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Campaign to reinstate status of St Jerome

31 October 2014


Man of letters: St Jerome Reading in the Wilderness, an oil-on-panel work by Michele di Zenone (c.1470-after 1536), sold for £10,000, at auction at Christie's, in London, yesterday  

Man of letters: St Jerome Reading in the Wilderness, an oil-on-panel work by Michele di Zenone (c.1470-after 1536), sold for £10,000, at auction at ...

A CAMPAIGN has been launched to reinstate St Jerome in the Church of England's calendar after a retired priest and church historian noticed that the ancient Church Father's saint's day had been downgraded.

The feast of St Jerome, who lived between AD 347 and 420, is recorded in the calendar in Common Worship as a Commemoration, the lowest rung of recognition for a saint's day. His contemporaries and fellow Doctors of the Church, St Augustine of Hippo, St Ambrose, and St Gregory the Great, however, are all denoted as Lesser Festivals - a higher celebration.

Canon Andrew Lenox-Conyngham, who studied church history at the University of Cambridge, has written an academic paper arguing for St Jerome's day to be reinstated to a Lesser Festival, and has begun to rally supporters to his cause.

"I was appalled when I saw in Common Worship that he had been demoted," he said. "In the Book of Common Prayer he was at the same level as Augustine. I thought it was outrageous."

In the Book of Common Prayer, St Jerome, in common with the other Latin fathers of the Church, was commemorated in a Lesser Festival. In the Alternative Service Book from 1980, however, the calendar was streamlined.

Canon Lenox-Conyngham writes: "It is difficult to think of any reason for this other than the fact that Jerome does not satisfy the Anglican criterion of 'niceness', i.e. because he was not, perhaps, a very pleasant character."

Paradoxically, he writes, recognition of St Jerome's historical significance had actually increased in recent decades. "Purely as a scholar Jerome was unequalled."

Professor Diarmaid MacCulloch, a church historian from the University of Oxford, said last week that St Jerome was an important figure in early Christianity.

"He was hugely significant in that he retranslated the biblical texts, and that translation has effectively [been used] down to the present day," he said. "He was an extremel disagreeable man, and quarrelled with almost everyone he knew."

Professor MacCulloch also said that St Jerome's writings and life were part of the reason why the Church began to value celibacy so highly. "He is one of the four Latin Doctors of the Church who are constantly portrayed as a group," he said.

Professor MacCulloch said that St Jerome should be reinstated in the C of E calendar "as long as people know about his divided history. He is a figure of huge historic significance, and it is always good for us to remember that saints are no better than we are."

Canon Lenox-Conyngham is now encouraging his supporters to write to the Liturgical Commission, asking them to restore St Jerome's day to the status of a Lesser Festival, and to their diocesan representatives on the General Synod.

Nevertheless, the Commission appeared unmoved by his pleas. In a statement, a spokeswoman said: "The Liturgical Commission was responsible for the Calendar we now have, and will be responsible, in due course, for revising it. We will acknowledge any responses and deal with them when preparing the next revision - not due until 2018."

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