Martyrdom, Literary Experiment and Church Politics in Jerome’s Epistula Prima, to Innocentius, on the septies percussa

in Vigiliae Christianae
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Jerome’s Epistula prima is a remarkably hybrid text. It contains a miraculous account of the trial and failed execution of a woman from Vercelli, who is falsely accused of adultery and eventually saved from further persecution by Jerome’s patron, Evagrius of Antioch. In our article we discuss the martyrological and novelistic elements of Jerome’s text and analyze how he related a cruel, but trivial trial with anonymous protagonists to contemporary Church politics and gave it an ascetical undertone. Furthermore, we link these elements to the interests of Jerome’s intended readership. Overall, we argue that Jerome wrote the Epistula prima not only as a hyper-rhetorical showcase to advertise himself as a Christian writer or to eulogize Evagrius, but that he included subtle yet meaningful literary and ideological references in his text.

Martyrdom, Literary Experiment and Church Politics in Jerome’s Epistula Prima, to Innocentius, on the septies percussa

in Vigiliae Christianae




But see Schwind Johannes“Hieronymus’ Epistula ad Innocentium (epist. 1) – ein Jugendwerk?”Wiener Studien 110 (1997) 171-186 who rejects the standard date of 374-375 (based upon Jerome’s and Evagrius’ years in Northern Italy the death of Innocentius in 375 as a terminus ante quem etc.) and also rejects stylistic arguments (the so-called youthful exuberance) as a possible support for an early date. We accept the traditional date of the letter and will situate it in its contemporary context.


See for his patronage RebenichHieronymus 52-75.


See Nautin Pierre“La liste des oeuvres de Jérôme dans les De Viris Illustribus,” Orpheus (1984) 319-334. Jerome uses this title in De Viris illustribus §135.


Fontaine“esthétique” 327.


Hagith Sivan“Le corps d’une pécheresse, le prix de la piété: la politique de l’adultère dans l’Antiquité tardive,” Annales. Histoire Sciences Sociales 2 (1998) 233 n.8.


Berschin WalterBiographie und Epochenstil im lateinischen Mittelalter. Vol. 1: von der Passio Perpetuae zu den Dialogi Gregors des Grossen (Stuttgart: Anton Hiersemann Verlag1988) 134.


Müller Hildegund“Der älteste Brief des heiligen Hieronymus. Zu einem aktuellen Datierungsvorschlag,” Wiener Studien 111 (1998) 208-9 – this article is a reply to Schwind’s argument (see n. 3) to date the letter to Jerome’s stay in Bethlehem (after 386).


Schwind“Hieronymus” 180.


See Coleiro E.“St. Jerome’s Lives of the Hermits,” Vigiliae Christianae 11 (1957) 161-178; Fuhrmann Manfred “Die Mönchsgeschichten des Hieronymus: Formexperimente in erzählender Literatur” in: Manfred Fuhrmann (ed.) Christianisme et formes littéraires de l’antiquité tardive en Occident. Huit exposés suivis de discussions (Genève: Fondation Hardt 1977) 41-89; Kech Herbert Hagiographie als christliche Unterhaltungsliteratur. Studien zum Phänomen des Erbaulichen anhand der Mönchsviten des hl. Hieronymus (Göppingen: A. Kümmerle 1977).

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