Now here's a hell of a guy.
Let's start where I started, long ago in a galaxy far far away -- by which I mean, the preconciliar Roman Catholic Church, which, there having been lots of councils to be pre- to, means pre-Vatican II.
The Jerome Of My Younger Days.
Here's what I recall from those days. We used an official Bible in Latin, and our English versions were made from the Latin, and that Latin Bible was the Latin translation of St Jerome, often called the Vulgate. Protestants didn't do that. They had the King James Bible, translated from Hebrew and Greek, not translated from a translation into Latin, and, it was claimed by those who claimed it, therefore more accurate.
Not so, we were told, or at least I remember being told. St Jerome, for one thing, was a saint, a term not at least as yet applicable to modern Biblical scholars. And, he was much closer in time to the Biblical, particularly the New Testament, authors, which meant his understanding of the languages was more immediate and not from scholarly studies centuries later. And also, he worked from better sources than we have, including texts that no longer exist. Therefore, in using Jerome's Latin Bible, we are using a source altogether more trustworthy than the much later sources and scholarship of the Protestant Bible translations.
The Historical Jerome versus The Jerome Of Faith.
What's ironic is, while famous in our day for translating the Bible into the dominant language of the people of his place and time, in his own day Jerome was highly controversial for using the Hebrew text of the Hebrew Bible, or Old Testament, because the Jewish translation into Greek called the Septuagint was considered the normative and inspired text for centuries going back to the Greek-speaking early church, and whose longer canon was the basis for the Old Testament canon.
Fact is, Jerome was controversial for a hell of a lot more than that and was run out of Rome! Holy crap, people jumped all over Jimmy Swaggart for getting caught with a prostitute, but that ain't nuttin compared to Jerome's story. Here it is.
Jerome was born a pagan in a town called Stridon, which was in the Roman territory called Dalmatia. The town no longer exists because the Goths trashed it in 379, and no-body knows exactly where it was, except that it was in Dalmatia, which was more or less modern Croatia and Bosnia and Slovenia. As a young man he went to Rome to pursue classical education, and by his own account pursue the various extra-curricular activities often found in student life then as now. Somewhere along the line he converted to Christianity and was baptised.
After some years in Rome he set out for France, well, Gaul then, and ended up in Trier, which is among the most magnificent and enchanting places it has been my good fortune to visit, ever, anywhere. Here in this most wonderful place he seems to have taken up theology. Then about 373 or so he sets out for what is now called the Middle East, particularly Antioch, in what is now Turkey and one of the oldest centres of Christianity. It was there that he came to give up secular learning altogether and focus on the Bible, learning Hebrew from Jewish Christians, and, apparently seized with remorse for his past behaviour, got into all sorts of ascetic penitential practices. Always a danger -- the Good News just isn't news enough, gotta have works!
The Ladies' Ear Tickler Enters the Story.
But in 382 he goes back to Rome again, this time as assistant to Pope Damasus I. Now there's another hell of a guy. Man, papal elections just ain't what they used to be. Twice over actually. Once upon a time, they were a matter of the clergy and people of the area choosing a bishop, or overseer, with overseers from nearby areas confirming it. But by this time we have Constantine, and Christianity attaining respectable state-recognised status, and now the Emperor confirmed newly elected bishops. That's helpful, sorta, because sometimes more than one guy claimed to be elected, sometimes in more than one election!
So when Pope Liberius, whom the Emperor Constantine had thrown out of Rome, died on 24 September 366, one faction supported Ursinus, the previous pope's deacon, while another, which had previously supported a rival pope, Felix II, supported Damasus. The patrician class, the old noble families of Rome, supported Damasus, but the plebian class, the regular folks, and the deacons supported Ursinus. Each was elected, in separate elections. Some real apostolic succession there, oh yeah.
It gets worse. There was outright rioting between supporters of the two, each side killing the other, so bad that the prefects of the city had to be called on to restore order. Damasus got formally recognised, and then his supporters commenced a slaughter of 137 of Unsinus' supporters, right in a church. Damasus was accused of murder, and hauled up on charges before a later prefect, but, being the favourite of the wealthy class, they bought the support of the Emperor and got Damasus off. He was known as Auriscalpius Matronarum, the ladies' ear scratcher.
Damasus was "pope" from 366 until he died on 11 December 384. During which time, we have to remember to really get what was going on here, the Emperors East and West made the church as headed by Damasus, and Peter in Antioch, the official state church and the one recognised as "catholic", in the Edict of Thessalonica on 27 February 380, the birthday of the Catholic Church, as distinct from the catholic church. It was during Damasus' papacy that the Emperor Gratian. one of the signatories to the Edict of Thessalonica, refused the traditional title of pontifex maximus, which then became associated with the bishop of Rome as the chief priest of the Roman state religion. In sum, this is the era of the beginning of the Babylonian Captivity of the Church (Babylon of course being a figure for Rome).
Back to the Historical Jerome.
So in 382, when Damasus calls Jerome back to Rome to help him shape things up, what was being shaped up was the two-year-old Catholic Church, the new official state religion, which by Imperial edict was the only church entitled to the description "catholic" (whole, complete, entire, universal), all others were defined as heretics and deserving of such punishment as the Empire should choose to inflict. The Western Roman Empire at this time was starting to fall apart and was just decades away from falling apart, so a lot of this had to do with trying to prevent that.
Jerome was no slouch at matronly ear tickling himself, and once back in Rome soon had a little group of wealthy patrician widows around him, whose money supported him, a Paula in particular. And he had this ascetic works-righteousness thing going, into which he got them all. Nothing like having lots of someone else's money to support you if you want a monastic ascetic life. Hell yes.
In fact, the daughter of Paula, a lively young woman named Blaesilla, after just four months of having to live this way, died of it! Yeah, died. On top of which Jerome tells Paula not to mourn her daughter. This got the Romans really pissed, there was an inquiry into just what was really going on between Jerome and Paula, and then Damasus dies, and with that support gone, Jerome is forced out of Rome.
So where's he go? Where else, the Eastern Empire, where they really get into all this monkery and fasting and stuff. Paula and her money follow. The whole sham of a works-based sparse life funded by patrician wealthy-class money. There's some real apostolic stuff for you. Lemme tell ya, if somebody wants to convince you of their mistaking the physiological effects of self induced glucose denial for some sort of spiritual state of attainment, you'd be better off running right to the nearest McDonald's and ordering a double quarter pounder, which, if memory serves, is combo 4 on the menu. Personally I like our Nebraska favourite Runza better, which also makes a helluva burger, and it's Wolgadeutsch too, but being a regional chain may not be available where you are.
This sort of stuff is not self-denial, it's life denial. Utterly pathological. It is no curb whatever to excess and greed, but is rather an equally odious extreme reaction to it, both extremes equally devoid of the Gospel altogether. It comes rather from an empire about to collapse under the tension of its classic past and Christian present and efforts to reconcile them within, with huge civil unrest in its wake, and threats from without in the West. Which was bad enough, but in the East, where it did not collapse for another thousand years or so, it continued unabated, which is equally bad. The opposite of greed and excess is not this pathological repression, but Judas H Priest, just eat a normal balanced diet and go about a life of use to God and your fellow Man, stay in your parish where you find everything that made the saints saints, the Word, the Word preached, the Sacrament, and your fellow Christians.
The Word of the Lord Endures Forever -- Despite the "Church".
Well, it would also be about a thousand years or so until THAT message got out, little thing called the Lutheran Reformation, by a fellow survivor of the remnants of all this nonsense, guy named Martin Luther. Sorry if this stuff isn't in the sanitised reductive biographical sketches that turn up in treasuries of prayer and stuff like that, but them's the facts. It's a disgusting pagan mess, massacres, murders, politics, scandals and all, and from the time of Jerome's life on, the official religion of the state held to be right from the Apostles, which remained in the East, and remained in the West after it reconstituted itself as the Holy Roman Empire, and remains to this day in the former state churches that survive these empires.
This is the world of Augustine, Jerome, Damasus, etc -- the Western Roman Empire, which contains Rome, once the centre of the whole thing, in utter turmoil between its classic philosophy, art, culture and religion and the new religion, in attendant civil turmoil, and under assault from Germanic forces outside it. The sack of Rome came in 410, 24 August to be exact, by Alaric, King of the Visigoths. The efforts to synthesise Rome's past and present failed utterly to preserve Rome. But it created a state religion which survived the death of the state that created it, and became the one remaining link upon which the new state would be built, the Holy Roman Empire. It survives to this day, in the West as the Roman Catholic Church as well as other state churches, some of them with the word Lutheran in them, and most having now severed the connexion to their modern state as mandatory, and in the East as the various Eastern Orthodox churches.
And all of it based entirely on the characteristics of this age, not in the least on the Gospel, as a dying empire tried to redefine itself for survival -- hence "true" churches, "apostolic succession", "bishops" who were as well state officials and political powers, and all the other nonsense by which the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches try to justify themselves and their pagan accretions which would hold the catholic church in captivity until the Lutheran Reformation, the need for which was so strong amid all this horse dung and bullroar that later "reforms" blew right past the Lutheran Reformation to an opposite but equally bad extreme, which to-day but not originally travels under the name Protestant or Evangelical.
So we have a pope supported by the wealthy Roman class in their twilight who kills his opponents and becomes by edict of the Emperor the true recipient of the true faith, and holy man whose "I'd better inflict all this on myself" asceticism is funded by more wealthy Roman class money and kills the daughter of his main supporter and disgusts even the Romans.
So what do we do then, forget about all this as an unholy mess we can ignore and just get back to the Bible, the "New Testament" church? No. And hell no. Judas H Priest, the New Testament church did not have the New Testament, so how ya gonna do that? You ain't.
Because here's the thing, the Babylonian Captivity was just that, a captivity, not an extinction. The catholic church survived and continues to survive even the invention of the Catholic Church by the Roman Empire. And why is that? Because of the truth expressed in the motto of the Lutheran Reformation, which motto is simply Scripture itself, both New and Old Testament.
VDMA. Verbum Domini manet in aeternum. The Word of the Lord endures forever. It cannot be overcome, and on its central truth about Jesus Christ is built the church against which the gates of hell itself cannot prevail, let alone the Roman Empire. It can survive power mongers like Damasus and pathological lunatics like Augustine and Jerome.
The Word of the Lord Endures Forever -- Despite Translators.
Particularly Jerome. His new Latin translation really did, even if the work of a nut case whose nuttiness was fatal and whose supposed self-denial was based on the wealth of others, establish a better text of the Bible in the most widely understood language of its time and remained key in the availability of the Bible for centuries to come, as Latin became the language of learning, and really did introduce, to a thoroughly Gentilised Christianity with the barest of understandings of the Jewish faith it fulfilled that had replaced it with reworkings in Christian dress of its classic philosophy, a more Jewish understanding of the texts, admired to this day by Jews, not to mention the Hebrew itself.
Not only that, but Jerome set in motion a tradition of selections from Scripture for reading at the preaching part if the Divine Service which would continue for about 1,500 years, and still continues as what we now call the "historic" lectionary. And why is it "historic"? Because it's, well, old, you know, historic? Hell no. Because there's another one now, a product in the 1960s of part of the church still in Babylonian Captivity in its last council, Babylon II, er, Vatican II.
The Western Roman Empire, under its new Germanic leaders, managed after a few hundred years known as the Dark Ages to more or less reconstitute itself as the Holy Roman Empire, and the old state church of the old Roman Empire, the Catholic Church, was right there to take its place in the whole set up. Some consider the HRE to have begun with the coronation -- by the "pope" of course -- of Charlemagne, Karl der Grosse, in 800, as Emperor of the Romans, and some consider it to have begun with the coronation -- by the "pope" of course -- of Otto on 2 February 962. But in any case it lasted for about another 1,000 years, and formally ended on 6 August 1806 at the hands of Napoleon. The deposed last HRE, Francis II, however continued as Francis I, Emperor of Austria. Francis hell, it was Franz dammit, the only Doppelkaiser in history. Kaiser, that's a Germanisation of guess what, Caesar. Doppel is double.
But by about 100 years after that, the underpinnings of the Roman Catholic Church seemed even to many within it as wearing a bit thin, the Roman Empire being long gone and now the Holy Roman Empire being long gone too, and movements began in various circles, some Scriptural, some doctrinal, some liturgical, to re-express this whole deal in terms not so connected to things long gone. So they set about coming up with something more attuned to the existentialism and phenomenology then all the rage.
A couple of problems with that. Once again, just as in the time of Jerome, Augustine, Damasus, et al, we have an entity trying to preserve itself by merging its past with its present and future of different origin. But this time, that past was itself exactly the product of what was once the different origin the last time around. IOW, that church's Empire, both of them (Roman and Holy Roman), were gone and now their church had to go it alone in another emerging new world, and once again it sought to reinvent itself as a synthesis, hybrid, reconciliation, something like that, of the two. This culminated at Vatican II, when the old Imperial church reinvented itself for a new post-Imperial age.
Problem is, the old Imperial church was just that, the old Imperial church, not the catholic church or the church of Jesus Christ, and one of the two elements being synthesised into a new synthesis was itself a previous synthesis of Christianity and the old empire. Christianity, the catholic church, the church of Jesus Christ, thought by the proponents of this movement to be re-emerging after centuries of being obscured, was in fact being yet further obscured; the Babylonian Captivity deepened, only re-expressed in terms of the new Babylon that no longer had it as its church, or had a church at all.
In this way it only superficially resembled the real reformation of the church, which had happened nearly five centuries before already, with such things as vernacular languages and free standing altars. And so the Whore of Babylon thoroughly remodelled the brothel, with a new order of liturgy (yeah, literally, a novus ordo) complete with new calendar of observances and new lectionary of readings, replacing the one that had grown for centuries.
Now that's not surprising, that's what you do when you're the Whore of Babylon, and the Babylon that formed you and kept you as its whore is gone and there is a new Babylon.
But these "reforms" came about on an entirely different basis than the reforms of the Reformation, which did not run from the march of history nor wish to discard or disparage it for all its warts and blemishes, but instead accept it and move on, not reinventing anything but continuing in continuity, discarding only that which contradicted Scripture but otherwise, as the Augsburg Confession states, retaining the ceremonies and readings previously in use.
So what is surprising is that the churches of the Reformation generally, and even those of the Lutheran Reformation, jumped on board with this Roman insanity, took the novus ordo and revised and reworked their own versions of it! And now we have an "historic" lectionary right alongside a Vatican II For Lutherans Lutheranised version of this novus ordo. We even lead the Whore herself in this regard, because we didn't have to wait a generation or so for a Roman Imperial official with only the church of the former state left -- a "pope", in case you were wondering -- to say it's OK with a motu proprio! Utter madness.
So on this feast of St Jerome, let us remember that, you know what, he really was closer to the authors and sources of the Bible than our vaunted modern scholars working removed by centuries, and really did, nut case and all, contribute to the church which even he and his contemporaries and times and subsequent times could put in captivity but not extinction, a thing of great value in the Vulgate Bible and the tradition of the historic lectionary.
And let us remember that the Reformation has already happened and not at all on the basis that fuelled Babylon II, er, Vatican II, and we continue as the catholic church where the Word is rightly proclaimed and the Sacraments rightly administered, no new faith, no new doctrine, no new anything, and sure as hell no new orders of worship, based on the scholarship emerging from the dissolution, not just politically but in every way, of the Holy Roman Empire, in which there is no "hermeneutic of continuity" whatever but a pathetic old whore trying to still work the streets, but rather the organic continuity of the catholic church normed by its very own book, the Bible, rejecting only what contradicts it.
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