#5 Jerome: 50 Figures in Church History that You Need to Know

By Ricky Njoto

This article will focus on another giant in church history called Jerome (ca. 345–420 AD). He is considered a giant not only because his life coincided with other important names and events, but also because his works became important for thousands of years.

  1. Jerome was born in Stridon (probably in modern day Croatia) in about 345–347 AD. His full name was Eusebius Hieronymus Sophronius, but thankfully we only know him as Jerome! Christianity was already legalised in the Roman Empire by this time.
  2. Jerome wasn’t a Christian. So, when he moved to Rome to study there, he was experimenting with sexuality. He studied Latin and some Greek. During this time, he was converted to Christianity.
Trier, Germany, in modern times.
  1. After this, he moved to Trier, Germany, and probably took some theological studies and made many Christian friends.
  2. Around 373 AD., Jerome moved to Syria and settled in Antioch. During this time, he had a vision. In the vision he was standing in a court room and was judged “Ciceronianus es, non Christianus,” (You are a follower of Cicero, not of Christ). This vision caused him to abandon his secular studies for full devotion into ministry.
  3. And so, Jerome abandoned the study of the classics and moved to biblical studies under Apollinaris of Laodicea. Apollinaris was another important figure, who later would be involved in another controversy that led to the Council of Constantinople in 381 AD. (see sidenote below)
Apollinaris of Laodicea
  1. After that, Jerome went to the desert of Chalcis in Syria. Here, he learnt Hebrew from a converted Jew. He encountered several versions of biblical texts and translated some Hebrew texts into Greek.
  2. Before long, Jerome returned to Antioch, where he was ordained in 378 or 379 AD. Then, he moved to Constantinople and learnt Scriptures again under Gregory of Nazianzen, one of the great doctors (teachers) of the church. After that, he moved back to Rome and became the secretary of Pope Damascus I.
  3. During this time in Rome, Jerome started his most notable work. A few Latin translations of pieces of the Bible already existed, but not standardised. Jerome revised them according to the Greek manuscripts of the New Testament, and revised the Psalms according to the Septuagint (the Greek Old Testament). This would become the beginning of a major project which would take him many years to complete, and the completed work became the Vulgate (meaning: common), a standardised Latin translation of the whole Bible which the Medieval church would use for 1,000 years.
Gregory of Nazianzen
  1. In 385 AD., Jerome left Rome and started a journey of pilgrimage. He went back to Antioch, visited Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and Galilee, and then went to Alexandria, where he heard from Didymus the Blind (another student of Origen of Alexandria) talked about Antony the Great.
  2. Jerome spent the remainder of his life in a cave in Palestine. The time spent in Palestine no doubt strengthened his Hebrew. Here, he translated the Old Testament from Hebrew into Latin to complete the Vulgate. Jerome probably died in 420 AD. The remains of his body were claimed by many places, including by Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome.
The Vulgate

Jerome’s Vulgate was revered for 1,000 years. Ironically, the Medival church did the opposite of Jerome’s intention in translating the Bible. He wanted the Bible to be known by the “common” people (hence the name) who at the time mostly spoke Latin. In the Medieval church, Latin became the sacred language of the church, but not many people spoke it anymore. This began the hundreds of years where people did not know the Bible. The Reformation would change it later.

Make knowledge of the Scripture your love … Live with them, meditate on them, make them the sole object of your knowledge and inquiries.

Jerome

Sidenote:

Remember the Council of Nicaea and its fight against Arianism? Arius believed that the Son was only a created god. Apollinaris was a hardcore supporter of Nicaea against Arianism. But this support led him to the other extreme; he believed that Jesus was fully God, and only with a human-flesh suit, without human nature/mind. Later, he would be involved heavily in another massive controversy. This controversy would lead to another ecumenical council called the Council of Constantinople in 381 AD., which started a theological war that would culminate in the Council of Chalcedon in 451 AD., which produced the important Chalcedonian Creed.


Ricky Njoto is a pastor of Church on the Corner, an English congregation of Camberwell Methodist Church, Melbourne.