Lives of Illustrious Men – Preface

You have urged me, Dexter, to follow the example of Tranquillus in giving a systematic account of ecclesiastical writers, and to do for our writers what he did for the illustrious men of letters among the Gentiles, namely, to briefly set before you all those who have published any memorable writing on the Holy Scriptures, from the time of our Lord’s passion until the fourteenth year of the Emperor Theodosius. A similar work has been done by Hermippus the peripatetic, Antigonus Carystius, the learned Satyrus, and most learned of all, Aristoxenus the Musician, among the Greeks, and among the Latins by Varro, Santra, Nepos, Hyginus, and by him through whose example you seek to stimulate us, Tranquillus.

But their situation and mine is not the same, for they, opening the old histories and chronicles could as if gathering from some great meadow, weave some small crown at least for their work. As for me, what shall I do, who, having no predecessor, have, as the saying is, the worst possible master, namely myself, and yet I must acknowledge that Eusebius Pamphilus in the ten books of his Church History has been of the utmost assistance, and the works of various among those of whom we are to write, often testify to the dates of their authors. And so I pray the Lord Jesus, that what your Cicero, who stood at the summit of Roman eloquence, did not scorn to do, compiling in his Brutus, a catalogue of Latin orators, this I too may accomplish in the enumeration of ecclesiastical writers, and accomplish in a fashion worthy of the exhortation which you made. But if, perchance any of those who are yet writing have been overlooked by me in his volume, they ought to ascribe it to themselves, rather than to me, for among those whom I have not read, I could not, in the first place, know those who concealed their own writings, and, in the second place, what is perhaps well known to others, would be quite unknown to me in this out of the way corner of the earth. But surely when they are distinguished by their Celsus, Porphyry, and Julian learn, rabid as they are against Christ, let their followers, they who think the church has had no philosophers or orators or men of learning, learn how many and what sort of men founded, built and adorned it, and cease to accuse our faith of such rustic simplicity, and recognize rather their own ignorance.

In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, farewell.

Saint Jerome