Monday, December 10, 2018

Was Jerome Gay? When in Rome...

The Wikipedia entry on Jerome, as of 10 December 2018, has the following information at the beginning of its section on the saint's life.


The start of the second paragraph says that in Jerome's school days at Rome, "he engaged in the superficial escapades and homosexual behaviour of students there, which he indulged in quite casually but for which he suffered terrible bouts of guilt afterwards."

That was intriguing to me. I had never heard this before, though I have read some of Jerome and some scholarship on him. J. N. D. Kelly's authoritative biography mentions nothing about it. Kelly does summarize for us the evidence from Jerome's writings leading to the conclusion: "Jerome's student days were marked by sexual adventures to which he was afterwards to look back with loathing" (p. 21).

The Wikipedia entry fortunately provides a reference for the source of the information on Jerome's homosexual activities in Rome. Footnote 14 cites Robert Payne, The Fathers of the Western Church, originally published in 1951, pp. 90–92. Only one section of those three pages has anything whatsoever to do with Jerome's sexual adventures in Rome. I quote it below without comment.
A spare, pale youth with large eyes, country bred, he came to Rome only to meet the horrors he thought he had left behind. Sex tormented him. His friend Rufinus was baptized "pure as the driven snow," but of himself he said he had sinned "with unclean lips and with the eyes and with the foot and with the hand and with all his members," and he added that he deserved a second baptism of fire because he had defiled his baptismal robe, meaning simply that he had defiled his body, for in those days the candidate for baptism stood naked before the priest. Caught up in the gay activities of the students, he seems to have sinned quite casually and then to have suffered terrible bouts of repentance: at such times, like many others who were conscious of their sins, he would visit on Sundays the sepulchers of the martyrs and the apostles in the catacombs, and he remembered the horror of it when he was an old man. (p. 91)

5 comments:

Veritas said...

No citation is shown — to me it seems the original author was speculating, and now it gets copied onto a Wikipedia page. The only thing I recall was his admitting that “dancing girls” still came to mind despite his removing himself to live in the desert. His letter 22.7 contains this section, here’s one English translation excerpt:

“with no other company but scorpions and wild beasts, I many times imagined myself watching the dancing of Roman maidens as if I had been in the midst of them. My face was pallid with fasting, yet my will felt the assaults of desire. In my cold body and my parched flesh, which seemed dead before its death, passion was still able to live. Alone with the enemy, I threw myself in spirit at the feet of Jesus, watering them with my tears, and tamed my flesh by fasting whole weeks.”

Ed Gallagher said...

The problem is that the Wikipedia author has misinterpreted the meaning of the English word "gay" in this decades-old book by Payne. The word "gay" did not usually mean in the 1950s what it usually means in 2018.

Veritas said...

Sure, that makes sense Ed — the book was published in 1951. Wikipedia information should be taken with a large ‘grain of salt’.

Unknown said...

Possibly, but not necessarily.

https://www.etymonline.com/word/gay

Ed Gallagher said...

I'm not saying that the word "gay" could not mean "homosexual" in 1951, only that it usually was used then as a near equivalent to "happy," and that is clearly how Payne intended it in his book. Payne did not mean to suggest that Jerome engaged in homosexual sex while a student at Rome. If that were his intention, he would need to be a whole lot more clear, and he might actually need to cite some evidence.