Space in Saint Jerome's Vita Hilarionis

by Magderie Nel

Institution: University of Pretoria
Year: 2015
Keywords: Ancient Cultural History; Jerome; Asceticism; Desert space; Hagiography; UCTD
Record ID: 1460713
Full text PDF: http://hdl.handle.net/2263/43763


This dissertation explores Jerome’s use of space in the Vita Hilarionis, through the use of the theory of critical spatiality. Three different spaces, all interrelated, are explored: desert space, monastic space and city space. The vita falls within the genre of Hagiography, a short biography that attempts to capture the life of a saint or holy man or woman. The Vita Hilarionis centres around the saint Hilarion, and follows his journey into the desert of Palestine in his goal to become an ascetic. One of Jerome’s goals with the writing of the vita is to show that Hilarion was the originator of monasticism in Palestine. Upon closer inspection of the spaces that Jerome describes to us, his greater ideological goal can also be exposed. Jerome, a Christian with a classical Roman education, makes use of older classical models in order to write his social geography of the late ancient Mediterranean world, such as traditional notions of centre and periphery. However, as theologian, he also reconstructs or re-imagines Roman spaces, such as the circus, to propagate Christianity, the new religion for the old world. Critical space has not yet fully been applied to text in late antiquity (100 – 600 CE) or early Christianity. This approach is steered by insights from social scientific criticism that not only views a text such as the vita as a literary piece of fiction, but also as a social product of its time. Through this view, largely spiritual themes in the vita can be viewed as also ideologically motivated, the social position and role of the ascetic in late Roman/ early Christian society understood, the spaces he/she moves in analysed and applied to shed light on early Christian identities.