Jerome of Stridon (347-419)

Jerome's early life exemplifies what good use a Christian convert could make of his pagan rhetorical training.24 Born in Stridon, on the border of Dalmatia and Pannonia, he was educated in rhetoric at Rome, where he converted to Christianity. He undertook theological studies at Trier. The giant of Latin rhetoric, and the main model for his secular education, was Cicero. For Cicero, eloquence was synonymous with wisdom,25 and the practice of rhetoric for any end was itself a kind of philosophy. How important should such a pagan exemplar be for the new Christian rhetoric? The story of Jerome's dream reveals his dilemma.26 He dreamt that he was brought before a tribunal where a judge (God) asked him his status. He replied that he was a Christian. 'And He who sat upon the judgment seat said: "Thou liest. Thou art a Ciceronian, not a Christian. Where thy treasure is, there is thy heart also" (Matthew 6.21).'

Thereupon Jerome (in his dream) renounced his attachment to Cicero and all pagan literature, swearing an oath: 'O Lord, if ever I possess or read secular writings, I have denied thee.'27 The opposition is an interesting one, indicating just how far from the usual patterns of education and rhetorical practice a Christian had to deviate if he were to be clear of any charge of secularism. After his relations with clergy in Rome soured, he withdrew to Bethlehem in 386. There he became one of the most prolific writers and translators of Christian literature in the West, undertaking a revision of the Old Latin version of the Old Testament, based on the Greek Septuagint, and a second Latin version based directly upon the Hebrew scriptures. In this task he was greatly helped by access to Origen's Hexapla. Together with his earlier revision ofthe Gospels, this new Latin version of the Old Testament from Hebrewbecame the standard, or 'Vulgate'.28 In addition, he produced numerous letters, treatises, homilies and biblical commentaries. He was the translator and continuator of Eusebius of Caesarea's Chronicle. He wrote three lives of ascetic saints, and a catalogue of outstanding Christian authors and their works, De viris illustribus.

Ambrose of Milan (c. 339-97) Ambrose, bishop of Milan (c. 374-97), seems to have been a member of a Neoplatonic reading circle in that city. He had enjoyed a successful career

24 J. N. D. Kelly, Jerome offers an excellent general and literary biography.

25 Cicero, De inventione 1.1, cited by J. Pelikan, Divine rhetoric, 17.

26 Jerome describes his dream in Letter 22.30.

27 This account of his dream should not be taken as Jerome's last word on the subject, as T. C. Lawler warns (ACW 33.1: 243-4).

28 Kelly, Jerome, 162.

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