Thursday, June 4, 2015

St. Jerome and Slavic Myth-Making (Revisionism)

‘San Girolamo e il leone nel convento’ (1502)
by Vittore Carpaccio, an Italian painter from Istria

St. Jerome (Eusebius Hieronymus in Latin; San Girolamo in Italian) was an Italian saint, one of the great Latin Fathers of the Church, one of the original four Doctors of the Church, the translator of the Latin Vulgate, and the author of numerous biblical commentaries, treatises, biographies and epistles. As one of the most prominent and prolific early Christian writers of the Western world, his popularity and influence is matched only by St. Augustine.

St. Jerome was a Roman, of Latin background and culture, born in 347 AD, in the city of Stridon (Strido in Latin). He was born into a wealthy family which owned both land and slaves—most characteristic of a family descended from Roman colonists. His father was Eusebius and his brother was Paulinianus; the names of his mother and sister are unknown. The family was Christian. St. Jerome was educated in Rome where he was baptized by Pope Liberius. He later spent time in Augusta Treverorum (Trier), Aquileia, the desert of Chalcis and in Antioch, where he was ordained a priest. He then returned to Rome before finally retiring to Bethlehem where he lived as a monk. He died in Bethlehem on September 30, 420 AD.

Regarding the birthplace of St. Jerome, the exact location of ancient Stridon – which was destroyed by the Goths in 377 AD – has been disputed for centuries. However, it is known to have been located on the border of Dalmatia and Pannonia, near the Roman cities of Aquileia and Emona (modern Ljubljana; today the capital of Slovenia, then the easternmost city of Italy). It is most commonly accepted that Stridon was located on the site of the current village of Stridone (also called Sdregna) in Istria, which was then part of Italy, but today is part of Croatia. The village of Stridone – which still today boasts an absolute Italian majority in its population – previously depicted St. Jerome on its local coat of arms, and also claims to possess the tomb of Eusebius, the father of the saint. There is a small church in the village dedicated to St. Jerome.

Slavic misappropriation of St. Jerome

It is not uncommon for many Slavs today (particularly Croats, but also Slovenes and Serbs) to claim that St. Jerome was a Slav, despite the fact that St. Jerome lived and died centuries before the Slavs first arrived in Istria, Dalmatia and the Balkans. In order to turn St. Jerome into a Slav, the historical fact of the Slavic invasions of the former Roman Empire between the 6th and 8th centuries is rejected and denied by these revisionists in favour of the autochthonous theory (i.e. the idea that Slavs did not migrate after the collapse of the Roman Empire, but in fact always lived in the Balkans and Eastern Alps) – a fringe theory supported primarily by certain Slavic extremists, but which no serious scholar accepts.

To further substantiate the claim that St. Jerome was a Slav, a connection is often made between the ancient Illyrian language and the Slavic languages (which, too, is rejected by all linguists), based on the false assumption that St. Jerome was born in Illyria and therefore must have spoke Illyrian. Even if it were true that St. Jerome spoke Illyrian (which is unproven; moreover it is certain his native tongue was Latin) this would not make him a Slav nor related in any way to Slavic culture or Slavic people. During and after the Renaissance it became popular to refer to South Slavic languages as ‘Illyrian’, but this romanticism has no basis in linguistic facts. Despite the anachronistic tendency of some writers (not linguists) to refer to Slavic as ‘Illyric’, there is absolutely no connection between the ancient Illyrian language and the Slavic languages. For centuries it was also claimed that St. Jerome translated the Bible into ‘Illyrian’ or ‘Slavic’, although it is known that St. Jerome never wrote a single line in neither Illyrian nor Slavic, and no such ancient Bible has ever been known to exist.

The Slavs, along with their language and primitive customs, did not arrive in the Balkans any earlier than the latter half of the 6th century; they did not reach Istria until 599-600 AD and did not reach the coast of Dalmatia until the 7th century. The initial raids and invasions of Slavs into the Balkans began around 530-540 AD, which only later was followed by the first migration of permanent Slavic settlers in the Balkans at the end of the 6th century. There is no archaeological evidence of a Slavic settlement in the Balkans prior to 600 AD, and no record of Slavs entering Dalmatia until approximately 639 AD – nearly three centuries after the birth of St. Jerome, and more than two centuries after his death.

Despite all these historical facts, St. Jerome has been pridefully and erroneously transformed into an “Apostle of the Slavs” by Slavic revisionists.

Croatian claims

Some Croats, based on a medieval Croatian legend, claim that St. Jerome created the Glagolitic alphabet in the 4th century. This discredited claim is often referred to as ‘folklore’ or a ‘pious myth’ in order to avoid calling it what it frankly is: a lie and a fraud.

The Slavs, when they arrived in the Balkans and central Europe, were an illiterate and pagan people, unacquainted with Christianity and ignorant of writing. The first Slavic alphabet was the Glagolitic alphabet, which was developed in Great Moravia (modern Czech Republic and Slovakia) in the 9th century by St. Cyril, a Greek missionary under the patronage of the Church of Rome. The false claim that St. Jerome developed the Glagolitic alphabet was first spread by Croatian clergy of Dalmatia in the 13th century, during the Middle Ages, in order to justify their use of the Slavic language in the liturgy, which had long been forbidden in Dalmatia by the local Roman hierarchy. Glagolitic translations of the Missal and Breviary were falsely attributed to St. Jerome. A Psalter in Glagolitic script, dating only to 1220 AD, was also falsely attributed to him (which was finally exposed in the 19th century). They even began referring to the Glagolitic alphabet as ‘Hieronymian’ (Jeromian). By connecting the Glagolitic alphabet to St. Jerome – one of the Fathers of the Church, and a much respected authority – the supporters of Glagolitic (called Glagolites) were able to convince the ecclesiastical authorities in Rome of its ancient use and finally received an approval of their Slavic liturgy by Pope Innocent IV in 1248 AD.

This fabled myth might be ‘innocent’ enough had it died in the Middle Ages. However, despite being entirely discredited, today this myth continues to be utilized by some Croats for much less pious and much more malicious motives: it is utilized today in order to hijack the figure of St. Jerome, stealing him from the Latin world and depicting him as belonging to Slavdom, in accordance with the Yugoslav revisionist narrative intended to erase the Latin history and Italian heritage of Istria and Dalmatia, replacing it with a forged “Slavic” history, and presenting to the world a distorted and falsified image of an ancient “Slavic civilization” in Istria and Dalmatia which never existed.

Slovenian Claims

Some Slovenes, using similar arguments as the above-mentioned, claim that St. Jerome was a Slovene, born in the territory of Slovenia, despite the fact that neither Slovenia nor any other Slavic state, principality or province existed in the region during that time period, and would not exist until centuries following the decline of the Roman Empire. In cases where this fact is admitted, it is then argued that although no Slavic state existed in the region, St. Jerome nevertheless descended from the Slovene people – once again, ignoring the fact that the Slavs (and therefore the ancestors of the Slovenes) did not arrive in this area of Europe, in present-day Slovenia, until the latter half of the 6th century up to the 8th century. It is then that the autochthonous theory of the Slavs is brought forth, typically in the form of the Venetic theory (i.e. the idea that the Veneti, an Italic tribe, were actually proto-Slavs and the ancestors of the Slovenes) – a fringe theory popularized during and after the collapse of Yugoslavia, but which is rejected by all mainstream scholars, including most Slovenes.

It is further claimed by some Slovenes (naturally without evidence, as evidence would be impossible in light of the facts of history) that St. Jerome made translations from Slovenian into Latin and vice versa. However, the modern Slovene language did not emerge until approximately the 13th century (with Slovene literature only emerging in the 16th century). The Slovene language derived from the proto-Slovene of the 10th or 11th century, which in turn derived from Old Church Slavonic, which was created only in the 9th century in Thessalonica by St. Cyril and St. Methodius. Nor did any Slavic alphabet exist until the development of the Glagolitic alphabet in the same 9th century, during which time the first Slavic literature was produced by Christian monks in the Bulgarian Empire. Prior to this, the Slavic languages were never written languages, having never had any alphabet, thus making it impossible for St. Jerome to have translated anything to or from such languages. Furthermore, as previously established, the Slavic languages did not arrive in the areas of the former Roman Empire until after the Slavic incursions in the 6th, 7th and 8th centuries, making it impossible for St. Jerome to even have any knowledge of such languages.

Serbian claims

Some Serbs, following a similar claim as the Slovenes, claim that St. Jerome was a Serb who wrote in Cyrillic script. Naturally no such Cyrillic text written by St. Jerome exists, nor has ever existed, as the Cyrillic alphabet did not exist until the late 9th century, when it was developed from the Glagolitic alphabet in the Bulgarian Empire by the disciples of St. Cyril – whom the Cyrillic alphabet is named after – nearly 500 years after the death of St. Jerome.

Albanian claims

Many Albanians, in a similar attempt to appropriate historical figures in order to bolster a glory which is lacking in their own history, likewise claim St. Jerome as their own: they often claim he was an Albanian based on the presumption that he was an Illyrian. Even if it were true that Albanians are the modern descendants of Illyrians (which is widely disputed among scholars and not at all certain), and even if the obvious cultural and historical discontinuity between Illyrians and modern Albanians were completely ignored, the fact remains that ‘Illyrian’, as an ethnic identity, already virtually ceased to exist by the time of St. Jerome. Being born in the region of Illyria did not necessarily mean you were an ethnic Illyrian, nor descended from the ancient Illyrian tribes, as the region of Illyria was heavily colonized by Roman settlers. By the time of St. Jerome, ‘Illyrian’ had become a regional or provincial demonym, not an ethnic or tribal identity, and was applied to all peoples born in the old Roman province of Illyricum, both Roman and romanized alike.

Furthermore, St. Jerome belonged entirely to Latin culture, and in his writings speaks of his Roman-Latin heritage with pride, but never mentions speaking any Illyrian language. There is no evidence whatsoever that he had anything to do with ancient Illyrians, outside of the possibility that he was born in the old region of Illyria – a region which, in addition to the thoroughly romanized Illyrian population, also contained many Roman colonies and Italian settlers – and which, at the time, belonged entirely to Latin civilization.


St. Jerome was undoubtedly a Latin, born in a Roman region, on Italian soil, raised in an Italic environment, educated by Rome, baptized in Rome, spoke and wrote in the Latin language, and was a representative of Latin culture and a product of Latin civilization. There is no evidence he had any ethnic connection to the ancient Illyrians, and he certainly had absolutely no connection to the Slavs who arrived centuries after his death. The misappropriation or theft of St. Jerome is yet another example of modern Balkan nations desperately attempting to project the present ethno-demographic and cultural character of the Balkans into the past, attempting to establish some sort of continuity which does not exist, and attempting to appropriate for themselves historical persons, achievements and glories which never belonged to them.

Modern quotes

Here are some quotes concerning the birthplace of St. Jerome and the location of ancient Stridon, taken from modern English sources:
“His birthplace, Stridon, has at last been definitely located in the region of Aquileia. Hence Jerome was an Italian, not a Dalmatian or a Slav.”
The Commonweal, Volume 18, 1933
“As for Jerome's origin, much ink together with a not inconsiderable amount of irascibility has been expended in contentions that would nationalize him as an Istrian, Slav, Bohemian, and even as a Spaniard; whereas, quite simply, he was an Italian, born, as he himself tells us, “in the town of Stridon, which has since been destroyed by the Goths, but which was located on the confinium of Dalmatia and Pannonia.” ... Jerome's Stridon, then, was an outlying part of the province of Venetia-Histria, formerly the tenth region of Italy, wedged in between Dalmatia and Pannonia, close by the towns of Hemona and Aquileia.”
The Problem of St. Jerome (The American Ecclesiastical Review, Volume 117), 1947
“It may be taken as certain that Jerome was an Italian, coming from that wedge of Italy which seems on the old maps to be driven between Dalmatia and Pannonia.”
—Maisie Ward, Saint Jerome, 1950
“More recently opinion generally has rallied round F. Cavallera's thesis that Stridon should be located somewhere between and a little to the south of Aquileia, the huge city (as it then was) at the head of the Adriatic, and Emona (Ljubiljana), the fortress town lying at the foot of the Julian and the Karavanke Alps to the west and north respectively. Today the area in question lies in north-western Yugoslavia, but in the fourth century it was Italian, an outlying part of the province of Venetia-Istria.”
—John Norman Davidson Kelly, Jerome: His Life, Writings, and Controversies, 1975
“St. Jerome was born in 347 at Stridon, a town near Aquileia in the extreme northeast of Italy in the border area near the outlying Roman provinces of Dalmatia and Pannonia.”
—Jane M. Hatch, The American Book of Days, 1978
“Jerome was an Italian, born in 345 at Stridon, a town in the northeast of Italy above the boot near the Adriatic Sea.”
—Mary Reed Newland, The Saint Book, 1979
“He was born in Stridon, Italy.”
—Don S. Armentrout, An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church, 2000
“Jerome was born at Stridon, near Aquileia, now part of the Veneto, but then regarded as part of Dalmatia.”
—R. W. Lightbown, Carlo Crivelli, 2004
“Born at Stridon in Dalmatia, then eastern Italy...”
—Barbara Sher Tinsley, Reconstructing Western Civilization, 2006
“Jerome was probably born in 347. He names his hometown as Stridon, a village in the western Balkans under northern Italian influence. It was near Emona, between the Roman provinces of Dalmatia and Pannonia.”
Commentary on Matthew (The Fathers of the Church, Volume 117), 2008
“Jerome describes it as oppido Stridonis, quod a Gothis eversum Dalmatiae quondam Pannoniaeque confinium fuit, “the town of Stridon, now destroyed by the Goths, which once stood on the boundaries of Dalmatia and Pannonia,” that is, in the western Balkans, probably to the north and thus within the sphere of North Italian influence.”
—Megan Hale Williams, The Monk and the Book: Jerome and the Making of Christian Scholarship, 2008
“Jerome was born in the north Italian town of Stridon about 347, and was converted and baptized during his student days in Rome.”
—Church Publishing, Holy Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints, 2010
“Jerome was born around 340 AD at Stridon, a town in northeast Italy at the head of the Adriatic Ocean.”
—Tom Streeter, The Church and Western Culture, 2012
“Jerome was born to a Christian family in Stridon, a northwestern region of what was then Italy and later northwestern Yugoslavia.”
—Marc Hirshman, A Rivalry of Genius, 2012
“Jerome was born Eusebius Hieronymus of a Christian family in Stridon, Italy.”
—Lavinia Cohn-Sherbok, Who's Who in Christianity, 2013