Dictionary of Christian Biography and Literature to the End of the Sixth Century/Jovinianus, heretic
Jovinianus (2), condemned as a heretic by synods at Rome and Milan c. 390. Our fullest information about him is derived from St. Jerome, who wrote two books, adversus Jovinianum. From these we learn that he had been a monk, living austerely, but adopted certain views which led him to substitute luxury in dress and personal habits and food for the asceticism of the convent, the opinions ascribed to him by Jerome being: (1) A virgin is no better as such than a wife in the sight of God. (2) Abstinence is no better than a thankful partaking of food. (3) A person baptized with the Spirit as well as
with water cannot sin. (4) All sins are equal. (5) There is but one grade of punishment and one of reward in the future world. We learn further from St. Augustine (lib. i. contra Julian. c. ii.), and from the letter of the Milanese synod to Siricius (Ambros. Op. Ep. 42), that Jovinian maintained tenets as to the Virgin Mary's virginity in giving birth to Jesus Christ in opposition to the orthodox view. He was living at Rome (Hieron. Prolog. adv. Pelag.), and wrote in Latin (ib. lib. ii. adv. Jovin. § 37). Certain Christians at Rome, amongst them Jerome's correspondent Pammachius, brought the book to the notice of Siricius, bp. of Rome, who called a meeting of his clergy and condemned the new heresy. Hoping for protection from Theodosius, who was now at Milan, Jovinian and his friends proceeded thither; but Siricius sent three of his presbyters with a letter of warning to the church at Milan. Ambrose responded warmly to Siricius, and with eight other bishops endorsed the sentence passed by the Roman church. In a letter by Ambrose in the name of the synod of Milan to Siricius conveying this judgment, it is stated that the emperor "execrated" the impiety of the Jovinianists, and that all at Milan who had seen them shunned them like a contagion. In 409 Jerome, writing against Vigilantius, refers to Jovinian as having recently died.
The heresies of Jovinian would be especially obnoxious to the great ecclesiastics of his time, who were wont to insist strongly upon the merit of virginity and of abstinence. Jerome writes against Jovinian, he says, in answer to an appeal made by holy brethren at Rome who desired that he should crush the Epicurus of the Christians with evangelical and apostolic vigour. The vigour of the reply was a little too much even for them (quod nimius fuerim). His praise of virginity seemed to do some wrong to marriage. Accordingly Pammachius (prudenter et amanter, as Jerome acknowledges) thought it best to suppress the copies of Jerome's answer. But the books had already circulated too much to be recalled. Whatever Jerome wrote was seized upon by friends or enemies, and quickly made public (Ep. 48, 49). Jovinian is not accused of any worse immorality than an indulgence in good living, which was probably exaggerated rhetorically by Jerome. Augustine reproaches him with having led consecrated virgins of advanced age to accept husbands. He himself abstained from marriage, merely because of the troubles involved in it. See Hieron. lib. i. adv. Jov. § 3; August. de Haer. § 82, lib. ii. de Nupt. et Concep. § 23; Retract. lib. ii. § 23; also Haller, Jovinianus sein Leben und seine Lehre in Texte und Untersuch. xvii. new ser. (Leipz. 1897).