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Prolegomena to Jerome.


St. Jerome’s importance lies in the facts: (1) That he was the author of the Vulgate Translation of the Bible into Latin, (2) That he bore the chief part in introducing the ascetic life into Western Europe, (3) That his writings more than those of any of the Fathers bring before us the general as well as the ecclesiastical life of his time. It was a time of special interest, the last age of the old Greco-Roman civilization, the beginning of an altered world. It included the reigns of Julian (361–63), Valens (364–78), Valentinian (364–75), Gratian (375–83), Theodosius (379–95) and his sons, the definitive establishment of orthodox Christianity in the Empire, and the sack of Rome by Alaric (410). It was the age of the great Fathers, of Ambrose and Augustine in the West, of Basil, the Gregories, and Chrysostom in the East. With several of these Jerome was brought into personal contact; of Ambrose he often speaks in his writings (Apol. i. 2, iii. 14, in this series Vol. iii., pp. 484 and 526; also this Vol., pp. 74 and 496, Pref. to Origen and S. Luke; and the Pref. to Didymus on the Holy Spirit, quoted in Rufinus’ Apology, ii. 24, 43, Vol. iii. of this series, pp. 470 and 480; also On Illust. Men, c. 124, Vol. iii. 383; see also Index—Ambrose); with Augustin he carried on an important correspondence (see Table of Contents); he studied under Gregory Nazianzen (80, 93; see also Illust. Men, c. 117, Vol. iii. 382) at the time of the Council at Constantinople, 381; he was acquainted with Gregory of Nyssa (Illust. Men, c. 128, Vol. iii. 338); he translated the diatribe of Theophilus of Alexandria against Chrysostom (214, 215). He ranks as one of the four Doctors of the Latin Church, and his influence was the most lasting; for, though he was not a great original thinker like Augustin, nor a champion like Ambrose, nor an organiser and spreader of Christianity like Gregory, his influence outlasted theirs. Their influence in the Middle Ages was confined to a comparatively small circle; but the monastic institutions which he introduced, the value for relics and sacred places which he defended, the deference which he showed for Episcopal authority, especially that of the Roman Pontiff, were the chief features of the Christian system for a thousand years; his Vulgate was the Bible of Western Christendom till the Reformation. To the theologian he is interesting rather for what he records than for any contribution of his own to the science; but to the historian his vivid descriptions of persons and things at an important though melancholy epoch of the world are of inestimable value.

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