Jerome on the attack: constructing a polemical persona
This thesis argues that Jerome’s polemics against Helvidius, Jovinian, and Vigilantius were tailored to boost Jerome’s status within the Christian community, and were carefully constructed pieces of abusive rhetoric, rather than the result of his famed curmudgeonly character. These treatises are studied in light of both the ancient rhetorical tradition within which Jerome was trained, and modern theories of abusive rhetoric. This thesis is demonstrated in six chapters. Chapter 1 demonstrates that past scholarship focused on ‘Jerome the man’, his self-invention, and his academic and spiritual qualities, without giving adequate attention to how Jerome used these qualities in his compositions. Chapter 2 focuses on ancient and modern theories of rhetoric in order to set out a methodology of abusive rhetoric that highlights Burkean identification. In addition, this chapter studies how rhetoric can define and challenge social hierarchies. Chapter 3 discusses Jerome’s awareness of social standing through discussion of his interactions with three of his contemporaries: Augustine, Rufinus, and Ambrose. It examines how Jerome altered his rhetoric to reflect his perception of the relative social status of his correspondents. Part 2 studies three of Jerome’s treatises in light of the conclusion of Part 1. Chapter 4 analyzes Jerome’s Adversus Helvidium, and argues that Jerome’s rhetoric serves to contrast himself with Helvidius, whose heretical, fame-seeking character illuminates Jerome as a humble and conservative Christian. It argues that Jerome’s rhetoric in this treatise aimed for episcopal authority. Chapter 5 studies Jerome’s Adversus Iovinianum and argues that the polemic sought to extend Jerome’s views on asceticism to a wider audience, and potentially secure favor for himself following his expulsion from Rome. He presents Jovinian as a deceptive sinner with a dissolute lifestyle, and himself as an authoritative savior. Although Jerome attempted to connect to the elite in the Christian community, his tract was a failure due to an inability to identify successfully with the audience on the topic of virginity. Finally, Chapter 6 discusses Jerome’s Contra Vigilantium. Jerome presents Vigilantius as a boorish Gallic innkeeper, in contrast to himself as an urbane, albeit snobbish, orthodox Christian. Jerome’s rhetoric carefully identifies himself with upper class Christians, as well as the Emperor, apostles, and martyrs, thereby claiming their agreement with his view of orthodoxy. In sum, I argue that Jerome’s rhetoric served to construct a polemical persona that he attempted to use to further his Christian career, and shape his own image. While this was not entirely successful in his own day, Jerome’s rhetoric did ultimately succeed in crafting an image of himself as an orthodox and authoritative father of the Church.