His true name was Eusebius Hieronymus Sophronius, but we can all be grateful that he was simply known as Jerome. He spent three decades translating the scriptures into Latin from the Greek and Hebrew texts. He was an intense ascetic and part-time hermit, known for a nasty disposition, who developed a dogged determination to produce an accurate and complete copy of the scriptures that could be read by the common Latin speaking peoples, hence "vulgate," or "vulgar," the dialect of the common folk.
He was born in what is modern day Slovenia, a country bordering the northeastern part of Italy and the Adriatic Sea. He was born around 347 A.D. to parents that were wealthy Christians. As a youthful student he went to Rome where he learned to speak Latin, not his native tongue, and pursued studies in rhetoric and philosophy. He was baptized in Rome as a teenager.
After several years in Rome, he set out to travel. He embarked on a journey with friends that took him first to Gaul where he stayed for a time in Trier, taking up theological studies and engaging in some copying work. He then traveled to Aquileia in northern Italy where he was drawn to, and joined, a group of ascetics for a short time.
His translation of the Holy Scriptures served the church for a thousand years
He then set out with a group of friends across Asia Minor and settled in Antioch, northern Syria. While there, two of his companions got sick and died. Jerome also contracted a serious illness, more than once, but survived. He studied Greek and theology under Apollinarius of Laodicea who was teaching there and had not yet been accused of heresy. Apollinarius would later be condemned as a heretic for teaching Christ had only human flesh, not a human mind or will.
It was possibly during one of his bouts of illness that Jerome had his life-changing vision. In a vivid dream he was hauled up before the court of Heaven, where he was found guilty of preferring classic pagan literature to Christian. His judge declared, "You are a follower of Cicero, not of Christ."
He was shaken by the vision to the point of quitting all studies of pagan literature. He withdrew to Chalcis in the Syrian desert which was a rugged region known as a retreat for hermits. While there he learned Hebrew from a Jewish-Christian convert and spent his time in penitent prayer, fasting, and copying manuscripts. He apparently was partly motivated to give up the life of a hermit after other hermits began to suspect he was a secret heretic. It was said he had expressed views on the trinity, unable to reconcile the monotheistic oneness of God, with the teaching of the triune godhead. After a few years (in 378 or 379) he returned to Antioch where he was ordained by the bishop Paulinus. He was somewhat reluctant to accept ordination, not wishing to become occupied with the routine duties of a priest. His desire was, instead, to pursue his study of scripture.
After a short stay in Antioch, he traveled to Constantinople where he stayed for a couple of years, meeting and studying under well-known theologians. He was gaining recognition as a scholar and monk. He was called to Rome to serve as secretary to Pope Damasus I (papacy from 366-384). The pope gave him the task of compiling a complete and linguistically consistent version of the Bible in Latin. In those days, the "Vetus Latina" was the name given to an incomplete collection of Latin manuscripts pieced together from both the old and new testaments.
Translations were made by various scribes, and mostly taken from the Greek Septuagint version of the Hebrew scriptures. There were inconsistencies in phraseology between different translators, and as Jerome studied these collections, comparing them to original Greek and Hebrew texts, he realized what a daunting task he had been given. He wrote a letter to the pope expressing both, his agreement for the need, and his dread and apprehension concerning the enormity of the undertaking.
"You urge me to revise the old Latin version, and, as it were, to sit in judgment on the copies of the Scriptures which are now scattered throughout the whole world; and, inasmuch as they differ from one another, you would have me decide which of them agree with the Greek original. The labour is one of love, but at the same time both perilous and presumptuous; for in judging others, I must be content to be judged by all; and how can I dare to change the language of the world in its hoary old age, and carry it back to the early days of its infancy? Is there a man, learned or unlearned, who will not, when he takes the volume into his hands, and perceives that what he reads does not suit his settled tastes, break out immediately into violent language, and call me a forger and a profane person for having the audacity to add anything to the ancient books, or to make any changes or corrections therein? Now there are two consoling reflections which enable me to bear the odium - in the first place, the command is given by you who are the supreme bishop; and secondly, even on the showing of those who revile us, readings at variance with the early copies cannot be right."
Jerome was expressing the angst of the translator, common to all translators. After Damasus died (384), Jerome left Rome, spending some time in Antioch and Alexandria, before settling in Bethlehem, taking up the monastic life again. He threw himself back into his studies and translating work. Jerome dedicated his life to the holy scriptures. He was collecting and translating manuscripts, compiling a substantial personal library, studying commentaries, and developed close ties with some Jewish scholars with whom he toured the holy land.
It was perhaps the influence of these Jewish scholars that prompted Jerome to alter the texts he was translating in some important ways. Or perhaps the Hebrew texts he was using had already been altered. The alterations involved the removal of the name of God, changing the Tetragrammaton from YHVH, Yahweh, to the Latin 'Dominus', a mere title, translated as, "LORD". The same term was also used to refer to aristocrats such as the lord of a territory. Jerome changed the name at least 6,519 times from the original texts. This purging of God's name from scripture was already an established practice of Jewish scribes under Rabbinical direction (see - purging God's name from scripture).
Later translators often used Jerome's Latin Vulgate as the authoritative foundation from which they would base their own work, and so such errors were amplified through the echo chamber of time, and the name of God fell completely out of use. He also changed the name of the Messiah 1,281 times. In Hebrew, the Messiah's name is Yehoshua (Joshua), in Aramaic (the lingua franca of Israel in the days of the Messiah), it was pronounced Yeshua, Jerome's Latin changed it to Lesu, which was transliterated into English as Jesus.
He wrote extensively, especially commentaries on the moral Christian life. He was convinced that it was only through the divinely inspired word of God that men could find the path by which they could realize a consummate relationship with the Almighty. That's how important the scriptures are to the salvation of mankind.
He completed his Vulgate while in Bethlehem. He had already done a great deal of the work, correcting manuscripts of the Vetus Latina, but by 390 he set out translating the Old Testament from the original Hebrew manuscripts, essentially setting aside the work he had already done translating segments from the Greek Septuagint. He completed his work by 405. His decision to base his Latin translation on the Hebrew rather than the Septuagint broke with what had become the standard. Some scholars, including Augustine, thought it an ill-advised decision, at least partly because Augustine believed the Septuagint was divinely inspired. Jerome would spend the rest of his life writing extensively, commentaries on scripture and justifying his choices in using the original Hebrew texts. He died and was buried in Bethlehem in 420, but his remains were later transferred to Rome. He is recognized as a Saint and a Doctor of the Church by:
The Roman Catholic church
The Eastern Orthodox church
The Lutheran church
The Anglican Communion
Pope Damasus I
Christian scholar, linguist, translator, author
For many years the Vetus Latina continued in popular use, alongside Jerome's Vulgate. Gradually though, the older Latin version fell out of use, and the more popular Vulgate reigned supreme as the official Bible of the church. Being the linguist he was, it is unlikely that Jerome would have approved of forcing his Latin translation of the Holy Scriptures on non-Latin speaking peoples. To present his Vulgate as the only approved Bible in the only approved language would have struck a linguist such as Jerome, as absurd.
Such policies and practices of the church would have made the Latin Bible into an obstacle, a stumbling block, for the faithful non-Latin speaking peoples of the world. This linguistic stumbling block would only have become more and more obvious as the Torah and Gospel messages were being spread further and further to distant lands. How can God be revealed to a potential convert through a foreign language?
To quote another translator who would follow after Jerome, an Englishman named John Wycliffe, "Englishmen learn Christ's law best in English. Moses heard God's law in his own tongue; so did Christ's apostles." Naturally, the upstart Wycliffe was declared a heretic by the church. Jerome would have condemned the mother church for her later evils of burning men at the stake for undertaking translation works, converting his Latin Vulgate into popular, common vernacular for the benefit of the common peoples of the nations.
see also - the Books of Maccabees
Know your faith - grow your faith
see also - Erasmus of Rotterdam
see also - King James authorizes a new Bible
a brief look into the life and times of the man who single-handedly produced the Latin Vulgate version of the Holy Scriptures. A version which would reign supreme for a thousand years.