There was a Man Called Jerome. Vol. No.5 10

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There were four men originally recognized by the Western church (that is Roman Catholic Church) as its doctors or teachers par excellence: Jerome, Ambrose, Augustine, and Gregory the Great. They are so recognized because each of them played a singular role in shaping the theology and spirituality of the Catholic church. Jerome as the greatest stylist of Christian antiquity deserves a brief discussion about his long life which spanned a good part of the fourth century and in many ways epitomizes the history of his times.
Jerome was born of wealthy Christian parents, probably in 331, in the town of striden, in the Latin-speaking Roman province of Dalmatian a part of modern Yugoslavia. He studied grammar and Roman classics under the tutelage of the celebrated Aelius Donatus, a great scholar whose writings were used as textbooks throughout the Middle Ages.
Jerome dedicated himself wholeheartedly to the Christian life and began a close study of the Bible and theology while practicing a high degree of prayer and detachment. In a dream he saw himself dragged before the last judgment seat and accused by the judge a disciple of Cicero, not of Christ, and then flogged until his shoulders were black and blue. He was so affected by the vividness of the dream that he resolved to put aside the pagan classics for good and devote himself exclusively to the things of Christ.
Completely converted to the ascetic ideal, he took his abode in the Syrian desert not far from Antioch. In a sun scorched barren retreat, he spent several years praying, studying, barely keeping body and soul together while fending off the evil fantasies spawned by his sex-haunted imagination. He once said “although my only companions were scorpions and wild beasts, time and again I was mingling with the dances of girls.” To quell the flames of lust, he found a singular remedy: the study of Hebrew. With a convert from Judaism as his tutor, he began studying this difficult tongue. Jerome was the first Latin Christian to learn Hebrew and indeed the first Christian apart from Origen. His mastery of the tongue was far superior to Origen’s and any other Christian writer for centuries to come and it exerted a decisive influence on the shape of his future career.
Origen, as recorded in the history of the Church was the greatest mind produced by the church before Constantine. He was a biblical scholar, daring speculative theologian, and prolific polymath. Jerome’s enthusiasm for Origen at first knew no bounds and he often borrowed freely from the master’s writings. Later, when a strong anti-Origen movement surfaced in the Church, Jerome did a switch and played down his immense debt to the Alexandria genius.
In 382, Jerome left Constantinople for Rome in the company of his bishops, Paulinus, and began one of the most important and most turbulent chapter in his life. It all started smoothly enough when the reigning Pope Damascus (d. 384), of his intimate circle of advisers. Damasus was much impressed by Jerome’s erudition and command of Hebrew, and often consulted him on problems of scriptural interpretation. It was in fact at the pope’s behest that Jerome began work on a project that was to constitute his most lasting achievement: a translation of the Bible from the original languages.
Before the accomplishment of this Biblical project by Jerome, Christians had only a translation of the bible called the Old Latin which in its Old Testament part was based not on the Hebrew original but on a Greek translation known as the Septuagint. This Old Latin version was in a great state of disorder with many variations that had crept into the text. The Pope did not want a completely new translation but only wanted Jerome to sort out the various readings and establish a standard version based on comparison with the original languages. It was a work that would take him more than twenty years to complete.
Nevertheless, he decided to start afresh from the Hebrew original and produce an entirely new translation. In spite of the fact that the entire Christian world denounced his new translation, slowly, his translation caught on and gradually achieved recognition as the standard, or “vulgate”, Latin text of the Bible. There were many other instances of critique against Jerome as we shall discuss in next edition

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