Jerom

, or Hieronymus, a very celebrated father of the church, was born of Christian parents at Stridon, a town situated upon the confines of Pannoniaand Dalmatia, in the year 331. His father Eusebius, who was a man of rank and substance, took the greatest care of his education; and, after grounding him well in the language of his own country, sent him to Rome, where he was placed under the best masters in every branch of literature. Donatus, well known for his “Commentaries upon Virgil anfl Terence,” was his master in grammar, as Jerom himself tells us: and under this master he made a prodigious progress in every thing relating to the belles lettres. He had also masters in rhetoric, Hebrew, and in divinity, who conducted him through all parts of learning, sacred and profane; through history, antiquity, the knowledge of languages, and of the discipline and doctrines of the various sects in philosophy; so that he might say of himself, as he afterwards did, with some reason, “Ego philosophus, rhetor, grammaticus, dialecticus, Hebraeus, Groecus, Latinus, &c.” He was particularly careful to accomplish himself in rhetoric, or the art of speaking, because, as Erasmus says in the life which he prefixed to his works, he had observed, that the generality of Christians were despised as a rude illiterate set of people; on which account he thought, that the unconverted part of the world would sooner be drawn over to Christianity, if it were but set off and enforced in a manner suitable to the dignity and majesty of it. But though he was so conversant with profane learning in his youth, he renounced it entirely afterwards, and did all he could to make others renounce it also; for he relates a vision, which he pretended was given to him, “in which he was dragged to the tribunal of Christ, and terribly threatened, and even scourged, for the grievous sin of reading secular and profane writers, Cicero, Virgil, and Horace, whom for that reason he resolved never to take into his hands any more.

When he had finished his education at Rome, and reaped all the fruits which books and good masters could afford, | he resolved, for his further improvement, to travel. After being baptized therefore at Rome, when an adult, he went into France with Bonosus, a fellow-student, and remained a considerable time in every city through which he passed, that he might have opportunity and leisure to examine the public libraries, and to visit the men of letters, with which that country then abounded. He staid so long at Treveris, that he transcribed with his own hand a large volume of Hilary’s concerning Synods, which some time after he ordered to be sent to him in the deserts of Syria. From hence he went to Aquileia, where he became first acquainted with Ruffinus, who was a presbyter in that town, and with whom he contracted an intimate friendship. When he had travelled as long as he thought expedient, and seen every thing that was curious and worth his notice, he returned to Rome; where he began to deliberate with himself, what course of life he should take. Study and retirement were what he most desired, and he had collected an excellent library of books but Rome, he thought, would not be a proper place to reside in it was not only too noisy and tumultuous for him, but as yet had too much of the old leaven of Paganism in it. He had objections likewise against his own country, Dalmatia, whose inhabitants he represents, in one of his epistles, as entirely sunk in sensuality and luxury, regardless of every thing that was good and praise-worthy, and gradually approaching to a state of barbarism. After a consultation therefore with his friends, he determined to retire into some very remote region; and therefore leaving his country, parents, substance, and taking nothing with him but his books, and^ money sufficient for his journey, he set off from Italy for the eastern parts of the world. Having passed through Dalmatia, Thrace, and some provinces of Asia Minor, his first care was to pay a visit to Jerusalem, which was then considered as a necessary act of religion. From Jerusalem he went to Antioch, where he fell into a dangerous fit of illness; but having the good fortune to recover from it, he left Antioch, and set forward in quest of some more retired habitation; and after rambling over several cities and countries, with all which he was dissatisfied on account of the customs and manners of the people, he settled at last in a most frightful desert of Syria, which was scarcely inhabited by any thing but wild beasts. This however was no objection to Jerom it was rather a recommendation of the place to him for, | says Erasmus, “he thought it better to cohabit with wild beasts and wild men, than with such sort of Christians as were usually found in threat cities men half Pagan, half Christian Christians in nothing more than in name.

He was in his 31st year, when he entered upon this monastic course of life; and he carried it, by his own practice, to that height of perfection, which he ever after enforced upon others so zealously by precept. He divided all his time between devotion and study: he exercised himself much in watchings and fastings; slept little, ate less, and hardly allowed himself any recreation. He applied himself very severely to the study of the Holy Scriptures, which he is said to have gotten by heart, as well as to the study of the Oriental languages, which he considered as the only keys that could let him into their true sense and meaning, and which he learned from a Jew Who visited him privately lest he should offend his brethren. After he had spent four years in this laborious way of life, his health grew so impaired, that he was obliged to return to Antioch: where the church at that time was divided by factions, Meletius, Paulinus, and Vitalis all claiming a right to the bishopric of that place. Jerom being a son of the church of Rome, where he was baptized, would not espouse any party, till he knew the sense of his own church upon this contested right. Accordingly, he wrote to Damasus, then bishop of Rome, to know whom he must consider as the lawful bishop of Antioch; and upon Damasus’s naming Paulinus, Jerom acknowledged him as such, and was ordained a presbyter by him in 378, but would never proceed any farther in ecclesiastical dignity. From this time his reputation for piety and learning began to spread abroad, and be known in the world. He went soon after to Constantinople, where he spent a considerable time with Gregory Nazianzen; whom he did not disdain to call his master, and owned, that of him "he learned the right method of expounding the Holy Scriptures. Afterwards, in the year 382, he went to Rome with Paulinus, bishop of Antioch, and Epiphanius, bishop of Salamis in the isle of Cyprus; where tie soon became known to Damasus, and was made his secretary. He acquitted himself in this post very well, and yet found time to compose several works. Upon the death of Damasus, which happened in the year 385, he began to entertain thoughts of travelling again to the East; to which he was | moved chiefly by the disturbances and vexations he met with from the followers of Origen, at Rome. For these, when they had in vain endeavoured, says Cave, to draw him over to their party, raised infamous reports and calumnies against him. They charged him, among other things, with a criminal passion for one Paula, an eminent matron, in whose house he had lodged during his residence at Rome, and who was as illustrious for her piety as for the splendor of her birth, and the dignity of her rank. For these and other reasons he was determined to quit Rome, and accordingly embarked for the East in August in the year 385, attended by a great number of monks and ladies, whom he had persuaded to embrace the ascetic way of life. He sailed to Cyprus, where he paid a visit to Epiphanius; and arrived afterwards at Antioch, where he was kindly received by his friend Paulinus. From Antioch he went to Jerusalem; and the year following from Jerusalem into Egypt. Here he visited several monasteries: but rinding to his great grief the monks every where infatuated with the errors of Origen, he returned to Bethlehem, a town near Jerusalem, that he might be at liberty to cherish and propagate his own opinions, without any disturbance or interruption from abroad. This whole peregrination is particularly related by himself, in one of his pieces against RufRnus; and is very characteristic, and shews much of his spirit and manner of writing.

He had now fixed upon Bethlehem, as the properest place of abode for him, and best accommodated to that course of life which he intended to pursue; and was no sooner arrived here, than he met with Paula, and other ladies of quality, who had followed him from Rome, with the same view of devoting themselves to a monastic life. His fame for learning and piety was indeed so very extensive, that numbers of both sexts rlocked from all parts and distances, to be trained up under him, and to form their manner of living according to his instructions. This moved the pious Paula to found four monasteries; three for the use of females, over which she herself presided, and one for males, which was committed to Jerom. Here he enjoyed all that repose which he had long desired; and he laboured abundantly, as well for the souls committed to his care, as in composing great and useful works. He had enjoyed this repose probably to the end of his life, if Origemsm had not prevailed so mightily in those parts: but, | as Jerom had an abhorrence for every thing that looked like heresy, it was impossible for him to continue passive, while these asps, as he calls them, were insinuating their deadly poison into all who had the misfortune to fall in their way. This engaged him in violent controversies with John bishop of Jerusalem, and Ruffinus of Aquileia, which lasted many years. Ruffinus and Jerom had of old been intimate friends; but Ruffinus having of late years settled in the neighbourhood of Jerusalem, and espoused the part of the Origenists, the enmity between them was on that account the more bitter, and is a reproach to both their memories. Jerom had also several other controversies, particularly with Jovinian, an Italian monk, whom he mentions in his works with the utmost intemperance of language, without exactly informing us what his errors were. In the year 410, when Rome was besieged by the Goths, many fled from thence to Jerusalem and the Holy Land, and were kindly received by Jerom into his monastery. He died in 422, in the ninety-first year of his age; and is said to have preserved his vivacity and vigour to the last.

Erasmus, who wrote his life, and gave the first edition of his works in 1526, says, that he was “undoubtedly the greatest scholar, the greatest orator, and the greatest divine that Christianity had then produced.” But Cave, who never yet was charged with want of justice to the fathers, says, that Jeromwas, with Erasmus’s leave, a hot and furious man, who had no command at all over his passions. When he was once provoked, he treated his adversaries in the roughest manner, and did not even abstain from invective and satire witness what he has written against Ruffinus, who was formerly his friend against John, bishop of Jerusalem, Jovinian, Vigilantius, and others. Upon the slightest provocation, he grew excessively abusive, and threw out all the ill language he could rake together, without the least regard to the situation, rank, learning, and other circumstances, of the persons he had to do with. And what wonder,” says Cave, “when it is common with him to treat even St. Paul himself in very harsh and insolent terms charging him, as he does, with solecisms in language, false expressions, and a vulgar use of words?” We do not quote this with any view of detracting from the real merit of Jerom, but only to note the partiality of Erasmus, in defending, as he does very strenuously, this most exceptionable part of his character, his want of | candour and spirit of persecution; to which Erasmus himself was so averse, that hr lias ever been highly praised by protestants, and as highly dispraised by papists, for placing all his glory in moderation.

Jerom was as exceptionable in many parts of his literary character, as he was in his moral, whatever Erasmus or his panegyrists may have said to the contrary instead of an orator, he was rather a declaimer and, though he undertook to translate so many things out of Greek and Hebrew, he was not accurately skilled in either of those languages; and did not reason clearly, consistently, and precisely, upon any subject. This has been shewn in part already by Le Clerc, in a book entitled “Quaestiones Hieronymianae,” printed at Amsterdam in 1700, by way of critique upon the Benedictine edition of his works. In the mean time we are ready to acknowledge, that the writings of Jerom are useful, and deserve to be read by all who have any regard for sacred antiquity. They have many uses in common with other writings of ecclesiastical authors, and many peculiar to themselves. The writings of Jerom teach us the doctrines, the rites, the manners, and the learning of the age in which he lived; and these also we learn from the writings of other fathers. But the peculiar use of JeronVs works is, 1. Their exhibiting to us more fragments of the ancient Greek translators of the Bible, than the works of any other father 2. Their informing us of the opinions which the Jews of that age had of the signification of many Hebrew words, and of the sense and meaning they put upon many passages in the Old Testament; and, 3. Their conveying to us the opinion of Jerom himself; who, though he must always be read with caution, on account of his declamatory and hyperbolical style, and the liberties he allowed himself of feigning and prevaricating upon certain occasions, will perhaps, upon the whole, be found to have had more judgment as well as more learning than any father who went before him.

The principal of his works, which are enumerated by Cave and Dupin, are, a new Latin version of the whole “Old Testament,” from the Hebrew, accompanied with a corrected edition of the ancient version of the “New Testament,” which, after having been at first much opposed, was adopted by the Catholic church, and is commonly distinguished by the appellation of “Vulgate;” “Commentaries” on most of the books of the Old and | New Testament “A Treatise on the Lives and Writings of Ecclesiastical Authors” “A continuation of the Chronicle of Eusebius” moral, critical, historical, and miscellaneous “Letters.” The first printed edition of his works was that at Basil, under the care of Erasmus, 1516 1526, in six vols. folio, of which there have been several subsequent impressions at Lyons, Rome, Paris, and Antwerp. The most correct edition is that of Paris, by father Martianay, a Benedictine monk of the congregation of St. Maur, and Anthony Pouget, 1693 1706, in 5 vols. folio. There is, however, a more recent edition, with notes by Vallarsius, printed at Verona in 1734 -42, in eleven volumes, folio. The eleventh contains the life of Jerom, certain pieces attributed to him on doubtful authority, and an Index. Of his “Letters, or Epistles,” there are many editions executed about the infancy of printing, which are of great beauty, rarity, and value. 1

1

Life by Erasmus. Dupin. Care. Lardiier’s Works. Mosbeim and Milnet’s Church Hist. —Saxii Onomast.