Jerome of Stridon

Admired by his contemporaries as the only ‘vir trilinguis’ for his knowledge of Latin, Greek and Hebrew, Jerome did not only translate the Bible, but he also commented a relevant part thereof, availing himself of an enviable knowledge of Hebrew, historical and geographical data which were rather rare among writers of the Antiquity, as well as of a natural bent for textual criticism.

Jerome was born from a Christian and well-off family around the year 347 at Stridon (“oppidum Stridonis”), which according the most reliable hypothesis should have been located between Aquileia and Emona (Ljubljana) on the eastern border of Italy, at the meeting point of the borders with Dalmatia and Pannonia. He was soon sent to Rome to accomplish his studies of rhetoric, and here he attended the lessons of the celebrated grammarian Aelius Donatus, and knew Rufinus and Bonosus. His writings reveal an assiduous reading of the Latin classics, especially Virgil. After quite a wanton behaviour of life he was converted and in the Easter evening of 366 he was baptized by pope Liberius. From Rome he went then to Trier in Gaul, where he discovered the monastic life and matured his decision to wholly devote himself to Christ. Then, being completely seized by an ascetic ideal, he stayed for a while at Aquileia (370-374?), where he met a true cultural coterie that was destined to irradiate the Christian thought and to create wide links with the contemporary cultural world through a number of friends and relations. After leaving to West between 373 and 374, he stayed for a long at Antioch, and there studied Greek in depth. Hence he retired in the desert of Chalcis (to the east of Antioch) inhabited by hermits, where he looked for solitude, waking hours, penance and work. He stayed there for a three-year period from 375 to 378, and meanwhile he learned Hebrew (he was the first Latin Father who knew also Hebrew), but was still divided between profane and sacred letters. He abandoned the desert to return to Antioch, where he attended Apollinaris of Laodicea’s exegetic lessons, and was ordained in 379. From Antioch he moved to Constantinople, where he remained charmed by Gregory of Nazianzus, who had learned the exegetic method of Origen. His second stay in Rome, between 382 and 385, had a decisive impact on his literary activity: indeed he became friend and secretary to pope Damasus, an erudite and poet, and, receiving from him the commitment to review the Latin version of the Holy Scriptures (the Itala), he did no longer give up being engaged with the Bible, a translation of which he would issue within a two-decade period, that was later to be called Vulgata. In 386 he definitely settled at Bethlehem. This stay of his at Bethlehem, which lasted for more than thirty years until his death, was a period of an unremitting literary activity. Here he also wrote a history On Illustrious Men (De viris illustribus), where according Suetonius’ model he drew out a reasoned catalogue of a hundred-thirty-five Christian writers. He died on 30 September 419 or 420. His epistolary of 117 authentic letters, a masterpiece of elegance and vivacity and, often, of violence, too, covers nearly a half century and gives us a full portrait of the man.

For further information see the entry Girolamo da Stridone written by Giuseppe Cuscito in Nuovo Liruti. Dizionario biografico dei Friulani, 1, Il Medioevo, edited by C. Scalon, Udine, Forum, 2006, 431-438.

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