chapter fourteen

The Fourth Century: 350-400 The Arian Threat in the West: The Vulgate influence of Saint Jerome

    In this installment we cover the same time period as last issue, focusing this time on the Arian threat in the west as we study the saintly teachers in the west in these next two chapters: Saint Jerome, St. Ambrose and St. Augustine who all mirrored the efforts of their counterparts Saint Anastasius, Saint Basil, Saint Gregory and Saint John Chrysostom in the east where the Arian heresy had taken root because of Constantine's inability to discern this cancer and the fact the Greek culture fostered an argumentative mind that loved challenges and questioning theology and philosophy. Thus the Mystery of the Holy Trinity was challenged by the influential Arius of Alexandria who had been trained in Antioch and there quickly arose a plethora of heretic disciples who openly opposed the concept of Three Persons in One God. This, in essence, attacked Catholicism at its root - the Divinity of Jesus Christ.

    The defenders of the Church, the champions of the faith in the west were holy and learned men who came to the protection of the dogmas and doctrines of the one, holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church through different ways in a period called the Century of the Great Church Fathers. Out of evil God allows good. Thus was the case in the second part of the Fourth Century when three special saints would right the Church in the west and strengthen the Holy See's Authority in Rome. These holy men, these Doctors of the Church were, in chronological order, St. Jerome (born in 340), St. Ambrose (born in 330) and St. Augustine (born in 354). In this chapter we shall study the influence of St. Jerome.

    Born of wealthy parents in Dalmatia, which is today the former Yugoslavia, Jerome was given the opportunity to study at the great universities. He chose Rome, studying the languages. Through his intellectual curiosity towards literature, Christian writings and Scripture, he came to realize the Truth and was baptized in 360 by Pope Saint Liberius himself. Jerome, yearning for more, gave up the pagan culture and the social trappings and sought the life of a hermit for four years where he studied Hebrew which he later called "the language of hissing and broken-winded words." At the conclusion of this seclusion, he became a priest around 379 and journeyed to Constantinople where he studied Scripture with Saint Gregory Nazianus as his tutor. When Gregory retired as Bishop of Constantinople and left for Asia Minor, Jerome was drawn to Rome where, accompanied by Bishop Paulinus, he was introduced to Pope Saint Damasus I. So taken was the pontiff that he appointed Jerome as his secretary and commissioned him to undertake his greatest contribution: translating the Greek and Hebrew texts of Sacred Scripture into Latin. At that time the language of the common people of the empire in the west was Latin, yet most of the writings had been in Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic and thus understandable only to the learned. Urged on by Pope Damasus, Jerome accepted the tremendous task of translating the entire bible into Latin to which we are all grateful for the Latin Vulgate Edition of St. Jerome. It took great skill and discernment to express the meaning of the Word of God in Latin and to know which words to choose. Jerome was given another gift, that of being able to express the Word in the simplest and most meaningful way and honing in even more on the true essence of all that was written by the prophets and evangelists. Within a short time the people were able to read and understand the "Good News" of the New Testament. This played a major role in the people rejecting the heresy of Arianism in the West for they could now read first hand the truth. While he was working on this massive project, Jerome had also become spiritual director to three holy women who had come from nobility but wanted more than the world offered. Many believe these ladies - Marcella, Paula and Eustochia were the first religious nuns. Because of her wealth and strong faith, Paula built a monastery in Bethlehem for the women to live and when Damasus died in 384 Jerome graciously declined Pope Saint Siricus' offer to stay on as secretary, opting instead to become full time spiritual director at the Bethlehem monastery where he could also devote more time to translating the greater part of the Old Testament from Hebrew to Latin. For nine years from 393 to 404 many Arian clergymen sought to discredit him and cast scandal on Jerome, the sisters, and the Church but Jerome, through his faithfulness and the grace of God, withstood these attacks and staunchly defended the orthodox doctrine of his faith.

    He had intended to return to Rome at the urging of Pope Saint Innocent I who was elected the 40th successor to Peter on December 22, 401 but in 404 two events occurred. First, Sister Paula died, saddening Jerome and, after much prayer, decided to stay on at the monastery; and secondly, he received the terrible news that Rome was being sacked by the Goth Alaric and he prayed intensely for the Holy Father's safety and all of the Roman people, some of whom, in 410, had sought shelter at the monastery when the Saracens invaded Palestine. Jerome interrupted his work on Ezekiel to take the Roman refugees in, taking the opportunity to teach them all he knew during the decade they were together for in 420 he died near the age of 90 and was buried in the monastery which had now also become a hospice for many and would soon be the site for the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.

    It's interesting to note that during this period in history when Jerome translated the bible into Latin, Ufila, the Bishop of the Western Goths, was doing the same. Translating the Latin into Gothic.

    In the next installment we will treat the contributions and influence of Saint Ambrose.