper, his uncouth displays of vanity, his delight in putting down his enemies by fair means of foul were somehow glossed over and posterity even accorded him the title “Saint” rightly perhaps, for at least no one could deny the burning sincerity and steadfast devotion he manifested in carrying out his commitment to Christ. St. Jerome Pray for us.

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