St. Jerome

By Mary Jane Chaignot

Categories: Early Christianity

St. Jerome was one of the most important scholars and authors in early Christian.


  • St. Jerome (ca 347-420) is best known for translating the Bible into Latin.
  • The Latin Bible is called the Vulgate.

Early Life and Conversion

  • Jerome was born Eusebius Hieronymus Sophronius in a town called Stridon in the Roman province of Dalmatia. Scholars aren't certain where Stridon actually was, perhaps in modern day Croatia or Slovenian.
  • Jerome was known as Hieronymus Stridonensis, then later as St. Jerome of Stridonius.
  • Jerome studied in Rome and, supposedly, had a riotous time. However, he managed to learn Greek and Latin.
  • At the age of 20, he changed his ways and was baptized. Apparently, he regretted his earlier actions in Rome for the duration of his life.
  • To assuage his conscience, he often visited the catacombs lined with the bodies of the dead to remind him of the terrors of hell.

Later Life and Academic Studies

  • Jerome's actions over the few years after his conversion are uncertain.
  • Some say he traveled around, became very ill, and had a vision in which he decided to become a monk and dedicate himself totally to God.
  • However, others say he returned home and spent the next two years taking care of his younger brother and sisters after both of his parents passed on.
  • About 374, Jerome moved to the desert southeast of Antioch where he lived an ascetic life and did nothing but study the Scriptures.
  • During this time, he also learned Hebrew and Chaldean.
  • Jerome also began corresponding with a variety of people, asking questions about deep theological issues. Many of these letters have survived.

Priestly Works and Life in Rome

  • Jerome was ordained in 378 (or perhaps 379) on condition that he maintained his ascetic life. (Apparently, his previous reputation had preceded him.)
  • From there he went to Constantinople, where he studied Scripture under Archbishop Gregory Nazianaen.
  • In 381 he returned to Rome and became secretary to Pope Damasus I (ca 366-384).
  • In the Pope's service, Jerome came into contact with many well-educated women of high society.
    • Through his influence, many of these women were drawn to the monastic life, bringing much opposition from these noble families.
  • Jerome's influence on the well-educate women and his unrelenting criticism of the morals of contemporary Christian society, resulted in him being forced to leave Rome after being accused of having "an improper relationship" with a widow named Paula.
  • After three years in Rome, he left for good.

Monastic Life in Bethlehem and Important Works

  • After leaving Rome, Jerome went to the Holy Land in 386 and lived in a cave at Bethlehem near where Christ was purportedly born.
  • In Bethlehem, Jerome lived as an austere ascetic.
  • He had several students, both men and women (including Paula), and served as their spiritual leader and guide.
  • This was a time of very creative activity. Paula was able to provide the financial resources that allowed him to do much of his research and writing.
  • During this time, Jerome wrote volumes, many of which are still available.
  • These included commentaries, historical works, diatribes, and ascetic pieces.

The Vulgate

  • The most important of Jerome's works was the Vulgate.
  • Before Jerome, Latin translations of the Bible were based solely on the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures.
  • Jerome used the Hebrew text to translate the Hebrew Scriptures. This resulted in many discrepancies between Jerome's translations and the Septuagint.
  • Most scholars in Jerome's time were vocal in their opposition to his translation, as they believed the Septuagint had been totally inspired.
  • In recent years, scholars have questioned some of Jerome's work and his fluency of the Hebrew language. Nonetheless, the Vulgate is still an important translation.

Attack and Escape

  • Included among his writings was a treatise against his friend, Rufinus, and Origen of Jerusalem. He also wrote against the heresy known as Palagianism.
  • The Pelagians were so incensed by his critiques that, at one point, they stormed the monastic buildings and set them on fire, killing a deacon.
  • Jerome was able to escape, and found refuge in a neighboring fortress.
  • Other scholars claim this attack was the work of Bedouin Arabs. In either case, Jerome's community survived.

Death and Legacy

  • Jerome is believed to have died of natural causes around 420.
  • His feast day is September 30th, the date of his death.
  • Two hundred years later, his bones were sent to Rome, but their exact location is unknown.
    • Apparently, his hand is enshrined in a church in Rome.
    • Another cathedral claims to be in possession of his head.
  • Because Jerome was one of the most prolific writers of the early church, he has been designated as the patron saint of librarians and translators.

Bible Characters