"Let books be your dining table, / And you shall be full of delights. / Let them be your
And you shall sleep restful nights" (St. Ephraim the Syrian).

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

St Jerome and the Invention of Yet More Slavic Myths

The urge to invent a foundational mythology whereby an "apostle" came to and established a local church is an old one. As Susan Wessell's splendid book Leo the Great and the Spiritual Rebuilding of a Universal Rome showed, this urge was given great energy thanks to Leo and the sharply declining prestige of his see after the shift of the imperial capital to Constantinople in 330. But as earlier scholarship, especially that of Francis Dvornik in his The Idea Of Apostolicity In Byzantium And The Legend Of Apostle Andrew made clear, the West was not alone in feeling it necessary to stress apostolic foundation and lineage: Constantinople later got into the act, and later still the East-Slavs, as a new book suggests: Julia Verkholantsev, The Slavic Letters of St. Jerome: The History of the Legend and Its Legacy, or, How the Translator of the Vulgate Became an Apostle of the Slavs (Northern Illinois University Press, 2014), 280pp.

About this book we are told:

The Slavic Letters of St. Jerome is the first book-length study of the medieval legend that Church Father and biblical translator St. Jerome was a Slav who invented the Slavic (Glagolitic) alphabet and Roman Slavonic rite. Julia Ver­kholantsev locates the roots of this belief among the Latin clergy in Dalmatia in the 13th century and describes in fascinating detail how Slavic leaders subsequently appropriated it to further their own political agendas.

The Slavic language, written in Jerome’s alphabet and endorsed by his authority, gained the unique privilege in the Western Church of being the only language other than Latin, Greek, and Hebrew acceptable for use in the liturgy. Such privilege, confirmed repeatedly by the popes, resulted in the creation of narratives about the distinguished historical mission of the Slavs and became a possible means for bridging the divide between the Orthodox and Catholic Churches in the Slavic-speaking lands.

In the 14th century the legend spread from Dalmatia to Bohemia and Poland, where Glagolitic monasteries were established to honor the Apostle of the Slavs Jerome and the rite and letters he created. The myth of Jerome’s apostolate among the Slavs gained many supporters among the learned and spread far and wide, reaching Italy, Spain, Switzerland, and England.

Grounded in extensive archival research, Verkholantsev examines the sources and trajectory of the legend of Jerome’s Slavic fellowship within a wider context of European historical and theological thought. This unique volume will appeal to medievalists, Slavicists, scholars of religion, those interested in saints’ cults, and specialists of philology.

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