Milpitas Christian Church

St. Jerome (347-420)

Latin Father, Doctor of the Church, Bible Translator

I frankly confess that I get carried away with indignation. I cannot listen to such sacrilege with patience.

The Gist

  • Made a new translation of the Bible into Latin that became THE Latin Bible for many centuries and still influences the Church greatly. It’s called the Vulgate Bible.

Early Studies and Travel

  • Born to a wealthy family in a northeastern corner of Italy or just over in modern-day Slovenia

  • Educated in Rome in grammar, rhetoric, and philosophy Especially loved the classic literature of the Latin pagans

  • Baptized around AD 366, probably by Bishop Liberius of Rome

  • Spent about 20 years traveling the empire, including Antioch and Palestine

  • Agonized greatly over two issues:

    • Sex: lustful thoughts plagued him so much that he tried to adopt an extremely ascetic life, even becoming a hermit for a while. But this did not purify his imagination.

      • In order to get his mind away from lustful fantasies, he decided to study Hebrew, a strange and difficult language for most Gentiles
    • His love of pagan literature: he was afraid that it was sinful to admire pagans so much

      • He was terrified by a dream in which, on the Day of Judgment, he was asked, “Who are you?” He replied, “A Christian.” But the judge declared: “You lie, you are a Ciceronian!” (Cicero was one of the great Roman philosophers)

      • This drove him to a deeper study of Scripture, although he never truly stopped reading the classical pagan authors

  • Learned Hebrew (from a Jewish man) and more Greek during a 2-year stint as a hermit on the Greek island of Chalcis. Copied and translated various texts.

  • However, theological controversies surrounding the Trinity and the natures of Christ finally reached even the island of Chalcis. During the arguments, Jerome was accused of heretical views. His defense was to say that proof of orthodoxy was to be in agreement with the Bishop of Rome. He wrote a letter to Bishop Damasus I of Rome, but the bishop did not respond.

  • During this time, he began to write both treatises and letters so much that he gained some fame as a scholar, even though he was still relatively young

  • Jerome moved to Antioch

    • Was persuaded to join the party of Bishop Paulinus of Antioch, who was arguing with Basil of Caesarea over some Trinitarian theology
  • Bishop Paulinus ordained Jerome as a priest, sensing that Jerome’s scholarship would be useful to the church. Jerome was reluctant, but accepted on 2 conditions:

    1. that his desire to be a monk or act like a monk would not be opposed

    2. he wouldn’t be forced to do a priest’s work

  • He continued traveling for scholarly reasons, even visiting a group of Jewish Christians who had an ancient Hebrew copy of the Gospel of Matthew that they claimed was the original manuscript

  • He was in Constantinople during the Council of Constantinople (381), though it doesn’t seem he participated in it

    • He met and became an admirer of the two other Cappadocian fathers, Gregory of Nazianzus and Gregory of Nyssa, and of other Greek theologians

    • His expertise in Greek advanced, and he practiced by translating various works of Origen and Eusebius into Latin

Secretary to the Roman Pope

  • 382 - returned to Rome and was hired as secretary to Bishop Damasus I

    • Bishop Damasus encouraged Jerome in scholarship and translation and suggested that he make a new translation of the whole Bible into Latin

    • Jerome began revising the old Latin version of the Gospels according to the best Greek manuscripts available

  • He began teaching Greek and Hebrew to a group of noble Roman women, all either widows or young women committed to remaining virgins. These women were all well-educated and interested in theology, languages, and monasticism

    • They became his closest friends, the only ones he could freely discuss his ideas with and even be vulnerable with

    • The leader of these women was Albina, but there was also a sister of Ambrose of Milan named Marcellina and a scholar named Paula

  • However, Jerome was terrible at making any other kinds of friends. He frequently wrote on topics of controversy and morality with a very sharp tongue, and nobody was safe from his attacks and insults

    • His frequent targets were priests and monks who were lazy or immoral, hypocritical virgins, or basically anyone who disagreed with him in public
  • His revisions of the Gospels in Latin received lots of criticism from people who didn’t like to see their favorite memorized passages in different wording

  • 384, December – Bishop Damasus I died. Since he was Jerome’s primary defender, the criticism of Jerome increased so much that he decided to leave Italy altogether

Scholarly Retirement in Bethlehem

  • Jerome traveled east and made a pilgrimage through Egypt and Palestine, visiting various religious and archaeological sites and meeting with various famed monks

    • He was accompanied by some of his female friends, who were led by Paula

  • 386 - they settled in Bethlehem

    • Since Jerome and Paula were both wealthy, they founded two monastic houses, one for men and one for women

    • Their monastic rule was moderate – Jerome had learned the negative effects of a harsh ascetic lifestyle the hard way – and focused on learning and scholarship

  • It’s here that he completed, after many years, the_Vulgate_Bible, the first Latin translation to use Hebrew texts for the Old Testament rather than the Greek Septuagint

  • The release of the_Vulgate_caused a storm of controversy. Many people had come to think that the Septuagint itself–though a Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures–was uniquely inspired by God and could not be challenged. They accused Jerome of being arrogant, ignorant, and even blasphemous for daring to change it

    • Even Augustine of Hippo wrote to Jerome asking him to stop his work, as it was scandalizing pious believers and causing too many arguments

    • Augustine was not as famous yet as he would be later, and so at first, Jerome ignored his letters! When Jerome did respond, he treated Augustine as a young man who was just challenging a more worthy scholar in order to get fame.

    • However, later Jerome became much more friendly and respectful towards Augustine. They worked together to combat the Pelagian heresy

Sorrow, Weariness, and Rest

  • Though outwardly prickly and arrogant, Jerome was privately hurt by all the criticism and rejection he suffered from those in the Church. The only people he could share this with were the women who studied with him

  • 404 - Paula died, leaving Jerome lonely and grieving

  • 410 - the city of Rome is sacked for the first time in 800 years, by the Goths under Alaric

    Who could have believed that Rome, built by the conquest of the world, would fall? That the mother of many nations has turned to her grave? … My eyes are dim by my advanced age…and with the light that I have at night, I can no longer read Hebrew books, which are difficult even during the day for the smallness of their letters.

    Letter from Jerome to Paula’s daughter

  • ~419/420 - Jerome dies

Major Works

The Vulgate Bible

  • First Latin translation that used the Hebrew texts for the OT rather than the Septuagint (a Greek translation of the Hebrew). Also revised the new Testament

  • Jerome’s translation of the Psalms into Latin poetry is especially praised

  • Made great use of Origen’s Hexapla

  • By the 6th century, it had become the standard Latin Bible

  • It was revised over the centuries but is still primarily Jerome’s

Concerning Illustrious Men (De virus illustribus)

  • A list of famous Christians

  • Written to show that Christians have a culture to be proud of, not only the pagans

Adversus Jovinianum

  • Argued that virginity was superior to marriage

  • A very harsh, polemical, and even crude style here. Jerome took this issue personally due to his own struggles with lust

  • Influenced by Tertullian, who also tended to disparage marriage in favor of celibacy

Dialogi contra Pelagianos

  • Argues against the Pelagian heresy using dialogue in the mode of classical pagan literature

Book of Places, Book of Interpretation of Hebrew Names

  1. A translation/adaptation of a work by Eusebius on Palestinian place-names

  2. A list of Hebrew names and fanciful etymologies for them


  • The_Vulgate_is still the Latin Bible used by the Roman Catholic Church. For centuries it provided Western Christianity with a standard text for theology, preaching, and debate. In fact, in 1546, the Roman Catholic Council of Trent made the_Vulgate_the only Latin authority for the Bible

  • Jerome is famous for his brilliant scholarship and hard work, in both the Biblical texts and classical pagan authors. But he was more of an academic than an original thinker, a better editor, and translator than exegete or preacher. He wrote many commentaries, but they are often compilations of previous authors more than his own ideas

    • His work varies in quality. Some of it is brilliant, insightful, and tremendously useful. Some of it is apparently quite bad or mediocre. Generally, he seems to be better with the Old Testament than the New
  • His personality was generally dour, bitter, and polemical, and traditional art often reflects that.

  • Spread Greek thought into the West

  • He respected Jewish scholarship, culture, and history more than most of his contemporaries and predecessors and brought in a lot of Jewish scholarship to his work. This is what caused him to argue that only the original Hebrew texts of the Old Testament are divinely inspired and not the Septuagint

  • Regarding the Apocrypha, he used them frequently but did not seem to consider them to inspire Scripture on the same level as what we call the canon

  • He argued for numerous ideas which are not very biblical or accepted by Protestants but which are very important to Roman Catholics, such as:

    • The perpetual virginity of Mary, mother of Jesus

    • The primacy of the Roman bishop


  • González, Justo L. The Story of Christianity: Vol. 1: The Early Church to the Dawn of the Reformation. New York: HarperOne, 2010.
  • St Jerome
  • Cathen