The term beauty lies in the eye of the beholder seems to be a universal dictum. This is predicated on the fact that no matter the amount of human efforts you exert to contribute to the society, you cannot be pleased by everyone. More often than not, people criticize our ingenuities not necessarily out of jealousy but also as a result of good will, one many feel that we are simply wasting time and energy. Sometimes, when we find ourselves in such a difficult situation, which could be beneficial for our personality development, we feel discouraged. Worse still, some people have refused to develop their God-given talents for fear of critiques.
Jerome became an outstanding figure for the church in the fourth century because of one interesting quality. He was fit as fiddle to withstand certain challenges of critiques against those achievements that did not just enable him to epitomize the history of his times but also offered the church necessary proofs for his canonization.
The very first critique of Jerome’s unflinching effort, which seems to be most devastating to him erupted when he decided to start fresh from the Hebrew original bible (not the Septuagint i.e. Greek OT translation) and produce and entirely new translation of the Bible. This was a courageous undertaking that shocked the sensibilities of the faithful and he was roundly denounced throughout the Christian world. Even Augustine, the great African theologian and, later, like Jerome, a doctor of the church, found the new translation uncalled for. Like so many of his contemporaries, Augustine thought that the authority of the Old Latin version should not be challenged since it was based on the Greek Septuagint, which was generally considered a divinely inspired translation. Moreover, it was consecrated by such long usage in the life and prayer of the church that Augustine felt that any attempt to change it would seriously disturb the faithful.
Funningly enough, Jerome was quite irritated by what he thought was the younger man’s brashness, and accused him of trying to make a reputation for himself by challenging a well-known and established figure like himself. However, the two only slowly reached an understanding. Meanwhile, the confusion was caused by mix-ups in the mail, with later letters arriving before earlier ones.
However, Augustine carefully disarm the irascible old Biblicist by masterful diplomacy and tact. He begged the older man’s forgiveness, paid tribute to his unrivaled scriptural expertise, and asked only to be allowed to sit at his feet and learn from him. Jerome was deeply touched and responded with profuse words of affection and esteem for Augustine. And to other critique, Jerome was pained and he described them as “howling dogs who rage savagely against me.” Because he refused to be discouraged, his translation slowly caught on and gradually achieved recognition as the standard, or “vulgate,” Latin text of the Bible. Its influence on the religious imagination and literature of the West was immeasurable.
Another instance of critique against Jerome was that while in the employ of the Pope, Jerome struck up an acquaintance with a number of high born Roman ladies of wealth who were practicing a rudimentary form of what would later be called convert life. Jerome was firmly convinced that asceticism was the most perfect form of Christian life and at the same time, he was deeply feeling the need of female companionship.
Consequent upon this, Jerome was delighted to make friends with these ladies who invited him to become their teacher and spiritual director since they have dedicated themselves to study and prayer with a kind of celibate life. Among these women, Paula and her daughter Eustochium formed an extremely close and lasting friendship with him. In his most eloquent treatise on the ascetic vocation, in order to encourage these women, Jerome repeatedly exalts virginity as the only appropriate state in life for the committed Christian, while sexual intercourse and marriage should be regarded as an inferior choice as well as one of the unhappy consequences introduced by original sin. We shall continue with the critics against this teaching of Jerome by next edition.
St. Jerome pray for us!