Prof. Julia Verkholantsev, Slavic Languages and Literatures, University of Pennsylvania, discussed how St. Jerome — a scholar who came from Dalmatia and lived from the mid 300s to the early 400s — became mistakenly known as the creator of the Slavonic language in a talk Thursday.
In the mid-13th century, people started to think that St. Jerome had translated liturgical texts into Slavonic, Verkholantsev explained. However, St. Jerome did not create the Slavonic language.
“Among the Christian saints, St. Jerome has always occupied a special place as a translator and exegete of the Bible whose labors brought the faithful closer to God,” she said. “A native of Dalmatia, Jerome became recognized for allegedly translating the liturgical books of the Croatian clergy in Dalmatian monasteries into Church Slavonic and for having supplied them with their special Slavic letters.”
Verkholantsev said historical and archeological evidence has shown that the Slavs did not come to Dalmatia until the 6th century, which was after Jerome’s life. This means Jerome “could have no connection, either to Slavs or to their writing,” she said.
In converting people to Christianity, Slavonic liturgy proved to be a “powerful tool.”
Verkholantsev described how even though Slavonic monks wrote in Glagolitic writing — a script for the Slavonic language — they still maintained other traditions of the Western Church.
“With time, the Slavonic monks in Dalmatia adopted the rules of the Western church, but continued to use the Church Slavonic liturgy in Glagolitic writing,” she said. “They also participated in all Western liturgical reforms and revised their books according to the Vulgate and the Roman rite.”
“By the mid-13th century, the association between the Glagolitic writing of Croatia and Cyril and Methodius’s apostolic mission in great Moravia had most likely been lost, given way to the explanation that the Roman Slavonic rite and the Glagolitic letters of the creation clergy had been created by the great local scholar St. Jerome,” she continued.
Verkholantsev said the first example of this “belief” was when Pope Innocent IV “allowed the Slavonic liturgy” in a Dalmatian diocese in 1248. He mentioned that “the Slavic right in Dalmatia was believed to have proceeded from St. Jerome,” she said.
She added how St. Jerome’s Slavonic liturgy was important for both Slavs and other religious people.
“Since then, the belief of Jerome’s holy rite and letters lent itself to other uses, and resounded both among Slavic and Latinate communities,” Verkholantsev said. “To the Slavs, it provided rhetoric that claimed the distinguished place of Slavic people among Christian nations. To others, it provided the precedent of a vernacular Bible and a liturgy legitimized by indisputable authority.”
Even though it has been disproved that St. Jerome created the Slavonic language, he still is known in history as a “Slavic apostle.”
“The story of the Slavic Letters of St. Jerome not only reveals how a non-Latin rite became accepted in Latinate Europe … but also cast the religious and cultural history of this region in a new and refreshing context, highlighting the richly diverse flavor of Europe’s late middle ages,” she said.