September 29, 2017

St. Jerome, Church Father, Biblical Scholar and Doctor

Saint Jerome

Memorial - September 30th

Anyone who ran afoul of Saint Jerome would not be likely to soon forget it. This formidable Doctor of the Church was as well known for his sarcastic tongue and blunt correspondences as he was for his redoubtable scholarship. The former was aimed at those who taught heresy or who did not uphold the moral standards of the Church. The latter led to his translation of the Bible into Latin, the common language at the time. That translation, the Vulgate, is the Church's official text.

Saint Jerome was born Eusebius Hieronymous Sophronius in the year c. 342, in Dalmatia, a region of Croatia. His father, who was a Christian, saw to it that his son was well educated in terms of both faith and academics. Jerome’s instruction began at home, but when he got older, his father sent him to Rome to study with some of the best pagan and Christian scholars of the day. However, as most young men will, Jerome spent at least part of his early youth indulging in life’s pleasures. Despite this, he was baptized in the year 360 by Pope Liberius; shortly after that, both his father’s values and his love of scholarship led him to give up secular pleasures for a life devoted entirely to the love and service of God.

Even as a young man, Jerome was often plagued by ill health and “temptations of the flesh,” which he wrote about to his friend, Eustochium: “My face was pallid with fasting, yet my will felt the assaults of desire…alone with the enemy, I threw myself in spirit at the feet of Jesus, watering them with my tears, and tamed my flesh by fasting whole weeks.” Jerome relied heavily on prayer, mortification, and intense study to overcome these carnal temptations and worldly distractions.

Without question, Jerome was an intellectual giant of remarkable brilliance. One of his contemporaries, St. Augustine, said of him, “What Jerome is ignorant of, no mortal has ever known.” Primarily a Scripture scholar, he prepared himself well for the task he would eventually undertake. He studied and was fluent in Latin, Greek, Hebrew and Chaldaic, an ancient Aramaic dialect. He traveled extensively in what was then known as Palestine, showing great devotion at each spot where an event in Christ’s life took place. For five years he lived in seclusion on the Greek island of Chalcis, where he spent his time in prayer, penance and study.

Jerome settled in Bethlehem where according to tradition the cave in which he worked was the same cave believed to have been the birthplace of Christ. Others maintain that he completed his scholarly task near that spot. In either case, it was here that Jerome began the translation of the Bible that would become known as the Vulgate. Though in the 16th century the Council of Trent called for a new and corrected edition of Jerome’s work to be undertaken, it nonetheless declared that Jerome’s translation was indeed the authentic and authoritative text of the Bible that was henceforth to be used by the Roman Catholic Church.

Although Jerome devoted most of his time to his scholarly work, the outside world did intrude on his time and energies. During the sacking of Rome in 410, he did all he could to help the destitute refugees of that city who came begging to his doorstep. A few years after that, Jerome went into hiding when a group of Pelagians attacked him for his outspoken opposition to their heretical doctrine.

On September 30th, in the year 420, old, weak, and nearly blind, Jerome died. Initially, his body was buried under the Church of the Nativity in present-day Israel. In the 13th century, however, his remains were removed to the Basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome. He is the patron saint of librarians. O God, who gave the Priest Saint Jerome a living and tender love for Sacred Scripture, grant that your people may be ever more fruitfully nourished by your Word and find in it the fount of life. Through Jesus Christ, your Son who reigns with you forever. Amen.

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