Some people give up nothing to get where they are; others give up an arm and a leg; still others give up so very much more. Historians disagree on which of these categories Saint Jerome falls into, but they all agree that he probably fell a lot. And, when historians agree, it happens so infrequently that future historians will note it as a singular event… well, SOME will…
Jerome was born Eusebius Sohronius Hieronymus (his friends called him “Skippy”) in 347 ADE. He was born in Dalmatia, a region with few people but a lot of dogs had been spotted there. His parents were Christians, which was cool, because Rome had made the transition from “biggest enemy of Christianity” to “head of the Christian church” relatively recently.
Jerome might’ve been born to Christian parents; but, he wasn’t baptized until his mid-teens. And, because he was in his mid-teens, he probably did it ironically. Once his sins were washed away, he could go to Rome and build up another batch… and, so he did. He was a student, after all… In Rome, he was able to study Greek, Latin, the classics and moped repair. He also learned philosophy and the art of persuasion… specifically persuading someone that you fixed their moped just fine and they are CRAZY for thinking otherwise.
Like students today, Jerome messed around. Like students in the 1980’s, he messed around in a toga. Sexual encounters brought on guilt, causing a cycle of guilt/sex, guilt/sex. Today this isn’t a problem because we have cocaine. He would wander down into the crypts and sit there and feel guilty… although some historians feel that he might’ve stood if it was a particularly busy day in the tombs. Jerome would have visions of Hell, most of which looked uncannily like a visit to the DMV.
It was about this time that he began his study of theology in what is now Germany but back then could’ve been whatever they wanted it to be. By 373, Jerome was heading out to Asia Minor to see what’s what. By the winter, he was in Antioch taking in the local illnesses and having visions of what his purpose was. It was here that he began learning Hebrew from Christian Jews, eating plenty of meat-vegetables and spending a lot of time in wakeful sleep. During this period, he translated the Gospel of Matthew from Hebrew into Greek… mostly for his own use because he didn’t speak Hebrew.
Around 379, Jerome was ordained by the bishop Paulinus, but allowed to continue living the stoic life that Jerome had come to not enjoy. He’d later accompany Paulinus to Rome and back him in his dispute over the Antioch See. He so impressed the papal authorities that they put him on the papal council and gave him a parking space very near the front door. He started what would be a twenty year task: Translating the Greek texts of Christianity into Latin.
The work was called “The Vulgate”. Historians agree that it was one of the most important documents in the history of Christianity. They also agree that “Vulgate” joins “uvula” in the list of words that sound like they should be female genitalia but aren’t.
Jerome had a considerable influence over some powerful women in Rome, such that he influenced many of them to shun hedonism and take up the monastic life. This angered a lot of the Roman clergy because, just like today Trix are for kids, back then, the ascetic life was for men. He ended up with a lot of groupies. And, groupies then were a lot like groupies today, except there were fewer drugs and even less sex. His letters had a strong influence on a lot of people, many of whom had actually read them.
In 385, it was back to that little patch of hell they called, “Antioch” They did a tour of the holy spots such as Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Galilee and that street crossing where the Beatles made that album cover. (Note: St. Jerome is often referred to as “the fifth Beatle”, especially after I’ve had a few too many). Jerome attended lectures by Didymus the Blind at the Catechetical School of Alexandria, despite the fact that Jerome was not particularly Catechetical.
By 388, Jerome ended up where he would spend the rest of his life… that is to say, he spent the rest of his life where he ended up. Specifically, just outside of Bethlehem in the very cave where historians don’t agree Jesus was born. Early gospels speak of Mary giving birth in a cave; however, later doctors of the church agreed that setting Christmas pageants in a cave would make the Star of Bethlehem impossible to see. Plus, bears live in caves and who needs the stress of seeing their savior menaced by a big hairy beast that isn’t Alec Baldwin?
In that cave, he finished his Vulgate; moreover, he found time to write extensively against the Pelagians (the philosophy that you don’t need religion to find favor with God, as long as you let him crash on your couch when he’s in town). When he was done writing against that, he wrote against Origenism but mostly because the founder had had himself castrated and Jerome was jealous because Origen’s pants fit better than his.
Wrote commentaries on scriptures. Sometimes, these commentaries were deep profound examinations of the reasons for particular translations; other times, he just wrote “LOL” in the margins and left it at that.
Legend has it Jerome pulled a thorn from a lion’s paw and the lion stayed at his monastery… a lot like the fable, “Androcles and the Lion”. The big difference is that Jerome put the lion to work afterward because LIONS NEED STRUCTURE!
Jerome died in 420 (lutei coloris lutei transeat), at his cave near Bethlehem. He was buried there, mostly because the crows were getting ready to make a play for his corpse; but, later they moved his body to Rome. There is a cathedral in the Italian town of Nepi that claims ownership of Jerome’s head, but frankly that could be anyone’s head.