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Jovinian, or Jovinianus, (died c.405) was an opponent of Christian asceticism in the 4th century and was condemned as a heretic at synods convened in Rome under Pope Siricius and in Milan by St Ambrose in 393.[1] Our information about him is derived principally from the work of St.Jerome in two books, Adversus Jovinianum.[2] Jerome referred to him as the "Epicurus of Christianity". [2] He was a native of Corduene.[3]


Jovinian was a monk at one time in his life, but subsequently turned against monastic asceticism.[2] Jovinian was apparently broadly read and adduced examples from secular literature, which did not sit well at the synods. He became the leader of a group of disciples: Auxentius, Genialis, Germinator, Felix, Prontinus, Martianus, Januarius and Ingeniosus are identified in the act of 390 condemning him.[2] His writings praising the excellence of marriage, which he published from Rome, were condemned at a synod held in Rome under Pope Siricius and subsequently at the Milan synod.[2]

Jovinian does have some of the style of an "Epicurus of Christianity:"

I respond to your invitation, not that I may go through life with a high reputation, but may live free from idle rumour. I beseech the ground, the young shoots of our plantations, the plants and trees of tenderness snatched from the whirlpool of vice, to grant me audience and the support of many listeners. We know that the Church through hope, faith, charity, is inaccessible and impregnable. In it no one is immature: all are apt to learn: none can force a way into it by violence, or deceive it by craft.

Nothing is known of the later career of Jovinian.[2] From a remark in St. Jerome's work Against Vigilantius, written in 409, that he "amidst pheasants and pork rather belched out than breathed out his life", it is inferred that he was then dead, and had not been made to suffer for his views too strenuously.[2]


The writings of Jovinian were sent to Jerome by his friend St. Pammachius.[2] Jerome replied to them in a long treatise in two books, written in 393. From this work it would appear that Jovinian maintained several heterodox opinions about virginity and sin.

He felt that virgins, widows and married women, even remarried widows, are of equal merit in the Christian community.[2] Jovinian addressed his virginal reader:

I do you no wrong, Virgin: you have chosen a life of chastity on account of the present distress: you determined on the course in order to be holy in body and spirit: be not proud: you and your married sisters are members of the same Church…Now concerning virgins I have no commandment of the Lord: but I give my judgement, as one that hath obtained mercy of the Lord to be faithful. I think therefore that this is good by reason of the present distress, namely, that it is good for a man to be as he is… See, the Apostle confesses that as regards virgins he has no commandment of the Lord, and he who had with authority laid down the law respecting husbands and wives, does not dare to command what the Lord has not enjoined. And rightly too. For what is enjoined is commanded, what is commanded must be done, and that which must be done implies punishment if it be not done. For it is useless to order a thing to be done and yet leave the individual free to do it or not do it. If the Lord had commanded virginity He would have seemed to condemn marriage, and to do away with the seed-plot of mankind, of which virginity itself is a growth. If He had cut off the root, how was He to expect fruit ? If the foundations were not first laid, how was He to build the edifice, and put on the roof to cover all ! Excavators toil hard to remove mountains; the bowels of the earth are pierced in the search for gold. And, when the tiny particles, first by the blast of the furnace, then by the hand of the cunning workman have been fashioned into an ornament, men do not call him blessed who has separated the gold from the dross but him who wears the beautiful gold. Do not marvel then if, placed as we are, amid temptations of the flesh and incentives to vice, the angelic life be not exacted of us, but merely recommended. If advice be given, a man is free to proffer obedience; if there be a command, he is a servant bound to compliance.

Jovinianus also maintained that abstinence is no better than the partaking of food in the right disposition; a person baptized with the Spirit as well as water cannot sin; all sins are equal; and that there is but one grade of punishment and one of reward in the future state.[2]

From a letter of the synod at Milan to Pope Siricius (Ambrose, Epistle xlii) and from Augustine's book Contra Julian. ii, it is clear that Jovinian also denied the perpetual virginity of Mary.[2]

The counter of St. Jerome to this "Epicurus of Christianity" took a whole book to praise virginity and disparage the state of marriage, based upon Paul's remarks in 1 Corinthians 7. The work was couched in abusive and intemperate language that appalled Pammachius, who found it excessive in its praise of virginity and in depreciation of marriage. Jerome did not approve of democratic distribution of bliss in the life to come:

Perhaps those who have been married twice or thrice ought not to complain, for the same whoremonger if penitent is made equal in the kingdom of heaven even to virgins.

Efforts to suppress it failed, however, and St. Jerome's work obtained a wide circulation.[2]


  1. The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church by F. L. Cross (Editor), E. A. Livingstone (Editor) Oxford University Press, USA; 3 edition p.904 (March 13, 1997)
  2. 2.00 2.01 2.02 2.03 2.04 2.05 2.06 2.07 2.08 2.09 2.10 2.11 CATHOLIC ENCYCLOPEDIA: Jovianus
  3. H. Schlagintweit, H. K. Forstner, Lehrgang Kunstgeschichte: Von der Antike bis zur Moderne zum Selbststudium der Kunststile, 186 pp., Schwabe Verlag Basel, 1991, ISBN 3796508855, pp.371-372

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