n Journal of Early Christian History - The shifting roles of wealth and poverty in Jerome’s vision of asceticism and the call to perfection, as reflected in a selection of his works

Volume 9 Number 1
  • ISSN : 2222-582X



This study considers the place of financial renunciation, voluntary poverty and almsgiving in Jerome’s ascetic vision, and reveals a delicate balancing act in his advice to wealthy Christians contained in a selection of his letters and treatises. I will investigate the practical realisation of his vision by Jerome and his followers within the social, political and legal context of the late fourth and early fifth centuries CE. Scriptural injunctions mainly informed early Christians’ understanding of wealth and poverty. I interrogate Jerome’s response to the teachings of Jesus in connection with care for the poor: Who was to benefit from almsgiving—the donor or the recipient? Was there a self-interested dimension in financial renunciation and almsgiving? Was Jerome consistent in his advice to those who embraced financial asceticism? The dominical command to perfection was the cornerstone of Jerome’s ascetic exhortations. Special attention will be given to Jesus Christ’s advice to the rich young man (Matt. 19:16–30, with parallels in Mark 10:17–31 and Luke 18:18–30). Finn and Dunn, respectively, have investigated Jerome’s references to this passage. However, Jerome’s interpretation of this dominical command and the “call to perfection” deserves attention. What did Jerome consider to be “the attainment of perfection,” was he consistent in his advice, and were there any underlying motivations in his encouragement of dispossession by wealthy Christian ascetics? This article seeks to answer these questions through a study of a selection of Jerome’s works, addressed to different persons according to varying rhetorical strategies and with different purposes in mind.

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